Getting Things Done and The Bullet Journal Method

At the risk of offending fans of both David Allen and Ryder Carroll, I don’t see a vast difference between Getting Things Done and The Bullet Journal Method. The techniques are different, but the underlying philosophy of both is the same. Collect information, sort it, and take action on it. What I use is a sort of hybrid of the two, with a few other productivity tips and tricks I’ve picked up along the way thrown in.

This post is about where the rubber hits the road for me. I’m going to cover my daily planning and organization. Your mileage may vary. I’ll use GTD terms, and then explain how I turn them into bujo actions and notations.

A Caveat Before You Hate

I’ve read Getting Things Done three or four times. My copy of The Bullet Journal Method just arrived and I haven’t read it yet. All of my bujo knowledge comes from Ryder Carroll’s videos, and the roughly bajillion other videos about bullet journaling available on YouTube. It’s worth noting that I used a Franklin Covey planner for about 15 years and still dream about them. I have read The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People probably 10 or 12 times, and since the mid-1990s have consumed roughly 8,947,562 other books on productivity. Just so you understand my frame of reference.

My Key

The symbols that I use aren’t the standard bujo symbols. I hacked this system together years ago when I was still using a Franklin Covey planner. Because both Allen and Carroll are walking the path that was blazed in modern times by Stephen Covey and, before him, Benjamin Franklin.

 – The task is done. If the task is on a spread other than a calendar or dated log entry, I usually jot down the date it was completed.

< p.xx – There is more information on a previous page. Replace “xx” with actual page numbers. This might be detailed instructions about what needs to be done, or simply the calendar spread where the task originated.

p. xx> – There is more information on a later page. Replace “xx” with actual page numbers. That information might be the date something was rescheduled to, when followup is required, or just a log entry going into detail about what happened.

X – This task is dead. Possibly because the project it was attached to is dead. Cancelled, irrelevant, never mind. It may also be a one-time thing that I was supposed to go to that never happened, or I was unable to attend for some reason. Stuff happens. Move on.

B – There’s a bookmark on my browser for this. Usually these tasks involve reading a site for research, or something that has to be done on the site of a company or government agency. Most of the time I write the folder the bookmark is in, unless it’s obvious or a site I visit frequently.

Threading

I make heavy use of threading, as you can see above. I not only thread daily diary entries and project logs, I thread task progression, delegated tasks, and follow-up efforts. Threading adds a dimensionality to a bullet journal that no other planning, tracking, or productivity system has. It’s the best part of the whole system, in my opinion.

On Your Calendar

Here’s the first step, the foundation of everything. Anything that can be scheduled either goes on the weekly spread, the monthly spread, or the future log. If something is further out than the current future log, I write it on a sticky note inside the back of the journal. When I’m moving to a new journal, or reach a point where I need a new future log, then that information gets transferred.

Task Lists

This is probably the most complex part of my hybrid system. Most of it is standard bujo. When making a monthly spread, I transfer relevant entries from the future log. I put a p. xx> next to those items in the future log, with the page number of the monthly, so I know it got forwarded.

In making a weekly spread, I carry things over from the monthly spread. Again, I thread it forward in the monthly with a p. xx> and the page number of the weekly, so I know it’s where it will be seen. It seems repetitive, but nothing gets lost.

I live in the weekly spread. One ribbon bookmark is always here. Most things get checked off there. I do keep a daily log, like a standard diary, where I usually end up making a list of things that come up and need to be dealt with that day. We’ll get to that in a moment.

In addition to the calendar spreads, I also have a spread for each project I’m currently working on. There are task lists on those spreads. When something is scheduled, or has a deadline, it gets threaded forward with a p. xx> and page number to a monthly or weekly. Unscheduled tasks go onto a running list, which is reviewed on a regular basis so those tasks can be scheduled. I leave room on project task lists to put either a ✓ and the date of completion, or a p. xx> and page number where I’ve logged something about its status.

The Two Minute Rule

As with standard GTD, if something comes up that can be knocked out within two minutes I just do it. Unless it’s something that I will need to know later, it doesn’t get written down. For example, I might want to note when I put a new ink cartridge in the printer, so I can track how long it lasts. I’m not going to log that I put paper in the tray.

If I can’t do it right now, it gets captured on my daily journal to be done that day. These are things like “remember to send an email” when I’m away from my devices, or “ask someone a question” because it’s the middle of the night in their time zone and I’m not calling or texting them now.

Trash

If something is trash, it doesn’t get written down. In certain circumstances, I will log in the appropriate place that I threw something out, turned down an offer, or declined an invitation. This only happens if I think it’s going to come up in the future, and I want to be able to reference dates or times. It’s a CYA move, to be honest.

Delegated / Follow Up / Waiting

This is all about threading. I shoot someone an email, and get an autoresponse that they’re out of the office until next Tuesday. If I’ve got next week’s spread set up already, I write p. xx> next to that item on the task list. Then I go to next week’s spread, and in the slot for Tuesday note to follow up on that email. If I don’t have a spread set up for the followup date, it goes on the monthly or the future log, and I note <p. xx to show it’s not an open loop.

The Someday/Maybe List

This is a collection. Actually, it’s several collections. Restaurant I want to try. Recipes I’d like to test out. Places I want to visit. Ideas for projects. This is one of the reasons I keep two separate bullet journals, one for personal and household stuff, and one for business information.

Reference

This is also a series of collections. Reference is the main reason I have two journals. My business journal has standard operating procedures for various tasks. I have log pages that track interactions with individual clients and partners. Even the project spreads are essentially future reference material, as I document what I did, what worked, and what didn’t. That’s potentially valuable information for the next project.

What Are Your Thoughts?

Do you have your own hybrid GTD/bujo system that you use? Any tips or tricks you’d like to share? Leave comments and questions below. I like when these sorts of posts turn into a conversation!

 

 

Reflection

4 thoughts on “Getting Things Done and The Bullet Journal Method”

  • I’m still struggling to consistently use and reference the thing. My order of priorities are Self care, journaling, organization. Maybe, I need to reverse that. Organize projects like world-building, hobbies, or house hold chores, and let things flow from that rather than starting with self care… Because, I only get a vicious cycle of feeling bad for not doing it, and on and on as I try again on another day, week, or month.

    And, I really need to get organized or something. I think getting some planning done would help me curb my spending, too.

  • Periodically I try to get organised (I use mutiple Trello boards) but find that either a) I spend too much time on the organising than the actual doing or b) I forget to go back to check things off or see what else needs to be done. Partly this is due to a near-eidetic memory, the ‘to-do’ list is there anyway with daily, weekly, and must be done by x date things already there. I also prefer a more fluid way of working. I sit down at the computer, think “What needs to be done?” and choose what to do first based on inclination and on which things have a time (like, a student is due in 20 minutes so I have to be ready to give a supervision, but until then a spot of reading and getting things straight – it’s high time my desk got a tidy!).

    You’d probably write me off as hopelessly disorganised… but it works for me. And colleagues always seem impressed at the amount I get done 🙂

  • The problem with spending too much time organizing and not enough time doing is the subject of a post coming later today.

    There is no one-size-fits-all productivity system. Do what works for you. The only reason to change is if what you’re doing doesn’t get you the results you need.

  • I need to write a post about this.

    I look my journal over in the morning. If I need to add something, or if plans have changed and I need to move things, I do.

    Since I live out of a weekly spread, I have a sidebar with all current projects and trackers and the page numbers. Just as a reminder of what else I should be looking at regularly, if not daily.

    At the end of the day I go back to the journal, cross things off, make notes, and set up the next day.

    It’s just a matter of finding a routine so you look at it.

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