Staying productive is hard, and there’s a difference between being productive, and being busy. While to-do lists are enough for most people to keep track of their day-to-day, I believe that the best productivity system is the one you develop for yourself.

I’m a software developer, and there are many aspects of my professional life that demand my time. I have tried many productivity tools, such as Getting Things Done, Evernote, and Todoist. My most recent tool is the Bullet Journal Method, which I’ve been using these last two years. It’s flexible, paper-based, and exactly what I’ve been looking for. I use my journal to help me keep track of my projects, whether it’s web design, app development, or a design sprint.

On World Productivity Day, I’ll be sharing how I make use of Bullet Journaling, including details on my spreads, equipment, and process.

The Bullet Journal Method

The Bullet Journal Method is a productivity system designed by Ryder Carroll. It’s a notebook-based productivity system that makes use of bullets and spreads to tracks tasks, events, and notes over each year, month, week, and (if necessary) day. 

My Supplies

You can get started with a notebook and something to write with. You’ll find that some enthusiasts will spend a lot of time, money, and creativity on their journals as an act of mindfulness. I prefer to keep things simple, and I can set up my spreads in a few minutes at the start of the week. Here’s what I use:

My Bullets

I make use of three bullets (task, event, and note), and four states (started, completed, cancelled, or migrated). You can tweak these as you need; for example, you may use specific icons for birthdays. You can also use an exclamation mark to flag important bullets.

My Spreads

A spread consists of two pages that are next to each other, with a page on the left, and a page on the right. I make use of three spread layouts in my journal; one for a year, month, and week. I’ll create a yearly spread at the start of the year, a monthly spread at the start of the month, and a weekly spread at the start of the week.

My Process

At the start of the week, my typical process is this:

  1. Set up a spread for the week
  2. Set up a spread for a new month (if required)
  3. Look at the previous week and migrate bullets
  4. Look at the current month and migrate bullets
  5. Look at the overall year and migrate bullets
  6. Add new bullets to the current week (if required)

Adding Bullets

I’m always adding new bullets. If a bullet is short-term, it’ll be added to the current week. If it’s for the next week, I’ll add it to my current week’s notes to migrate later. If it’s slightly longer term, I’ll add it to the current month. If it’s something I need to come back to in the future, I’ll schedule it in the year spread.

Tip: Be efficient! If it takes longer to add a task than to do it, then just do it!

Migrating Bullets

The migration of bullets (which represent tasks, events, and notes) is essential, it’s a way of housekeeping. When migrating, I’ll ask:

  • Is this still required? If not, cancel it!
  • What’s the minimum I can do to progress it?
  • Can I do it now? If not, migrate it!

You can draw an arrow through a bullet to migrate it, and then follow the ‘Adding Bullets’ process to complete the migration.

Is Bullet Journaling for You?

Like all productivity tools, it has upsides and downsides. Simply put, the Bullet Journal Method is just a form of organisation. However, it’s flexible. You can track habits, diet, spending, reading lists. You can include a diary, or perhaps a phone book. That’s what makes it useful. 

Should you decide to try it, I’d suggest you try to keep it simple. However, don’t be afraid to experiment and see what works for you.

If you’re interested in finding out more, you can pick up a copy of The Bullet Journal Method: Track the Past, Order the Present, Design the Future” by Ryder Carroll. Carroll explains his method in detail and provides examples of how it can be applied in practice.