If you’ve read my blog for more than a few posts, you’ve probably seen that I’m anal about goals, goal-setting, monitoring goals, etc. Personal planning in all its glory. Resolutions, everything. Which means that on a not-infrequent basis, I am a sucker for any click-bait title that talks about new approaches to goal-setting or planning for personal hobbies, activities, whatever. If you pay any attention at all to this type of area, you’ve seen in the last two years that the buzz words are “bullet journal”.
What’s a bullet journal? The exact history and “inventor” so-to-speak are virtually irrelevant to their function, but they are a hybrid between a Day-Timer and a blank journal. Rather than “lined” pages in a journal, a bullet journal has dots that form little squares all over the page, kind of like graph paper without the lines connecting all the intersection points.
For those who are like me, i.e. those who are analytical introverts, we often gravitate towards planners like commercially-produced Day-Timers (or we did before everyone got a smartphone / PDA to carry around with them). They have tabs for different months or categories, calendars of different types (daily, weekly or monthly), journal pages, everything you might need to stay organized already laid out and formatted for you with attractive fonts, lines and colours. If you’re REALLY into this space, you might even give into your inner planner and design your own planner layout.
For “creative types”, they HATE Day-Timers with a passion. Too much “restriction”, too many lines curtailing their freedom to express themselves. They like open journals, blank pages, flexibility to draw and write sideways, and liberate their mind to create things like mind maps or just word doodles.
Enter the bullet journal. It looks wide open, but it also has a bit of a format in the fact there are the background dots like graph paper. If you want to draw a box that is five cubes wide, it’s easy to do, with or without a ruler, and it will look halfway decent. So the openness of the bullet journal appeals to the creatives, while the format factor allows for the planners to break out of tables and formats that might not match their workflow as well as they would like.
Some people are using the format to TOTALLY give them maximum flexibility — maybe they need a basic calendar for the week on the same page they track phone calls and contacts, as well as sales leads. But they don’t want the pesky space wasted for the whole day because they only work mornings, so they customize the calendar to only show the 9-12 segment. No afternoon, no evening, no early morning, just what they need and none of what they don’t.
The truly visual types also like to HEAVILY use highlighters to make liberal pictures for themselves of what on the page is still important at the end of the week.
Some examples on the net have shown people who create a totally kick-ass schedule for the week to track their priority “areas” of information, maximum flex on how to do that, and then take basic notes on the pages just afterwards. If they need 2 pages, they take 2 pages; if they write 10 pages, they use 10 pages. And then, they draw a new schedule on the next page after that, updating priorities, making it a living breathing evergreen document.
I looked at a bunch of the designs, and while I liked some of the elements, my overall reaction is “meh”. I feel a bit bad saying that, as it is no small accomplishment to come up with a tool that analysts and creatives can both use easily. It IS an impressive tool.
But here’s the thing…what I really need are three things — first, a way of keeping track of my priorities for the week (a modified to-do list in an easily visually available format); second, a way of keeping track of longer-term priorities (my ongoing evergreen to-do list); and third, a way to keep track of certain check-box items like whether I remembered to have a snack that morning, or drink water, etc. Memory joggers to see if I’m doing what I need to on some basic things. Some people use these last ones for things like “Make 5 sales calls a day!”, and then check off that they did them. Grunt level activities, not priorities.
I *could* use a paper-based Day-timer for the second one — the long-term goals. Lots of people do. But since they shift and change, it’s easier to do that digitally and I have a list just in a Word document.
For the first and third items (weekly priorities, memory items), I need a custom template and I need to repeat it regularly — every day, every week, maybe every month. Most of the time, a weekly one works best for me. But if I was to do it in the bullet journal, I’d be doing the EXACT same layout every week. Which I can do in Word or Excel just as easily and then just print. Back when I was at CIDA, I created one that had a list of all my projects down one side and space for three to five levels of priorities going across, and it worked AWESOME for me. Usually, I’m playing with a format that is a modification on that layout. I can print blanks and fill them out by hand, or I occasionally fill it out on the computer and just print the latest version.
Doing it electronically makes it easier to read; doing it by hand is faster to fill out and update/shift things. It’s a trade-off.
I got some good ideas out of the bullet journal layouts online, but in the end, I designed my own digital version I can print and replicate. If I want space to be “creative”, I can doodle on any piece of paper or even the back of the page. I like to print the weekly schedule out on a brighter / thicker paper, but other than that, it’s just a merged goals list — the first page is my weekly schedule (personal on the left, work on the right) followed by three pages of my overall long-term to do list.
I had hoped the bullet journal would unlock some creative spirit in me, and some of the journals are REALLY nice for their look and feel. But in the end, I prefer to be digitally enabled.
No bullet journals for me.