We often think of productivity as a practical problem, but dig into the issue even a little and you'll see the issue is actually a much deeper philosophical problem. Deciding how to use your limited time gets to the heart of some of the scariest and toughest questions out there -- what do I truly value in life? What do I want my legacy to be? What am I willing to sacrifice to reach my goals?

That's why so many sensible-seeming time-management or to-do-list systems fail. They might be up to the task of organizing the tasks of your life, but they have nothing to offer when it comes to deciding what tasks are worth doing in the first place. But Bullet Journals are different.

Most productivity tools just increase anxiety by raising, but not answering, these bigger questions. A bullet journal actually helps you tackle these deeper questions, according to its creator, the designer Ryder Carroll (who recently spoke to Inc.com), and hordes of dedicated followers. The initially complicated-seeming system of brain dumping and goal tracking (tutorial here) isn't just designed to help you squeeze more accomplishments into your days. Its aim is to help you think through what you want to accomplish in the first place, as Carroll explained in an illuminating TEDx Talk.

Reflect, ideate, dedicate

If you're looking for a practice that combines self-reflection with doses of time management and accountability tracking, the complete 12-minute talk below is well worth a view. But the essence of Ryder's insight lies in transforming the terrifyingly huge question of 'What do I want to do with my time on Earth?' into a more manageable step-by-step process of reflection, ideation, and adjustment.

  1. First, you do a giant brain dump to force yourself to clear out the mental clutter and face head-on all the contradictory goals and obligations that are crowding your days. That's the reflection part of the process.
  2. Then, you start taking baby steps toward the goals you've identified -- be they personal, professional, spiritual, or physical -- by doing small projects. By starting off with contained experiments that present no barriers to entry (want to be a writer? Start a blog rather than try to pitch a book idea to an agent), are clearly defined (I'll write posts three times a week), and will take no more than a month to complete, you make it easy to start inching your way to a better life. You also nurture your curiosity (and therefore your creativity) and collect valuable data on what works for you and what doesn't.
  3. Finally, you commit to repeating the process in an organized way to track what's working, what's not, and your evolving sense of what's worth aspiring to.

And that, basically, is it. The process has the advantage of being completely practical, manageable, and down to earth, and yet it touches some of the toughest, scariest questions raised by being a mortal human being. If you feel like minutiae and busyness is eating your life, maybe it's worth giving it a try.

Published on: Aug 10, 2017