A day doesn’t go by without some new productivity tool coming across my radar. Most recently it’s been Notion, which looks great and at the same time seems to fall into the same categories you see with so many other applications.

Notion lets you build what you want in a productivity tool. Need a calendar, Notion has it. Need some task lists or ways to manage projects, Notion has you covered. Looking for an Evernote replacement, well then you can use Notion for that too.

I’ve even seen Notion tutorials showing you how to setup a Bullet Journal system…in software. While Ryder does say that Bullet Journal is a tool, and software is useful too, it seems fairly problematic to me to stick a specifically analogue tool into a digital system.

For a long time I fell into looking for the best digital tool for me. I tried Nozbe, Todoist, OmniFocus, 2Do, and many other applications. They all had some good things about them, and some bad things. Nothing touches OmniFocus in the review department, and Sorted has a very interesting timeline feature for your tasks.

Each time I learned a bit more about what I wanted in a task management system. 2Do showed me how nice it was to not have tasks show up until I was going to do them in a day. I was able to replicate this with an OmniFocus perspective as I jumped back to OmniFocus.

But each option was nothing more than looking for some magical tool that would fix my problems with overload. A month or so would go by and I’d realize I had 400 items in different projects and feel an overwhelming burden to do them. Each of these things were something that had seemed useful at the time, but I had no idea when I’d do them looking at my life currently.

The Good and Bad of Digital Task Managers

See the biggest benefit of digital task managers is also the biggest downfall of them. They allow you to efficiently put content into them. They provide a near frictionless way to get something out of your head, or off a web page, so that you can deal with it later. This becomes a downfall because we so often add a task as a way of deferring a decision about it’s value.

We want to read a book, so we add it to our list. It felt interesting in the moment, yet a year later we have a list of 1000+ books that are interesting. When it comes time to choose the next book, we spend a ludicrous amount of time trying to figure out which of the 1000 books is the best thing to read now.

Tasks are the way we want to see ourselves

Each item recorded in your task manager is a window into your ideal self. You want to be the type of person that would read research papers, so you put them in your education project. You want to be the type of person that does house fixit tasks, and then you spend a day not doing these things.

We all do it. No one is immune to the list that only grows with nothing checked off it. No one is free from a task that was given a date, only to not have any movement made on it when it becomes due.

When this task comes up, we move it forward to some future date. Of course future you has no more time than current you, but that’s a problem for future you. As Homer Simpson says: “That’s a problem for future Homer. Man I don’t envy that guy.”

Most of us manage our tasks just like Homer. Pushing off more and more to our future selves, because it’s so easy to change the date on a task without evaluating if we should be doing it at all.

Because I recognized this tendency in myself, I moved to a Bullet Journal.

Friction Equals Freedom

Where maintaining a list thousands long of books is easy in Todoist, it takes work in your Bullet Journal. Instead of that list carrying over without effort, you have to move it between notebooks as you move to your next journal. It’s this friction that is freeing.

In last week’s post I talked about how trying to speed up my reading meant that I read less. I understood less by trying to make my notes more efficient. I traded effectiveness for speed, and I was worse off for it.

Just like a quote from a book is only worthwhile if you’re going to take the time to write it down with a pen, your list of books only has value as you take the time needed to transfer it. When it feels laborious, you have an anchor not something that’s going to make you a better person.

The act of migration from day to day, week to week, month to month, and journal to journal acts as a filter because it’s not easy. It takes time to write down all of the things you should be working on. It takes time to transfer that list of house tasks. It takes lots of time to move 1000 books over in to the custom categories you made for them when you spent an entire afternoon cataloguing the books you own and haven’t read.

As I spend time in migration I’m struck with the same feeling of wasted time with things I’ll migrate. It feels like a burden to migrate my 5 different pages of books, so I sort them down to the vital few. For 2019 I decide that I’ll read topically and look through my library to find the most interesting books in a category. That means each month I generate a new list of 3 – 5 books to read and if I don’t finish them, they must qualify for the next month’s list.

Friction is why I choose to use a Bullet Journal, because it creates space. The constraint of tracking my tasks by hand on paper means I’m much more thoughtful about what I’ll focus on. I’m more thoughtful, because I’m too lazy to keep dragging around the burden of tasks that I must migrate.

I’m not saying that you must use a notebook to be productive. You do need to be careful about trading effectiveness for efficiency. If you can focus on being effective day in day out, you’ll end up with more meaningful work complete at the end of the year than someone aiming for speed.

A number of months ago I wrote a book all about Analogue Productivity. To support my writing, grab a copy.

Photo by: icedsoul

2 responses to “Why I Use a Bullet Journal Instead of Productivity Software”

  1. Sonia Avatar

    I get your points. However, when I tried to have my to-do lists on paper, I just kept on losing them, so it was pointless. I travel a lot, so I don’t want to be bothered with lots of sheets of papers all over my luggage. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying paper lists aren’t good, it’s just not a solution for me. I manage my tasks using Kanban Tool ( https://kanbantool.com/ ) and I find it very convenient that I can have all of them online, every time I need them.

    1. Curtis McHale Avatar
      Curtis McHale

      Yes, you should always use the tool that’s right for you. I don’t end up with paper all over, because I keep it in a single notebook.