Productivity Systems – How to Make Them Work for You

I’m sure you’ve seen them everywhere on Pinterest and Instagram. Filled with beautiful hand lettered headings, detailed hand-drawn borders and dividers. Amazing illustrations, and somewhere in these artistic beauties are the mundane to-do lists and schedules of day-to-day life, shopping lists, and other lists.

Yeah I’m talking about Bullet Journals. If you know the pictures to which I refer you might be absolutely overwhelmed if you ever try to put one together yourself. You might be frustrated with the time consuming task of hand drawing layouts, making it ‘pretty’ and all that, and wonder when it will ever make you productive.

I have some tips for those of you out there who just want a productivity system which works for you, that doesn’t need to be glamorous or beautiful if it will only help you get things done.

This is mainly a framework to figure out a productivity system for yourself, it’s not a tutorial to implement any particular system. However, this approach should work whatever format you’re using (paper, digital or mixed), but you need to figure out the particulars for yourself. Tailoring your system to you and the information you need to manage, is the key. Using someone else’s system is like trying to fit into their clothes, there’s a chance they’ll fit, but you need to have a similar size or body shape (for productivity – have same needs and tendencies), even if they fit, they may not fit well.

These are my tips for finding your perfect system…

My recommendations

  1. Don’t buy anything (for now)
    You have a notebook around you haven’t used, I know you do. Why go out and buy something when you already have something perfectly usable? Same for pens and other stationery. You may be tempted to start a shopping spree because it will make you feel ‘fresh’ like this is the day you will finally get it together and be productive. Resist this feeling and use the old notebook and your boring pens. It will give you more freedom to experiment and make mistakes, when you’re not worried about ‘ruining’ the precious, new $30 notebook. Buy some special exciting items as a reward for sticking to your productivity system for a certain period (eg 1 month), and when you’ve settled into a predictable pattern of use so you can structure a new, fancy journal or planner around that. It will remove the guesswork for you.
  2. Assess the systems you already have in place
    Google calendar working perfectly well for you? Good, don’t change that, and omit any daily planner pages from your paper system. Use the principle of “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.” Don’t double up on systems to manage the same things, it will only serve to disrupt your  current, perfectly functional system.
  3. Identify what isn’t working
    So google calendar is working perfectly well for appointments and scheduled activities but you always fall behind on your chores or homework (the things you need to find time for). Brainstorm some ideas on how you might address these problems. Identify also, the block. Are you not working on assignments because you just get home and browse the net until bedtime and forget them? Are you avoiding chores because you don’t know where to start? This will help you come up with an effective solution and can eliminate some of the trial and error.
  4. Include only your problem areas in your new system
    So maybe you don’t need to use your bullet journal like a daily planner but you need something to jot down, for example, gift ideas for certain people, keep phone numbers and addresses, maybe track your habits or write down recipes that were well received. If making layouts overwhelms you, don’t do it. Just use the system first and you can worry about beautifying later (if you want) when you’ve got some free time and  you know what you actually use and need.
  5.  Review and refine your system
    Look at what you used, and what you didn’t, or what was effective and what wasn’t. Did you forget a friend’s birthday because you didn’t check the page you write birthdays on? Would putting it in a calendar app be better so you can be reminded? If somethings not working, try a different approach, and change it until you find something that works for that particular thing. No need to restrict yourself to something that’s not working. Once you have something that works, you can address other problems like making your system more time efficient (eg making templates rather than drawing layouts by hand) or whatever else you feel is not as easy as it should be.
  6. Don’t compare, do what works for you
    So, everyone says it’s better to have a bullet journal so everything is in one place. Maybe you have too many things to effectively organize into one book, or you don’t actually need to have everything in one place (in fact, it may be better not to). When I was studying I found it easier to just take a notepad, pen and one highlighter to classes and lectures. It was all I needed as far as stationery. I would write all my notes, for every class, in this notepad. Later, I would file them into a binder based on subject, and at the end of the week I would then copy them into an exercise book, where I was careful to make my writing neat, legible, and organize all the ideas. I have a similar system for general productivity. I have one notebook for taking notes (I might write down a recipe to make, appointment or account details, things i need to remember) and dumping ideas (for blog posts, stories, things to do etc), I carry this everywhere. I then migrate the notes from this book into other notebooks. I find this easier because while I like to have things organised, organizing them on the fly doesn’t work for me. I need to put some thought into it, and slow down so I will be able to write it in a way that I will be able to read later, and when I need to take something down quickly (like during a lecture, or taking appointment details on the phone) this just isn’t going to happen. If I want to cook dinner, I don’t want to fish my bullet journal out of my handbag, find the recipe among all the other lists and things. Similarly, I don’t need to carry a recipe notebook everywhere. The kitchen drawer is just fine, I always know where it is so I don’t need to look around for it. I’ve seen other bloggers write on how multi-notebook systems are a huge no-no. Well, it works well for me and having a blog doesn’t make anyone a guru. Don’t let these kinds of statements make you feel like you’re doing it wrong. Do whatever works.

What kind of systems do you use or have you tried? What was your experience with the ever popular bullet journal? Let me know in the comments below!

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