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Work & Productivity

Getting Things Done with a Rocketbook and the Bullet Journal System

I’ve been using the Bullet Journal System (Bujo) and Getting Things Done (GTD) for awhile now. This year’s review of my merging of these methodologies have resulted in a few new opportunities now that I’ve included Rockebooks into the mix.

GTD and The Bullet Journal System

I adhere precisely to The Bullet Journal System with no creative variations. No habit tracking, no elaborate designs or meticulously designed spreads. Does this make me a minimalist? No, I just use the system as it was intended. While social media loves artfully laid out spreads I use the system exactly as described in the website. Pencil to paper, usually in a basic notebook.

Getting Things Done is the methodology I use to process everything. Capture, Clarify, Organize, Reflect and Engage with what I need to do.

The capturing process is where they differ. I mostly prefer Rapid Logging. GTD is flexible and adaptable with loose sheets of paper ready to be processed as non-linear actions. BuJo works best in a linear notebook. Merging the two has become personal process and here’s how I’ve evolved the two.

My Combined Methodology

Capture and Collect Everything as I discover what needs to be done.

An tray containing two Rocketbooks
My physical Inbox – The top tray is unprocessed items I need to decide what to do with. The remaining trays are for materials. At right is my accordion file for paper reference material storage. GTD uses file cabinets is far more space than I’ll ever need.
  • Inbox tray, everything analog
  • Email, text messages, Basecamp, Twitter, everything digital
  • Next Actions Lists & Project Lists
  • Calendar items and deadlines

Clarify what comes next, I clear my inboxes once a day or as often as needed to keep current.

  • GTD’s Two Minute Rule, if it takes two minutes do it now.
  • Gather everything into a single place. This varies. Sometimes it’s my Bullet Journal’s Daily Log, or a Rocketbook spread.
  • Not actionable yet? I’ll trash it, place it on a Projects List or archive it as reference.

I don’t stare at my inbox constantly, I process the items or perform the action. Ideally, I’ll let the inbox sit and gather several unprocessed items before it needs my attention.

Organize

  • Update Projects Lists with new information or to-do items, keep them current and when possible in one place.
  • Migrate a single next task for each project to a Next Action List, anything that could be done right now but only one!

Weekly Review

Rocketbook Matrix on a desk
Weekly Review spread open for review.
  • Every week I review all my projects
  • I review my Bullet Journal’s Daily Log
  • Review what I’ve finished
  • Verify there are no open loops or unfinished actions.
  • If I need to follow up on something I’ll place a note in the Bujo’s Daily Log or a sheet of paper placed into the in tray, Often I jot it on a single Rocketbook page then place that in my In-Tray for clarifying later.

Engage by moving each project forward by it’s next action

My Rocketbook scan of a mostly complete Next Actions @ Computer List. The two remaining items have been re-captured and will be clarified again for next week during my weekly review.
  • Perform the next action for each project on the list
  • Update that action’s Project list, add that projects next task to the Next actions list.
  • Decide to keep working on that project or move onto another next action from the list.

My method is to engage with My Next Actions Lists in such a way that I review all that needs to be done often enough maintain a big picture outlook on all my projects. I may dive further into a project and tackle a few more items or simply do the one action. By looping though the process I am able to keep non-linear lists current and drill down into any one of them at a time of my choosing.

What’s Best? A Rocketbook, a Journal, Evernote?

The short answer is all of them. While re-reading Getting Things Done and reflecting on the last few months of this pandemic I realized that there is no single system that does everything perfectly for my needs. Chances are you feel the same way.

I’ve found that a Bullet Journal excels at linear organization by Rapid Logging everything that is on my mind. However, it fails in keeping all the non-linear and digital items from slipping by. I’ll create a two page spread for a new project only to discover a few hours later that the project has concluded leaving me with nearly two empty pages. It’s a bit of a waste. It takes up physical space in the book between other ongoing projects.

Rocketbooks are fantastic for “weekly project spreads” that may not continue past that week.

My Rocketbooks excel at non-linear and temporary collections or Project Lists. Over the course of the last couple weeks I’ve create a spread in any one of them and upon review a project discover it’s not longer needed. I’ll archive the pages in Evernote and during a weekly review decide if there are any next actions.

However, If the project was particularly important or insightful I’ll migrate key information back to my Bullet Journal.

The failures of Rocketbooks are also the features that make them invaluable. While fantastic for capturing notes and daily activities they are temporary and never intended to be used as an archive. Evernote allows me to archive their contents but once erased from the page are not as easily accessed as flipping through my Bullet Journal.

Monthly Future Logs, Someday Lists, and other long term information won’t work well in a Rocketbook as they need to be completely erased within a few weeks or risk the ink permanently staining the page.

While Evernote is invaluable as an archive reference, it really sucks for casual reading. That’s where the Bullet Journal takes over.

Yearly Reviews

Every December I review everything I did and didn’t do that year. I’ve found that a Bullet Journal is ideal for this task a single A5 notebook if maintained properly takes me from 12 to 14 months to fill up making it ideal to browse my life page by page, project by project.

My process has become a funnel of sorts. I collect tasks from a dozen or so sources daily and organize them onto a page and refining them into a single place where the actions are precisely organized.


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Joseph Dickson is a WordPress Developer in Los Angeles CA.

