Hello Pros! Of all the questions that I have been asked about using a Bullet Journal for work, one of the most frequently asked is what is the best way to manage projects? There is a great interest for Pros in project management and advice on techniques and approaches. To help answer these questions and more, we have assembled three professional project managers and invited them here today. Joining us are guest Pros, Maria Kostelac, Erica Carroll and Courtney Bedi.
BJP: First of all, thank you all for joining us here for this important discussion on project management and the Bullet Journal. Before we begin, please take a moment to introduce yourself, share a little about what you do professionally and how long you have been bullet journaling. As an added fun factor, please share with us your favorite quote of all time. Maria, let’s start with you.
MK: Hi Todd, thank you for inviting me. My name is Maria Kostelac and I work for a professional services firm as a specialist in my field which is IT Governance. Daily, I juggle the tasks of managing multiple projects, teams, clients, information, communications as well as driving new-business and maintaining, growing my credentials.
The jump to senior manager in June 2015 doubled my work-volumes, business travels and the number of ‘moving parts’ I manage daily. It also meant having less of a buffer between me and the many executive-lines I serve. My home-life had ratcheted up a few notches as well when my parents moved into my home in December last year, due to my dad’s poor health. When it rains, it pours, huh?
By September last year, I was nearing burn-out. I researched “productivity systems” and unwrapped the worlds of GTD and Personal Kanban. Although what I discovered with these systems was inspiring and brilliant, I could not visualize what I would use to synthesize the principles I was adopting as part of these systems. My iPhone apps, page-a-day-diary and plain notebook didn’t survive my impatience with their formats. I stumbled upon the concept of the Bullet Journal on a blog interviewing people about their morning routines. What was appealing to me about the system was its’ elegant simplicity, action-orientation, reference-ability and the fact that this was a pen and paper system! I started implementing the basic system and have been iteratively refining it to my needs ever since. For me, this was the missing link to my productivity-system I have been building.
As for my favorite quote …
“The work we do is an expression of our entire being. Our work can be a powerful means for us to express our deepest aspirations, and can be a great source of nourishment, peace, joy, transformation, and healing.”
Thich Naht Hanh
BJP: How about you, Erica?
EC: Well, I would also like to thank you, Todd, for inviting me on this panel. I am a technical trainer in the audio video industry and my Bullet Journal has helped to keep me sane since I started using it and stay on track. I was a day-per-page task lister long before the Bullet Journal was introduced. The flexible formality of the system has only made me better at what I was already doing. I was happy to adopt the system in October 2013, so I have been using the system for some time now.
My favorite quote is one that I found while reading a script in my high school drama class. It’s not well known, but has always spoken to me.
“One must depict life not as it is and not as it ought to be, but as we see it in our dreams”
BJP: And, Courtney, would you introduce yourself?
CB: Sure … thank you, Todd, for inviting me to this panel today. I’m Courtney Bedi and I am a business analyst. This was not by any means what I thought I was going to be when determining my career path. I got my degree in Political Science, Pre-law with intentions on going to law school. I landed an opportunity to work for a large retail corporation while in college. During that time, this big box company had thrown me into a new world that had me intrigued. I wanted to learn more about how a business operates, specifically their supply chain. My job is very IT-driven and business process oriented. I looked for automation at every opportunity to reduce operational costs.
The formal term, Bullet Journal, is a fairly new concept for me. I technically had an unorganized method that was similar to bullet journaling that I have been using for about eight years. When I was in college, I was not only a full-time student but also a full-time employee. In order to juggle these two worlds I had to prioritize my tasks and have a strict schedule to be successful. I began using the XL Weekly Moleskins to assist me with keeping up with my goals. It was about a year ago when I learned about the formal techniques of a Bullet Journal as I was desperately searching for a structure to my unorganized lists.
My favorite quote is sure but meaningful to me:
Absorb complexity, produce simplicity
BJP: Well, welcome to you all and thank you for being here. Very interesting mix of quotes! So, tell me, based on your experience as a project manager, how is a Bullet Journal best used on the job? Give some specifics as to how you use your Bullet Journal. Maria?
MK: On-the-go, I use my BuJo as a processing point, in conjunction with my all-purpose work notebook, my personal mini-reporter for capture points. When working from home I use an online calendar with auto-reminders and a tickler-file which serves as my future planning point.
