My Bullet Journal Derivative

At the start of 2018, I moved to a completely different system. It’s essentially an analogue system plus google calendar. I use an A5 daybook that collects all my notes, projects, tasks, meetings, etc. The setup is derived from the Bullet Journal.

I initially remained digital with projects and tasks, because of emails and reminders. But no more. My workflow is as follows:

  1. Set up your notebook using the Bullet Journal method.
  2. Bullet journals work with “collections” which are pages in your notebook that are allocated to specific collections. I have one for my master project/task list. This list contains all my projects and tasks that need to be done in no particular order. I currently have around 120 of those.
  3. Each month I create a two page spread, with the month calendar written in the centre of the two pages like you would get with a small calendar.
  4. I highlight any major appointments for that month, but it’s not too crucial as I use a google calendar for my proper schedule. It just gives me an overview.
  5. Each month I move items from the master project/task list to the month two page spread. These are firstly items that must get done this month and then I move to should and could get done. I underline in red the must get done items.
  6. At the beginning of every week. I diary block time adding the items from my monthly spread to my calendar for that week.
  7. Items that are projects usually get a separate page or pages, when I start the item. This is another page in my notebook and the page number is written beside the project in the monthly spread.
  8. Items not completed in the month get re-evaluated and either put back on the master list, or more usually added to the next months spread or sometimes deleted.
  9. Once items are moved to the monthly spread they are crossed off the master list to avoid duplication.
  10. As the master list progresses I can add more pages anywhere in the notebook and just reference them in the index at the front of the notebook

Last month I knocked 30 items off my list. Another 10 where moved to this month as not completed.

I like this system for a number of reasons.

  1. I find it easier to sit down with my notebook and think than in front of the screen.
  2. I can quickly get to work anywhere as I do not need a computer.
  3. The monthly spreads become a record of work done.
  4. Because writing embeds information better in my brain, I’m finding I’m actually remembering more about what I’m doing as a whole and am surprised at the amount of details I know about my projects. I’ve also been pleasantly surprised about how I seem to know where everything is in my notebook and rarely need to use the index.
  5. Most of my information is always with me when I have my notebook, which is everywhere.
  6. Notebooks are freeform, I can write, draw, stick things in and use colour to my hearts content.
  7. The diary blocking deals with my earlier reminder problem. I only diary block the current week so I don’t get ahead of myself and allow myself space in case things change.

I note about emails. When I used OF I thought it great to be able to link emails in. The problem was that I did not sufficiently think through what the emails required. I just knew it needed to be done and threw it into OF. This created massive friction as I would nearly always need to read the email again and if I was on iOS this was not possible. When I now add email tasks to my list I will write in the task or project required to complete this and reference the email. If the email contains a lot of information I need I will print it and place it in a clear plastic sleeve in my supporting docs folder. This will be noted in the task so I know where to find it. I could of course do some of this with OF, but I personally find reading off paper is about 10x faster than from a screen. I now do most of my thinking on my desk with the computer off, and only go to the computer to do computer work. For the first time in 3 years, I’m not chasing my tail, but am actually many times ahead of the game, even during extremely busy weeks.

As much as I love tech, I have never found myself very productive with it.


Thanks for the great writeup! This has gotta be its own separate thread. I think @anon66081505 can split this part of the thread, right?

I love having that master list. That’s what OmniFocus is for me. But I can see myself doing the Bullet Journal if I wanted to return to a complete analog.

That’s a great way to review and re-evaluate projects that needs a little more love, needs to be put on the back burner, or needs to be deleted.

I agree with this. It just seems like computers and digital apps promise the world but there’s something magical about analog that makes it so easy. We were raised in school in a pen and paper world. So it’s easier to go back.

I had gone back to analog full-time myself. This allowed me the chance to rethink my workflow and simplify it. Then I was able to slowly return back to OmniFocus (or whatever task manager) and incorporate the pieces that worked. Digital task managers sometimes just sometimes to take us on different rabbit trails that keeps us spinning our wheels. sigh.

Sometimes I can put one big block per day on a weekly basis. Then the day before, I’ll try to add one more time block if I can squeeze it in. Oftentimes, I’ll see how today went and that will give me a better sense of how I can plan tomorrow’s blocks. Life just keeps getting in the way of things.

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This is very similar to what I’m doing nowadays. I’m working on a detailed breakout of what I do, pics included. :wink:

I’ve also found that taking a break from the screens to consult my paper lists is awesome for putting the computer in perspective. Helps me remember that it’s a tool and not an environment.

I hadn’t connected these dots myself, but once you spelled it out, I realized I’m in the same boat. :+1:


Thank you for writing this.

There are some items here that are similar to Mark Forster’s AutoFocus and derivative systems. A general master list that is regularly parsed through and worked against, with some variant rules on removing / deferring items. It solves the native lack of forward looking items in the default bullet journal concepts, which is its major failing for large / complex project work.

A rabbit-hole:

Edited to add: These variants build off of each other and assume some understanding of the previous versions. I attempted to place the articles in a logical progression.

Basic AutoFocus
Flexible AutoFocus
Real AutoFocus
Fast FVP
“Oasis” Add-on to Fast FVP

The comment sections on most of the articles contain some real gems.

I’m currently utilizing something similar to the Oasis add-on to fast fvp. I have separate project pages where I work on items and move them to the master list when appropriate. Generally, I’ll have “work on project x next piece” in the master list and that just means I pop over to the project page and dig in.

Focused / Selected items get put on a note card or sticky note for the day’s focus.

Similar outcomes to what you are describing - hyper focused, effective, and less stressed. The beauty of the system for me is four fold.

One: I am constantly reviewing. There is no way to push off doing your weekly or daily review, it just is done.

Two: I maintain the primary gem of the bullet journal, which in my opinion was the migrating of tasks and all of the realizations that creates.

Three: I have the big picture view of everything. A master list makes it very apparent when you are over committed.

Four: The general pen & paper benefits described above.


I loved the master list. OmniFocus is my master list holding all the projects and repeating maintenance tasks and frees me up to focus on Today.

This is what is so important. My daily reviews keeps me on top of things. Thankfully, OmniFocus’ review features let me break up my review cycle. Some projects (currently active or Big Rocks) get reviewed more frequently and other projects (someday/maybe) can be reviewed sparingly.

If I had to go back to analog, I’ll usually have a routine to review. Mondays and Tuesdays might be reserved for Work projects. Fridays might be the time to review Personal/Home projects. As long as I have a time block allocated for review, I can stay aware of current project statuses. I have a smaller chance of being caught unaware of changes and can keep my project task lists up-to-date.

It’s been a while since I last saw Forster’s Final Version. I’ll have to peek at it again to see what else he came up with.

Even Mark Forster sees his productivity workflow change. It’s an experiment where we try to see what workflow can be used to solve a particular problem. We try it out, revise, and re-iterate. I remembered reading Forster’s Do-It-Tomorrow methodology and have seen it slowly change over time. The last time I was paying attention was when he was working on AutoFocus. I drifted away for a while to see Agile Results from J.D. Meier and Workday Now from Michael Linenberger. So it’s nice to see Forster back at it again with Oasis. Thanks for the links!

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Our brains work very spatially, which is the #1 hindrance of the digital world. It’s on a 2D flat surface that always changing. There’s no spatial reference for our brains to maintain because one moment the screen shows Todoist, the next it shows Bear.

All that to say I’ve found the same when I’ve used paper.