Removing the Fear from Bullet Journaling

This is Hubris: 28 February 2021 edition. In this issue I want to talk about removing the fear from bullet journaling, including the fear of making mistakes or failing to update it regularly.  

Last September I spent significant time reviewing my work flows. In particular, I took a hard look at how I use my bullet journal. Not everything I was doing had value. There were entries that I made out of habit, with no clear purpose behind them. I was falling into the common productivity trap of thinking that crossing things off of list was the same as accomplishing something worthwhile.

Armed with that perspective, I made conscious choices about how to set up my 2021 bullet journal. Anything that captured useful information would stay. Anything that could be optimized would be changed. I found a few things that I wasn’t tracking, but needed to for reasons that I could articulate. Almost everything else got cut.

It’s now 2 months into 2021. I am already 79 pages into this bullet journal, which is fine. It isn’t about how many pages you use, it’s about how you’re using those pages. Every single week, though, I have changed something. Does that mean that I’ve made some huge mistakes, and wasted all that time spent reviewing and planning? No, it means that my needs have changed. I’m grateful that the bullet journal method is adaptable, and that I can make quick tweaks and keep going.

Making Mistakes

I still make legitimate mistakes, though. I’m prone to creating spreads I think I’ll need, without really contemplating what I’ll use the spread for. As I get older, I’m less able to forecast how long tasks or projects will take me. The journal ends up a bit messy as I end up using half a page on what I though would be a two-page spread, and starting something else on the lower half of that page.

That’s okay, though. First, it’s what rapid logging is for. I’ve learned to captire ideas in daily logs, color code them, and when it becomes clear something needs a dedicated spread, I make one. Second, that’s what threading is for. If notes run from one daily log to another, then just thread them. I’ve utilized threading to go back and fill up pages with any sort of empty space. If I’ve threaded things properly, I know I’ll be able to find those notes. An finally, that’s what the index is for. When my color-coded threads on a topic have become significant, I add the topic and the starting page of the thread to the index.

Creating Redundancy

When a thread starts to take over, I create a spread. Sometimes I leave the existing notes as they are, and make a mini-index on the spread. Most of the time I rewrite the thread notes on the spread page. I know that this is redundant, and double work. Guess what? The bullet journal method is full of redundancies, by design. You move things from the future log to the monthly log to the daily log. There’s nothing wrong with that.

Having to rewrite notes does two things. It helps me to remember them, for a start. Whether it’s doing the future log to daily log shuffle, or copying threaded notes onto a spread, the act of writing reinforces the ideas and tasks in my brain. The other benefit is that it allows me to think about, refine, and reorganize things. Rewriting scattered tasks means I can make it clear that this comes before that. I can replace an initial though with a better idea, or express it in a way that has more clarity.

Ignoring the Book

A lot of people get stressed out when they don’t update their bullet journal on a daily basis. This is something that used to cause me stress. When I was in the corporate world and had to use the Franklin Covey planner, my boss would regularly take the book and look through it to ensure I was using it. Thanks to the page-a-day format, blank spaces were glaringly obvious. Filling out the pages was more important than doing the actual core work. It wasn’t so much a tool to help me get things done as documentation of how I had been spending my time.

Remember that the point of using a bullet journal is to help you organize information and accomplish other things. It is not an end unto itself. Because you create daily logs as you go, you’re not wasting space. If you skip from Monday to a week from Wednesday you’re not leaving empty pages in your wake.

As I’ve become more comfortable with the process, I’ve allowed myself to skip days. For example, if the only thing I’m doing all day is writing, I might not create a daily log. Anything relevant to the project might get noted on the project page. Odd notes and things for later will get jotted on the monthly task list or future log to be assigned later. I still use it most days, but I don’t feel driven to create a daily log and then struggling to come up with things to write down.

Removing the Fear from Bullet Journaling

Hopefully my rambling here has been useful to you, especially if you’ve been struggling with journaling. No one is going to see your bullet journal, so no one is going to judge you. The only person putting pressure on you is you. Find ways to make the tool work for you, develop habits that lead to the results you want, and do your own thing. There is no right or wrong way to bullet journal. What matters is that you feel more organized and productive as a result of using it.

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