How I Use My Bullet Journal

BJ3I love to make lists and write things down to keep my thoughts (and life) organized, and over the years I’ve had many different systems for doing so. I had a brief love affair with the Filofax system, but it just wasn’t flexible enough for me. At one point I just wrote things down on a yellow pad of paper, but the lack of organization and potential for sheets to be ripped out or lost ended up stressing me out, so that was short lived. For a couple years now, my go-to has been a simple lined notebook. I’ve used notebooks made by Clairefontaine and Moleskine and I love both.  My favourite size is the Moleskine Large size, 8.25 x 5”.

Then recently I hit upon a new system for organizing things within the notebook itself: bullet journaling! It’s actually a very simple system, but something about the guidelines it sets out has helped me to feel much more organized and in control of all the information I want to keep track of on a daily basis.


First of all, the system uses an index and numbered pages. I haven’t been too consistent about writing down what pages my lists are on and then looking them up, but the times that I remember to do so, I’ve saved lots of time not flipping around from one list to another trying to remember where I wrote what.


It also has a monthly calendar and to-do list at the beginning of each month, followed by pages for daily lists. In the monthly calendar I usually just write down the biggest event that day (I have another agenda that I use for keeping track of appointments), more as a memory aid than anything else. I love the monthly to-do list and use it all the time. The items on the monthly to-do list end up getting transferred to my daily to-do lists and nothing is forgotten. Sometimes, when I’m stressed out, my daily to-do list is short and includes easy items like “shower” (see below) so that I feel better about my productivity. It works!


The daily lists are great, because the bullet journal symbol system makes it easy to incorporate all different kinds of information. The black dot is for ideas & inspiration and might include a book title I heard about that day or a possible birthday gift for a friend. The circle is for events, so this can act as a dayplanner as well. And the square is for to-do list items, perfect for being checked off once they’re accomplished.


And then, of course, are all the random lists. I constantly have a “catch-all” list on the go for writing down all kinds of “black dot” items (ideas & inspiration), some of which end up being turned into to-do list items. Every few days, as the list fills up, I’ll go back and highlight the ones that I haven’t yet taken action on (for example: looked up, researched, figured out, added to my GoodReads, etc) just so they don’t all blur together. Other examples of lists in my most recent bullet journal include: groceries, Korean bucket list, observations, blog post ideas.


And it’s really as simple as that. It’s not necessarily ground-breaking, but for me, even just the idea of having different symbols for different types of information was tremendously helpful. I’m still tweaking the system to work for me and coming up with new symbols to indicate different things, but so far I love this simple method. Check out the bullet journal website & video to learn more. Any organization methods you’d like to share? I’d love to hear them! I’m endlessly fascinated by office supplies and productivity tips.

The Pomodoro Technique: Stop Procrastinating Today

Academia is gearing up for its final blow: exam season. And as it approaches, so too comes with it heaps of assignments, essays of the 20 page variety, and entire textbooks to read. We have lots of work to do, which means, the time between now and summer will be very poorly spent. That’s because we university students, in general, are extremely proficient procrastinators. Visit any library these days and you’ll be greeted by a familiar sight: students wasting time. Based on observation alone, the typical “study day” for the average student follows the same general pattern:

Arrive ? Unpack bag ? Go on Facebook for half an hour ? Open textbook to the right page ? Read 2 pages/do 1 problem ? Check Blackberry ? Read 2 pages ? Go to the bathroom ? Check email ? Check Facebook ? etc, etc.

It’s astounding how long we say we spend “studying” when, if we’re honest with ourselves, the majority of that time is spent just plain fooling around. Of course, I can’t speak for the entire population of students – surely, some are exceptionally productive – but my impression (from countless hours logged a la bibliotheque) is that procrastination is rampant on university campuses. Rampant, I say!

Why is this so? In my experience, it’s because I tend to dread my work. It’s so much more fun and rewarding to participate in instant gratification tasks: checking social media portals, for one, is a favourite. Thinking about a daunting, time-consuming project that threatens to take over your life for the next few days is depressing. So we end up putting it off until we can’t possibly do so any longer. Until it’s due tomorrow. And then, just like that, our sleep has been sacrificed to make up for our time management errors.

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3 Ways to Have More Free Time

[This post is the third in my Back to School Series]

So maybe now you’ve gotten organized, but you still feel like you have no time to do everything that you want to do! That’s no good at all. Ideally, wouldn’t you like to have enough time for school, work, volunteering, leisure, fun, chores and a ton of free time!? (“Yes please!!”) Me too. And although I haven’t really come close to perfecting this method, I’ve decided to compile a few techniques passed down to me from my family and friends into one handy dandy little post for you to peruse. I know there’s a procrastinator in all of us, but maybe, just maybe, by creating a routine that fits our lives, we’ll be able to avoid that wretched “I’m just way too busy to ______ {insert exercise, eat, sleep, keep in touch, etc here}!!” That’s not the type of life I want to lead! So let’s try out these little techniques, shall we? I know they’re my back to school resolutions!

