Jun 2, 2016

Bullet Journaling and Planning


Recently I finished my second intensive course of German, earning myself the completition of the A1 level, which amounts to something like "Survival Language Skills", which is UNDER the "Beginners' Level" (which would be the A2 level). Before we go any further... I did tell you I was learning German, right? I think I did. If I didn't, yes, I started learning German (for real this time) in... was it February? I think it was in February. I'm learning with the Goethe Zentrum, and they have six levels (A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, C2), and each level is divided in three or four courses. If you do all the thing on regular lessons (once a week), you finish in six years... or more. If you do the intensive (twice a week), you can finish in about three years.

I started with my sister-in-law, Yul, and we both finished the first course, but in the second she didn't pass. This made her - understandably - very sad. I did pass - as expected - but felt so very bad because she didn't. We did met to study a couple of times, but we don't go at it the same way. Basically because I just don't study when it comes to languages - for some reason I don't need it, I'm good at it - so I was doing homework at top speed, while she was slowly struggling, trying to organize herself while attending the demands of her kids. When the last test was do - with was one of those oral tests, where you actually HAVE to reply to questions by SPEAKING the language you are learning - we practiced. Our teacher told us before hand the topics we would have to talk about, so we prepared a monologue and a dialogue. Before the test Yul was quite good, and we wrote out a sound dialogue for all the possible choices we had. Yul was actually being too ambitious, composing long sentences, which I cut to smaller ones so we would remember them easier. However, at the test itself it was like her whole brain blanked out, and she couldn't say a single properly worded sentence.

Concerned about that, and looking to help her, I started thinking on ways I could be of assistance. I haven't offered her anything for sure yet, as I'm waiting to see whether she will retake the class or not, but for once, I thought about helping her once a week with the kids, so she can have a few hours for herself to study. That brought me to thinking about sharing with her study tips, so I researched a little about Test Anxiety, about which I found a couple of quite good articles. One of them is "Freezing on Exams - 5 Tips", by oxfordlearning.com. This took me to start checking on studying skills and packing up my tumblr, my youtube channel and just about everything with this topic. After all, I'm a college student too, and while I'm very good at learning languages, I really need to put some serious elbow grease into Finance, so why not see what good tips the world has to offer? And THIS brought be back to the world of planning. Now, this isn't a post on my learning techniques - I might do one of those later on, but not now - but it must be said that effective learning, like effective working, can't be done without planning, and planning requires a planning system that works with you.

taken from bulletjournal.com
If you are on tumblr or youtube - and probably many other social networks - you may have noticed the fashion in the studying communities and planner communities about the Bullet Journal.

What is a Bullet Journal?

This is a planning and recording system that's rather flexible and is based on lists. It was developped by Ryder Carroll, who also made it free for anyone to use. The whole system relies on a notebook - any notebook, really - in which you will have an index page, a future log page, a yearly (or semestral spread), a monthly spread and then your daily logs. Each item is written down as a task, or a bullet list - you know them, you've seen them in Power Point presentations - with different markers to signal whether it's an appointment, a task, a task with a deadline, and so on.

You don't have to do all the parts of it, or you can add more, and you can put in your journal other stuff, like lists of whatever thing you need  lists for, notations, ideas... and then just reference them in the index. You can reference whatever you want to reference in your index. It works with You. It does what you want it to do.

taken from filofax.co.uk
For a moment I caught the fever - specially seeing all those cute pictures of working bullet journals - and so I gave it a thought. Just imagine NOT getting any inserts next year for my filofax, but go bullet journaling with a pack of graph paper! I'm a kinetic person, so yes, the idea of that was exciting. Except that the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the system wasn't really for me. Why? Because:

1. I do a lot of future planning, and a lot of my plans are very specific. This is mostly because of the University, where I have the whole period (three to four months) planned ahead with specific times for tests, classes, deadlines for projects and homework, and I tend to use a lot of space (if I can) writing down all I need to know about the given appointment, like chapters, tutors, location and so on. 

Normally, with my current planner, when I get my program, I spend a couple of days copying all in my planner, in the monthly and weekly calendars, and then in my witchy calendar, and now also in my U-calendar. Sometimes I even take the time to copy them down in my Google Calendar. Sometimes. Why so many? This is my system, so I always have these important appointments at sight and can prepare for them.

