Overall Bullet Journal Strategy
As a solo worker, decades of ToDo lists schooled me: time blocking proves a much better friend.
ToDo lists invite tedium and frustrations. Long lists overwhelm. Missed tasks coax their movement to another day, each move feeding Poindexter, my inner critic (dang woman, you chumped … AGAIN!!). By contrast, time blocking guides withOUT hammering. No migration required.
While my bullet journal contains multiple components, one combo pulsates self-management: the Daily Log and dual time blocking. I toss every capture-worthy thought into my Daily Log. (Sole exception: dates → calendar.) A ●︎ precedes a reference note.
I use only graph paper. Why? Subtle psychology. The global grid background tempers checkboxes. They literally appear everywhere on the paper, defanging the ugh otherwise sparked by long checklists. On the other hand, traditional serial checkboxes —standing stark and alone— emphasize the sheer number of tasks. Result: gloom from the doom of feeling overwhelmed.
Time Blocking, in Action
✦︎ Establishing the Umbrella
Time blocking forces a top-down view of my primary work/goal categories.
A week gifts 168 hours. Deducting life’s three essentials yields a more realistic 91 available hours per week.
I assign 50 of the 91 remaining hours to several, if not all, base categories. Assigning a weekly total number of hours, per individual category, cements my priorities for the coming week.
I typically devote at least 18 hours each week to the Writing category, including drafting, research, editing, and proofing. To prevent bunching at the planned week’s end, I spread the hours over the days comprising the week. These daily time blocks play guide, not schoolmarm. I may honor Tuesday’s 9-10a Writing time block. Or, I may instead extend my routine 5-6a Writing block by an hour or more. I choose to honor my flow as it materializes, day by day.
Think of time blocking as a semi-formal invitation. You know you’ll wear dress-up clothing, but you choose the shoes, dress/suit, and accessories. Time blocking presents a skeletal outline, suggesting certain types of activity at certain times. Dressing the skeleton with the flesh of activity remains the bullet journaler’s call.
This process keeps my eyes on the prize, that is, milestones pushing me closer to goal achievement. That, in turn, heightens motivation while “in the trenches” of a mundane workday.
✦︎ Time Blocking, times 2
As every bullet journaler knows, reviews reveal what works versus what inspires grrr’s. While I found time blocking helpful, a glaring deficiency jumped out at me: no “help me soar” element. Trial-and-error tweaks soon led me to “2fer” time blocking. Read: 2 sets of blocks: The Plan, and The Reality.
During my Weekly Review, culminating in an Overview Planning session for the following week, I pinpoint how many hours I want to devote to which of my primary (color-coded) life/work categories. This translates into a series of time blocks descending the far left of each day’s column: “The Plan.”
The Jibun Techo’s provided military time conflicts with my 12-hour perspective. And, because I’m an early riser, I deem the early hours’ preprinted single-row timeline unacceptable. Simple tweaks, as shown in the image, cure both problems. I start the double spacing (30 minute increment) at 4am, and also configure a 12 hour view.
The gray bar reflects planned sleeping hours, a secondary category. (The related 9:30p end time appears on the preceding day’s timeline.) Here, sleep time spans 9:30p to 4:30a.
In this pic, I’d not yet planned for the next day. When I did, The Plan column supplemented with a gray bar, starting at 9:30p.
The 5-6a blue bar appears daily. This aspect of the Writing category nods to my #5amWritersClub Twitter peeps. I think of it as a group hug among writers. Folks worldwide join in a blissful uninterrupted hour of writing. I (@writesquire) check in with a Motown-era tweet, comprised of a lyrical snippet and associated YouTube video.
Alexa + Old-School tune = my morning Exxon, propelling me out of the bed. Tappin’ tootsies do that to ya.
Returning to the time blocking image, the brown blocks reflect Admin(istrative) chores, i.e. review/planning.
The picture shows other commitments, via additional category timeblocks.
The number at the bottom of The Plan column —24— summarizes the day’s intended total of Pomodoro Technique sessions. Aiming high thwarts procrastination. Sometimes I meet my Pomo mark; sometimes I exceed it; other times, I blow it. No matter that literal bottom line I win, courtesy of the psychology induced by that high bar. Direct result: the number appearing in The Reality column invariably exceeds what I saw during my traditional todo list days.
As the day progresses, I pencil category indicators in The Reality, column of time blocks, adding an abbreviation for the category concerned. This honors one of my golden bullet journal rules: Thou shalt not apply color outside of dedicated planning/review sessions. Rationale: minimize friction during data entry.
Filled with color during the next review session, The Reality reflects my actual time expenditure. Color-coding provides a visual convenience. Deciphering wordy descriptions eats more time than a comparative glance over colored blocks.
👉🏽 Annotations re the signifiers appearing within both timeblocking sets
Intuitive signifiers litter these dual timeblocks.
✦︎ in The Plan
- ✓ ← indicates matching hours in The Reality
- ☹️ ← indicates an oops!; The Reality falls short of this category’s The Plan hours (red block)
✦︎ in The Reality
😃 ← woot! Extra time devoted to a category (purple blocks)
Are all my days this fruitful? Of course not; I’m a human, not a robot. If I find myself deep into chumpmode on, say, a Thursday, —with neither deadline nor hardlandscape event that day— I dub it Saturday and go play. Saturday then transforms into Thursday. Only one thing lost in the process: Poindexter’s incessant criticism. He shuts up the second I change my perspective, i.e. mentally change the day name and act accordingly.
Summary: TimeBlocking Rationale
1️⃣ Starves (inner critic) Poindexter
Experience taught me traditional ToLists mimic a ticking bomb. Failing to check off each item triggers Poindexter’s denigration routine. The best remedy for negative self-talk = preemptive strikes, eliminating known instigators. Time blocking starves inner critic Poindexter.
2️⃣ Empowers me to follow my flow, withOUT negative consequences
If I’m in a writing / research/ skills mastery/ etc flow, I ain’t about to stop because of a chart. The name of my game is productivity. Because my concern remains faithfulness to the WEEKLY category hours, a day’s deviation doesn’t phase me. I repeat: The Plan serves as guide, not schoolmarm.
3️⃣ Serves as my dreams’ BFF, via accountability.
The Weekly Review’s dual time blocking comparison alerts me to problem areas. Example: I noticed persistent chumping in one category. Applying the 5-Whys Technique thumped its nasty conclusion: fear triggered my avoidance. That uncomfortable fact would have remained elusive without the set of time blocks.
Remedy: The following week, instead of solid hour allotments for the avoided category, I set up 30-minute increments on multiple days, 2-4 times a day. I configured hours of work on other categories between multiple 30-minute increments. I can handle anything in short spurts. That remedial action proved sufficient in (1) acknowledging fear, (2) confronting it, and eventually (3) defeating the sunnuvaWitch.
4️⃣ Saves time, by removing tedium
I don’t move tasks from Monday to Tuesday to Friday. Each thought lives in my Daily Log, remaining in the original dated location. Further details will appear soon in an article dedicated to the Daily Log,
5️⃣ Prevents the fell through the cracks syndrome
Starting with a list of primary categories, I determine the priority to assign to each during the upcoming week. Because I review my Daily Logs and calendar every day, I know what needs to be done when. I add indicators as I elevate items to MIT status (Most Important Task).
The Daily Logs, combined with dual time blocking, keep me on track.
Lessons Learned through Dual Time Blocking
Through this dualing time block procedure, I’ve learned a few nooks and crannies of my being.
✧︎︎︎ By 3pm, my brain simulates toast.
As a daily predawn no-alarm riser, my brain descends into toast territory around 3p. Comparing the dual time blocks showed consistent failures to honor certain categories during the 3-7p timeframe. Juggling to less mentally taxing activity cured those gaps. I learned: schedule tasks requiring intense brain cell activity early in the day.
✧︎︎︎ I need breaks.
Working from a home office invites neglect and reclusiveness. To counteract those dilemmas, I schedule outside trips each week. One, to a local mom & pop coffee shop, where I work for several hours, iPad (10 hr battery life) or ChromeBook (12-15 hrs/ Dell 3 (7310 chip) at hand. The other, Forest Therapy, sees me working at a park with my iPad. I always take my ultrazoom cam, taking pics of birds for mini-breaks. The outings rejuvenate my spirit, enhancing focus and increasing quality output.
The time blocking pics also reflect deliberate time gaps. The day shown reveals minimal breaks. When I noticed that fact during the next review, I scheduled a few 2-hour breaks. If that causes a slight drop in accomplished hours for the week, so be it. If I burn-out, I’ll accomplish nothing of worth. The trade-off proves its value, courtesy of an overall Energizer-bunny vibe.
✧︎︎︎ Incorporating the Pomodoro Technique = accountability.
Pomodoro, stripped to its essence, involves working 25 minutes, taking a 5 minute break; rinse and repeat. After several of those repeat steps, one enjoys a longer break.
I don’t beat myself up if the day’s The Reality reflects a number lower than The Plan’s target. I wouldn’t allow a friend to self-immolate over the discrepancy; I treat myself with equal compassion. In this respect, the Pomo goal guides as opposed to rules me.
The Bottom Line re Dual Time Blocking
This I know for sure: when I lived with todo lists, I seldom beat 12-14 Pomos a day. After kicking those lists to the curb per my time blocking preference, 20+ daily Pomos emerged as my new norm. Another key element: early rising.
The best self-management tool works with you, not against you. I loathe drawing spreads. Therefore, a Jibun Techo —serving as bullet journal— hosts my planning, and planning only. A Hobonichi Weeks, exclusive home for my Daily Logs and hardlandscape events, plays literal EDwC champ (Every Day everyWhere Carry). No overlap. No duplication. No tedium.
ToDo Lists proved anti-Pam, debilitating instead of invigorating. I worked for my tool, moving todos from place to place, deep in the land of mere busy work. All the negativity, frustration, and time wasting dissipated after adopting the described dual combo, Daily Logs and dual time blocking. But hey, what works for me may bomb for thee.
Few folks nail THE planner-peace scenario on their first, second, or even third time at bat. Conjuring a scheme addressing one’s personal workflow AND strengths AND weaknesses looms as mission impossible. But I can guarantee one thing: each “awww mannnn” disappointment pushes you closer to your real deal. Don’t quit!
Wanna Read More About ToDo Lists vs TimeBlocking?
… Proving yet again: it pays to scrounge around for productivity articles every now and then.
- ApartmentTherapy: Block Scheduling Versus To-Do Lists: How to Budget Your Time
- BurnoutToolbox: 10 Benefits You Get by Blocking Time (love #5 → “purposeful imbalance”)
- DrOzTheGoodLife: Slay Your To-Do List With This Productivity Hack: Time-Blocking Productivity Hack
- LifeHack: Get What Matters Done by Scheduling Time Blocks
- Medium: To-Do Lists Are Not the Answer to Getting Things Done
- TheWriteLife: Forget Your Endless To-Do List: Try Time Blocking Instead
- Toggl: Time Blocking: An Ultimate Guide from a Productivity Expert