Just over a month or so ago, I started bullet journaling and now I’ve been at it for a short while, I wanted to tell you more about it, including how it’s increased my productivity.
But before I do that, let’s address the elephant in the room: what is bullet journaling?
If you’ve never heard of it before, you might be surprised to learn that bullet journaling is actually something that requires a notebook and a pen – shock horror! Now you’re probably thinking how can an analogue (manual) system be more efficient and effective than a digital one? It’s a fair question, so I’ll explain.
What is a bullet journal?
Let’s start by looking at the most fundamental part of the bullet journaling system: the bullet journal itself. It’s basically a notebook that’s been tailored to enable you to track the past, organise the present and plan for the future – they’re not my words, by the way; they are the words of Ryder Carroll, the guy who invented the bullet journal and bullet journaling.
In a nutshell, a bullet journal allows you to record, organise and manage all of the tasks you need to do, the events you need to be aware of and any other notes you need to stay on top of. The journal itself comprises four main elements: The Index, The Future Log, The Monthly Log and The Daily Log.
Don’t worry; while it sounds complicated, all you need to get started is a blank notebook and a pen.
The easiest way for you to see how the elements mentioned above come together is to head over to https://bulletjournal.com and watch the 5-minute tutorial video at the top of the page.
How does a bullet journal help boost your productivity?
We all lead busy lives and it often seems as though there’s simply not enough time in the day. This is where bullet journaling really helps.
You see, with bullet journaling, you are constantly reviewing entries to check if they are still worth your while i.e. will the reward for doing them outweigh the effort you’ve invested? The ones that are will be rolled over (migrated) into the next month or near future, while the ones that aren’t worth your time will be struck out.
It’s this feature of bullet journaling that really helps you focus on what matters and ignore what doesn’t – leading to you becoming more productive in the process.
While it might seem like a long-winded, time-consuming process writing all this stuff out by hand, it actually makes you pause and really assess each and every item. If something’s not worth the hassle of writing it out again the next month, is it really worth you even doing it?
Remember, there’s a huge difference between being busy and being productive. And the more bullet journaling you do, the more natural it will become to progress from using it as a system to adopting it as a practise.
Is a bullet journal a to-do list, a planner or a diary?
It’s all of the above and more!
One of the reasons why I love bullet journaling so much is because it allows me to track my day-to-day activities, record my experiences and remain focussed on my long-term goals.
My own bullet journal has been further customised to meet my own needs. The ability to customise as you see fit is another big draw of bullet journaling.
For example, some of the things I have on my weekly spreads at the moment are:
- A small monthly calendar so I can easily see dates
- A block for each day where I put my tasks/events and notes (if I have space)
- A block for money that is scheduled to come out of my bank
- A block for next week’s tasks that I can then move over
- An area where I can record my mood, energy and productivity – this is work in progress, and I’ve changed it a couple of times
- My water/liquid intake on a daily basis
- General notes about my day/week
I also have other pages which contain:
- Trackers – things like reading, personal development, housework, etc.
- Lists – places to visit, books I’ve read, ideas
- Challenges – For example, my 30-day de-clutter challenge
There really is no limit to what you can include!
If you’re more creative than I am, you can even draw pictures, doodles and add oodles of colour. Check out some of these bullet journals on Instagram for more inspiration.
Does bullet journaling sound like something that could help you see the wood for the trees? Maybe you’re already a bullet journaling pro. Either way, I’d love to hear from you about your experiences and how bullet journaling has improved your productivity.
You can also listen to my recent podcast where I talk all about bullet journaling.
If you’re interested in my purchases shown in the image above, you can find them here…
If you’re like me and have a whole bunch of different clients you work with on a regular basis, your daily task list is probably pretty hectic – I know mine is! And while this isn’t necessarily a problem in itself, it sometimes means I can’t see the wood for the trees, which makes planning my day that bit more difficult and can (occasionally) impact my productivity.
That’s why I wanted to write this post and share with you some of the tips I use on a daily basis to keep my productivity on track.
Use a task management tool/app
Task management tools and apps – like Todoist (my current fave) – allow you to see at a glance all of the tasks you’ve currently got on your to-do list. They also enable you to sort them by priority and flag ‘must do’ tasks, allowing you to easily see exactly what you ‘have’ to do that day. But to use these tools effectively you have to remember to add every single task and flag/label it appropriately, that goes for non-work tasks too!
Don’t spend too much time on email
I always try and get a couple of tasks out of the way in the morning before I start replying to emails. It gives me a nice sense of achievement early on in the day, which puts me on the right track.
In addition, I use an app called MailButler (for Mac) that allows me to stagger (schedule) my email replies, preventing a deluge from coming in a little later.
Minimise client distractions
It can be hard, but try not to let your clients/customers distract you by constantly calling or instant messaging. Instead, set some time aside for having these types of discussion and ignore/turn off notifications at the times you really need to work.
Learn to triage and say ‘no’
A triage system for clients and customers that lets them know you can’t complete tasks at short notice can really help. It manages their expectations and reduces the likelihood of them asking.
If something urgent does crop up then decide if you can stop what you’re doing easily and assess how it will affect the rest of your day.
