013: The Journey - Bullet Journal First Impressions



Justin gives an update on how he’s liking the Bullet Journal after using it for a week.




00:00 Hello and welcome to Process. My name is Justin DiRose, owner of the Productivity Guild, and today we’re talking about my first impressions of the Bullet Journal.

00:11 Today’s episode is episode number two of a series that I’m calling The Journey. Basically last week I highlighted that I’ve had some major changes happen in my life that are causing a lot of things to shift and change and big projects that need to get done now in a period of time. And so as a result of that, there’s this kind of productivity journey that I’m going on because in the midst of all of it, I was not really finding OmniFocus to be all that helpful for me. And the fact that reducing everything to a checkbox in my system, especially for these big type of projects just really wasn’t cutting it for me. I want to have everything in one system. So at the end of last week’s episode, I landed on the Bullet Journal as an option to at least try out for a couple of months. Before we get into that, I want to give you a little bit of an update on the whole journey process that I’m on right now.

01:03 Last week was the most stressful week of my life that I can recall. So many ups and downs, lots of hard work going on to try to do some things in a very short period of time and then having some setbacks in the process from uh, an emotional stance. It’s been difficult for me, you know, trying to process through all of the ups and downs, but in reality you just have to take some time to backup, kind of get some bigger perspective on things because if you don’t, then it’s really easy to make knee jerk decisions about some things that could have a very long-term implication. That being said, the tools that I’ve been picking up to try to work through some of these big picture issues have been working very well in particular MindNode. Last year when I went self employed, that was the tool that for some reason I decided to pick up to try to figure out how can I make that process work.

01:54 And in this transition in this period of time that I’m in right now, then it’s serving its purpose very well. I find my note to be very helpful for big projects or projects with an unknown scope. So when this transition started in my life, what I did is I just opened up a brand new MindNode document and just started dumping everything I could think of that would be effected by this transition into there. And so then I started to just develop it over a few days. And then I got a really clear idea of some of the big picture items that um, my wife and I needed to take care of. And so it’s been really helpful to have that. Additionally, since switching to the Bullet Journal system is fell absolutely refreshing to have this disconnected system. There’s been some setbacks and challenges with that as well, which I’ll get back, get to in a couple of minutes here.

02:42 But overall, this whole last week of this journey has been really stressful. Trying to work through it all, trying to keep track of all the details, all the little things that are going on and have been successful so far. But it doesn’t mean that it’s been easy. So let’s talk about the Bullet Journal for a minute here. I’m officially one week into using the Bullet Journal. I’ve tried it previously and it just didn’t mesh with me. I think I was trying to not fully commit to it and use some sort of a digital task management system primarily and all that fun stuff and it just, it just wasn’t jiving. Plus I think all of the artsy stuff out there and people making their systems more complex because that’s what they needed really threw me off. But this time I decided just to go to the source, the Bullet Journal website and try to learn the system.

03:32 At the least the basics anyway. And doing that and sticking to that as much as I could over the last week has been extremely helpful. The system is simple, it makes sense. There’s not a lot involved with it and just the way that it’s set up on paper makes so much more sense to use a notebook than other ways. So my setup that I have right now is, you know the typical Bullet Journal set up is you have a future log which are tasks that are going to get done in the future. You have a monthly log, which are your events and tasks for the current month and then you have a daily log where you have your tasks, notes and events for the day. And the whole process of adding those tasks, notes, and events is called rapid logging. You add them as they come to mind, you add them as they happen and you can even, you know, indent your bullets under events to take notes for your events right within your rapid log on your daily log.

04:25 And it works really well. You can also add collections in there. And the only one of those that I have done is added some projects. So basically what I have is I have a two page spread in my notebook that’s set up as a projects, um, index. And the way that it works is on the left hand page are my upcoming or queued projects and my right hand page are my projects that are actually active. And the way, the way that I have that set up is I really don’t want any more than three active projects at a time. Now an active project isn’t necessarily something that I’m doing on routine. So recording Process is not something that’s considered a big project like that because I have a system in place to handle the production of these episodes and I just need to sit down and I do it, and it doesn’t take a an incredibly long amount of time.

05:13 But these projects are things like how I’m going to handle the Making Sense of Bear course or trying to develop a zettelkasten so that, that’s kinda how I’m using the bullet journal right now. And then from that project index, what ends up getting developed is a set of project pages. And so then on a page I’ll go and I’ll list at the top with the name of the project is. I’ll note the page number back in the index for the projects, and then I’ll have all my notes, my action items and everything that I need for that project right within those project pages. It’s been working pretty well so far. There are some drawbacks to it, which we’ll get to in a little bit.