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How I’m Using my Bullet Journal in 2020

2020 begins year three of an experiment in analog productivity. While researching productivity systems like Getting Things Done, reading The Myth of Multitasking I discovered that no single app was good enough to replace a Bullet Journal.

Over last 38 months I’ve refined my method into a reflex. David Allen describes this as Mind Like Water where everything is stored in your trusted system and nothing relies on memory. A trusted system is different for everyone. Mine is the core modules of the Bullet Journal system because I prefer all my actionable items to be in a single place whether its a project, to-do item, or key points from an email, Basecamp, Slack or a conversation.

Ninety percent

Rapid Logging represents at about 90% of how I work in my journal. Where a bullet represents a task, a dash represents a note, and a circle an appointment. Within a typical day my “Daily Log” is often just linear thoughts, many may not to be revisited. Even if they’re completely ignored they still have value months or years later… Its nearly impossible to judge in the moment.

Evaluation

Recently Daily Logs have been useful as a tool in my annual performance evaluation. Using my 2019 Bullet Journal and flipping through the pages I created a Custom Collection containing all the accomplishments over the past year. Many of which were referenced in daily logs as passing non-actionable notes taken during a meeting or noted from an email. Without this log its unlikely I would have remembered to mention some of the smaller yet impactful projects of that year.

What’s My Typical Day?

Mostly email, Basecamp, phone calls and in person interactions. The problem is none of these solutions are compatible with each other. Sending an email to Basecamp doesn’t make sense. Often more effort than its worth. Additionally, typing notes in an app can be disruptive or inefficient. Humans have been writing for over 4,700 years. Meanwhile we’ve been using smartphones for just over a decade. Clearly writing has had more time to develop, its nearly as automatic as breathing.

How do I choose when to write it down?

First, a pencil or pen is almost always at my side with my Daily Log open. If anything remotely important or interesting enters my consciousness I jot down a reference during or following its passage.

Second, To-do items that take longer than two minutes are writen down either before or after they’re completed. Here’s an example my typical notation method.

  • Correct typo, press release, JD
  • Reply, Gravity Forms, AC
  • Delegate, Image color correction, LB

The pattern is simple

  • Action, Topic, Initials of person(s) involved.

Context in my Daily Log often if not always fills in the details. Few tasks appear alone and are usually related to previous or future references in the log.

How this helps me as a web developer

As you could guess, my daily Log is full of dashes followed by hexadecimal color codes, class tags, WordPress classes, pixel, rem, em and other measurements. While inspecting web developer tools in the browser I’ll quickly take down the details allowing me to inspect once and build a brief library of CSS adjustments or some other mundane task.

When it comes to networking, server maintenance and debugging a WordPress website my log will often be full of simple notations found in some log somewhere

The Benefit

Using a Bullet Journal to manage appointments, draft blog posts, or manage to-dos gets me away from screens, and personal assistants. Even if its only for as little as 20-45 minutes those small chunks through the day it add up. Frequently means I’m spending that same time outside email or some other distracting service.

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Joseph Dickson is a WordPress Developer in Los Angeles CA.

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Work & Productivityvideo

Getting Things Done with the Bullet Journal

Video: How I use David Allen’s Getting things done system with the Bullet Journal Method as a web developer

In 2013 I found myself stressed out, I had to many commitments and not enough time; or so I thought. Up until this point I kept track of all my everything in email or my head. When I missed an important deadline I often complained that I was overworked. I started researching productivity methods online and came across multiple posts referencing David Allen’s Getting Things Done in the comments.

How Getting Things Done cleared my mind

GTD frequently references finding a trusted format to store your thoughts, commitments, projects, and responsibilities. The hardest part was actually discovering my trusted system. GTD doesn’t do that for you.

Limiting collection points

Dave Crenshaw in many of his Lynda.com time management videos references limiting your collection points to the fewest possible. I found this helpful in funneling what grabs my attention. However, no matter how hard I tried to limit communication points almost every project or client had a list dedicated platform. Sadly this is just how communications in 2019 works.

I’m a member of five Slack Workspaces, Two email address, three messaging platforms, two Calendars, two voicemail accounts, and a Basecamp. This isn’t a complete list and it’s always changing.

Unfortunately, it’s impossible tell our supervisor or client you won’t use their favorite service because you’ve purged to only a few accounts That’s where the Bullet Journal helped me navigate the chaos.

The Bullet Journal is my single point of captured information

Independent of the source everything I need to do is added to my Bullet Journal. This way I capture everything at regular intervals and quickly note the task in an abbreviated style. It always begins with Rapid Logging in my Daily Log collection spread.

A Daily Log spread in my Bullet Journal
A Daily Log spread in my Bullet Journal.,Nothing fancy.

I take no time to worry about penmanship, grammar or presentation. My Daily log serves as an almost real time dump of what’s in my mind. If I need to clean things up and expand on anything I create a custom collection to drill down a subject, or plan a long term project. Even if it’s something like recurring due dates added to my Monthly Log.

The benefit is that I still capture everything that’s competing for my attention and time. However, once in my journal I rarely have to return to the source unless an update has been posted or I need to grab very specific information such as an error message, very long url, contact information for a vendor or simply a file attachment.

Have any questions? Feel free to comment below.

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Joseph Dickson is a WordPress Developer in Los Angeles CA.

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