bullet journal

Bullet Journal Beginner’s Guide

I started my first bullet journal on January 1, 2017. Well, to be honest, I sort of started a few months before that. I heard about it and googled it and planned to start doing it for a few months. I told my BFF about it so she’d start it with me, and shopped for supplies. Basically, I did a lot of “bullet journaling” before ever actually doing any. Now that I’m in year two, I recommend skipping that part and just diving in. In this post, I’ll include all the basics to get you started plus some tips I’ve picked up along the way. Then, it’s up to you to start and figure out what works best for your journaling style!

A bullet journal is made up of a few main areas and is a combination of note-taking space, tracker, and journal. The recommended areas to include are:

  • Index
  • Future Log
  • Monthly Log
  • Weekly/Daily Entries
  • Collections

The Index in a Bullet Journal

Create an index on the first few pages of your journal. (Some journals may have a dedicated space there for this, or you can simply make your own.) This space is for tracking where everything is, since it’s easy to lose track of things once you’ve got several months worth of content in your journal. In your index, add page numbers and short descriptions of what’s on each page.

A Future Log for your Bullet Journal

The Future Log is a broad look at your year and it’s especially great for tracking things months in advance (before you’ve made any pages for the month where the item belongs). I tend to track big picture things here, like work trips and vacations (which are often planned several months in advance), holidays, and any other little notes I want to remember but don’t have a place for yet.

Your Bullet Journal’s Monthly Spreads

The Monthly Log helps organize your months. It most often includes a calendar and task list. The calendar gives you an overview of your month, while the task list is a great place to list out things you want to accomplish for the month before you’re able to assign them to a more specific timeframe, like a specific day. Many people reserve two pages, called a spread, for this. I change mine up each month, but often end up with the dates listed on the left page and some form of a task list and inspiration or focus for the month on the right page.

Including Weekly/Daily Spreads in your BuJo

Your weekly and daily pages can be as simple or complicated as you like. Some people simply write the date, then fill up however many lines they need for that day, then the following day they skip one line and start again. I like to dress mine up a little bit more (but not much) so I tend to draw out one week at a time divided between two pages.

This is also a good time to establish a key if you’ll use any sort of signifiers. I use a square for to do list items I want to check off, and a circle for events or appointments. I also use a simple bullet point or a little heart to add additional notes (often just things I want to remember, but don’t need checking off). Like every other part of the bullet journal, this key can be as complicated or simple as you want. If you search “bullet journal key” on Pinterest, you’ll see lots of examples to inspire you, including color coded options, which seem like they’d be great if you need to divide up your tasks and plans further, like between things specific to work or school.

Bullet Journal Collections

This is where you add any other bits of info you want in your bullet journal. These pages are great for tracking things, making lists, and otherwise organizing your life outside of the calendar pages. Here are some collection page ideas to get you started thinking about what you might like to include in your journal: a list of books read or tv shows to watch, a habit tracker, an exercise log, meal planning or a food log, a spending or savings log, and your current wishlist.

A few of my favorite collections pages to create:

  • Travel Details: I like to create a new page for every trip I go on. I add the details as I get them, including the flight details, hotel, restaurant ideas, and activities I want to do. After the trip, I update the page with a short description of how it went.
  • Home Projects: Last year, I acted as the contractor for my kitchen renovation. Over the course of the project I use several pages in my bullet journal to track the progress. I made the initial to do list, mapped out the budget, and added notes about the progress (and my excitement) as it came together.
  • Blogging and Podcasting: I create pages for my blog and podcast projects. It’s nice to have a spot to jot down ideas and make plans for personal projects that feel good to keep up with but generally won’t automatically get the same attention as your work.

Start Your Bullet Journal Now

That’s it! Grab a blank notebook, your favorite pen, and get started.

If you get into bullet journaling, I’d love to see yours! Join me over on Instagram where I share bits of my journal and send me a note so I can check yours BuJo out too!

happiness engineer

How to Schedule Your Tasks with Calendar Blocks

As I’ve settled into my work at Automattic as a Happiness Engineer for WordPress.com, which is remote and requires self-discipline and managing my own time well, I’ve tried several different methods of scheduling my tasks and keeping track of my time. I used this method of calendar blocks for several months very successfully. (The past few months I’ve been trying a more digital bullet journal-type method, which I’ll share the details of soon, in case you’re not a calendar person.)

How to Schedule Your Tasks with Calendar Blocks by sarah.blog

Mapping out your day with calendar blocks isn’t anything fancy, but it can definitely get the job done if you’re needing to assign tasks to the hours of your day to stay on top of things.

This quote basically explains why it works:

“When it comes to task completion the major difference between a calendar and a to-do-list is that the calendar accounts for time. You’re forced to work within the constraints of the 24 hours that you have. Not only that, given that there are only 24 hours it also reduces the paradox of choice. This tends to be great for scheduling time for high-level creative output.”

Read more here: Why Calendars are More Effective Than To-do Lists.

So, how does this work for me as a Happiness Engineer?

Here’s a screenshot of a week of my calendar:

How to Schedule Your Tasks with Calendar Blocks by sarah.blog
click to see larger.

I tried to add a bit more detail in the tiny spaces than I normally would for myself, so hopefully it makes pretty good sense to someone who didn’t set it up. Note: Slack is our internal chat communication tool and p2s are our internal blogs where we document a lot of our work. We use these instead of email for most things.

