I’m a planner girl, through and through. I’ve tried many different ones, Life Planner, law of attraction planner, printed pdf planner, goal planners, and just writing daily to-do lists off of a master list in my brain. What I’ve found to be the best mixture of organization, fun, handwriting, and art has been the bullet journal. I used to do elaborate monthly spreads with my habit tracker and spending tracker, etc. But now I’ve whittled down my go-to formula to a few key elements:
- Quarterly goals spread
- Monthly goals overview
- Weekly/dailies spread with time blocking
- Weekly reflections
- Make it pretty
This system works best for me to stay focused without having to keep up with too much. I do all my planning and reflections on the couch watching TV, it keeps my hands and mind busy and gives me a place to empty all my thoughts and keep my life organized. I know that for 2021 all my goals, dreams, lists, and dates are in this one book. During busy seasons of life I absolutely found that a pre-printed planner helped me to stay organized without having to create all my own spreads. I enjoyed using stickers and markers to make it visually pleasing, rather than drawing everything out by hand. What works for you is what is best for you, and that varies by who you are and what’s going on in your life!
I suggest for your lists and plans that you devote a little energy to making it beautiful. Or eye catching. Or fun. If my list is fun and satisfying to look at, I’m excited to interact with it and it doesn’t feel like a school assignment or a burden, but a celebration of all the things that fill my life. Even if it’s dishes ^.^ I’ll do a little bubbles doodle to help me engage with playfulness. When you are low on doodle time, get some beautiful stickers or stationery to support your habits and goals being more fun and beautiful.
Doodles of bath time and working out
With those bases covered, let’s get into the nitty gritty and address the issue of not breaking goals into small enough pieces. I’m sure we’ve all been here before. We know we are confident and capable thus we overbook our “production” energy for a given day or season of life. It’s important to be kind and understanding with yourself as you try to achieve these big, audacious goals. Failure is an inevitable part of trying and stretching yourself. I’ve found success chipping away at big goals when I break them into very small, achievable pieces. The bullet journal or planner can help you with this.
Say you have the big, audacious goal of getting healthier. Let’s break this down into subsections:
- Eating healthy
- Eating smaller portions
- Cardio activity
At this point it will become clearer to you what subsections you are drawn to, what excites you, and also what you are afraid of or where you feel weak. Start with an area that you gravitate towards—for me in the health goal that would be strength—I feel pretty comfortable doing strength training and I have an idea of where I want to go with this. Now break these categories down into the smallest level activities, action items! I will write out every action item that I need to get going in this area:
- Write out a workout schedule
- Select the moves for arms
- Select the moves for core
- Select the moves for legs,
- Assemble a stretch routine
- Bookmark 5 videos between 20-40 minutes that guide a strength routine
- Post workout schedule in workout area
- Gather weights, a chair, and resistance bands in workout area
- Decide when during the day is workout time
- Choose start date for routine
- Brainstorm how to will forgive and motivate myself if I get off track, because no one is perfect, and I will get off track. Planning for getting back on track is important!
Before I move onto any of the other elements of this goal, eating healthy, etc. I want to schedule these action items in. I won’t schedule my start date until I know I have time and space in my calendar to complete all of these setup items. And while I lay the groundwork for the start of this goal, I can work on carving out that 30-minute slot in the morning I need to accomplish my workout every day. Maybe tomorrow I can spend 10 minutes during that slot writing out the moves I want to do. And by the end of the week I can hold about 20 minutes of space in that time. By the end of next week I will be doing some of my workout moves during that time because I have the space and time for it and I’m getting excited about my goal!
My quarterly reflections and goals spread
For these big goals, subsections, and action items I recommend utilizing the hierarchy of the bullet journal quarterly goals, monthly overview, and weekly spread. The quarterly goal can contain, say 3 subcategories to work on. In this example it might be healthy eating, strength, and cardio. Write those into your quarterly goals spread. They have a time and place assigned to them and will be there for you to look back on and remember when you are planning your months, weeks, and days. Now you can let go of thinking about anything else related to this goal, and just focus on those elements that are assigned to this timeframe. You can rest easy and clear your mind knowing that each element of this goal will have its time in the sun, your bullet journal or planner has got you covered, it has your back and won’t let you forget what you want your life to look like in the future.
I know that it is so hard to be patient before you jump into your goal. I’ve been there, I still am there! When I finally decide I want to go after something I want it all to happen right now. I have the energy RIGHT NOW, so I want to do ALL OF THE THINGS and then it’ll be done, right? Unfortunately, good habits don’t work this way. What you do a tiny bit every day makes a bigger difference than what you do once really hard, or for an hour once a week. Even if it’s only 5 or 10 minutes, even if you just show up to go through the motions, that is more valuable to building the habit than any one-time action. So even on days I desperately want to skip working out—I still show up in my workout place at my workout time and start with stretching, or reach for something that feels a little easier like a guided or shorter workout. Showing up is the key. It’s worth having a longer ramp-up to a goal to make sure you’ve set yourself up for success. If it takes me a month to ramp up, but it serves me for the next 20 years? It’s worth it. It might take me years to ramp up to some goals, and years to implement them, but that means they will serve me for a long time.