My BuJo came into its own the day I captured my entire work-world and workload into a mind map which was dubbed, “Andromeda”, by my colleagues. This is a form of Mind Sweep from the GTD method. Andromeda allows me to visualize my work effort in relation to my pipeline, work-in-progress, pending completion and completed initiatives within a calendar month. It’s also my single reference for status-reporting and planning task-delegation. I print my weekly update of Andromeda and keep this as an insert booklet to my BuJo. It informs my weekly review and preparation along with inputs from the actions captured in my notebook and reporter, as well as my daily plan.
EC: I agree with Maria on her “all purpose” comment because, for me, my Bullet Journal is best used for keeping everything in one place. Notes, thoughts and project meeting notes are all in the same place so it’s easy to look for when the time comes.
I use it to manage deadlines and follow-ups. Some people call this the “Waiting On” log. Kim at Tiny Ray of Sunshine introduced this and I had to implement it immediately. Her version takes a whole page as an ongoing list, while mine is just monthly. So, at the end of the month, I can easily see what’s pending. For project deadlines, I use a quarterly Gantt Chart. It’s also broken into weeks below specify due dates.
BJP: How about you, Courtney?
CB: Well, I have to say that my story here is very different than thoses of Maria and Erica. As of today I have yet to incorporate formal bullet journaling to my job. As I mentioned earlier, my job is very business-process oriented and I see a great benefit to also utilizing it for my career as well as using it to organize my personal life. At work, I have recently been assigned to a new project and I plan to use a dedicated notebook for managing this project. However, I must say that I enjoy the separation of work and personal life in my journals. I feel that it keeps me balanced.
BJP: Well, you’re not alone, Courtney. I hear from a lot of Pros who keep two notebooks. Let’s talk about some of the projects that you manage on a daily basis and how you do it. Please also share with us how you use your Bullet Journal for these projects as well. Courtney, why don’t we start with you this time.
CB: Well, Todd, my daily activities will often depend upon which phase of the project I’m working on. Typically we will have soft copies of formal documents such as a Project Charter and Business Requirement Documents (BRD). Each of those layout some foundational goals and objectives which I like to always refer back to ensure the project is still going down the correct path. Although I am just starting to incorporate my BuJo into my job, this is how I would begin to organize it. I see using the scope, project overview, objectives and possibly deliverables as a spread to refer to. I see great benefits of trackers to manage daily tasks or meetings. Some dedicated collections would include project stakeholders, risks, dependencies, assumptions, roadblocks, project intersections, and a parking lot.
BJP: Very interesting. Erica, how about you?
EC: That was a good list. As for me, my projects are mainly courses for our LMS (online Learning Management System). I work with Subject Matter Experts to outline the course and, like an assembly line, the course is built. It starts with the content followed by scripts, animations, voice overs, renderings and finally it is loaded into the eLearning system. Currently we’re working on translating our most popular course into four other languages. Again, this is where the Gantt Chart is keeping me on schedule because I’m managing four translators and their progress until completion.
BJP: And Maria?
MK: I use my BuJo to plan my week and day ahead and also to track the way a day progresses. This allows me insights into the dynamics affecting my work day and awareness of what needs improvement. I use the GTD concepts of “context” in listing my tasks against a label which is informed by the mind map & timesheet system, followed by a colon “:”. I write a time-estimate against each listed task and I assign a priority rating of 1-4 and then note the source of the task. I monitor which sources generate the most work outside of any formal workplan. I note an asterisk against three of my Priority-1 tasks because the completion of these tasks are imperative to moving key initiatives ahead. Finally, I migrate incomplete tasks to the next day in order to prioritize actions then.
Regarding the time estimate that I mentioned, time-tracking is both a billing and time-management issue for me. So, I’m using “estimated time” against my tasks – work and personal – when I plan the day ahead. I group the quick tasks, which are those that will take five to 10 minutes, to complete during available time-slots in my calendar. The longer duration tasks, which are typically greater than 30 minutes, get their own slot in the calendar for the next day or across days which follow. This helps me judge my workload against available time in my journal for meetings and/or making new commitments via either email, calls or meetings. I capture completed tasks in my Microsoft Outlook calendar against the same time-categories as my time sheet reference. In Outlook, I can filter against ‘categories’, which match up to the labels in my BuJo, when it’s time to do billing and spot-check my timesheet report.