1. Put first things first

Okay, so the very first technique (that I am absolutely in love with) is the most important (!) and requires taking a leaf out of Stephen Covey’s book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. It’s one of my mother’s all-time favourite books, and she told me about this wonderful solution. I encourage you to watch the video of the demonstration here. It’s really inspiring and I think it will really hit home.

What he proposes is one of my favourite metaphors:

Imagine you have a group of rocks in a variety of sizes, some sand, and a glass jar. You’re asked to fit as much of it into the jar as possible. How do you do it?

You put the big things in first. Once you do, the smaller rocks and sand can then settle down around them. If you don’t put the big rocks in, you’ll never be able to fit all the little things in.

Think of that as a metaphor for life! If you get too bogged down with all the little things, you’ll think you have no room for any of the big things.

When you start building your routine, think of what are the really important things to you and put them in first. The big things are things like:

  • School/studying
  • Food + nutrition + cooking
  • Exercise
  • Sleeping
  • Quality time with friends and family
  • etc

So make a list of your own big rocks! They can be anything you want, anything you feel is necessary in your life. Once you know what they are, the key is to then schedule in those activities first, as your number one priorities. They are the foundation of your life! Once you’ve done that, everything else can settle in around them.

So in your routine, you’ll now have sections of time devoted to the big things: you’ve signed up for an exercise class twice weekly, you’ve developed a schedule for studying in the evenings, you have a loose bedtime worked out, you’ve slotted in when you’re going to cook. These chunks of time are now set out, and now you have room to slot in smaller tasks into your daily routine. See how it works!? Scheduling in the big things first will give you more breathing room when it comes to dealing the other nagging little details of life, without feeling burnt out.


2. Clump like things together.

Photo thanks to mysza

Quick! Think of three things you really can’t stand doing (but have to!). For me, they would be cleaning my room/apartment, paying bills, and doing laundry. Ugh.

I don’t know why they bug me so much: whenever I get going on them, it passes fairly quickly and painlessly. But they’re just tasks I dislike, so it’s hard to motivate myself to do them at all.

My solution for this dilemma is to schedule them all in for one block of time, usually on Saturdays. I commit myself to doing all the nasty, unpleasant things in one fell swoop, so then I don’t have to worry about them until a full week from then. I find this is more pleasant for me than trying to clean throughout the week, or always having a nagging feeling I should pay my bills. As long as I schedule and commit to it in my mind or on my calendar, it’s there, I’ll do it and I’ll be done with it!

My favourite benefit about this system is that it will save you time! If you’re in cleaning mode, you can get all ready with all your supplies at the beginning of the hour, then just go from room to room cleaning. Since you’re clumping like things together, it won’t be as much effort as if you tried to clean one room every day. I find that by grouping like activities together, you’re able to get into the head space of those particular tasks, and you become much more efficient because of it. So just stick everything all in together, and finish it up more quickly!

Also try clumping together things you enjoy: ‘schedule’ yourself two hours for cooking, eating and reading, for example. I find it’s more enjoyable to have a stretch of time for leisure activities, rather than fifteen minutes of fun for every hour of work. Of course, you’re welcome to do it in a different way, but I really believe focusing on one activity at a time will give you more free time!


3. Don’t waste your time!

Photo thanks to Johan L

How many of you spend time every day on Facebook, flipping through photos and lurking people’s profiles? Me too. How many check their email twenty times a day, just for something to do on the computer? Me too. How many while away the hours watching television shows that they really don’t even care about? Me too.

Those are some of my time wasters. Some of my others include lingering on the computer, waiting for blogs to pop up on my rss reader, surfing the web aimlessly, and going on Facebook for no reason at all. It’s not as if I’m on Facebook to catch up with old friends or keep in touch, it’s usually just to see what other people are doing.

And if you enjoy spending your free time doing any of the things listed above, I completely understand. That’s your prerogative! But personally, I feel that those activities are a waste of my time. Those types of tasks are really not how I want to spend my free time; I’m not interested in being a zombie! I’d rather devote my spare time to reading, writing, cooking, skyping with my friends, taking photos and practicing yoga. And of course the activities you enjoy doing in your spare time will be different from mine, granted. But I’m sure you know what you’d love to be doing, “if only you had the time”.

So recognize these patterns! Think of how much time we waste with our eyes glazed over, consuming mountains of information about things we don’t actually care about: like the romantic lives of people from high school, or who will get kicked off ‘A Double Shot at Love’ (one of my low points in reality tv..). It’s ridiculous! And all the while we think we have no time for what would really give us true pleasure.

