This notebook beats any to-do list

How many points have you actually removed from your to-do list today? Oh, you don’t even know where you put it. And how’s the water drinking going? Did you break the two-liter mark today? You have no idea, so to speak … And shouldn’t you get the birthday present for your sister, who will turn 30 the day after tomorrow? Oh, you’ve completely ruined that? Ouch! These are going to be tight panties…

Don’t worry, very few of us are perfect when it comes to discipline and self-organisation. However, this does not mean that we would not like to improve in terms of self-management. Not in order to add more to our to-do lists, but simply to make room in our heads and not to constantly carry around the unpleasant feeling that we have forgotten something or wasted too much time with unimportant knick-knacks.

To-do lists clear the mind

Scientists have long since found out that people who write down their tasks and goals not only forget less, but actually live more stress-free: According to a study by the American Baylor University (published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General), to-do lists are even supposed to help you fall asleep.

One half of the test persons were asked to write down which tasks they had successfully completed the previous day before going to bed in the evening, the other half were asked to list the to-do’s for the following day. Who could fall asleep faster? Amazingly, those who wrote down their to-dos for the next task. The scientists’ explanation: to-do lists clear the mind – the more concretely formulated, the better.

That would take away the horror of the task ahead and it would be easier to stop thinking about it.

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That’s all well and good, but how long would a to-do list be, on which all the things you want and need to do tomorrow, next week, this month and throughout the year are really noted? With hundreds of bullet points, how on earth are you supposed to keep track, prioritize, categorize, and generally? At this point the Bullet Journal finally comes into play …

What is a Bullet Journal and where did the idea come from?

The idea and name go back to Ryder Carroll, a digital product designer from New York who suffered from attention deficit disorder from an early age and therefore found it incredibly difficult to concentrate on one thing. He was always looking for a technique to file and organize all ideas, thoughts, tasks and goals in such a way that he had the feeling that he had everything in view, didn’t forget anything and didn’t waste any more time on unimportant things.

With pencil and notebook he finally succeeded as a student in what has since become known as DIE new way of organizing everyday life – the Bullet Jorunal.

The Bullet Journal can be a mixture of calendar, to-do list, notebook, idea collection and motivator of short and long-term goals. The emphasis is on “can”, because the Bullet Journal does not follow fixed rules. In the end, it notes down what is important to the person in question.

In other words, one person tracks in the Bullet Journal how many glasses of water he or she drinks each day, while another wants to write down three things each day for which he or she was particularly grateful on the day in question. Still others use the calendar to keep track of their weight, check their periods or to remind themselves to clean the litter box. Ergo: In the Bullet Journal everything is allowed that is relevant to you.

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How does the Bullet Journal help me increase my productivity?

Relevance – good keyword! According to Carroll, the first step to start with the Bullet Journal is to decipher what is really important, what we actually want to, must and should do and which to-dos we would rather throw overboard because they incriminate us and steal time. For example, you may be obsessed with finishing that book that has been gathering dust on your bedside table for months because it is so boring. Get rid of it.

Instead, read books that really interest, inspire or do you good. “If you’re busy, you’re far from productive,” says Ryder Carroll during a TED -talks and notes: A Bullet Journal should above all help us to clear our heads, it should feed our curiosity and help us to focus on what is really important.

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In addition, there is the design aspect, which for many people goes hand in hand with keeping a bulletin journal (a bit like when we embellished our homework books). These planners are sometimes veritable works of art whose pages are often lovingly and elaborately designed – simply because it’s much more fun to keep such a journal than a crude, impersonal calendar or app.

Which brings us to the next important point: What advantages does the Bullet Journal actually have over apps and digital calendars? Actually, quite a few …

The more digital our everyday life becomes, the more our notes and tasks are distributed in different folders, lists, apps, mail folders etc. With all these inboxes and filing systems, do you really have an overview of which to-dos are bogged down somewhere in your mailbox? Which ideas are lying idle because they are stuck in some notebook that they have long forgotten?

“If you store reminders (…) somewhere out of sight, it can be dangerous,” says David Allen, author of the bestseller “How I get things done”. He also argues for a paper planner that really covers everything and that we can really rely on: “It can be a great experience if you create and maintain a common list of all your projects!

