Why I Can’t Do Bullet Journals or Paper Planners

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I know everyone is crazy about their Bullet Journals, writing things down and making it nice and pretty. It looks great! But is this truly realistic? Ryder Carroll’s original journal method didn’t have all those frills and curls. Even James Clear’s Habit Journal is very basic. Just the facts. The rest just seems like extra efforts that could be used elsewhere.

The cons of Bullet Journals or even Paper Planners!

bullet journals
I can appreciate the philosophy behind it all but there are some key reasons even the simplest bullet journal just doesn’t work for me.

  1. You are constantly writing and re-writing every day.
  2. If you mess up on the layout, you would have to use a mess of whiteout (which is not pretty) or start over on the next page.
  3. You always have to carry it around with you (it can get heavy).
  4. There is a cost – you have to get the journal, stock up on pens, highlighters, whiteout, washi tape…
  5. If you lose it, there’s no back-up.

Fun fact, back in the day, your dad and I used to carry those Franklin Covey planners… maybe because we felt organized and all the professionals were using them. It was an expense we paid every year! People used to joke, “I forgot my brain!” but really it meant the left their planner somewhere.

The reason I went digital

Digital helps me keep life as simple as possible. I don’t want to have to carry a book around along with all the pens just to check off the things I’m doing throughout the day. I definitely don’t want to leave my brain anywhere!

As it is, the best digital calendars and trackers sync to all your devices. So what are the benefits of going digital?

  1. You never have to re-write things, you can set things on repeat, copy to a different date, or just move it!
  2. Did I mention it syncs to all your devices? Since you already carry your phone everywhere, an app is an easy way to access your calendar or checklist on the go.
  3. It’s shareable… this is my number one reason. I set up different calendars for everyone so I can see all our schedules all at once. When you add an event, we all get it added to the calendar. Doesn’t matter if you use the iCloud calendar or Google Calendar, they all work the same.
  4. You can set reminders for yourself… plus if you do from your iPhone, you can even set travel time!
  5. There’s no cost for these calendars.
  6. It always stays neat and clean.

There is a downside to using a digital calendar. It’s good for sharing appointments, but you won’t be able to track tasks and habits effectively all in one place. Having that bird’s eye view of your goals and what you need to do is one thing I find appealing.

So how do I track my tasks and habits?

While there are so many apps and programs out there to keep track of all the things you need to do (and I have tried a lot), I am really loving Trello. It took me a while to figure out the best layout that would work for me, but now it has pretty much the same functions as a bullet planner. There are some extra abilities that make this my current go-to for productivity.

Just like a bullet planner, you can set tasks, events, and notes. I set up labels to color code errands, call, online, home, school, finances, etc. Trello allows you to search cards and you can filter your cards by that specific label. It makes it easy to see the one thing you need to focus on. Though you could add more than one label to the same task.

I have one card that I set as my template for daily habits. On it, I set up my habit stacks… Things I do every day, but grouped based on the trigger. For example, first thing in the morning I go to the bathroom, wash my face, brush my teeth. As I come out, I pass the kitchen and fill my water bottle, possibly make some tea. Come back to the living room to do my workout. Besides the workout and maybe breakfast, each of the tasks should take about 5-10 minutes. They are listed in the order I expect to do them in as part of my morning routine. Each trigger has it’s own list of associated tasks as a checklist.

These checklists are so sweet! They show a progress bar above the checklist. I still get that satisfaction of accomplishment as I check things off and the bar fills up!

The beauty of Trello is that it is so flexible. As I tweak things over time, I can add or remove a task or even move it. Not just up or down within the checklist, but I can drag it from one checklist to another.

But wait there’s more!

So you have a card with daily habit stacks, but what about planning forward? Well this is only just the one card. I also set up boards:

  • To Do Today – I try and pick only the items that I need to be done that day. This should not be more than 5 cards. If you got done early and you can do something else, you can pull another task from Pending
  • Pending – These are all the individual tasks that need to be done towards a project. Remember to break down your tasks as small as you can so it’s easy to get done.
  • Goals – It’s good to keep your goals in front of you so you know what you need to do, with specifics and a deadline. When you make new tasks, you will have this right in front of you.
  • Shopping – Things you need to buy. As you run out, everyone can add to this list from their own phone.
  • Projects – This could be a school project or something for the home. List the specifics here and break things out into tasks with deadlines.
  • Questions/Brain Dump – Anything you need an answer to or has been going through your mind. Park it here where you can see it so you don’t forget, but hold off until you get the real work done.
  • Master – This board holds my templates.

Plus we can’t forget about the power-ups! The free Trello board allows you one. They do things like allow you to link to your Google Drive, helpful when you don’t want to search for a file for a project. They also have a Calendar power up which takes all your due dates and puts them in calendar view in one click! If you need to have extra details listed on the front of your card without having to open it, then Custom Fields is another good one to have. These are just a few of my favorites, though remember you just get one for free!

The bottom line

Goals are important, but so is the path to get there. Bullet journals may work for other people, but I have found a less expensive digital work-around that has kept me on track this year despite the covid mess. Though no matter what system you choose, there are some keys to success…

  • Be consistent and check in daily – Tasks don’t get done on their own. You need to stay accountable to yourself and the checklists help.
  • Attach habits to a trigger – With those trigger cues carefully chosen throughout the day, you can change your habits faster.
  • Keep it simple – If it takes to much work, you won’t do it.
  • Evaluate and adjust – Finding what works takes time. What works now might change over time. Learn from your mistakes and keep moving forward!
>>> Need to re-evaluate your S.M.A.R.T. goals? Or give them a push with the Domino Effect?

 

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