My challenge to you (and myself!) is to

  1. Recognize your time-wasters
  2. Remember what really makes you happy and fulfilled
  3. Make a conscious effort to cut back on #1 and up the ante on #2!


Tell me..

What are some techniques you use to schedule your life and create more free time? I’m constantly learning, and trying to improve on the way I’m doing things. Having enough time for all the things I want/need to do and have free time seems like a monumental challenge, but I think that committing more fully to these three simple steps will help with that dilemma a whole lot.

Good luck time management whiz kids!


15 Productive Ways to Spend 15 Minutes

Photo Thanks to orangeacid

So, picture the scene. You’re fifteen minutes away from

a) A lunch date

b) A big meeting

c) Class starting

d) The library/store/whatever opening

It’s too short a time to start a big project. It’s too long a time to sit idly, what with the busy life you lead. You want to do something quick and ultimately productive. Something that’ll make the rest of your day a little easier, or your to-do list a little shorter. You’re always complaining about how there are too few hours in a day, so packing productivity into your stray minutes may give you more cozy time! Here are fifteen ways to be productive with little, inconvenient spurts of time.

Ways to Be Productive

  1. Write that email. You know the one. That response you were meant to have sent to your father/best friend/colleague that you just keep putting off. Just write it! Get it off your plate for good.
  2. Read a chapter of your book. Always keep a book in your purse or briefcase for this purpose. Look forward to these tiny pockets of time in which you can whip out your book and get lost for fifteen minutes (or more!)
  3. Stretch.
  4. Pay bills. A perfectly easy way to be productive. If, like me, your bills aren’t automatically paid, you can use your fifteen minutes to make sure everything is covered and paid for. That way, when you get home, you can use your time for you, not for silly little chores like that.
  5. Skim yesterday’s notes. A great way to stay on top of your work is to read over yesterday’s notes from lecture or a meeting. You’ll pick up on things you weren’t paying attention to, and save yourself from cramming later.
  6. Read the news. If you never have time over breakfast, use your quick stretch of time to consume as much news as possible from The Globe and Mail, The New York Times, The National Post, or any other paper of your choosing. Keeping on your toes about current events is a great asset in conversation and forging connections.
  7. Build your brain. Do a sudoku! Do a crossword, write an article, click on anything that sounds interesting on the Wikipedia homepage, or play Set online (one of my all-time faves), philosophize, etc. Do anything that will keep you alert and awake for the rest of the day.
  8. Tidy your workspace. Such an easy way to boost productivity! If you’re anything like me, you find it distracting to work at a desk/room that is messy, disorganized, and confusing. You can’t be productive if your desk is littered with papers and you can never find anything. Well, unless you’re Einstein. :)
  9. Write a to-do list. If you’re stressed out and panicky, chances are it’s because you have at least three upcoming items on your mind that need doing. The best way that I’ve found to diminish this panic is to get it all down onto paper. Write down every niggling thing that needs doing at work/school/home, and you’ll be better equipped to take steps to finish them.
  10. Brainstorm. Have you been feeling like starting a new project? Creating something new? Or maybe you want to plan a vacation or party. Whatever ideas you’ve got marinating up there in your wee brain, expand and explore them. Mind map online or on paper, adding details as you let the ideas develop. After you’re done, you’ll have lots of new tasks and ideas to build upon.
  11. Power nap. This may not seem productive in the traditional sense, but read between the lines! Taking a quick nap or rest will re-energize you for the rest of the day and put more productivity into your time.
  12. Re-organize. Is your agenda a complete and utter mess? Your file folders, your computer’s files, your email account, your bookshelves or your drawers? Well, take these fifteen minutes to tackle on of those problems. Clean, purge, tidy, re-organize and breathe better knowing you are hereby much more in control.
  13. Get outside! Weather permitting, get yourself outdoors! Go for a little walk to get the blood flowing, or just sit and enjoy the sunlight. Exercise will wake you up and keep you present for the rest of the day.
  14. Plan meals. Assuming you don’t do this on the weekend, take the time to write down little menus for each day of the week and grocery lists for each of them. This will keep you more sane at the grocery store, diminish impulse purchases, and give you time to ensure you’re eating healthy!
  15. Relax! You don’t always have to be doing something. Sometimes the best form of productivity is to relinquish stress by doing nothing! Take a few minutes to yourself. Listen to some music, close your eyes and breathe.

In conclusion..

Productivity is the key to having more time for yourself. If you don’t waste away the precious minutes you may currently consider too short for anything useful, you might find yourself with more free time to do the things you really want to!

So, what are some things you do with spare minutes? How do you manage your time?

xoxo, S.