17th September 2020

A Project Manager’s guide to bullet-proof notes

You may have heard about the note-taking craze of bullet journalling. If not (and you’re reading this), then you’re in for a positive change to your organisational skills.

Ryder Carroll, a New York-based designer, wanted to find a flexible framework that organised his thoughts. He wanted the ability to organise the present, track the past, and prepare for the future, something that simple ‘to-do lists’ never gave him.

In this article, I will show you the daily, and weekly journal management techniques I have developed for myself based on Ryder Carroll’s methodology.

My journey with note-taking has allowed me to try multiple methods in my years of creative management. Juggling on average 60+ projects weekly, with the fast-paced nature of demanding deadlines and inter-personal relationships, means that scribbling reminders on scrap paper or sticky notes were a common occurrence in the studio.

Online to-do lists, reminders, and personal kanban boards are some of the digital note-taking techniques that were trialed on the chance that it will ‘help’ improve our efficiency. By all means, these might work for you if you can find time to keep up with managing your notes. You may find you have the energy to keep on top of it at the start of the week, but…by Friday you’re filling it in retrospectively and trying to remember who you had to call about that job booking next week.

Bullet journalling will not only help you get more organised but will also help you become a better person.

It is proven that written notemaking helps you concentrate on what you are reading, watching, or hearing. It helps you to understand new information and new ideas; noting things down in your own words helps to place them in your long-term memory. This is why I strongly recommend keeping a written form of notes. All you need is a notebook, a pen, and a ruler.

Adjust your mindset

Though it does require a dotted journal, bullet journalling is a methodology that you can customise for yourself. It’s best described as a mindfulness practice disguised as a productivity system. It’s designed to help you organise your what while you remain mindful of your why. The goal is to help its practitioners make intentional short-hand tasks. With minimal setup time and so much flexibility, it allows you to work in the path of least resistance, meaning you’re more likely to keep doing it.

Key

It starts with a simple system. I’m using the straightforward bullet key Ryder Carroll developed. Bullets are short-form sentences paired with symbols that visually categorise your entries into Tasks, Events, or Notes. By making them simple, fast, and clean, they can easily be transformed to reflect the state of the task.

During the day you should aim to mark off the personal tasks you have achieved. At the end of the day, I reflect on what is left to do and migrate them to the next day or week by marking the bullet point. This means no task gets forgotten, and by re-writing it, it embeds the task and acts as a memory aid.

Daily

If you are a daily deadline-driven person, the daily schedule gives you an overview of how to split your time most effectively. A simple layout like this will focus your priority and personal tasks.

As you can see from my example, I have three stages to my day: Plan, Do and Review which offers a framework that can easily apply to any role.

Through experience, I have found a routine and linear task focus to be the most effective methodology of good personal time management. Contrary to popular belief, multi-tasking is the most distracting, unfocused mind-state you could put yourself in. When you are juggling between two different activities, you are not paying proper attention to any one of them. So whatever you are doing or learning, you will not be able to recollect it properly later.

This is why planning your day by focussing on one task at a time, within a routine timeframe, puts you in the best position to actually achieving this. 

Weekly

The Weekly spread is one that I use most often for my management style. The simple layout takes minutes to create and by doing it once a week it uses minimal setup admin time. This is where you can be creative and flexible for how you need to categorise and split your notes.

Pillars

I base my categories on something I call pillars of workstreams.

What are the teams, clients, or workstreams you get involved in?  

The personal to-do list should always remain as your first pillar. Project managers are used to dedicating time to support colleagues and their projects. Therefore your own personal tasks, KPI’s or personal development usually fall by the way-side. The Creative, Motion, and Development teams are my other three workstream pillars. Each pillar has been split into sections so I can categorise my tasks quickly.

A ‘Radar’ section captures things that aren’t actionable yet but I want to make a note of for future reference.

The ‘Meeting‘ section at the bottom is to capture short-hand meeting minutes or actions based on a particular project.

What is great about this framework is that it is ever-evolving. These sections were developed over time to be completely personal for managing my team. E.g. If you are an account manager you could easily swap these pillars for client names.

Concise tasks

Our experiences can be complicated and distracting. Rather than trying to capture the way you feel in the moment, keep your entries short and objective. The important thing is to have a record of your professional experience so that you can learn from it.

Migrate, never let it drop

It may seem like a lot of effort to have to rewrite all these things, but that’s intentional. This process makes you pause and consider each item. If an entry isn’t even worth the effort to rewrite it, then it’s probably not that important. Get rid of it. The purpose of Migration is to surface what’s worth the effort, become aware of our actions, and to separate the action from the noise.

I hope you find this guide useful in taking your first steps to a more organised and intentional project management style. You, your projects, and colleagues will certainly all benefit. Please feel free to share any tips or ideas with me, I would love to see what you come up with!