My bullet journal has worked well for me for quite some time. I have switched to the Midori Travelers Notebook, using my Moleskine setup exclusively for the field notes that I take in my research site.
I constantly teeter on the line between a systematic, thorough approach and manageability. When my system or routine creeps towards complexity, everything collapses. I pruned my modifications from the original, simple bullet journal approach enough that my Midori is in my personal planning sweet spot.
My set-up uses 3 regular-sized (as opposed to “passport” size) Midori grid inserts:
Brain dump: This holds the unfiltered thoughts I capture as they happen. I have learned to keep this handy when I’m trying to focus on things deeply. When I read a journal article and think, “I want to read the book the author mentioned,” I jot it down instead of going to the Internet and searching for it…derailing my concentration on the article. When I am writing and someone other than a family member calls, I make a note instead of picking up the phone so that I can return the call during my next break. I also use this list when I sit down to create my daily and weekly plans.
Mental health bonus: if you have a tendency towards anxiety or have been diagnosed with ADHD, a single place to capture random items is particularly helpful. I find that adding to it at night is also useful at reducing insomnia. Before, I used to turn out the lights and I’d have a list of items flash through my brain. Now, I write down these thoughts in my brain dump notebook and know they can wait for me to tackle them tomorrow!
My lists: This notebook contains…uh, lists. Most notebook and planning enthusiasts are, by nature, list enthusiasts in general. I like keeping these in one place. Some are helpful in planning longer range projects such as the focus for each week of a 52 week “home organization” challenge. Here’s a random little tidbit about my notebook: I add most lists into my notebook from front to back and add the title to the table of contents as I go; however, I add items to my “to read” list from back to front. That’s my longest list, and this method allows me to add to it without setting aside a specific amount of space. My notebook is full when both ends meet!
My Bullet Journal (aka Daily To Dos): Finally, I have one notebook devoted exclusively to my daily and weekly planning. This is where I organize items that I want to tackle from our family calendar, my brain dump, and my list notebook.
It’s also where I prioritize the top 3 items for my work time. As a grad student and parent, I have a long list of items to accomplish but very little external structure built into my day. This has been difficult for me to learn to manage. Before I was a PhD student, I was a teacher. Back then, my days were highly structured. I taught subjects at specific times; I had goals for each lesson; and my breaks were scheduled (teachers are renowned for their bladder control because you can’t just stroll out of a lesson or abandon yard duty). With the lack of imposed structure, my brain interpreted flexible time as MORE time. Not so! This mistake added extra time to my grad school program and caused undue stress. Daily planning and prioritizing is how I build the structure into my days now.