Also, remember that saying “no” sometimes is a fact of life. And even though it might cause some extra stress for your client, you need to look after your own stress levels too. Having a clause in your contract that says urgent work will incur a surcharge on their invoice may deter clients/customers landing you with priority tasks all the time.
Swap email for chat apps
Something that has worked well for me is using Slack with a couple of clients rather than email. All our projects are in different channels and it’s very easy to see what’s going on at all times. It definitely cuts down on emails, but do be careful with new message notifications and don’t get sidetracked chatting rather than working.
Save time (in the long run) by making templates
If you often get clients/customers asking you the same questions (I tend to with my author clients) a great way to save time is to either set-up an email template you can customise (MailButler offers email templates) and/or do a short video of your screen (I use Zoom) which walks them through the process. This saves massive amounts of time and lets you get on with the things you need to.
Spread recurring tasks throughout the week
Many productivity experts say you should batch similar tasks together in one day, but when you’re scheduling social media updates for upwards of 2/3 clients such an approach means you’d need to spend a whole day or more just doing that! I find spreading these tasks throughout the week means I get a nice variety of jobs each day.
Set aside some time for yourself
Try and have a couple of days each week where you’re not totally bogged down with tasks. It allows you to do things for your own business and not have clients on your case. For me, Wednesdays and Thursdays are my designated ‘quiet days’ where I can take a bit of a break (and publish a blog for instance – like today), but still be on hand if anything urgent crops up.
Over to you…
I’m always on the lookout for new tips to make my working days more productive. Do you have any you can share? I’d love to hear from you!
As you’ll already (hopefully) know, my focus for 2017 is productivity and, more specifically, how we can all work in ways that make us more productive.
But changing the way in which we work is just one piece of the overall productivity boosting puzzle. Another piece of said puzzle – one that interests me immensely – is how we can utilise online tools and applications to make ourselves more productive.
In fact, I love online productivity tools and applications so much I created a Facebook group dedicated to them. And there’s one app in particular that I wanted to talk about which saves me a huge amount of time every day and boosts my productivity as a result – that app is LastPass.
Passwords have become a huge part of our lives today, with the majority of websites we visit requiring us to login for some reason or another. Internet banking, email accounts, social networks, forums, eCommerce sites, the list goes on and on.
Depending how good your memory is, remembering all these passwords can be nothing short of a nightmare. And if you forget one, it’s even worse! You’ve got to go through additional checks to verify that it is indeed you who’s trying to login and remember the answer to some security question you potentially configured years ago.
The problem for me, as a virtual assistant, is that I’ve got dozens of my own passwords to remember as well as even more for all my clients. Having them written down or saved in a spreadsheet isn’t exactly secure and the last thing I want to do is be pestering my clients for their passwords again, which is why I opted to give LastPass a try.
LastPass is much more than just a password manager
It’s true; first and foremost, LastPass is a password manager. But it’s also a lot more. It can help keep all of your digital life organised, accessible and secure.
All you need to do is create one master password and LastPass does the rest. New website logins can be added to your LastPass vault quickly and once you’re setup, you’ll only need to remember one password going forward.
LastPass even allows you to create secure notes in which you can store information about your most valuable documents such as your passport, birth certificate, credit cards, etc. Moreover, LastPass can store address information too, making ordering online seamless.
On an average day, I must use LastPass at least 30 times. That’s at least 30 occasions where I don’t have to reference a database to find a password, which saves me lots of time and hassle.
In addition, every single one of my and my clients’ passwords are stored securely. Data is encrypted and decrypted at the device level – so on your laptop or phone – and everything stored in your personal vault is kept secret, even from LastPass.
Best of all is the price. LastPass is free to use, with a premium option, which I’ve actually just signed up for myself. It’s only $12 a year and gives you a number of benefits, including priority customer support, unlimited sync across all your devices and the ability to easily share passwords with other people, plus more.
Got a Fitbit, Uber or Yelp account? You should probably change your password…
We keep hearing that our online passwords should always be unique i.e. never use the same one on different websites. But many people still have a tendency to do so anyway. That’s because it keeps things simple.
The problem, however, is that security breaches are occurring with frightening regularity nowadays. Just last week, for example, it was reported that web performance and security firm Cloudflare had discovered a software bug, which could have compromised the security of more than 5 million websites. Basically, anyone with a Fitbit, Uber, OkCupid, Medium or Yelp account should probably change their passwords immediately.
In response to this security issue, LastPass launched the LastPass Security Challenge. It identifies any websites affected by the Cloudflare bug and allows you to change your passwords for those sites effortlessly.
Are you already using LastPass or a similar password manager? I’d love to hear about your experiences if you are. If you’re not, why not head over to LastPass.com and signup for a free account. Who knows, you might find yourself paying for the premium version in the not so distant future…
Those of you who know me will know that I absolutely love online tools and applications. I use them every single day and they’ve become a crucial part of my success when it comes to productivity and efficiency.
Now many of you may be thinking, I don’t use many online tools or applications, what’s Jo talking about?
But I guarantee you all use more than you might think.