05:50 So what’s been working well with this Bullet Journal over the last week? I know it’s still kind of in this new shiny phase, butI can tell you that I’ve been really liking it so far with all the big picture items that are going on. I was a little scared that I wasn’t going to be able to keep up with the action items that I have, but in reality it hasn’t been a problem, which is fantastic. I usually have my notebook open and nearby somewhere where I can write stuff down or, um, I’ve been using Drafts to try to capture stuff, but we’ll get to that in a second in the improvement section here. But some of the wins for using the Bullet Journal is that I am disconnected. That has been something that I haven’t realized is powerful for me when coming to task and project management. If I’m not on a phone or an iPad or a Mac, having my notebook there, you know, it really helps me to be able to get a feel like I was real solid feel for what is on my plate, where as it’s a lot harder to do.

06:47 So I think for me at least in this one week of experimentation with the bullet journal to try to figure out, okay, what is, you know, it was actually on my plate for today, for this week, for this month. The other nice thing is that the Bullet Journal is a little more free form there. The structure that Ryder Carroll created is really helpful to have, but you can kind of riff on it whatever way you want to. Uh, and, and that’s really been nice. And to be able to just even have the freeform nature of paper where if you want us to create second column you can or do whatever you need to. That’s been really fantastic. Uh, it flows really well in that process as well too. So it’s, it, it makes sense. It just, you know, you go from top to bottom on the page and it just, it just works that way.

07:26 And then everything is in a, in a spatial context for you within your notebook versus trying to figure out, you know, basically via search through these other task managers where your stuff is. The other big thing is that I find that my task list is more top of mind because I actually wrote it down. You know, there’s this whole process of physically writing something that engages more of your brain. So then at the beginning of the day, when I do that throughout the rest of the day, it’s in my head a little bit more, which is fantastic. I’ve been finding that it’s easier to keep track of the things that I need to do in the day because I’ve just written them down. And lastly I find that I’m more mindful of what goes into the notebook because of the slight friction to get it there. By writing, it was really easy to just clip and add everything I possibly could to OmniFocus, which there’s benefits to doing that, but right now the most important thing is to do the essential things. And so this really helps me kind of have a little bit of a filter to get at least some of the cruft out and just let the ideas or let the things that I know that I’m not going to act on or act on anytime soon, just kind of slip to the wayside but keep track of this stuff that’s essential.

08:30 Some improvements for this system though so far is that I don’t quite have the ideal project sheet structure and flow figured out. The whole idea of having the projects in there the way that I do just in the same rapid logging type structure with notes, tasks and events for particular projects has been, it’s been beneficial, but the way that I’ve structured it in my notebook as far as where the pages are located in such has been a little bit iffy. I don’t like the idea of trying to cut off half of my notebook and make that projects because then I feel like I’m not using half of my notebook half the time. And so I’m just trying to keep it all in one spot, but I need to at least figure out, okay, do I just need to dedicate two pages, like a two page spread for a project or what needs to happen there?

09:12 Because some projects are a lot smaller, some projects are a lot bigger. Additionally, even though you have paper, unless you’re gonna keep your notebook on you at all times, I feel like I still need to have some kind of a ubiquitous capture system. And so that’s where Drafts have come into play. So instead of trying to capture everything into an OmniFocus inbox or something like that, or like the Reminders task list, what I’m doing is I’m just creating a new note inside of Drafts with a task and then Drafts kind of becomes my place to process those items. So then if I’m out and about instead of trying to pull a notebook out or something like that, I can just either Siri dictate it right into Drafts or I can pull Drafts out and quickly type it. That’s been really helpful. It keeps it all in one spot, but it’s not something that I have fully figured out yet how that works.

09:58 The other thing that isn’t really a defined right now or is kind of the review process for this or the Ryder Carroll calls it migration. And so I haven’t really gotten to that point of figuring out, okay, what does this process look like from top to bottom? I do have the Bullet Journal Method book right next to me on my desk. I just got it yesterday. Haven’t had a chance to crack into it yet, but I’m looking forward to reading it and figuring out kind of more of the mindset behind the Bullet Journal versus just the process. The last thing that I feel like is an improvement is still trying to figure out due dates or items that are handled on a recurring basis. Currently I have those still all locked into OmniFocus. There’s really nothing that, except for some of the project work that I do in my contract stuff that has a due date, but those are all managed in a different system.

