Cal Newport’s Dismissal of Bullet Journaling Has Me Wondering

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.






Don’t Trash Your Organizer

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.

What Are You Working On Right Now?

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.

Two tools I’m finding indispensable these days: my bullet journal (with its ubiquitous sidekick pen) and the Master Project List.

What are you working on right now? What tools are you using?