Top 5 goals for February and Gardening notes for the season
As you create your bujo monthly spread or make note of your monthly goals, use your quarterly spread as your guide. Before you even add in any of the minutiae of everyday life, the dentist appointment or the work deadline, go to your quarterly goals spread. This process automatically breaks down your goals into time-appropriate chunks. Then each week you can chip away at your monthly list. Make sure that items on your monthly spread are actionable and not conceptual. They have to be things you can actually check off. “Make healthy choices” is not an item that you can ever really be done with. But “meal plan every Sunday in June” is something you can schedule for an hour a week.
Minimal Monthly goals for April
Okay, another problem I experience, and I see other do-ers and achievers falling prey to is expecting to magically have more time for a new goal. If I add a million things to my list, that means I can get a million things done, right? We can try. But getting to the end of every day with a long list of unchecked boxes can put a damper on motivation. I did this for many years, until I got the point that I didn’t believe myself when I said I would do something. There were too many instances of putting something on my list or schedule that then I would blow off, replace, or steam roll over that it didn’t hold any power anymore. Only add items to your list that you will do, and have the energy to do. I had a wake-up call in my planning systems when I encountered the idea that time management is actually energy management. Just because you logistically can fit something into your day, doesn’t mean you will have the juice or mental space to accomplish that item. If you are adding something to a packed schedule, you have to remove something.
Weekly bullet journal spread with daily task assignments
The strategy I recommend is using your bullet journal daily spreads, or weekly spreads to time block your day. I do this with my regular day in a loose way, but I do hour to hour if it’s a busy day. I write in everything. Waking up time (15 min), eating time (30 mins), travel time (45 mins)—anything that takes time is on the schedule and an item I get to check off. Woke up? Check. Made my lunch and ate breakfast? Check. The most important part of time blocking your day is scheduling wiggle room. This is like a passing period for a school schedule, there needs to be time for things to overflow a little, or go to the bathroom, or pet the dog for 10 minutes without falling behind. You will know exactly where your time and energy during a day is going. In addition to wiggle room, be sure to always schedule in rest. Not just sleep, but time to decompress and just be. Action-oriented people often have trouble not being productive and just relaxing. If rest is scheduled and assigned a time, it is your job from 5p-7p to sit on the couch and doodle, or listen to a podcast, or visit with your family. Something that isn’t related to producing, but just to being. This is still something I have to practice every day. For some people the idea of scheduling relaxation, or “being” is just ridiculous, but for some of us it is a mental health necessity. When a to-do item is schedule for a specific hour on a specific day, I am much more likely to accomplish it than if it floats on a general weekly to-do list. If I know that a task has an assigned time to accomplish it, it is much easier to focus on the time that is NOW and the task that NOW.
The final key to using your bullet journal or planner to support your productivity and help you accomplish big, scary, audacious goals is using weekly reflections. I found this idea in my law of attraction planner I used in 2020 by the brand Freedom Mastery. In the back of my bujo I devote 26 pages to my weekly reflections, 2 weeks per page for the whole year. They are very simple: 5 achievements and a free write. And that’s it! I will sometimes fill out a few achievements as I got through the week, but I usually do the whole thing on Sunday as I get ready to go into the next week. This super simple practice is surprisingly fulfilling. Especially during hard weeks or weeks where I feel like I took 5 steps back on my goals. Acknowledging and recording your achievements on a weekly basis like this makes you look back on the time you spent and feel proud of yourself and impressed at what you were able to accomplish in such a short amount of time. Reflecting, acknowledging your wins, and celebrating your progress, no matter how small is SO. IMPORTANT. It helps you to learn about yourself and your motivation style, and it challenges you during those really hard weeks not to beat yourself up but to find things, at least 5, that you are proud you were able to do.
To recap, here are 5 ways to use bujo to help you plan for big goals:
Quarterly goals spread: holds space top level goal concepts, but still a manageable size–3 months, 3 subcategories, or 1 large subcategory.
Monthly goals overview: Helps you refer back to your big goals, but breaks it down again into actionable items from a conceptual level.
Weekly/dailies spread with time blocking: Breaks down you goals again into bite size chunks, allows you to specify hours in a day to a task, and lets you see how you are managing your energy levels across the week.
Weekly reflections : It’s important to give yourself credit and stay motivated.
Make it pretty: This creates a positive atmosphere of engagement with your plan and to do list, your goals can a pleasure, a celebration.
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