Now, more than ever, we need flexible planning systems that enable us to track multiple aspects of our lives. Most of us have been navigating our personal, work, and academic lives from home over the last few months. It is unsurprising that the lines between each have become blurred. It can quickly become overwhelming, and feel as if we are hopping from deadline to deadline or one demand to another.
You might have been trying to keep on top of whatever you can as you cope with uncertainty, and been unable to feel satisfied as each day starts to feel the same. Alternatively, you might have found yourself in a position where you have no structured routine left or responsibilities to keep you proactive. The planning systems discussed are ideal for getting back on track with what matters, and planning towards a bigger picture. Ultimately, each aspect of our being is important and needs attention: our physical, social, mental, and general wellbeing. This is why planning systems should focus on how we can lead more fulfilling lives, not just how to manage the tasks for work or academia that enable us to be ‘productive’.
The Getting Things Done (GTD) System
The GTD system was described in a book of the same title by David Allen. GTD focuses on “applying order to chaos” by externalising our projects or ideas from our minds before sorting them into steps that are ‘actionable’. Below are the five core steps that make up the system:
1. Capture: Create a ‘capture’ of all the to-do’s circling your mind. This could be done via post-it notes, note-taking apps on your phone, or a simple piece of paper. This way, you free up mental space; you know you have documented anything that needs to get done or be remembered.
2. Clarify: Empty your capture often — this could be every few days or once a week. It depends on what works for you. You do this by deciding if each task is actionable — if it is, decide the appropriate actions. If not, identify if the task is still relevant, needs to be done later or referred to later. Now decide if your actionable tasks are something that can be done now — does it take less than two minutes? If not, can this task be delegated or scheduled to be addressed in the next week?
3. Organise: Now, you can organise each task by priority and into relevant categories. You might have categories such as work, specific projects, fitness, family-related tasks and so on.
4. Reflect: In order for the system to be effective, it is important to review the tasks in your system. Check whether tasks or information in your capture are still relevant or can be let go. You can review your calendar and see if you can add or remove tasks. This will enable you to check the system is helping you progress forward.
5. Engage: You should have a number of actionable items now that you have documented, clarified, and organised. This should make it easy for you to start on high priority tasks and easily select what comes next. You can be sure you are working on what you need to be.
The GTD system can be implemented in whatever medium works for you. You can use a rough capture before organising items into lists in a notebook, note-taking app on your phone or make a visual Kanban board. The Kanban board is a visual project management system that typically comprises three columns: to-do, doing, and done and variations such as requested, in progress and complete. You can use post-it notes or a whiteboard to create a visual Kanban board, where you can put your to-do’s for the week or day and move to each category as you progress.
Alternatively, there are digital Kanban boards like Trello, which are typically used to manage work between teams. However, this can be a great way to monitor the tasks for each aspect of your life. Another ideal way to implement the GTD system that also gives the option of using the Kanban board concept, without having to create multiple boards for each category, is Notion. The Task List template follows this Kanban board style which allows you to easily label things into categories and filter views for your various categories. You could create one labelled ‘to-do list’ and then filter views such as ‘fitness’, ‘work projects’ or, ‘meeting tasks’ and switch between them seamlessly. Notion’s ‘Task List’ is also ideal for capturing your tasks until you have a moment to clarify and organise.
The Bullet Journal (BuJo) Method
The Bullet Journal Method was created by Ryder Carroll. This system combines “elements of a wish list, a to-do list and a diary”. The Getting Things Done system focuses on exactly that — getting things done through externalising and organising tasks. However, the BuJo goes one step further as it can act as your calendar, journal and more. The BuJo comprises of seven key concepts: four are forms of page format, and three are ways to manage your journal.
1. The Index: This is where you write down the page numbers and titles of the pages we will discuss. This makes it easy for you to find things as you fill in the notebook, like a regular book, it enables you to navigate using page numbers and titles.
2. Future Log: This is similar to a yearly overview. You create a space for each month in the year where you can add tasks or events you know will be happening, or need to be addressed later on.
3. Monthly Log: Like the future log, this is a place to outline the current month. In this section, it is recommended to list the dates of the month and a monthly task list.
4. Daily Log: This is the page you will be using daily, you can put your to-do’s, notes, thoughts and more using one of the key BuJo concepts called ‘rapid logging’.
5. Rapid Logging: This is how you will capture, organise, and prioritise your mental clutter into notes, events, or tasks. This is done using ‘short-form notation’ and symbols that indicate whether an item is a note, event, or task. For tasks, you can then edit the symbol to track the progress of the tasks that are completed, migrated, scheduled or crossed off as irrelevant.
6. Migration: This refers to reflecting monthly on the content of your BuJo and removing what is no longer necessary. This term is also used when moving tasks. For example, you might schedule a task from your Daily Log into the Monthly Log to tackle later on. This task was ‘migrated’.
7. Collections: This refers to blocks of content that are related in some way. The BuJo already comprises key collections: The Index, Future Log, Monthly Log and Daily Log. However, collections could also be goals, reading lists, fitness tracker, monthly habits tracker and more.
The BuJo method is good for those who dislike planners with fixed dates — there is no guilt about leaving empty pages. You can be sure you have documented anything that comes into your mind during the day in your Daily Log, whilst knowing you are getting on with the priorities established in your Monthly Log. Moreover, there is a large community of those who used the BuJo method and have designed templates that are brilliant for tracking things like finances, wellness goals and personal projects. This means there is no need for you to create new templates but select what works for you.
Simultaneously, there is also the freedom to completely customise the system to your needs. Like the GTD system, BuJo has been implemented by others into the note-taking app Notion. The ability to link pages in Notion makes navigating the BuJo’s key collections easy; so this method is adaptable for those who prefer paper and pen, but also those who prefer to go digital.
Both these planning systems strongly encourage us to externalise all the tasks playing on our minds before clarifying and organising each. This reduces mental clutter and prevents us from feeling as if we might be neglecting something important. It enables us to be sure we are working on what we should be at any time, and fill our spare time with the things that are meaningful to us. Each system is flexible enough to be tailored to your priorities and lifestyle. Moreover, both are adaptable to the medium of your choice; this could be a written system or implemented into a digital note-taking app like Notion. You can make it as minimal and simplistic as you like or, get creative with it.
This post only provides a brief introduction to some valuable systems. It is worth checking out the systems on the main websites linked, as each are based on the idea of mental de-cluttering to get the essentials done with ease. In particular, the BuJo method focuses on intentional living through the slogan “Track Your Past, Order Your Present and Plan Your Future” and aims to promote mindfulness towards how we spend our time and energy. Now, there is even a notebook designed for the BuJo method specifically if you would rather not set up your own from scratch. Take control and mentally de-clutter.
Written by Amirah Khan
Amirah is a Psychology graduate with a keen interest in researching, and writing about topics that promote psychological well-being. She is an empathetic idealist, passionate about improving perceptions of mental health issues. She volunteers as a tutor for disadvantaged pupils and content developer for a peer support service.