Why a bullet journal doesn’t fit my productivity style

TL;DR: Bujo will work best for people who can stick to a fixed to-do list every day/week, and be unaffected by circumstances like long lists criss-crossing one another. And leaving blank pages between filled pages. Ugh.

I have been testing it out for months- roughly eight months now, because I started last year. The formats and notebooks kept changing so I can’t say that I stuck to a fixed format for more than two months. I rotated between moleskines, normal notebooks, rhodia loose leaf sheets and finally a leuchtturm 1917 notebook. I did the usual bullet journal entries at first- with the monthly spread, and also a daily log, and collections of lists. Shopping lists, reading lists, things to do, goals. And after a few months I realised that I had other ‘collections’ that I needed to track- habit tracking, friends to meet, things to remember for special events etc. I used a key with a dot for things to do, a downward stroke like \ if I am doing it today, and a / , making a cross, if I got it done that day. And the key recommended had things like a circle for appointments, >> for migrations etc.

To me, being productive is a mix of getting things done and getting the right things done. It might seem odd that I’m focused on ‘getting things done’, but the truth is that a lot of the time I don’t know if I am going in the right direction. I am just constantly testing things out- friends, books, writing styles, new podcasts, different yoga videos etc. I don’t know what the ‘right’ thing is- the one that best fits my mood and character- until I try it out. Hence, getting things done is always the first step.

Getting the right things done is harder, because my mood fluctuates almost every day. It is dependent on what text messages I receive, what time I wake up, and the weather. Let’s say that I know I want to do a post on ‘AAA”, but I don’t know when. The quality of my post cannot be forced- I can’t schedule a ‘blog about AAA’ on a Wednesday and expect that I will get it done on a Wednesday, because my mind rebels against fixed schedules. The moment I have to blog about something, my mind goes blank and refuses to think about it. (I just thought of this post, hence I’m doing it immediately to avoid mind blanks.)

A productivity system has to provide that blank space for me to record what I have done, what I am going to do, and it has to be flexible enough to allow for changes every day. Also, it needs to incorporate all parts of my life together- work/personal/church etc.  Which is why the bullet journal doesn’t work for me. I suspect it doesn’t work for a lot of people actually, the videos on youtube are more artistic than practical.

Because in the bullet journal system, you have to know your appointments and to-dos for the days of the month, and also a detailed ‘daily log’. I don’t even know what I will eat for dinner or where I will run tonight, how can I possibly predict what I will do tomorrow? Yes there are ‘set appointments’, such as church camp and cell meetings and friends meeting etc, but there are so many other things in life that fluctuate. I work based on the 80/20 rule– I do whatever I feel will get me the most results that day. If I originally had planned for a run but the weather is ridiculously hot, it makes no sense to 1. Run or 2. Migrate that run to another day, by cancelling out that entry and re-writing it. My schedule constantly, constantly changes.

My general to-do list remains the same, but there is no fixed day to day plan, for a whole week or a whole month– appointments change, priorities change, moods change. Given my perfectionistic tendencies, if I don’t achieve what I wrote down at the start of the month (goals tracking etc) I will be upset, even if circumstances have changed. And a moleskine notebook, correction-taped many times over, is a difficult surface to write on.

Also- bullet journaling is always in the form of one book. A single book to meet all your needs. But because I tend to collect a lot of information over just a month, by the end of the first month I realised that a lot of my collections were criss-crossing each other. By that I mean that the first two pages would be ‘book recommendations from friends’ and because I don’t like to leave too many blank pages in between, the fourth and fifth page would be ‘cosmetic wants next year’, and then the seventh and eighth page would be ‘quotes from this author!!’ and then it would be back to book recommendations. It was really messy, which made me unhappy.

Also, the idea of ‘just one book’ doesn’t fit my writing style. Those who know me in real life know that I am passive-aggressive when it comes to writing. Sometimes I write like a bulldog, page after page, sometimes I don’t write in my diary for weeks. I used to have a process where I would write every day (the Seinfield method of red calendar days, don’t break the chain etc) but that was too much trouble last semester. But still, inevitably, I would use a lot of paper every month (a notebook every two months at least), because the bullet journal system encourages brain dumps. A brain dump is basically a journaling system that allows you to get all the thoughts out of your brain in a quick-n-easy way. All the youtube videos that I’ve watched so far had brain dumps, but their dumps were one-paged or at the most, a few pages. I brain dump so much that the whole journal is a dumpster.

Which leads to the next point- how I have to ‘migrate’ my collections (long lists) or my to-dos for the next day, because I use up notebooks so quickly. In bujo, when you finish one journal, you start a new one- i.e. I have to copy all my collections over because I throw all my old journals away/ don’t bring them around. I did it twice before I got fed up with that copying, and then I migrated my lists to googlekeep. But the whole point is to not have data stored in various forms, and to use an analog system for productivity. It just felt like I was wasting time with all the migrating. Even if I bought an A4 super thick moleskine, I would still need to migrate my unfinished to-dos this week to next week, which is more handwriting, which is to me, unproductive. The name of my blog is derived from sloth/slytherin, which tells you what is my top priority. -.-

I didn’t want to give up on the bujo system because so many youtubers were using it and it looked like it was working out great for them. But frankly, to me, it sucks. But the few months of trial use led to a discovery about myself and how my brain works. Even if I write down blog post ideas, I realise that I have to at least write a starting paragraph and then put it aside. If I just do a sentence or two, there is a 99% probability that I won’t remember what it is the next day. My memory is just that bad. But if there’s a paragraph or two, at least I have some sort of feeling as to what the post should be about.

Also, I realised that if there’s something on my to-do list which I haven’t done for months (clean out shoe cabinet), then I can just forget about doing it, cause it’s not important. No feels at all. HAHA for someone who is a strong T (INTJ), I rely a lot on feels.

I have been using my own Jessica-ified system for the past few weeks. It’s pretty much just a storage space, a journal, and a list of things to be done. If my bag is small then I’ll just record things on my phone.

  • My blue notebook (leuchtturm) is wider than the moleskine, so the front pages are the calendar months for the remaining half of the year, and then my ‘collections’ (I didn’t migrate the things that I’ve done already, only the part of the collections that are unaccomplished), and then just empty paper for work and church learnings. It functions as a storage space.
  • My green notebook is my brain dump- the whole journal is meant for angry scribbles and doodles of monsters and dogs, things I like to think about on the bus etc. To be disposed off when it is filled up.
  • My loose leaf sheet is for my to-dos, because monthly/weekly/daily logs just don’t work for me. Whenever I have free time I’ll just take a look at what I want to do next. Not what ‘I should be doing’, because that seriously never works for me. It’s not discipline I lack, it is just enthusiasm and interest. I hate the feeling of being an efficient and also emotionally-dead robot. Also, the size of the loose leaf paper is A4, which ensures that I CANNOT WRITE MY THOUGHTS DOWN, because I have a really bad habit of writing quotes on random scraps of paper I see.

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Lol. Bye!