Bullet Journal-Inspired Paper Planning Workflow

I mentioned in my free agency announcement that I’ve been undergoing a significant workflow reorganization, and one question brought up by @ted was about how I use paper to organize and plan my days and weeks.

One thing I have consistently struggled with is having a strategic view of my life at 50,000 feet. I very easily live in the day to day details and projects, which live in OmniFocus for me. Up until recently, I’ve tried to use OmniFocus for getting a high-level view, but something didn’t quite jive right. I don’t think my brain was making the jump from a micro view to a macro one in the same tool. Additionally, I like to be able to see timelines and tie ideas together, which happens a lot easier for me in a physical space.

I’m going to get into my setup momentarily, but first I wanted to note a disclaimer: this is something I’m trying out. So far it’s working well for me, but it’s not tested long-term. I haven’t worked out the kinks, but thankfully the process can iterate easily from week-to-week and month-to-month.

The Tools

I’ve been a quality notebook aficionado for quite a while. At @joebuhlig’s recommendation, I bought a Leuchtturm1917 dot grid notebook to try for a paper commonplace (which did not work out, by the way). I’m repurposing this notebook about 40 pages in for this use.

I’m not crazy picky about pens, but I do thoroughly enjoy using Pilot G2 0.7mm pens for writing. Something about this pen just gels :wink: with how I work.

The Setup

My notebook setup is inspired by the Bullet Journal format, though it does not follow it directly. I have a number of planning segments I use, and each segment is considered a “spread”, or the combination of the two pages you see when the notebook is open.

The spreads I use are:

  • Life
  • Yearly
  • Monthly
  • Weekly

I’m toying around with the idea of using a daily spread mapping out my calendar for the day, but I have not implemented this yet.

Let’s get into each in detail.

The Life Spread

My life spread is currently largely blank, but is done so intentionally. Throughout the rest of the year, I can go back and add additional information I want to keep track of on a long-term basis.

What I do track here are two things: my life mission, and long-term dreams and goals.

Effectively, these items aren’t necessarily being done today, but will affect strategic choices with opportunities that come my way.

The Yearly Spread

This one will need a little bit of work for 2019, but the basic idea is as follows —

The left page opens with my one word for the year. My wife and I pick out a word we feel we want to focus on for the year, usually in December or early January. Surprisingly, this word has guided our years fairly accurately, so it’s been beneficial to keep it in focus.

Additionally, I’m picking out a few highlighted words to keep in front of me from things our friends and others have called out as strengths or ideas for us relevant to the current season of life we’re in.

Lastly, the left page concludes with hopes and dreams for the year. Mine is currently blank as I need to go back and fill it in, but this is reserved for big picture ideas I’d like to work on this year if at all possible.

The right page is currently a list of months of the year noting important dates for things coming up. I plan to include month or sprint themes in this area as well.

The Monthly Spread

Each month gets a spread as well. At the beginning of the month, I want to review a few items and make decisions. The monthly spread really starts to shift from big picture awareness to month-to-month strategic decision making.

On the left page, I start with my directions. Directions are like goals, but not. They are aims I have for my life that I’m intentionally trying to make progress toward. I evaluate these monthly. If a direction is no longer relevant, it changes. I ditched the goals idea for these because every time I’ve set even shorter-term goals, about halfway through I find life happens and the goal is no longer relevant. Using directions has helped me keep what I’m actually doing in focus, while having the flexibility to adjust focus as needed.

Next are my sprint projects, or monthly themes. These are the big picture ideas I’m working on to further my business and personal life. I usually have a mind map in progress or completed with lots of ideas to move these forward.

Lastly is a habit tracker. This is fairly self-explanatory in design, but I use it a little differently. I’m not using it as in the sense of the “don’t break the chain” method, but more of an awareness of when I am and am not doing the things I want to do regularly.

The right page is a list of the days where I’ll write down important events or actions that need to happen on a date. I’m still experimenting with the use of these.

The Weekly Spread

Each week, I’ll create a weekly spread, where on the left page, I’ll write down the projects I want to focus on for the week for the three major areas of my life right now (business, work, and personal).

The right page is a list of the days of the week. On the left side of the page, I’ll write down important events or my basic plan for the day for time blocks (Morning, Afternoon, and Evening). The right side of the page is used to list my top three tasks to complete that day.

The Workflow

As I mentioned, this is still largely a project in process. However, the ideas here are to plan broader time spans. I have each spread type on a correlating creation process, and the all are reviewed as part of my weekly review.

I’m looking at doing some project timeline planning in an additional monthly spread, as well as a daily spread that denotes my day plan in more detail.

I firmly believe that non-digital information helps me to contextualize items better in my brain, as I can remember things much more easily in a spatial context, versus having to rely on search to find it.

Next on my list to cover is my use of Notability, which is also still experimental, so be watching for that!


Thanks, this makes a lot of sense. I can see how paper helps you plan at that horizon, I admit that I was thinking of it intraday which is why I wasn’t seeing it, but your post and e ample space helped me figure out how your approaching it.


I’d be interested in seeing how this plays out in the next couple/three weeks. With your free agency just starting, I wonder if speed of projects or volume of projects will change enough to force an alteration of this. I know that both cases were what pushed me away from some of the analog work I was doing.

Oddly enough, I find that planning each day on paper makes things worse on me. I feel like there’s no freedom of choice depending on the circumstances when I’ve locked the day in ahead of time. Maybe that’s bad or just the freebird in me. :man_shrugging:

I’ll be interested to see this, too. I think it’ll be more effective as I can plan better than my old day job. That job was so reactive and what I’m doing now actually gives me latitude to plan a bit at least.



I’ve been doing that by using buckets of activity - like my “dash” tagged items or email and only listing MITs as explicit activity. It’s an adaptation of the way @Sparky does his hyperscheduling. I only do it the night before though, I haven’t been planning out my weeks