Bullet Journal for Effectiveness and Productivity

Let me begin with this: I do not use the bullet journal to get more shit done.

I use the bullet journal to do what I want. 

When I say that, I mean that I want to travel, I want to spend time with family and friends, I want to make a difference.  Through a flurry of blog posts we’ve been reminded that when we pass, we will not regret spending too little time on work email, on drama, on getting just the right numbers for a client.  We will wish we had more time for friends, for experiences, for living.

I use my bullet journal to take stock and keep track of all the things going on in my brain and in the various responsibilities that I have. My goal isn’t always to do ALL the things – but to do the right things.  That’s what I define as productivity – getting what you need to get done, so you have time to live your life the way you want to.  I don’t want to check a box just to check a box – I want to know that it’s there for a reason. I want to know that I’m not just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.  Checking boxes makes you feel good, but to what end? What does completing those tasks get you? Hopefully, closer to doing more of what you want to be doing.

If I minimize the busy work, then I have more time and energy to do those big things. 

Until recently, I had a mental process I went through before I even put tasks down into my bullet journal – and finally found a concept that describes it.  This will sound a little bit like David Allen’s Get Things Done, but I find it easier to follow and think about.  It’s the Focus Funnel.

Get productive in your bullet journal by using this focus process. www.prettyprintsandpaper.com



The Focus Funnel was developed by Rory Vaden, and it has rocked my world by giving me the words to describe my own mental process.  The essence of this process challenges the idea of being more “efficient” to get more time – we all know from the buzzing in our pockets that all efficiency alone does is encourage us to fill that extra time with doing more tasks.  (I’ve definitely been guilty of this! “Oh I’ll just send one more email…”)

This process also challenges the two-dimensional concept of Importance vs. Urgency.  As Vaden puts it, prioritization only shifts your time from one task to another, pushes one task up or down your list – it does not give you time.

Instead, we should think about time and how we can multiply it.  Instead of just looking at what our Top 3 should be for TODAY, we should consider what our Top 3 should be for today that will give us more time TOMORROW. Again, as Vaden puts it –

Multiply your time by giving yourself permission to spend time on things today that will give you more time tomorrow.

It seems so simple!  Let’s walk through the stages.

Get productive in your bullet journal by using this focus process
Model adapted from Rory Vader’s original model (www.roryvaden.com), hand-drawn by Jessica (www.prettyprintsandpaper.com)

If you “brain dump” or rapid log, pour the tasks onto paper.  Now, take your list through this pruning method.

ELIMINATE.  Do you really need to do this task? Is it necessary? These are things that you feel like you have to say yes to, but really should refuse in order to concentrate on the core things you’re juggling.  Coming from someone who doesn’t like disappointing people, I’ve learned a few things about saying no:

  • Vaden mentions it in his TED Talk, but I’ve heard it many times – when we commit to one thing, we are refusing something else.  If I need to teach another class,  what other projects won’t move forward (as quickly)?  Is that ok? Ask the question – “I could say yes to this, but then project B will have to come off my plate or extend the deadline – will this serve us?”
  • Consider if you should be the one doing it – does this fit someone else’s skill set better?
  • Offer another suggestion or resource that can help.  This still offers some scope of help without necessarily taking it on.

So cross out some things off that brain dump if you can!

AUTOMATE.  Vaden mentions the “Return on Time Investment” – meaning that, it might take 2 hours now, but in just a few months, you’ll get back the time you spent.  If that’s the case, it would be worth it to spend that time TODAY to take advantage of time savings for longer. Because, again, you get more time to do the things you’d rather be doing. Some things I’ve automated:

  • Canned responses. For common questions, I created canned responses in my Gmail to pull from when necessary
  • Email filters.  It’s no secret that email kills productivity, especially when I get a TON of junk email. Taking the time to clean my inbox, unsubscribe, and create relevant filters made it easier to stop checking it so often.
  • Cat feeder. When we are out of town, we use an automatic cat feeder. It takes a few minutes to set up, but saves us time coordinating with someone for keys, explaining the cats, and money for their time.
  • Bills. Some like to track their bills in their bullet journal but I don’t trust myself to keep detailed track of those things – so I rely on auto-pay.

DELEGATE.  Instead of doing everything yourself, is there someone else you can give the task to? Is there someone else you can train over time to take over some of the burdensome tasks so you can be free to do other things only you can do? The longer I’ve worked on something, the harder it is to feel like I can train someone else to do it just as well; but I see the return on this effort through time as they learn that task or the organizational history just as well, so I am trying to take the time to train SOONER.

At work, we use Asana to organize and delegate tasks across the team.  It takes TIME to type in the instructions and expectations around tasks – but over time, I got better at clarity, and the students got better at knowing how to best complete the tasks, and what’s more, they started foreseeing the needs before I even needed to write it into the task list. (MY FAVORITE)

When my tasks get delegated, I use the signifier of >> in my bullet journal. 

Now that your tasks have gone through all these other filters, the task has gotten to you, yay! This is when I ask myself if it is important to do RIGHT NOW.  If so, you Concentrate, hunker, focus, and hammer it out.  This is when you don’t have to feel guilty about boxing out other people for your time.

If you can do it later, then Procrastinate (on purpose). The task goes back up to the top of the funnel and goes through the process again.  From here, a few things might happen:

  • You migrate it so much in your bullet journal that you end up never needing to do it, and thus gets eliminated
  • A new tool is introduced that takes care of the task
  • Someone becomes available and willing to learn how to do the task
  • Or it becomes urgent enough that you will move it to the Concentrate stage and finally complete it


In case you want to drill it down, here it is again –

  • Eliminate the unnecessary or unimportant.
  • Automate what you can today to save time tomorrow.
  • Delegate and train others.
  • Then, Concentrate OR Procrastinate (on purpose)

It might sound complicated, but just look at these 4 beautiful steps.  It’s been a powerful way for me to think about work – so I have time to travel, to love on my family and friends, and to make a difference.

How about you? What are you doing to be more effective?


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