10:46 Um, but when, when approaching due dates and recurring stuff, it’s usually stuff that, especially the due stuff, it’s usually stuff that recurs. So I’ve just left what I have in OmniFocus right now. But again, not having some of the process to figure it out. I feel like I’m missing some things right now. So those are just a few of the areas that I feel like I need to improve my system on. But overall, to start with here, this first week of using the Bullet Journal has been really helpful. Despite all this stress that I’ve had this last week, despite all the stuff that’s been going on and shifting and changing, having the Bullet Journal available to process through it to get my tasks in order to manage these big things going on has been a huge win.

11:30 Well, that’s all for this time. If you want to join in on the discussion for this episode or if you want to connect with others who are in the process of becoming better on their productivity journey, head on over to the Productivity Guild at productivityguild.com. Or if you want to support this podcast and get access to video modules, productivity courses, and more, consider signing up for a Pro membership at the Productivity Guild for just $10 a month. Get a free month trial using code PROCESS19. Lastly, if you like this show, rate us on iTunes or recommend us on Overcast. My name is Justin DiRose and join me next time on Process.


This is one thing I love about the Bullet Journal, and analog notebooks and books in general. Things have a location, and we humans are well equipped to reason about and remember things in a spatial context.

Then there are the motor aspects of writing things with a pen or pencil, rather than pressing a sequence of buttons. The gestures have meaning, and performing them (again) helps with retention and reasoning.


As time has gone on, I’m more and more convinced that digital solutions are harder for our brains to deal with as they are less spatial. Not to say that they’re bad, ineffective, or anything like that, just harder. And maybe that’s just me because I’m particularly visual.

For example, I would read books in high school, and in recalling the material, I could see it on the page in my head (or at least the general part of the page). Since primarily using digital tools, I haven’t been able to do that. I think my brain has adapted in other ways in that I notice I link information better, but I definitely can tell certain types of information I do not recall as well from digital methods as analog.

I like to attribute this to our understanding of object permanence.

It’s easy for our brains to understand things in a physical context, but I think it’s harder for us to conceptualize where things are at digitally. Though there are levels of skeuomorphism still in operating systems, the fact that it’s all on an ever-changing single pane of glass adds complexity and obscurity as to where stuff is.

All that being said, I’m not a psychologist by any means so I have no clue for sure :laughing:

I feel the same way. Could it be that the reason for this is a subconscious assumption that the role of the digital tool is to hold the information and therefore the brain acknowledges that it doesn’t need to?

(I remember when I got my first PalmPilot, my manager asked, “don’t you have a brain?” I’d like to see what she is using now!) :slight_smile:

When we write things with a pen and paper, I agree with @JohnAtl in that we have to make the effort to write the actual letters, words and paragraphs that make sense to us. The digital tool is just hitting buttons at various locations.

So, personally, I use a digital tool (e.g. Omnifocus) that helps me just capture the data that I don’t need to remember per se. I then grab my notebook every morning and write out what I need to do that day as a sort of mnemonic to get my MITs squared away, along with other necessary tasks for the day. The physical writing helps build the immediate context and helps me think through the detail of what needs to be done (time, with who, and what medium is required)


Object permanence is a little bit different. OP is the reason kids think peep-eye is so fun. If they can’t see you, it’s as if you don’t exist – then suddenly you appear again. As children develop, they begin to learn that people and things still exist even if they can’t be seen.


I’m going through the same, painful process. I love the kinetic and visual aspects of BUJO, but I also need something to capture things when I don’t have my journal with me. My biggest problem is that I have to log things immediately or there gone. The other problem I have is that I need to have the electronic reminders. I’ve used so many different apps, not original happy with Apple Reminders. I’ve been using GoodTask as a rapid log and daily list creator. It great because it’s simple but very versatile and it syncs with Reminders to send me alerts. I’m currently using BUJO as a morning/evening journal and as a project notebook for meetings and brainstorming. I still use my digital calendar to track events. GoodTask serves as my task management. It seems like a lot of added steps, but as with the BUJO, those added steps only hell to more permanently implant things in my brain. The one aspect of GoodTask that is lacking, is the ability to automatically sync logged items to my Calendar, and vice versa, without having to open another app. I’m getting there. Good luck.


There is a companion app that is good for logging things when your notebook isn’t handy.