As far as the projects on my daily list, I’ve included here a review of those.
- Client proposal design, development, review and submission
- Client engagements
- Management routines/events
- Eminence planning and deployment
- Personal development, i.e., self-study and eminence plans
- Internal training, mentoring and coaching initiatives
- Service packaging and marketing initiatives
- Event planning
- Domestic projects and social plans
- Art projects
BJP: Let’s shift gears. Tell me what other tools – analog or digital – you use on the job as a professional project manager and which are most valuable to you?
MK: Actually, Todd, there are quite a few tools I use in my productivity system. Here’s an overview of what I use.
- For my mind maps I use either Mind Manager or FreeMind
- My mini-Moleskin Reporter which I keep in my handbag for on-the-fly capture of notes, ideas, lists and actions
- I use lots of sticky notes for lists I create over the week
- I use my Outlook calendar for work, personal and social calendars which are visible in one place on my iPhone, allowing me to coordinate focus and travel plans
- I use the Reminders app on my iPhone as the need arises
- I have a A5 Tickler-file that holds all of my manual references for the 12-months ahead
- I use both Evernote, which holds all my research, and Pocket which holds all my ‘to-read’ online finds and research
- I love the printables at Day Designer
- I also use the iPad app, Meeting Pad, for project meetings and formulation of professionally formatted minutes with action-lists, action delegation and due-date tracking. It also migrates to your Outlook/iCal calendar, if you wish.
EC: Wow! That’s quite a list, Maria! I’m going to have to lookup some of those. For me, I have found that there are two things which are most helpful. The first one took me many years to master and it’s proper organization of my email. Having functional folders that are easy to navigate are so important. And I like to have all of my actionable items stay in my inbox. If I’ve completed my part, I will file it away and if I’m waiting on a response, I write that in my follow up log.
The second thing that has helped me to stay organized is having a Kanban Board in my office. It’s so nice to see it visualize on a big board. I use Post-it ® Notes to move tasks from to-do, pending and complete. The to-do list is my favorite because it can be things we can accomplish way in the future. Ideas are thrown out there and we forget, but with this method, we can remember what was said months ago and decide if it’s still relevant.
CB: Wow, you both have shared great ideas with me! Here again, I’m a little different than both Maria and Erica. I was taught to use Microsoft Word and Excel for the majority of my go-to planning needs. However, before I use either software or my Bullet Journal, I will go to my trusty whiteboard. I really enjoy the freedom to brainstorm and organize my thoughts and begin envisioning the future state to the project on a big whiteboard. There’s nothing like it for me.
BJP: What a great range of planning tools from the simplex to very complex, which raises the question of what aspects of your job don’t translate well to the Bullet Journal? In other words, what elements of your job are not captured currently via a Bullet Journal? And why is that?
MK: Well, I will start again. I would say that there are four categories of items that are not captured in my BuJo.First are meeting notes. I keep a separate notebook for all note-taking in general. I use a key to indicate actions, events, reminders, etc. as I capture my notes in words and sketches. These can be converted later to my BuJo.
Second are brainstorming notes. I often brainstorm during meetings as I interpret what is being said into models, templates, processes or conceptual frameworks and relational diagrams.
The third category of items I don’t capture in my BuJo has to do with project and status reporting. My master mind map in Mind Manager exports to Microsoft Project. This allows me to report on progress to my superiors and clients at the push of a button. This format is compelling because it allows me to manage dependencies, timelines, resources, budgets and risks.
The fourth category of items that I don’t use for bullet journaling may surprise you. It’s future planning. You know, my BuJo is my go-to for daily and weekly planning. The monthly view is useful for putting a peg in the ground and noting important events over the days of that month. I use it probably twice each month – the 1st and 30th. Ha! I keep a 12-month ‘catchment’ page at the back of my journal to capture items I need to pop in my calendar or tickler at the end of the week. And each of those gets crossed out as I capture the item into those other systems.
EC: Well for me the main thing that doesn’t get captured in my Bullet Journal is physical training events. I guess I just haven’t figured out a way to manage them on paper yet. There are too many pieces that change all the time in our training events. Often there are many people involved, a great variety of equipment needed, plus the reservations for flights, hotel, transportation, etc. If anyone has a suggestion, I’m open ears, HA!
