How I Stay Organized

The Struggle

I spent the better part of a decade figuring out how to get (and stay!) organized. For much of my college career I had the nonchalant attitude of If it is too much for me to remember, then it is too much. I had very limited commitments and an abundance of free time, yet I frequently told people how “busy” I was with no sense of irony.

Due to my love of leisure and highly invested mother, I never had to learn organizational/administrative skills when I was younger. All my appointments were made for me, I had daily reminders about upcoming events over breakfast and chose to limit my extracurricular activities to theater, dance and church.

Then it all changed. I got engaged and my future spouse wanted to see that I was hardworking and dependable — a good provider. Then I graduated college and got a real job, then several real jobs at the same time. Then I was asked to be the Lead Pastor of a church, then my son was born. With each progression into adulthood my life and calendar became much more complex, the demands on my time more insistent and the need for an organizational system more apparent.

I didn’t want to be the husband coasting through life at the expense of an overworked wife. I didn’t want to be the friend constantly running late or forgetting get togethers entirely. I didn’t want to be the Pastor jostled about by a calendar out of control, constantly running from one thing to another and feeling like my life was being lived for me by other people’s needs. I wanted to live and enjoy my life. I wanted to be in control. I wanted to do the things that were important, but not urgent.

Enter the Bullet Journal.

The System

I owe my exposure to the Bullet Journal to my sister. She was working on her Master’s degree when she introduced me to the system. I gave it a one month trial run, got hooked and have been swimming in the deep end ever since. After years of starting and stopping journals, trying Post-It Notes and iCal and having a wife who constantly had to remind me of things, having a one stop shop for all of my various interests and duties was intensely liberating… and productive. Like, through the roof productive. I would guess I get twice to three times as much accomplished in a day as I used to. It is a little crazy when I look at a day’s output as opposed to what I did a few years back.

I now teach this system to every man I do premarital counseling with. It is amazing how many of us need help managing our time and getting stuff done. A disciplined and well organized man is a force to be reckoned with. To paraphrase the old Stoic Philosopher Seneca, “Life is more than long enough for those who use it wisely.”  Here is how I roll.

The Journal

I started my adventures with a black, graph paper Moleskin. After I got into fountain pens and needed better paper, I dabbled in a few others, but I think I have finally landed on the Leuchtturm1917 black, hard cover graph paper notebook.

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Beautiful isn’t it? Coincidentally, Leuchtturm1917 is also the brand Bullet Journal chose for its own official notebook. I’ll get an official one in the future, but for now I am quite content with the regular cheaper one. This journal has a list of features that make it an ideal place to start:

  • Page numbers – Make using the index much easier.
  • Large table of contents – 3 pages is more than enough to index all your ideas
  • Stickers – Super cool to use for archival purposes. You can add the date the journal spans to the spine and also note any major entries on the cover. As my shelf grows with little black notebooks, these stickers become ever more valuable.
  • Nice paper – Important for fountain pens. It feels good to use quality tools.
  • Expandable pocket in the back – For all the little bits of paper one tends to accumulate.

I am a pretty rigid personality, particularly with scheduling and organization, so I prefer the graph/grid paper. I recently tried a larger, unlined journal — disaster. It was great for sketching, journaling and generally feeling more creative, but I felt things starting to slip through the cracks. Try a few different kinds of paper, but start with the grid.

How it works

This video (4 min.) explains this really well and is a slightly updated version of the system I use. However, for the more text oriented among you, here is my basic run down.

IndexYour first page is the index. If you get the Leuchtturm1917 it is already done for you. This is the Table of Contents for your journal. Put any important entries here as well as the months you are journaling in. Each month will take up a different number of pages, so simply write them in as needed.

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In this picture you can see that I have three items, Future Log, the first month I will use this notebook (Feb. 2016) and a meeting I had this morning. The Future Log is on page 1 and February starts on page 2. When March comes along, I will make up a new monthly calendar, and add it to the index. If I write in February from page 2-22, then March will start on page 24 (explained below).

Future LogThis is a different method than explained in the video, but is talked about on the website. It is a great addition to the Bullet Journal system. The Bullet Journal system is wonderful for short term organization, but can make long term planning difficult. Since I use my Bullet Journal in conjunction with iCal it is less of a problem, but I love the Future Log too. This log goes 6 months ahead. Whenever I have a date I need to remember I write it on a fresh line, put a dot in the month column and then add the date. Then, when I start a new month, I reference this log, copy over any relevant information and then cross it off my log. For instance, you will see in the picture below that Ash Wednesday is on Feb. 10 this year, Easter on Mar. 27 and Pentecost is in May.

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Monthly Calendar and To Do List At the end of each month, I create I calendar and To Do List for the following month. This always happens on a “spread,” two pages facing each other (which is why in the above example, March would start on page 24 rather than 23). The calendar is always on the left, the To Do List on the right. It is much more convenient for planning purposes to have it this way than to flip one page back and forth all the time.

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You will notice that there isn’t much room to write in dates. This is where the idea of Rapid Logging comes in. Rapid Logging is simply being efficient with words. Use the fewest possible that will sufficiently jog your memory. For instance, if you work out every day at 6am, then you don’t need to write it down, it is already habit. But if you have a meeting crop up at an unexpected time, write the person’s name and the time.

