How I use a practical journal to define big rocks and focus
Several people have mentioned their need to find ways of being effective given their season of life and the time pinches they face. In this post, I’m going to describe in greater detail how I use a simple print journal to focus myself each day, in the context of the week and month.
I discovered the Bullet Journal format back in 2014, and I’ve been using it religiously since. Here’s how I go about it.
I have long used Stephen Covey’s “Big Rocks” analogy for how I handle my day. If you’ve not heard the Big Rocks analogy, see this brief article (like, half a page). Basically, “big rocks” are the key priorities of the day. If you do the “little things” first (sand), you’ll have no room to fit the “big rocks” of the day into the day.
First, at the start of the year, I have a single page in the journal which lists each month. This is a top-level macro view of the calendar. The biggest rocks of the month are noted here. Here’s what my page looks like.
For each month, I have a “3-page spread.” The first page is a daily calendar with the big rocks for the day. Page 2 are the priorities for the month – the big projects I am thinking about, working on, or think I should be working on. Page 3 is a “stock menu” – this is personal, for our family; basically I’ve found that by tracking some of the meals we like, it gives us ideas for the next month when we start building a menu and shopping for groceries (and then I don’t have the “what should we have on the menu this week” blank-paper-freeze). Page 4 is the beginning of the daily journal.
These 3 pages look like the following:
With these pages anchoring the month (and updated during the month), I then have a small daily entry following the Bullet Journal format. I often get a week of entries on 2 pages.
Saturdays usually take a slightly different format: just an itemized list of things we might like to do. When Saturday is coming up, I look back at the LAST Saturday, and bring the list “forward.” During the week I might be taking note of things the family’s mentioned and add them to the next Saturday list. Then, when Saturday comes, and someone says, “What should we do”–I’ve got a list of possibilities (some chores, some fun).
Also, in the journal, I often take notes directly from things happening or research I’m doing. For example:
Some people have asked me why I do this over some kind of tech solution (like phone, or computer). I think the biggest parameter is: what will you use? This little journal goes with me just about everywhere (my kids have taken to calling it “Dad’s Brain”), and everyone knows if it’s written in the journal it’ll get done (eventually). It’s easy to scratch a note on a page, and you never have to worry about what key presses, key strokes, software crashes, or batteries running out will prevent you from writing down what you need.
Part of the value of journaling is to help me remember no day happens in isolation. There is a thread that runs through the days, and the journal lets me track it. It also lets me reflect back and see what I have gotten done (successes), what I have not gotten done repeatedly (is it really valuable?), and how much I can get done in a day. It reminds me that there’s only so much time. It needs to be used wisely and effectively.
My system might work for you. It might not. The important thing is to use a system, as an orientation device, a map, a discipline, a target – rather than to drift aimlessly, which is a sure way to get nowhere at all.