Before I go further, what's a U-calendar? Simple. I printed out a monthly calendar for the months of the period in a month-on-two-pages (MO2P) format, in letter-sized paper, punched it and put it in my notes binder, right at the begining. It holds ONLY my university appointments.

original picture
2. Though I do have quite some calendars, they all work in a given system: my main calendar is my Filofax. In it, my main reference is my weekly calendar, where all my tasks and appointments are noted down in as much detail as I can squeeze into them. 

I don't use the monthly so much, but it also has a function as to offer me a broader view of how my time is planned out. This allows me to better see how much time I have alotted for completing projects and homework, or how far am I from deadlines and tests. This is my panoramic view, and in which only the most important appointments are noted. 

taken from www.themagickalcat.com
The witch calendar includes notes on my tasks and activities that are not work related, so they give me a clear view of my personal life, and then the calendars, and wall planners offer a quick glance. I even have one of those Post-It undated weekly planner calendars mounted over my desk, so as I study I always can look at it. 

However, all of them put all of my days together, and I have the same space in each day slot. At once glance I see always the same amount of time: a week. As days go by, I usually have to fill in my weeks with notations for this day and that, appointments get crammed in, moved around... and my Chronodex stamp really works miracles for me there! With a bullet journal, how would I manage?

Getting a bullet journal and parceling it all down to equal slots, for a whole year, well, it would defeat the whole purpose of a bullet journal, wouldn't it? Not to mention that I really like the Chronodex, and on the days I don't want to use my stamp for whatever reason, I make my notations in a system I already use of appointments to the left and tasks to the right.

I still did some research, continued looking for it, and was trying to find a case of someone with needs similar to mine that could make their bullet journal work, but most of the cases I saw were those of people who only need to plan, maximum a month ahead. Then, through my research, I started finding a few people that didn't like the system, or who tried it and left it after a while. Those posts sounded interesting, so I checked them, but soon found out that often the case wasn't mine either. Two of the articles I found listed as cons situations that are very subjective or personal, and which shouldn't be a general reason to abandon the system. Those articles are "The Bullet Journal: why analog task management doesn't work", by Alina Vrabie, and "Bullet Journal Didn't Work for Me", by Josh Medeski.

Some of the things these articles mentioned were the following:

1. The Bullet Journal Isn't Flexible (Vrabie): while in my case it isn't flexible for the reasons afore mentioned, Vrabie means the physical nature of the bullet journal, since you only have the actual, physical space of the paper as the reason for the lack of flexibility.

This is quite curious because actually I prefer paper over digital because for me paper gives me more flexibility. In paper I can use as many colors as I want, highlight, stick stickers, post-its, draw, stamp, write in any language, add my icons... you name it. Some calendar apps give you that option, but not all of them.

2. Legibility (Medeski): this goes on the same line. Medeski here notes that his handwriting isn't very neat, so the bullet journal (or any other paper system, for that matter) doesn't work for him. My first thought here is, really, if his handwriting is so bad, why would he ever bother writing anything by hand at all? And, how come he even tried the system? He wasn't aware of how bad his handwriting was? My handwriting can be very bad in some cases, but then again, I don't usually write on a rush, so my filofax doesn't always see the bad side of my handwriting. Vrabie also mentions that, which makes you think about the future of hanwriting.

3. Future Log (Vrabie): this I can't argue with.  Vrabie mentions the difficulties that can arise when trying to log future appointments, when the daily part must be prepared... daily. I know that actually you can do this with the monthly spread, so each day at night you prepare next day's daily with the notes of the monthly spread, BUT then again, the monthly spread could not be as spacious as you need it. Not like - I'm suddenly thinking - you couldn't fix that with writing details in post-its...

Look, probably there is a way if you look at it, and think for a while on a solution that works for you, BUT, in here I agree with Vrabie, that some people don't really want to be bothered with taking 20 minutes of their time every day to fix up the next day's agenda.

original picture
However, the bullet journal would combine daily logs and notes and lists... sort of like the way my current notebook (a notebook I carry around to jot down stuff), and though that might be good and liberating for a notebook where all thoughts collide and things don't get revisited much, it might not work the same for a planner. Yes, you do have an index, but maybe for some people that's not the feel they are looking for. Not like you couldn't do your notes and lists from the back forwards, though then again... how do you make sure you can plan all the way to the end of the year? And what if the second half of the year has to go in another notebook? How much do you copy? How do you keep notes and lists? (See why I prefer filofaxes?)

