The Simple Journal Hack That Can Help You Tackle Your To-Do List

The Simple Journal Hack That Can Help You Tackle Your To-Do List

Chances are, you rely on your phone to help you get stuff done.

Whether it’s a calendar synched to your laptop, an app that keeps you from scrolling through Buzzfeed when you’re supposed to be working, or a running to-do list in your notes, your device is your central command center.

At least, it was. Believe it or not, plenty of productivity-minded folks are keeping track of their lives with something way more low-tech. In fact, it’s totally no-tech.

Meet the bullet journal. On the outside, it looks like a pretty average notebook. But on the inside, it’s a living, breathing productivity system. And it just might change your life.

What is a bullet journal?

A bullet journal might sound intense. And if you were to take a quick peek on Instagram, you might be intimated by the amazingly pretty (and detailed) notebooks of some artistically-inclined users.

But it’s nothing you can’t handle. And you don’t have to be a dedicated doodler to be a world-class bullet journaler. A bullet journal is really just a method of journaling and note-taking that’s based around making bulleted lists.

What makes a bullet journal different than a regular paper calendar or a to-do list? Because it’s both of those things combined—and more. A bullet journal consists of a bunch of different sections that help you keep track of what’s going on in your daily life, over the course of the month, and throughout the entire year—all at once.

Why bullet journals beat your phone.

While some people's productivity may benefit from smartphone usage, the truth is they are probably distracting you.
While some people’s productivity may benefit from smartphone usage, the truth is they are probably distracting you.

Let’s be honest. No one’s saying that a bullet journal will suddenly prompt you to stuff your device in a drawer and never look at it again. Your phone is great for all kinds of stuff (except when you’re trying to go to sleep, of course). But it might not the best tool for tracking your to-dos.

That’s because your brain reacts differently to stuff on your device versus stuff on real paper. Devices are distracting. We might read worse on screens than on printed pages, and using them drains our brainpower faster. Plus, there’s something that’s just really satisfying about using a pen and paper. It feels like you’re really getting something done.

Sure, writing in a journal usually takes up more time than dashing off a note on your phone. (And bullet journaling, despite the name, is no exception.) But in a world where you can order a meal or a ride with the touch of a button, isn’t choosing to perform an activity slowly and deliberately sort of great? If you can’t quite get on board with straight-up meditating, bullet journaling might be the next best thing.

How to build your bullet journal.

OK, you’re convinced that you should try this thing out. So where do you get one?

Sorry, you can’t buy a bullet journal. You’ve got to make one. So grab a plain notebook and let’s get to work. Every bullet journal is divided up into a few different sections—each one is important and serves its own purpose.

When you add an item to any of your logs, it should be short and sweet. Like, “Mail package” or “Dentist @ 3:00 PM.” You’re making lists here, not composing the perfect text to your ex.

Taking a break from digital devices to build and work in your bullet journal can be deeply satisfying, as well as preserve brainpower.
Taking a break from digital devices to build and work in your bullet journal can be deeply satisfying, as well as preserve brainpower.

Next to each item, you’ll add a bulletpoint. Dedicated bullet journalers use different bullets or symbols to indicate different things, like a map key. (You can actually draw a key in your journal, so you don’t forget what they are!) This makes it fast and easy to know where you are with different tasks.

1. The index.

This is your table of contents. Instead of breaking your journal into certain sections ahead of time and eventually running out of space, every time you add a new page or log, you list it in the index along with the page number. When you need to find something, you don’t have to bother flipping around. You just check the index.

2. The daily log.

This is your daily to-to list. But it can—and should—also encompass other stuff. Like the book recommendation your friend gave you, or the funny quote you saw. Basically, the daily log is for logging anything relevant that happened—or has to happen—today. Every day, you make a new one.

3. The monthly log.

This is your monthly calendar. It’s where you mark down when that project is due, the yoga dance party you don’t want to miss, and the weekend when your parents come to visit. Every month, you make a new one.

4. The future log.

This is where you dump all that far-off stuff that you need to remember for some point later on, but that doesn’t really matter today or even this month.

If it all sounds overwhelming now, don’t worry. All bullet journalers feel that way at first. But the confusion quickly melts into a deep, comfortable kind of love—like the kind you feel for those old, perfectly worn-in jeans.

And if you need more help getting started? Just check out this video. Many bullet journalers say that seeing a journal in action helps make the whole thing click.

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Marygrace Taylor

Marygrace Taylor is an award-winning health writer for Amerisleep. Somehow, she manages to get eight hours of sleep almost every night.