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Another aspect in terms of productivity is that a bullet journal is written by hand and what we write down by hand is simply better remembered. The best example of this is a study conducted a few years ago at Princeton University in New Jersey. In one experiment, students were asked to take notes of lectures – some handwritten, some using their laptop. The subjects were then asked to answer questions about the lecture.

The two groups performed equally well in terms of pure facts, but the group that took notes by hand scored much better on comprehension questions. The others were far too busy transcribing the lecture almost literally and thinking less about its content.

Ergo: Typing on a smartphone or laptop may be faster, but it’s not nearly as much fun as creative work with pen and paper. Even if you’re the minimalist type who doesn’t like to add floral vines and colorful tape to your Bullet Journal, you’ll be surprised at how much better you suddenly remember things you’ve written down yourself.

What is the best way to start your Bullet Journal?

As I said, there are no rules in the design of the Bullet Journal. Nevertheless, we would like to introduce you to Ryder Carroll’s version to give you a first insight.

You need a notebook, at best one of the “dotted” category – i.e. neither snow-white pages, lines or checks, but one with small dots. This helps a lot with clean design, drawing lines etc. The most popular notebook at the moment is probably Lighthouse1917’s notebook, but Moleskine’s planners are also used for Bullet Journaling. Finally, the Bullet Journal can be created in any planner.

On the first double page a Index in which all subsequent pages, chapters or lists are noted, in order to find them more quickly. The index is therefore permanently extended.

On the next double page the future log so the Annual overview . To do this, you can divide the double page into six sections using two horizontal lines, for example: This will be your half-yearly summary. Then you can mark the areas with the corresponding months. Here you enter all the things and tasks that are due in the coming months but are not yet among your current to-dos.

The next double page becomes the current monthly statement the Monthly Log . On the left side you note the days of the week of the corresponding month like in a conventional calendar. On the right side you list the things you want or need to do in that month and, if necessary, when exactly that should happen. Everything from filing a tax return to calling the vet to the desire to finally look for a good yoga studio.

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Then comes the daily log so the Daily overview . This is where our classic daily to-dos are noted and categorized at the same time. There are tasks (“Take the books to the library”; marked with a dot), events (“Tina’s 30th birthday”; marked with a circle) and notes (“Peter: nut allergy!”; marked with a dash). If a task is particularly important, it is marked with an additional star.

As already mentioned above: Everything else that is important to you may of course be noted here as well: Your sports program, your “drink more water” reminder, etc.

How Bullet Journal migration works

A new monthly overview is created at the end of each month. Then you check whether the daily tasks of the previous month have all been processed (then you get a cross). Things that you have not completed should be checked briefly to see if they are still relevant. If they are, they are marked with an arrow pointing to the right and carried over to the new month; if not, they are crossed out.

If there are tasks that will not be due for several months, they are marked with an arrow pointing to the left and transferred to the Future Log. Ryder Carroll calls this process “migration”, by the way – essential to keep your Bullet Journal up to date and not to lose track of what’s going on.

To be truly successful and productive with Bullet Journal, Ryder Carroll recommends investing five minutes each day to review, delete, add and migrate the currently open to-dos. This kind of reflection not only helps you to keep a reliable overview of all your tasks, but also helps you to gradually decide better which things are really worth your time and which are not.

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In addition, there are now countless possibilities to further expand the Bullet Journal and use it as a useful, individual planning tool. Popular examples are the so-called habit tracker . These are tables or lists (however you want to design your Habit Tracker), which are intended to remind you of daily or weekly habits, but above all to improve your discipline.

If you can check off every day (or every week) that you have done your butt exercises, not smoked or watered the flowers, you will actually be pleased with the visible result, which will appear in black and white after some time.

And now: Just get going!

The Bullet Journal has become popular with an incredible number of people, all of whom are completely different. Managers and students alike have come to appreciate this type of everyday planning. This is mainly because a) it works, b) it makes us more disciplined and thus more satisfied, and c) it does not follow any rigid rules and quasi “grows” with its user. Meanwhile the net is full of templates, layouts and lots of ideas for designing your own Bullet Journal.

This means: Browse, get inspired, be creative yourself and just try it out. Anyone who gets involved with this planning system over a longer period of time will find that they are constantly remodeling their Bullet Journal, leaving out trackers and adding new tools. And according to Ryder Carroll, that is a good thing. After all, testing and discarding should serve to keep his “mental inventory”, his mental map, always up to date.