As a freelancer, there’s a good chance you have information EVERYWHERE.
Sticky notes, emails to yourself, voice memos, that planner you started but never kept up with.
Trying to manage all the data in your head can be exhausting.
(And, maybe a little bit overwhelming.)
But what if it didn’t have to be? What if there was a system designed for the chaotic and changing demands you manage? A method designed to adapt to your rapidly moving brain? Something that could make you feel organized and in control?
The Bullet Journal method was designed by someone trying to manage the same demanding professional challenges you face, and has spread because it is so effective.
What is Bullet Journaling and why is it a win for freelancers?
Bullet journaling is a highly effective method of keeping track of tasks, deadlines, and appointments for freelancers. This system, which combines elements of a traditional journal with those of a planner and a to-do list, can help freelancers stay organized and productive in the face of a constantly changing schedule and a wide variety of projects.
The key to bullet journaling is its flexibility. Unlike traditional planners or calendars, a bullet journal can be customized to suit the unique needs of each freelancer. Best of all, it’s designed to be adaptable so it can morph to your projects and change with the demands of each day.
The other win for freelancers?
Rapid logging each day and having to migrate the tasks from day-to-day reveals what isn’t getting done so you can figure out why.
When you’ve had to migrate a task to the next day multiple days in a row it helps you acknowledge how much of a priority it really is so you can either schedule it, delegate it, delete it, or figure out why you are putting it off.
How the bullet journal method works
The system is based on a set of simple symbols and layouts that can be used to create a customized system that works best for the individual.
The first step in starting a bullet journal is to choose a notebook, and size is key. You need something you can carry with you everywhere. Pocket sized makes that easy, but it doesn’t give you much space to think and plan. Most bullet journalers use an A5 size (equivalent to a sheet of copy paper folded in half).
While many people prefer a blank notebook, there are also a number of pre-printed bullet journals available on the market. Once you have your notebook, it’s time to create your key. The key is a reference guide to the symbols and abbreviations that you will use throughout your journal. Some common symbols include:
- Bullet point: Used to indicate a task
- X: Used to indicate a task that is completed
- >: Used to indicate a task that has been migrated (moved) to another page
- <: Used to indicate a task that has been scheduled for a future date
- O: Used to indicate an event
- –: Used to indicate a note or an idea
Once your key is set up, it’s time to start using your journal. The basic layout of a bullet journal consists of four main sections: the index, the future log, the daily log, and collections.
The index is a table of contents that allows you to quickly find and reference different pages in your journal. You should set this up at the beginning of your journal and update it as you add new pages.
The future log is a section where you can plan out events, appointments, and deadlines that are further out in the future. This is a good place to keep track of long-term goals and projects.
The daily log is where you will do most of your tracking. Each day, you can write down the tasks and events for that day, along with any notes or ideas that come to mind. You can also use this space to review the previous day and plan for the next. These daily pages rely on “rapid logging” where you quickly log things in bullets using the symbols from your key.
Collections are pages that are dedicated to a specific topic or project. For example, you might have a collection for a freelance project that you’re working on, one for your personal finances, one with notes about a specific client, or one to track goals.
In addition, some people add a monthly or weekly log to create overviews of appointments and deadlines. (If you tend to rely on an app for this, it may not be needed.)
Getting started: what this looks like in real life
Start by getting your notebook and setting it up.
The bullet journal works better in one without lines, but you don’t have to use a blank notebook, many brands sell a version with a subtle dotted matrix on the page so you have guidelines without the dominance of ruled lines.
The next thing is to save the first 2-3 pages for your index. (Most people write “Index” at the top of those pages.) Then number all the pages. Leuchturm makes a hardcover A5 journal with dotted pages that are already numbered which includes a pre-printed index at the front to save time.
Save the next 2-3 pages for your future log. This is where you will block off some space to write things that are coming up but not imminent. Most people divide these pages into months, but you will do it in a way that works for your brain and context.
Learn to rapid-log each day
One cool thing about the bullet journal system–which helps us psychologically– is that there is no blocking out pages for each day ahead of time. The only day you write down is the one ahead of you.
The first time you create a page for a day, I recommend just downloading your brain. Put the date at the top of the page and write down in bullet points everything that is pinging around in there.
Then go back to each line and add the symbols from your key to identify if it is a task, a meeting, or just a thought. Star the top priorities.
At the end of this first messy day, you will plan the next day rewriting every task that didn’t get done on the next page, and moving what you decide isn’t imminent to the future log. This is also a good time to realize what you simply don’t have bandwidth to do and delegate or delete.
There is something powerful about having to move a task to the next day and rewrite it. You will find yourself getting small tasks done to save the step and will find you become more deliberate about blocking time on your calendar to accomplish the bigger tasks.
Rapid logging in days will help you to stay focused and on track throughout the day. You can also use the rapid logging method to quickly jot down notes and ideas as they come to you, which can be useful for brainstorming or problem-solving.
Create collection pages for projects
Collection pages are where you plan, create, and track progress. While individual tasks will get logged on a daily basis, you work by project in a collection. You decide the layout of a collection page based on how you think about things: Let’s look at an example:
As a freelancer, networking and marketing is vital for growing your business and finding new clients. A bullet journal can help you to keep track of your networking and marketing efforts. You can create a collection dedicated to your networking efforts, and use it to log the events you attend, people you meet, and follow-up tasks that need to be done. This can be very useful in keeping track of the many contacts you make, and the many ways you want to follow up with them.
How you track it in your journal is up to you, but here are some examples of what it might look like:
My personal experience using the Bullet Journal method for freelance work
I have a demanding day job and perform freelance work on the side. I also have a number of “passion projects”—like this blog—in the margins. When you add in family and our pack of Australian shepherds, my life has a lot of moving pieces.
Before discovering the Bullet Journal method I tried some pre-printed planners. While some of them had great elements (with Hobonichi techno being a favorite), there were always big sections of the planner I didn’t use. I wound up relying on PostIts, phone reminders, and other elements which felt chaotic because I had information everywhere.
Having a single journal my brain can depend on has made such a difference in how effective I am. I go through multiple journals a year.
The method forces me to prioritize and execute.
I’ve evolved the system for myself over time. My bujo (shorthand for bullet journal) now is mostly devoted to collections. I rapid log on a large post it that I keep in the front of the journal which I switch out each day. Notes and reflections go into collections rather than being part of a daily log.
For beginners, I recommend starting true to the system, then evolving over time.
I can say wholeheartedly that for freelancers, it is definitely worth a test drive.
Why you might want to try this for yourself as a freelancer
Bullet journaling can be a valuable tool for freelancers looking to stay organized and increase productivity. Its flexibility allows for customization to suit the unique needs of each individual, and its layout and symbols can help freelancers prioritize and manage their time effectively.
In addition to project management, it can be used for tracking finances, networking, and marketing efforts. Give it a try, experiment with different layouts and symbols, and see how it can help you stay on top of your freelance business.
One final idea…
As a freelancer, your business is dependent on you.
Having a system that thinks like you do is everything.
It’s worth a little bit of time on the front end to develop it to save yourself time and increase productivity for the future.