My Current Bullet Journal Layout

Taking some time this afternoon to close down my third bullet journal notebook and open up my fourth. While the practice of journaling has gone through countless iterations for me over the past five years I continue to rely upon handwritten prose to help me clarify what is really important and review the blessings and struggles of my life. Here are some of the influences and reasons that my journal has taken this month’s form.

Weekly Layout

I think that this is currently layout v7 since I started bullet journaling. I often tweak things from month to month, but this particular setup has been stable for about six months. I had three goals for this layout: first, to identify and focus on what moves the needle. Second, to help me work on habits that will get me closer to my goals, Third, to give me a place to evaluate and remember what has happened.

That’s all there is to it. Dead simple.

I love my new weekly layout. While I did like the ritual of getting out a ruler and painstakingly make a layout… the new one is focused, and just requires 20 seconds and a pen. No ruler, no level spot… I am free to start a new week anywhere I am, I don’t need 15 minutes of prep work.

Goals

I’m borrowing heavily from a many wiser people: The idea of committing to the most important task a day ahead comes from Shawn Blanc’s The Note. The idea of identifying major themes that “move the needle” comes from David Sparks’ Moving the Needle. I borrowed the circle “UI” from the amazing Theme System journal.

The current plan: I determine the three most important themes on the last hour of the previous Friday… the projects that actually move me towards my life goals. Each day, I determine the most important task of the next day, and write it next to the day header for the next day.

This hopefully provides some structure for how I approach the day. When I sit down to log my habits each day, those Big Three themes and The Note greet me first thing, before email or slack. If I stick to the ritual, I usually have a good day. If I forget or am lazy… I can tell my productivity suffers and I close less of my Big Three circles.

Habits

I use a very simple habit tracker that just pays attention to my most important habits that I’m focusing on for this year. I’ll add “guest star” habits periodically.

Notes

This uses normal bullet journal conventions, with a few custom bits. It often has a list of events or meetings (signified by a circle) with a link the other side of the journal. After the event, I try to put a summary or takeaway in parenthesis. I also make heavy use of smiley faces to give myself a rough history of my mood, and to draw attention to wonderful small things that increase my gratitude. (A lot have to do with my family… little jokes and memories. It generally improves my mood to look back over the week and see the little lovely things God put in there.)

Year Layout

This one is new for me. I found myself going back through the week pages to see how my habits are doing and to figure out what happened in each week, so I threw together a simple index of the weeks to make this easier.

While still in it’s infancy for me, I still use it a lot. I could see working this style of summary into an Index page too… but I like reading them all in a row.

This has already been handy once during review season… it was easier to read back and find the weeks that had the most context about work projects that I wanted documented in a review.

Random Tips

Leave your notebook early.

Don’t do the thing where you have like three pages left, and you nurse them for a straight month, choosing to not write things down because you are afraid you won’t have enough room for “something important.”

End the notebook with four or five pages left, just start a new one. Very freeing.

Keep restarting your practice.

Looking back at the past year that this journal represents… I can directly see a correlation between higher stress levels and reduced journaling and reviewing. I don’t believe it’s really the writing that is beneficial, but the reading and reflection.

Just keep getting back to it, it is worth it.

Summaries are powerful.

If you are like me and record everything whether it’s useful or not, having indexes and summaries can make your notebook much more accessible and useful. In addition, the act of reviewing and rewriting that which you deem to be important is a useful and calming mental practice in itself. They say you don’t know something until you teach it to someone… writing a summary of your own thoughts is like teaching yourself in the future.

If you have any sort of index or list of things… consider adding a tweet-length description of what it is you are “linking” to. Not only will it make recall easier, it’ll provide an opportunity to teach yourself the value of it.

Stickers, doodles, and “stick ins” are the real memories.

new journal

To be honest… I think I’m mostly going to miss the rad stickers in #3. I am looking forward to seeing what 2020 brings this journal… starting with this Ron Swanson I picked up in San Diego. He’s going to remind me that in the end all that matters is doing the work that matters, not writing about it.