Bullet journaling has literally changed my life! At baseline, I consider bullet journaling to be the ultimate system for managing productivity, promoting mindfulness, and achieving life goals. For added value, I have adapted bullet journaling to better highlight and support my life’s mission. Want to learn how to start a unique bullet journal or take your existing bullet journal to the next level? Stay tuned!
The Traditional Bullet Journal
The traditional bullet journal (BuJo), originally created by Ryder Carroll to “help you organize your what while you remain mindful of your why”, is a genius idea typically presented using a physical bullet journal. I remember being so excited to pick up the perfect journal for starting my BuJo! Then, after I convinced my younger sister to bullet journal, I took another special shopping trip with her to buy hers! It can be a fun expression of creativity to doodle and decorate your journal in your own unique way.
The traditional setup usually includes some combination of annual, weekly, and daily planners. Tasks and notes are organized throughout these time frames using a key to denote symbols and their special meanings (e.g., appointments, events, ideas, important deadlines, etc.). Collections are sections of content created as you desire to support particular habits, activities, or ideas (e.g., financial goals, books you’ve read, shopping lists, etc.). Content is organized according to an outline with page numbers and section titles. If you like the feeling of having a physical journal and find it helpful, then you can certainly stick with the traditional setup but infuse some of my mission-driven principles as you desire. Regardless of how you make it work for you, I highly recommend bullet journaling in some form!
My Mission-Driven Bullet Journal (MD BuJo)
Given my desire to make bullet journaling work better for my lifestyle, I have created my own Mission-Driven Method of Bullet Journaling, and I am delighted to share my steps with you here!
1. Cloud Setup
The stylistic opportunities with a print bullet journal seem endless and fun, but more importantly for my lifestyle, I found them time-consuming and anxiety-provoking at times. I am the farthest thing from a good artist, so most of my doodles and decorations left much to be desired. I realized that I needed to spend less time designing the bullet journal and more time actually using it to make me productive. Furthermore, as an Ob/Gyn resident, I often found myself in situations where I have limited and sporadic free time to jot down ideas but did not always have the ability to carry my physical bullet journal everywhere with me. I quickly realized that it makes entirely more sense for me to have a cloud-based bullet journal with a simple, straightforward design that is readily accessible at my fingertips.
Don’t give up on the physical act of writing, as you can still reap the benefits of physical writing by jotting down your thoughts for specific situations (as an example, see my idea for the “Daily Dose of Dope” Diary). Of course, internet access may prove to be a difficult issue in some settings, so there are some back-up or offline options to explore. Even with this rare need for advanced planning when wi-fi is not an option, the cloud-based BuJo setup has COMPLETELY changed the game for me in terms of productivity management!
Setup is simple! First, choose a cloud-based document organizer of your choice. Mine is Google Drive, but I also believe this could work in any similar system. Next, create a BuJo folder, and within it, add the following sub-folders: (1) Templates folder, (2) Lifelong Roles folder, and a new folder to represent (3) every new BuJo. You can be flexible to determine whether you switch to a new BuJo each birth year, academic year, or calendar year, if at all, and you should have fun with naming your BuJo as you see fit! Within each BuJo folder, add two sub-folders: (1) Collections folder and (2) Monthly Logs & Trackers folder. I also recommend creating a folder system outside your BuJo folder for files related to each of the lifelong roles that you designate for yourself (see next section for more details). Each of these lifelong role folders will help you to organize documents and projects related to each role that you share with the outside world rather than keeping private within your BuJo. Get into the cloud of your choice and get organized!
2. Lifelong Roles
To add more meaning to my bullet journal and ensure that it is indeed mission-driven, I have organized everything in it around what I consider to be the “Lifelong Roles” I intend to play while I accomplish my life’s mission. Ask yourself, “What are the most important roles that I currently play or most desire to eventually play in my life?” In other words, think through every facet of your personal and professional life, and decide who you are, and what you intend to become. I recommend choosing three to five broad but meaningful roles on which to focus, and then building your life’s mission around ways to grow within and live out these roles. These roles are completely up to you, so you can be as creative as you wish. You can even make up names for the roles you envision. They only need to make sense and have meaning for you. As you come up with each name, also assign a color that you feel best suits that role.
For example, the five lifelong roles (and associated colors) I have chosen for myself are: Child of God (red), Lover-Uplifter (pink), Medical Doctor (blue), Social Entrepreneur (green), and Learner-Doer (purple). Child of God is the lifelong role that keeps me committed to my spiritual growth (and the color red is meant to convey strength and love). Lover-Uplifter (yes, I made up that name) is the lifelong role through which I not only love on myself (I’ve already written about how self-care is the best care), but also love and uplift others (and the color pink is meant to exude femininity, friendship, and peace). Medical Doctor sounds self-explanatory, but to me, it means not only mastering knowledge for clinical expertise and healthcare leadership, but also being dedicated to putting the patient first and advocating on their behalf (and the color blue represents intelligence and trust). Social Entrepreneur is the lifelong role through which I hope to “be the change I wish to see in the world” and leverage my business knowledge to build not only generational wealth for my family, but also create value that improves the lives of others (and the color green symbolizes a balance between money, growth, and harmony). Learner-Doer (yes, I made that name up as well) is the lifelong role through which I embrace my desire for lifelong learning in many different areas, especially history, culture, language, and personal finance (and the color purple brings creativity, wisdom, and magic).
3. Color Code & Collections
Memorize your roles and their colors! Every time you write or schedule something related to a given role, do your best to do so in that role’s unique color. Color coding in this way will not only help keep you organized, but it will also help you to easily visualize how you are dividing your energy and time among your different roles. Most importantly, color adds dimension and fun to spice up routine things like productivity and time management!
To keep track of your color code and collections, I recommend creating an “Outline” document within your bullet journal folder. Split the outline into two sections: Lifelong Roles and Collections. Under “Lifelong Roles”, list the names of your roles in their respective colors. Under “Collections”, you will add the names of all of your collections, with each collection typed in the color of the lifelong role to which it most closely relates. You can choose the order for the collections in your outline, whether alphabetically, by lifelong role, or in order of priority, depending on whatever works best for you and the lifestyle you are creating!
Once you have the names and colors for your lifelong roles, the next step is giving the roles a scaffold for manifesting in your life! Within your “Lifelong Roles” folder, create a separate document for each of your roles (of course, written in each unique color), which will serve as your own personal guide for that role. Within each guide, the sections should include: Tenets, Goals, Habits, Ideas, and any other sections you deem to be useful over time. In the “Tenets” section for each guide, in three to five bullets, express what your guiding principles, or Tenets, for the given role will be. In the “Goals” section, set 1-month, 3-month, 6-month, 9-month, and 12-month goals for the given role, ensuring that they systematically help you to grow to embody the Tenets you set. List the habits for each role that will ultimately be included in your habit tracker. Create a section for ideas that will be added over time as they come to you. You should reference these guides often to check in with yourself and update them as needed.
Collections are my favorite part of the MD BuJo experience! Again, collections are meant to support particular habits, activities, or ideas. For example, I have fun collections dedicated to favorite scriptures, inspirational quotes, wish lists, memorable moments, daydreams, and so much more! I also have more goal-oriented collections such as reading lists, residency milestones, business people I want to learn from, medical people I want to learn from, and problems in the world I want to help solve. Collections have significantly helped me to minimize the clutter in my brain and live my life with more passion and purpose! Each collection should be a separate document within the “Collections” subfolder within your BuJo. Create as many or as few as you feel you need, and create or delete them as you see fit! Think of each collection as a virtual notepad of all your thoughts and experiences related to a particular area, and use the collection in whatever way your mind needs and your heart desires!
In your bullet journaling journey, you will learn that BuJo setup can feel overwhelming, but I know from experience that templates can help! Within your BuJo subfolder, “Templates”, I recommend creating at least two templates: one for the year and another for each month. In my BuJo system, I include week-to-week planning within the template for each month.
For the “Annual Calendar Template”, I find it easiest to use an “any year” calendar excel sheet that will allow me to toggle between calendar years and automatically receive an updated display of calendar months for that year. Free versions of such calendars can be downloaded from Microsoft Office Online (also, I include a link to the calendar I use below). Some creators recommend handwriting all calendar dates for a given year to create your annual calendar every year, but I’ve been there and done that…and ain’t nobody got time for that (well, I definitely do not)! The any year template can be used to create an annual calendar for your cloud-based MD BuJo or to serve as a printout for a traditional bullet journal’s annual calendar. If you choose to go by a year timeline that does not perfectly match the calendar year (e.g., academic year, age-based year, etc.), you can pick and choose from different year’s calendars to create the one that matches what you need. Either way, be sure to save the original any year calendar version as your template, which will later be copied and edited for each of the years to come.
For the “Monthly BuJo Log & Tracker Template”, it takes some work to figure out exactly what you want to emphasize in a given month or week. Mine is a Google Sheets format that includes all of the following sheet tabs within the template spreadsheet: Month, Habit Tracker, Week, and Daily. On the Month, Week, and Daily sheet tabs, I have a simple and consistent format for tracking events, tasks, goals, deadlines, notes, and reminders as I progress through the month. On the Habit Tracker sheet tab, I have created a way to input my habits and their frequencies, then track how well I do keeping such habits on a daily basis throughout the month. Save your routine or aspirational habits (color-coded, of course) in the template so that they can be tracked without requiring input over and over again each month. Like the “Annual Calendar Template”, the “Monthly BuJo Log & Tracker Template” is meant for the original to be saved and then copied, such that the copies can be edited to include specific information for each month. If you’re interested in using my templates or seeing them for clarity in creating your own, I have made them available for free to blog subscribers (see details below).
5. Mission-Driven Productivity
Now, let’s put it all together! Once you’ve set up your BuJo’s cloud file system, established your Lifelong Roles, set color codes within your outline, started creating your collections, and saved your annual and monthly templates…you are ready to start putting your BuJo to work for your life! At the start of every new BuJo year of your choice, take an overview of what you hope to accomplish for that year. Update your Lifelong Roles, especially your goals and their timelines. Take a look at the collections you have designed as both guidance and inspiration for how you will lead your year, and edit collections as needed. Then, copy your “Annual Calendar Template” to create your annual calendar for this given year, marking all major events (work or school projects, personal goals, travel, personal events, etc.). Save the revised template as “[Given Year] Annual Calendar” within the BuJo folder. The goal with the annual calendar is to give yourself a snapshot, as the details will be left to the month-to-month and week-to-week planning.
In addition to the new year setup, I recommend starting a ritual of updating your BuJo before starting every week. You will need to set aside extra time for the last week every month, because in addition to weekly planning, you will also plan for the upcoming month. For every month, copy “Monthly BuJo Log & Tracker Template” to create your monthly calendar for this given month, filing in all important events, tasks, goals, deadlines, notes, and reminders for the entire month on your Month sheet tab. You can give a priority designation to tasks at this time (i.e., I for important and urgent, II for important and non-urgent, III for non-important but urgent, and IV for non-important and non-urgent), which may later help with week-to-week planning. I write more about time management tips such as this in another blog post. Save the revised template as “[Given Month Year] BuJo Log & Tracker” in the Monthly Logs & Trackers subfolder within the BuJo folder. For the Week sheet tab, you should always keep a blank copy of the original Week and Daily sheet tabs so that you can copy and revise them for given weeks. For Week sheet revisions, plan out your events and tasks as well as relevant goals and deadlines in advance. For the Daily sheet revisions, you should record what you actually accomplish as well as your daily gratitude, mood, and any notes you wish about your day. It is important to make changes on a daily basis, and Google Drive assists by automatically saving your updates while online.
This may seem like a LOT of planning, but if utilized strategically and consistently, it will prove to be worth the investment of time and energy. As a doctor in training for over a decade now, I am something like the queen of delayed gratification. Put in the time and energy now to gain clarity on your mission and create an integrated productivity system. You will reap all of the benefits of maximized time and energy on the other end! My MD BuJo has significantly decreased my stress level and taken my life’s mission to heights I previously could only imagine, and I can’t wait to see how much it helps support the productivity that will empower you to also live your HAPPIest life!
Here are several links for related content:
- Please be sure to subscribe and download your free Mission-Driven Bullet Journaling (MD BuJo) Starter Package, which includes the following items:
- Step-by-Step Checklist for Mission-Driven Bullet Journal Setup
- Annual Calendar Template
- Monthly BuJo Log & Tracker Template
- If you want to learn more about task priority designations and other productivity tips, please check out my time management blog post.
- For more of a background on the original method of bullet journaling, please visit: https://bulletjournal.com/.
- Not familiar with Google Drive? Check out this tutorial.