As you might know, the traditional bullet journal goes day by day – which is the beauty of the system, because it flows with your needs. This planning system, this tool, helped me become more productive and tackle the tasks that eventually add up to what I aim to be an intentional and fulfilling life. For me, being productive means minimizing the time I spend doing life-depleting, redundant, or ineffective tasks while maximizing the time I spend doing life-giving or creative endeavors.
When bullet journalists begin or set up their bullet journal, I see questions about whether or not to use digital in addition to paper, or if that’s “allowed.” First of all, it is YOUR planner, you can do whatever the hell you want with it, including digital hacks. It is not an “or” conversation, it is a “yes, and” conversation. We can absolutely do both, and I certainly do. If you’re interested in how I use both digital and analog hacks and processes to help me be productive, go forth!
In planning I have several key principles:
- The purpose is the point.
- Work smarter, not harder.
- Free up your RAM. to do complex, strategic, and creative work through thoughtful design and automation.
- Personal on paper, collaborate on the cloud.
- You can’t plan for everything.
The purpose is the point. In our achievement-based society it is tempting to add to-do list items just to have them, have as a badge of value to our families or workplace, or do things because you feel like you “have to.”
This might show up as never-ending tasks in one day, crowd-sourcing suggestions for all the extra collections you should have in your bujo, getting ideas for the “best” layout, or impulsively buying the latest planner goodies you saw on Facebook. I’ve fallen for this before, hence my dish of washi tape in my shelf (sigh).
But I challenge you to join me in thinking about what the point is. What is the PURPOSE of that collection? What is the PURPOSE of that new purchase? (I’ve said it before and say again – I will not enable you buy shit just to buy it – and don’t make it harder for me, either!) What do you need the layout to do for you? Why ARE you doing that task?
I find that once I have a clear reason, it becomes much easier to prioritize and manage where I put my heartbeats. Without the purpose, you will spin your wheels for little reason and little movement.
Work smarter, not harder. I am awesome at some things, and not awesome at others. Some tasks just don’t play into my strengths or would take me MUCH longer to do with more effort. To manage my weaknesses and minimize this ineffective time, I like to automate whenever I can, and design my world to be as easy as possible. Here are the ways I try to do that: (remember – I do not have children! that would be a completely different game!)
- I put things in front of my door like my gym bag, snacks for work, recycling, returns to make – knowing that Morning Jessica struggles hardcore, I just make it easier by setting myself up for success.
- I can’t create a calendar better than Google Calendar – so I’m not going to. My future planning woes are taken care of with this beautifully convenient web and mobile app – if I need to remember to schedule something, I create an event. If I need to block off time to do something, I create an event. Birthdays & Anniversaries? No problem.
- When setting up a meeting on Google, I try to write a detailed plan in the description – what is the pre-work? What do we want to accomplish? – so I don’t scramble last minute wondering WTF I’m doing and am able to be effective AND relationship-building.
- I use washi tape as tabs for often-referenced pages or to “tip in” extra pages.
- Time tracking. I love seeing those time tickers on people’s daily spreads – and I have tried to do similar things in Google Calendar to no avail. So thanks to Kim, I discovered Jiffy which allows me to track what I’m spending my time doing with just a tap. At a glance I can see where my time is going, and how often I am changing tasks (hint: it’s a lot!)
- Habit tracking. I suck at remembering to, so I use the Pledge App to automate some of my habit tracking. I used to do a monthly tracker in my planner but got lazy about it. I keep the important habits in my weekly paper tracker and secondary habits in the app. You can set habits for daily or weekly habits – for example, I want to review work receipts every week, and drink 2 glasses of water every day. The app pops up at 10pm at night to ask if I have done it or not, with a tracked history of my behavior.
Free up your RAM. RAM is what allows your computer to multi-task at varying amounts. Your mind works similarly – it is a valuable resource and there is a limited amount of stuff it can handle at a given time. Make decision-making easier so you can use your brain power elsewhere. Let go of remembering the small stuff so you can focus on strategic, complex, or creative endeavors. Here’s how that shows up for me:
- When overwhelmed, I grab a sheet of paper and just rapid-log all the tasks on my mind. Once they’ve been acknowledged, I can methodically organize and categorize them into a manageable load
- When struck with a thought, I schedule reminder texts on my Android phone. Out of my brain, into the world. (you’re welcome – this has been AWESOME for birthdays, asking how an interview went, etc in the moment I remember to do so). You can also do this with emails on the Boomerang lab for Gmail.
- I try to have a home for everything in my work and home spaces. This takes energy out of the endless minutes I’ve spent hunting down my cuticle clipper, that eraser, or new contact lenses.
- Before bed I jot down all the tasks I have to do so I don’t get bogged down with them trying to fall asleep – because we have all been there.
Personal on Paper, Collaborate on the Cloud. One of the benefits of a paper system is that the act of writing engages your brain differently so you can remember more, think deeper — but this falls short when you have to coordinate with other people. If it’s just for my benefit, I write it in my bujo (tasks, project planning, strategic thinking like for my someday-Etsy shop or journaling). While coordinating on things like workshop agendas or HUGE ever-changing projects, I want to be able to easily edit and share with others. Just because I CAN do it on paper doesn’t mean it’s the best use of my time and energy given the work at hand in the same vein that you wouldn’t use a paper map when you have a GPS. Here are the things I use:
- Shared calendars on Google. I should essentially be the spokesperson about this – you can read more here and here about how I use this with my husband but this helps us coordinate errands, tasks, schedules, AND meal planning – which gives us time back throughout the week to relax and do other things. (This means I don’t have a monthly calendar spread or these sections in my weekly)
- Shared grocery lists. As someone who doesn’t particularly enjoy grocery shopping (and would rather spend that time on calligraphy drills), I want to streamline this task as much as possible. My husband and I use Grocery IQ, an app that can share grocery lists. This syncs in “the cloud” so if one of us is at the store we can quick reference the app and not miss anything.
- Personal journaling and reflections. These are best on paper for thinking and legacy reasons – not to mention they give me a lot of joy to do. (see below… with greetings from my cat, Toby). I’m optimistic that my future children or family could look back on some of my musings as a connection to the past. These include my weekly reflections and gratitude log.
- Financial planning. As I detailed in my blog post, Mr. PPP and I begin with collaboration on a shared spreadsheet to get on the same page. From there, I get down to my personal monthly commitments and THEN move to the analog version.
You Can’t Plan for Everything. My adage is that “life is written in pencil, not in pen.” Everything can change in the moment. I can’t plan for a particularly joyful moment when friends get good news, or needing to listen to someone who just got dumped, or when co-workers want to get happy hour. Plans are intentions but not set in stone. A beautiful life is happening around you and it beckons you to join it – and you CAN. Since you’ve written down what you need to do, it allows you to masterfully re-prioritize and put something aside for what is emerging in this moment and drink it in. Because the point is to live your life, too.
So that’s a peek into how I use both digital and analog systems to make my life a little easier with more joy – how about you? Are you all paper, all digital? Both?