That’s because you’ll have taken for granted many of the tools/apps you use on a daily basis, but without them your working life would be considerably different.
If you use an online email service, such as Gmail, for managing your emails and Facebook for elements of your online marketing efforts, you’re absolutely taking advantage of online tools and apps.
Monthly Online Apps/Tools Podcast
In fact, my huge fondness of online apps and tools is the subject of a monthly podcast with the lovely Phil Byrne, strategic director at Positive Sparks.
Each month, Phil and I discuss our top/favourite online tools and apps for the month.
Our latest podcast (link at the bottom of this post) focuses on some apps you might not have heard of.
For example, we discuss RSS tool Feedly, which I started using when Google Alerts was pulled, and has now become my go-to app for content curation. I won’t give too much away as I want you to listen to the podcast (obviously), but I will say that Feedly has transformed how I curate content for both myself and clients.
I also talk about an app that I signed up to ages ago, but never got round to using. It’s called Zapier and it’s an app integration platform that is similar to If This Then That in nature, which I’ve talked about in a past blog post.
I’ve so far created several ‘zaps’ as they’re known and it’s turning out to be a really useful tool. It integrates with loads of other apps that I already use and has bags of potential.
Phil also talks about YouCanBook.me and Niume, an intriguing content sharing system that I previously hadn’t heard of, but sounds like it could be a great collaboration tool.
Join my Facebook Group!
I try to share my penchant for online apps and tools with as many people as possible whenever I can because I know how many benefits some of them can bring. That’s why I recently created a Facebook group in which people can talk about just that.
It’s called Online Productivity Tools & Applications and it’s open to anyone. There are only a few rules, the main one being that no spam is allowed. Other than that people are free to post links to their favourite apps or online tools that they use and discuss the numerous benefits they afford.
I’d love for you to become part of the group because I really do think it provides a lot of value. Even if you learn about one new tool or app a month it will have been worth it.
You can find our favourite apps/tools for October podcast here. Be sure to subscribe to the channel so you don’t miss out on any in the future.
And here are the links to the apps we talk about:
The allure of answering to no one (except ourselves) and being “free” from the invisible restraints placed on us by working for someone else is what drives many of us to fulfil our dreams of becoming a freelancer.
But while freelancing affords a lot of benefits for many of us, like getting to choose our own hours; working from home when we feel like it; and being able to select our clients, unless we manage our time effectively, our long-term business survival could be placed at risk.
That’s why as freelancers, entrepreneurs, solopreneurs, whatever you want to call us, we’ve had to learn to work in a way that allows us to utilise our time to its fullest.
How many of these freelancer time management habits do you use?
1. Remain Focussed on Social Media
As a Virtual Assistant, social media plays a huge role in what I do on a daily basis. Whether it’s posting updates on behalf of a client; creating a new profile/page; or responding to messages, I need to logon to the most popular social media sites regularly.
However, as you’ll probably already know, social networks, like Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, contain A LOT of potential distractions. The urge to just quickly check your own feed can lead to huge portions of your time getting consumed, and that’s why you need to stay focussed on the task at hand.
2. Remove Distractions
Social media is a great example of a digital distraction, but what about all the ones that exist in your working environment? Kids, pets (dogs and a cat in my case), a TV, and many other things can chip away at your “work time” unless you take a conscious stand not to let them.
It’s absolutely possible to achieve a better work-life balance as a freelancer (I’ve done it), but you need to be regimented and make sure your day is definitively split into work and leisure times.
3. Italian Tomatoes
Yes, you read that correctly: “Italian tomatoes”. Who’s heard of the Pomodoro Method? The term is thought to have been coined in the late 1980s, and works on the premise that having a fixed amount of time to complete a task makes us work more efficiently.
For example, how many of you have accomplished five hours of work in a four-hour time frame before? And how many of you, when given 10 hours to complete the same amount of work, have used all 10 hours? That kind of sums up the Pomodoro Method, which sees us work faster when constraints are placed upon us.
Try working for 25 minutes straight at a time and then having a five minute break; a break completely from your work – far away from your desk if possible.
Ever seen those tomato-shaped kitchen timers? “Pomodoro” is the Italian word for tomato 🙂
4. Learn to Say “No”
Pleasing people is in all of our natures, but unfortunately we cannot do it 100% of the time. If we can’t say “no” when we really need to, our relationships with our clients and our families both stand to suffer.
Promising a client something at short notice, when you’ve got lots of other work on, will often lead to one of your clients being disappointed. Likewise, if you overcommit yourself and literally don’t have enough hours in the day – even with the Pomodoro Method – your precious family time could be sacrificed.
5. Remember, You’re the Boss
The only way to succeed as a freelancer is to establish a system that works for YOU and inform all of your clients about said system, so that they know exactly what to expect when entering into a working relationship with you. If you don’t do this, your clients will expect you to work how THEY like to work and that’s not going to do either of you any good in the long-term.
If you don’t work weekends, tell your clients that from the very start. Failure to do so could lead to them expecting a reply on a Sunday night that they’re never going to get.
If you don’t manage your time effectively, it will slip away in front of your eyes. You wouldn’t be so careless with your cash, so don’t do it with your time.