4. No Prioritizing (Vrabie): this I didn't really get. Vrabie argues that priorities change through the day, and bullet journaling don't help you prioritize unless you know your priorities BEFORE HAND, not to mention that the markers used might means something else to you entirely. Yeah, I just... blink stupidly here. I mean, I KNOW that studying for my tests has priority over stuff I can do other days or take less time to complete. Deadlines have priority. And the markers aren't set in stone! They are suggestions! For instance, if I were to bullet journal, I wouldn't put a star or an asterisc (*) next to the given appointment or task, I would highlighted. I really doubt the Bullet Journal Police would come searching for me for it. And if your priorities change... do your bullet journal in pencil, or with frixion pens. There are frixion highlighters also, so there you go, your priorities can change.

I really tried to understand that, I really did, but I couldn't.

5. Lack of Speed (Vrabie and Medeski): both said that the bullet journal isn't as fast as typing. This is very, very personal. Recently I switched to a Microsoft Lumia, and the touch pad, the intuitive keyboard and all that are killing me. I'm better at typing on my laptop than on a phone. Specially when it tries to change all my English and Spanish words to Hungarian. Not funny. I'm however, good at handwriting, so I'm faster with a pen than with the phone.

Also, they mention (or one of them), that it's so complicated to pull a notebook out of your bag and a pen and write with something that needs both hands rather than flipping out your phone and doing the logging with one hand. One: this is a matter of skill, which not everybody has, and Two: maybe not where they live, but where I live I won't expose myself to being robbed for flashing out a notepad and a pencil, while flashing out a phone might.

Then, this isn't a problem of the bullet journaling, it's an issue they have with any paper system. I mean, if I weren't worried about betting robbed, and I'm travelling in a packed train, I could pull out my phone, and make a note with the voice recorder. THEN get home, listen to it and nicely log it in my bullet journal, and maybe even DEVELOP the idea further more.

Both Vrabie and Medeski also note that the whole writing and re-writing takes time, diminishing the speed of the journal. It does. Now, compared with a digital system where you log ONCE and the you have all the views - daily, weekly, monthly, yearly - updated, it does take time to copy over and over all the tasks. And what if you miss a task or an appointment? Technically, your system works for you, so unless you slack at it, you are not supposed to miss it. I mean, if you do it DAILY, how hard can it be to copy the tasks left from the day before, and those previously jotted down in your yearly and monthly spreads? Here's a trick - which works better if you are right handed:

1. Place a finger of each of your non-dominant hand (left, in my case), on each spread or page where you have tasks and appointments to migrate.
2. Use your dominant hand to write (right, in my case).
3. The fingers of your non-dominant hand will be like bookmarkers.
4. Using ONLY the fingers of your non-dominant hand, flip through the spreads and the current page where you are doing your daily log.
5. Remore the fingers FROM BETWEEN THE PAGES, NOT FROM THE HAND! when you have copied what needed to be copied or "migrated".

I'll be happy to provide a video of this trick, if required.

All other problems and cons listed were really a matter of not liking paper systems, or clearly prefering digital systems, or a particular system. Stuff like being deep into GTD (Getting Things Done), or not being able to colaborate, or the search system not being good enough (old school people like me, actually are faster with paper indexes and paper dictionaries than with digital search options), or requiring too much discipline... are personal stuff, personal issues, not a flaw of the system itself regarding it working for one type of planning or the other.

taken from
Vrabie does mention - without developping - how your notes and tasks can end up lost in the bullet journal, never read again. I can't argue with that, honestly, specially considering the case I made before about the moment when you switch notebooks. However, systems like the Midori could help there if you keep one notebook (indexed, for instance) for notes and lists (or one for notes and one for lists) and then another for the daily logging and calendars. There are ways in which you could do it, and then again, it's all about what you really need. Are you really looking for and reading to-do lists from two years ago? Do you need little scraps of ideas jotted down a year ago?

The thing is that the digital solutions can be messy too, and they also clutter up. Paper solutions make clutter evident and force you to clean and neat up, and depending on your skills, might even be easier. I do find it easier to order my paper files and pictures than my digital ones, for once. But that's me.

I think it's important to get both sides of the situation and consider first and foremost what YOU need and what YOU want, and what works for you. Hardly any system will work for you at once, all of them need a time to adjust and need to be adjusted to your needs. And before you spend any money on them, THINK whether it will really is what you need. Don't move from something that workd for you just for the fashion of it.

Through writing this post, I became more curious about the system, so I decided to make a pilot - draft up a bullet journal along my regular planner, in one of my many unused notebooks, see how it goes. If I do, I'll probably tell you about the experience. :-D

No comments: