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Think with Your Pen
Do these 3 steps and find out what's important to you.
I've been writing stuff down into notebooks for the last 20 years.
For a long time though, the process frustrated me because I felt that my notes were just getting lost and didn’t amount to anything.
I didn't have a system.
Then, in 2016, I came across a way to journal called Bullet Journaling. I tried it and it immediately stuck. Seven years later, I'm still using it daily.
So, if you’ve tried to journal in the past but gave up or are curious about trying, this 3-step guide is for you.
Step 1: Keep it simple
To be effective, journaling has to become part of your daily life.
It’s a muscle you need to develop, a habit you need to form. To stay consistent, it's important to lower the barrier of entry as much as possible.
So let's keep things simple.
Start with a blank notebook and at the top of the first page, write down today's date. All journaling starts with an overview of your day.
Below the date, write down a list of all your tasks and events for the day. Don't worry about order.
For tasks, preface it with a dot
For events, preface it with a circle, like this:
Once you're done, review this list and ask yourself: Are any of these entries a distraction to what I want to achieve?
If yes, put a line through them and consider them gone.
Next, pick your most important task for the day and put an asterisk next to it. (This will help you keep sight of it).
Now, put the notebook next to you and keep it open on today's entry. Start working on your most important task.
Then, as your day progresses, do the following:
Mark completed tasks and events with an X
Add any new tasks or events as they come up
Add any new notes you want to keep track of (preface these with a dash), like this:
Step 2: Keep it minimalistic
It’s the end of your first day; you now need to wrap it up.
Review your day’s list of tasks, events and notes. Some will be completed—congratulations!—some will be cancelled and some will still be open.
For each open entry, ask yourself if you still need to keep it.
If no, strike it out
If yes, ask yourself when you'd like to deal with it again. Add a > to its dot, like this:
Now turn to a new blank page within your notebook.
At the top of the page, write out the month. Then, down the left-hand side, write out the days of the month.
Then add that open task you just marked with an > next to the date you want to be reminded of it, like this:
It’s possible that that original entry will be related to a project and not a date.
If that’s the case, instead of writing the month at the top of the page, write the name of the project or topic.
The monthly and project/topic pages are nothing more than collections of relevant information. One is date-based, the other topic-based.
Once you’ve moved the entry, go back to your daily overview and repeat this process for all the remaining open entries. (Once you've moved them, don't forget to mark them with an > on the daily overview).
Closing out your day like this is an act of defragmenting your brain. It’s the mental equivalent of the minimalist concepts of letting go of anything you do not need and putting everything you do in its place.
Step 3: Keep on reflecting
When you wake up the next day, open your notebook and repeat the steps from Step 1:
Go to a blank page and write the day's date
Dump all the tasks, events or notes that built up in you over the night
Then, before reviewing these, do this extra step:
Go to your monthly page and move any relevant tasks, events or notes to today's date. (Don't forget to cross them out on the monthly level).
Then do the same thing for any project you're working on.
Once you’re done, proceed to review the entire daily list:
Cancel entries you no longer need
Move entries that aren't relevant for today
Prioritise your most important entry
The act of writing, crossing out, and writing it again somewhere else might seem like overkill; but this is actually the crux of this system!
This interplay demands your active participation.
Writing the same thing out day after day will become immediately apparent to you. Sooner or later, you will have to decide what to do about it:
Do it or kill it.
This forces you to decide what to keep—and commit to—and what is worth throwing away. Remember, saying yes to some things always demands you to say no to plenty of other things.
In a world of digital unlimitedness, this minimalistic approach to journaling will get you more in tune with the limits of your mental capacity.
And, through time, it will surface what is actually important to you.
Hi friend 👋
I hope you got something valuable from this weekly dose of wisdom.
Let me know your thoughts by writing a comment or by replying to this email.
I look forward to hearing from you!
Ben from Seeking Wisdom