CB: You’re going to think I’m silly, Todd, but I have yet to find out what works well or not on the job. I look forward to finding out with my upcoming project as I begin to use my BuJo for as much as I can.
BJP: At Bullet Journal Professionals, we’re always curious about those who influence our readers in this community. So tell us, where do you get your inspirations for your Bullet Journal?
MK: Oh there are so many inspirations. There are books such as the well-known GTD system and book, written by David Allen, “Getting Things Done – The art of stress-free productivity” and Thich Naht Hahn’s, “Work – And how to find meaning in each hour of the day”
EC: For me, Todd, it started with Pinterest. And I naively thought there should be a group for this, so I created a LinkedIn group (shameless plug) called Bullet Journal for Business. Then I found the Bullet Journal Junkies group on Facebook. While I really like the group for my inspirations, I’m not one for all the decorating and the washi tape addiction that many there have.
Through that group I discovered Tiny Ray of Sunshine, Boho Berry and the Bullet Journal Pros Group. These have all offered an amazing amount of inspiration and information. Other than that, I scour the Internet for agendas and planners, looking for layouts that I can use or adapt. This is my personal addiction: planners and notebooks. It’s not limited to the Internet either. When I go into a store I have to stop and look at journals to check out the formats, sizes, layouts and binding methods.
CB: Well I’m glad to hear that I’m just like Maria and Erica here in that I enjoy viewing other layouts of bullet journalists online and seeing if it something that I could use to help format my thoughts for presentations. I would have to give credit to the entire Bullet Journal community for always finding new ways to organize and structure their journals – and their lives – to achieve their goals. Someone who I admire for her layouts is Ursala, @Honeyrozes, on Instagram. I truly enjoy her simple and beautiful style as well as the way she organizes and structures her thoughts on paper. Her layouts are so appealing and her work I find easy to migrate into my own approach.
BJP: You all have been great this morning! So much information for Pros to use and learn from in regards to project management. I appreciate your time today and have one final question for you. We have seen a lot of growth in the Pro community over the last couple of months. Looking down the road, as the Pro community continues to grow, what would you like to see happen that could have a positive impact on you and other project managers?
MK: Well, Todd, let me step back a bit to answer this question. Despite being passionate about my work, I have to tell you that it was eating me alive. That tipping-point forced me to articulate the intention of fulfilling my role in a manner which radiated love, discernment, ease, decision-dexterity and wisdom over the day. Perhaps this was an unanticipated benefit of maturing my professional role. I’m shifting now from consulting and managing projects to leading. So now I find myself at the next gate which is passing the system on to peers.
Researching the stories of others has elevated my own intentions and expectations of what’s possible when we reign in unconscious ‘doing’, reactive habits and the ‘victim-mind’ that sprouts from the confusion of it all. For me, I would love to hear the stories of how other Pros are experiencing using, evolving and managing their Bullet Journal system and then pass it on to others. I’d like to know what obstacles others have encountered and if they are seeing shifts in their roles, attitudes, influencers and role models.
EC: Those are great points, Maria. For me, I would also love to see how other Pros use their notebooks. It doesn’t even have to be the traditional Bullet Journal style. I think sharing adaptations and layouts could help everyone. In other groups, it seems that most everyone is proud to share their creativity, but when it comes to sharing a notebook for work – aside from sensitive information – someone might think it’s too boring to share. I’ll end this with my mantras: Collaborate. Share. Innovate. Be more Productive.
CB: I have learned so much from Maria and Erica here today. I am just starting the process of managing projects in my Bullet Journal so I have a lot to learn from everyone. I’m looking forward to reading more from others as well as experimenting on my own. This has been very informative for me and I hope I shared something that could help others just getting started as well.
BJP: Well, thank you Maria Kostelac, Erica Carroll and Courtney Bedi for your time today and all this great information for our readers. We are looking forward to seeing and hearing more from you in the following months.
MK: Thanks, Todd, this has been fun!
EC: Agreed – thank you, Todd, I appreciate you asking me to come and share my system with everyone.
CB: As I shared earlier, I’m a newbie and just getting started so I hope my perspective has helped others getting started. Thank you, Todd, for inviting me to participate. I agree with Maria, this has been fun.