You will also notice that Feb. 10 has Ash Wednesday on it. I took that from the Future Log and put it on my monthly calendar and then crossed it out on the Log. Moving an item from one page to another is called Migration and is one of the great strengths of this system. Writing things down, then rewriting them, keeps things fresh in your mind and they aren’t likely to get buried. Also, if you find yourself constantly migrating a certain task from one day to another and one week to another, it serves as a filter. Either get it done or decide not to do it, no sense in writing it down over and over.

At the start of each month, I sit down with my wife and talk about our goals for the month, hence all the house projects on my To Do List :-). If there are any items that pop up on my iCal that are month specific, they go here too. This is really my catch all for the month. Then, when I sit down to plan out my week, I am able to incorporate these items into my days.

Weekly To Do List and LandscapeMy job involves a lot of important but repetitive tasks. Writing them down each week keeps them fresh in my mind. I’m also able to write down anything that needs to be done that isn’t part of my regular routine. One thing I have added to my planning sessions is Roles.

My “Roles” section is where I write down my most important roles/relationships in my life – husband, father, brother, son, friend. I plan specific ways to invest in those relationships so that I’m never just coasting in life and taking people for granted. I could easily include “writer” or “pastor” in that list, but I’m already taking specific actions towards bettering those things in my life.

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Once I have dumped everything out of my brain and onto the page I can set up my weekly Landscape, my birds eye view of the week.

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In the Landscape, I start assigning tasks to different days. In the beginning, it is hard to know what you can do in a single day. You may possibly over schedule but, more likely than not, you will under schedule yourself. You will come to find that when you plan out your month, week and day that some part of your brain will work on finding out the most efficient way to do things. And when you have a list that need to be knocked out, your energy and ambition will kick in as well. I routinely knock out in 2-3 hours what used to take me a whole day to complete. All that extra time can them be devoted to more important/creative tasks.

The Landscape also allows you to block out time for uninterrupted creative work. Weather it is your side hustle you’re trying to turn into a full time job, a hobby you’d like to pursue or simply time to think, having a chunk or two of time each week that is sacred and set apart is imperative. Going back to the reason for this system — you are the one called to live your life, not other people. Give yourself the margin you personally require to get to appointments, have down time and otherwise enjoy life.

Daily Entries This is the heart of the system. Each day you write the date, copy over your To Do List and start kicking butt. This is also the place to record your thoughts, observations, notations and future To Do items. Use Rapid Logging to keep it short and sweet.

As I’ve used this system, I have moved away from Rapid Logging and Bullets and instead use my Daily Entries to journal, reflect, record prayers and write. I still record To Do List items here, but I’ve honed my Landscape in to such an extent that it is usually the only structure I need.

 

The Bullet Journal gets its name from the “bullets” used in the Daily Entries to signify different things. To Do List items get a box that is checked off when the item is completed, meetings get a circle, thoughts or other items a bullet point. You can also add signifiers (an exclamation point or a star) to highlight more important items. My preferred method is to look through my items for the day and number them inside the box. Then I get to work.

iCal

In addition to the Bullet Journal, I also use iCal to schedule things. I use it primarily for reminders of recurring events. Since I have a lot of meetings and other items that are particular to certain times or seasons, iCal functions as my long term memory. It is wonderful. The combination of iCal reminders and long term planning along with the Bullet Journal for monthly and daily planning has made a huge difference in my life. I highly encourage you to try it out if you don’t already have a system that works for you. I pray you get as much benefit out of it as I have.

Putting it all together

It isn’t enough to get organized, one needs to stay organized. In order to do that, I block out and hour every Sunday evening to work on my “Battle Plan.”

At the designated hour of the evening, I go up to my study with my journal and begin to put things together.

The first thing I do is write out my top priorities, my “big rocks” as it were. Since Pastoring really is my life, my personal and professional goals are the same. It will likely be different for you. My top priorities are communion with God and communication with his people. Practically, this looks like 6 major things: 1) reading the Bible, 2) Quiet Reflective Time, 3) Prayer, 4) Sermon Preparation, 5) Blogging and 6) Writing.

Then I look through the past week and see if I failed to complete any To Do List Items. If I did, I migrate them onto the new week’s To Do List and put a “right arrow” in the box.

Next, I pray about my roles and who God and I want to invest in for that week/month.

Lastly, I pull out my iPhone and copy over my list of Weekly To Do’s, any appointments and whatever else comes to mind. Once I have compiled a whole week’s worth of work I begin making my Landscape, chunking tasks together in groups for most efficient dispatching.

I find that once I get into the groove, this goes very quickly and is quite enjoyable. I enjoy being able to look back over the past weeks and months and see how things have gone. I also delight in intentionally building up friendships and important relationships in my life.

Once my Battle Plan has been made, I go to sleep with a mind so blank it is almost numb. I know that everything has been planned out and that I have time to do everything I need to do. I wake up the next morning ready to work and it is quite a lot of fun.

Well, thanks for reading this (overly) thorough guide to my system. I hope you can take something from it and make it your own. It took me a long time to settle on something I’d actually stick with, so don’t despair if you haven’t found “it” yet.

As always, thanks for reading.

Ben

 

 

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2 thoughts on “How I Stay Organized”

  1. I was wondering how you lay out your page to include prayer? I have been looking for ideas and you are THE ONLY one I have found that incorporates prayer into their bullet journal!

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