How, when, and why did all of that get on my calendar?

I aim to fill it out a week or two ahead of time (at least in large part), but my official self-imposed rule is that it’s done by Sunday before I kick off the next work week on Monday morning. (I tend to add myself to the live chat schedule for a few weeks at a time, so those hours are usually ready to go quite a bit in advance.)

First I add any recurring blocks, like the team hangout on Wednesday mornings. If I had other groups to meet with, like the Training Guild, this is when I’d add those blocks.

I also add my live chat hours early. Live chat makes up a signifiant portion of my work, so it’s important to get it on there early. I tend to chat during similar blocks each week, so I have them set to repeat weekly and usually only have to do minor edits. If you have something that consistently repeats, consider making the blocks recurring so you don’t have to keep adding the same things week after week and Google handles it for you instead.

Next I block off any commitments I’ve made that are time-specific, like a trial buddy chat, a hangout or learnup I want to attend, or personal appointments (like when I go to the doctor). I add these as I agree to them, but this is when I’d check to make sure they made it on here, because it’s starting to be pretty full and soon there won’t be room.

I add a lunch hour at this point. It’s usually at noon, but shifts around based on the week. My afternoons go way better when I take the break, so whenever it is, I make sure it’s there as many days as I can. I close my computer and watch an episode of a show, read a book, play a game, or go out for lunch somewhere, or exercise, and then come back in an hour refreshed and ready to work.

Then I add Helpshift, which is a small portion of my work and very flexible, so I can squish it in where ever I’ve got the time. Next  I fill in the empty spots with project and dedicated ticket/forum time. I also work on tickets (or forums, if tickets are handled) when I’m in live chat and it’s slow enough to allow that, so these ticket blocks are extra time to really focus there, beyond what I get done while chatting. For project blocks, I add a note about what I’m going to be working on during that time, since I have a few different things I do outside of my usual support work. (See: the Instagram block on Thursday. I used that hour to look for sites to feature on the WordPress.com Instagram account, the create and schedule posts for the week.)

A few extra notes on why I think this has worked well for me: 

  • It’s flexible! I don’t let it feel like an over-scheduled trap. No one is in charge of it except me, so I allow myself to move things around as needed, or to switch gears if I blocked off too much time for a task. This is meant to be a basic layout of how my time will go and removes the time spent each day deciding what to do next. It can change whenever I want, and often does.
  • The blocks for p2s are not only for reading p2s, but also for writing p2 posts. I have many drafts floating around in my Simplenote. I’m trying to make an effort to finish them up and actually post them, so they’ve got official time on the calendar now.
  • I take short breaks throughout the day (every hour or so), but they’re so tiny they’re not on the calendar. Still, don’t forget those just because they’re not shown here! Your eyeballs need a break and your muscles need a stretch.
  • I add Reminders to my calendar for very specific tasks I need to remember to do at a certain time, such as a phone call to make or a domain to check on. They catch my attention, and will also keep following me around if I miss them, instead of disappearing in the past like a random calendar block would.
  • For more detail, I use IDoneThis to track completed tasks. My calendar is the overview and plan, while IDoneThis is the official record of what happened (completed tasks) or what has to happen soon (goals). I drop links to things I wrote, stats, project updates, etc. in there and use that to write my weekly update post each week (where my team shares an overview of what we each did the past week) and make sure to complete specific tasks that I may otherwise have forgotten. (I get the email each morning to remind me of what’s on the to do list there, and then reply to it with completed tasks throughout the day.)

And that’s it. (Ha!)

If you’ve struggled with managing your time or always seem to miss a task, give this method a try. It goes beyond the standard to do list, by making the space in your day to actually complete the task, which can be really helpful.

life, my house

To Do: Master Bedroom & Bathroom

The master bathroom remodel is HAPPENING, and since it’s making the bedroom dusty, it’ll be updated too. (We’re camped out in the guest room for now.) I’ve got plumbing and electrical estimates, a tile plan, and a carpenter ready to help out as needed.

I’m going to track things a bit more closely now that big changes will be going on (and since we’ve got a deadline), so I’ve made a list to help me keep things moving…

Master Bathroom:

  • Obtain permit from city.
  • Demolish everything! (Almost done!)
  • Install all new plumbing/fixtures. (Got estimate!)
  • Update electrical & add outlets/lights. (Got estimate!)
  • Install sheetrock & paint.
  • Build new shower.
  • Tile shower, walls and floor. (Tile selected!)
  • Replace door, including new hinges & knob.
  • Install new window. (Ordered!)
  • Install vanity with sink & cabinet. (Delivered!)
  • Hang mirror. (Delivered!)
  • Install toilet paper holder. (Delivered!)
  • Hang hooks.
  • Add finishing touches!

Master Bedroom:

  • Order new bed. (Piper from Room & Board.)
  • Order new mattress. (Tuft & Needle or Casper?)
  • Install two new windows. (Ordered!)
  • Update electrical, including new outlets by bed.
  • Repair walls, as needed, and paint.
  • Buy two nightstands.
  • Hang TV & try white console table under it.
  • Install double closet doors (including all hardware).
  • Switch main door from pocket to standard door.
  • Hang window shades and/or curtains.
  • Update dresser.
  • Hang new light fixture.
  • Add finishing touches!

I’m probably forgetting something, but it covers a lot of ground, so time to cross things off! 😀