I’ve posted here about Bullet Journaling and how I use it several times since 2013. Last night I met Ryder Carroll, the author of the system, at my local library. He’s written a book about it and is touring to promote it.
Yes, he signed my Bullet Journal.
Since he first shared his method for tracking tasks and events in 2013, Carroll has evolved his own use of it to focus as much on the “why?” as on the “what?” He has listened to communities of BuJo users, and their questions have grown less technical and more philosophical, less “How do I migrate tasks from my monthly log to my daily log?” and more “How do I set a meaningful goal?” The book–and his talk last night–is his attempt to offer guidance about pursuing meaningful activities and not just about keeping track of to do lists.
My Bullet Journals are filled with logs and collections of things I have to do. There is precious little in them about things I want to do. Lucky for me, many of the things I have to do I also want to do, but they are clearly responsibilities, and the overwhelming majority of them are professional.
Write the weekly newsletter
Work on next week’s sermon
Write Confirmation curriculum for dates X and Y
Draft agenda for next week’s meeting
Get Meredith’s Christmas gifts
These lists delight me, especially when they are filled with X’s signifying completed tasks. Identifying responsibilities and fulfilling them is my life. Listening for desires and pursuing them? Not so much. For five years now, Bullet Journaling has helped me keep track of the various things I’m working on, so that more of them get done and less of them overwhelm me. I am more organized, less stressed, and much more tolerable to be around and work with as a result. I am starting to wonder, though, if this setting up and knocking down of tasks is all there is.
I don’t mind it most days, honestly. It energizes me to organize projects and their related responsibilities. I get a boost from getting things done. But Carroll is suggesting that you maybe don’t want to look back on your life at some point and see only completed tasks; you also want to see thoughts, interests, pursuits, wins, and failures. There’s very little of that kind of thing in my Bullet Journals.
Cal Newport dropped Bullet Journaling after a month-long experiment because the system didn’t fit his expansive thinking on a daily basis. He summarizes: “The total amount of information I record, read, and regularly change to keep my energy focused productively is simply way too voluminous for me to tame with a single medium-size notebook and some fine-tipped markers.”
I’ve used the Bullet Journal system since 2013 and have been an irritating advocate of it among my friends and colleagues. It works for me. But there is something to what Newport says about it. It rewards rapid logging of tasks, both to-do and done, and it doesn’t demand much thought about the quality of the tasks you’re logging. It only wants you to note what’s in your head and then mark what you did with it.
Newport is making me think that hiding behind pages and pages of bullets and signifiers is totally something a person could do. So here’s a rule I’m trying this week to combat that possibility: complete sentences. If the bullet can’t be rendered as a complete sentence, preferably one with an adjective (“Check on X parishoner” is not as qualitative as “Eagerly call X parishoner”), then maybe I can do without it.
I’m a fan of the Bullet Journal. I’ve filled four Moleskines over the past three years with boxes, dots, and checkmarks on my way to getting more done than I was without it. It’s a useful planning system and a nice tool for looking back over what you’ve done. As much as any system, analog or digital, that I’ve used over the past decade to plan well so as to get important work done, this has worked.
But I’ve hardly picked it up for two weeks.
I’ve learned that, no matter the system, organizing for work takes emotional energy, and sometimes you just don’t have it.
Don’t panic. It will come back. And when it does, you’ll be glad for a tool you already know how to use. Just turn to the next page and start again.
Ministry: a constellation of programs and projects that has stated goals and objectives and that continues as long as there is energy to do it. A homeless outreach ministry. A youth ministry. A Christian formation ministry. Needs a Coordinator.
Program: a regularly recurring going on of some kind that has stated goals and objectives and that continues as long as there are participants. A free community meal. A Youth group. A Sunday school. Needs a Director.
Project: a one-time going on of some kind that has stated goals and objectives and that continues until it’s done. A winter coat drive. A Youth Sunday worship service. A four week class on Bonhoeffer. Needs a Manager.
Church leaders, Ruling and Teaching Elders, Pastors and Lay Leaders: what are you working on right now? Is it a project? Then you’re the Manager. Is it a program? Then you’re the Director. Is it a whole ministry? Then you’re the Coordinator.
Very likely you’re Manager, Director, and Coordinator (please let’s resist the urge to codify these into titles; they’re more helpful as leadership descriptions).
I think it helps to know what we’re working on RIGHT NOW and which tools we need to do the work well. Because right now you’re probably coordinating multiple ministries, directing divergent programs, and managing emerging projects at the same time. Those all need different tools.