A warm welcome to all Bullet Journal® fans! Like you, I’m a huge fan. In this post, I describe how my own mods to Bullet Journal® ultimately helped me create Zen-Journal.
Some years back I discovered Bullet Journal®, an analog planning system created by Ryder Carroll. It didn’t take long for me to become an ardent and devoted user of the system.
In fact, I so admired his system that I set about creating modifications (mods), joined a few online BuJo forum groups, and finally created a website about how I used it.
Later on, I published and sold a course about how to become an advanced user. In the process, I taught students how to become extremely productive using the system. 1,800 people joined my site and bought my course, mainly because it filled a need at the time and demonstrated how they could become more productive using a minimalist, task, and life management system.
It wasn’t long after this success that I started encountering some limitations within my own use of the system as Ryder designed it.
It’s not that Bullet Journal® was incomplete or flawed, far from it; My needs evolved and I needed to break some basic BuJo guidelines.
When I made the changes that worked for me, the new system was clearly beyond what originally defined Bullet Journal®.
What was this new system? Was it a hybrid? Kind of…but not really.
Was it a copy? No, but the two systems have some elements in common such as, both are analog systems with an index and a master list of tasks, but different enough that you can’t call them twins…more like cousins.
I’ll account for these difference in a few minutes, but first I want to explore how Zen-Journal and Bullet Journal® are similar.
1- Both are analog planning systems favoring the use of pens and notebooks
2- Both favor using a master index (like a table of contents) as well as master task lists
3- Both are open systems with numerous mods
4- Both maintain only a few pre-allocated pages
5- Both are simple, minimalist systems with few symbols
As you can see, both systems are minimal, analog systems but that’s about all they share. Now let’s talk about how they differ.
How Zen-Journal Differs from Bullet Journal®
1- Instead of maintaining a master task list like BuJo, Zen-Journal (ZenJo) breaks the master list into separate disciplines, such as Home, Business, School, Health/Fitness, Creative/Hobby, Relationships, etc. Each discipline represents a unique aspect of your life. This affords a degree of separation between task lists and provides some context around them under a specific life area. They still function to capture ideas and thoughts related to tasks, but with a bit more context as they’re grouped by category/discipline.
2- Instead of creating a monthly calendar with one line per day (which I always found to be very cramped) ZenJo uses a more flexible quarterly calendar. Tasks from the Discipline Tasks Lists (DTL) are listed using their unique tag (see photo caption above) in the Quarterly Look-Aheads (QLA). The quarterly approach allows tasks to be assigned to a month but without assigning them to a specific day thereby preventing frequent task migration that can occur with missed or incomplete tasks. Appointments, which are allocated to a specific day, are handled differently in #5 below.
3- Instead of ranking tasks by urgency—usually a time/date-based assignment on a calendar—Zen-Journal assigns tasks based on relevance. I call this the Relevancy Filter. Too often, we assign an arbitrary date to a task when we schedule it and many times that results in migrating the entry when the date or time doesn’t work out. Tasks within the ZenJo system are allocated to the QLA, then as each day is planned using the twice daily Mindful Reviews, tasks are selected based on how relevant they are for the day. If they aren’t undertaken on that specific day, they remain in the QLA until they are. If they make the cut, they’re placed in the day’s plan as a Most Important Tasks (MITs) which I usually limit to three. It’s a more mindful approach to planning your day.
Working hand-in-hand with the QLA is the Day-at-a-Time Work Area (DAATWA), where most of the ZenJo work occurs. A new page is begun each day with a header of one’s choosing and the list of MITs for the day in a bulleted list. When each MIT is achieved, the bullet is circled. Events for the day can be listed using an open circle and filled-in when complete. If a task needs to be migrated to the next day, a right-facing arrow > is placed beside it.
Some days my DAATWA is a half page, some days it’s ten pages – it all depends on what I’m doing that day. The beauty of this is that you never run out of room on a given day. By contrast, Bullet Journal’s® daily spreads can impart a published planner feel to the pages and room to explore, journal or sketch is lost.
4- To keep from over-migrating tasks, personally one of the most frequent issues I experienced with Bullet Journal®, ZenJo users hold twice-daily 5-minute Mindful Reviews. These reviews are an important key to getting the most from any analog planning system, but even more so from Zen-Journal since it was built on the foundation of mindful planning and living. When conducted as described below, you’ll be amazed at how your schedule is more manageable because tasks are now ranked according to their relevance instead of their urgency.
- Mindfully review your day’s accomplishments
- Transfer any incomplete tasks from the
- current Day-at-a-Time Work Area to the next day and add a * next them to denote priority
- Review the QLA’s tasks scheduled for the current month
- Add or mark out tasks allocated for the month
- Populate the unique referencing tag and brief description for the most important tasks (MITs) into the next Day-at-a-Time Work Area
- Note: Be careful not to overcommit…be mindful of what’s possible for you on a given day
- Begin your day with some silent time, perhaps visualizing what you’d like the day to be like
- Open your Zen-Journal to the Day-at-a-Time Work Area and review the tasks you prioritized with an asterisk * in your evening review
- Review the QLA’s tasks scheduled for the current month
- Make any changes that seem relevant to the day
- Transfer them using their unique referencing tag and brief description to the current D-at-a-Time Work Area
- Note: Be careful not to overcommit…be mindful of what’s possible for you
5- Finally, the most dramatic difference between Zen-Journal and Bullet Journal® is its use of your smartphone- Instead of relying solely on a notebook for scheduling appointments, keeping track of reminders and contact lists, Zen-Journal takes advantage of the power in your digital device to carry out these critical tasks. Despite the gorgeous examples of calendars and habit trackers on Pinterest and Facebook, BuJo creator Ryder Carroll’s notebooks are pictured as minimalist. That’s why none of his notebooks were adorned with anything but what was most important. In contrast, Zen-Journal users are fully digital in the ways most people are these days. Most don’t re-create calendars when there’s a computer in the palm of their hand. Besides, does anyone but my 85-year-old mother still have an address book? (Actually, girlfriend Karen has both. 🙄 )
The chicken and the egg
As you can see, Zen-Journal isn’t a copy of Bullet Journal®. Rather, it’s a more mindful approach to using a pen, paper, and your digital device in planning your life.
In a way, both Zen-Journal and Bullet Journal® are like the chicken and the egg. If you think about it, both chicken and eggs:
- are inextricably related (similar yet different)
- require similar preparation (unless you like salmonella)
- and accomplish the same thing (makes your tummy happy)
But they are also very different. If they weren’t, they’d both be called chicken…or eggs… or chicken… or eggs… OK, I could go on, but I won’t.
As you can see, in creating the Zen-Journal system, my inspiration came from being an advanced Bullet Journal® user. For that reason, I’m indebted to Ryder and so many of the users and readers that gave me feedback and, at times, some well-deserved criticism. (I was kind of a jerk when I rolled it out initially.)
I hope you give Zen-Journal a try. There is nothing to purchase and you can get started by downloading my two free user guides to help you set it up and get the most out of it. And soon, there will be a book for advanced users.
I’m here to help if you have any questions.