Maggie Rusch

Professional Triathlete

G.S.D.

My new mantra for the year. Though as I have come to learn: if it doesn't get written down, it probably doesn't get done. 

Warning: this next post is only vaguely triathlon-related, if that.

As any millennial girl has been known to do, I have a history of loving planners with a passion. I have always loved the start of a new year because it meant a new planner and fresh slate. But inevitably, I would find myself losing track of them three months into the new year and out $20 by the time I found it and weeks and weeks of printed pages had already passed by.

As a tech nerd, I've also spent plenty of time trying out various platforms, whether IOS or browser-based. If it is a productivity or to-do app recommended by LifeHacker, you can bet I have tried it. Off the top of my head: Todoist, Any.do, Salesforce Tasks, Wunderlist, Google Tasks, Apple reminders, storing them in Evernote, Remember the Milk, etc, etc, the list goes on. But inevitably the list would get too overwhelming and I would eventually start dismissing each email or push notification by habit until completely giving up and uninstalling the app.

But this past spring, while perusing Instagram, I came across the "Bullet Journal". At it's most basic, it's a pen to paper to-do list a la David Allen's Getting Things Done.

The basic concept (yes, incredibly basic) is outlined here:

But of course my generation has taken it a step further and revolutionized the concept, spicing it up with doodles and gel pens and sections to track your favorite books or inspirational quotes or Pokemon caught (I wish I was joking about that last one...). While it seems so basic and silly, the new ritual of working through my daily priorities each morning has become a welcome start to my day, along with my carafe of french pressed coffee and scented candle. 

Each morning, usually just before 8am, I sit down to my desk, fire up the laptop and start to review what I completed the day before and what still sits on my to do list. Of course, as things popped up the day before, I already have new action items added to the ever-growing list. 

To start, I will pick my first five most important things and add them to the top of this list. Next, I will copy over anything else I hope to achieve that day. Not everything gets moved over immediately; some things get crossed out (just not going to get done) or left hanging to be assigned during the next morning review for a later day. 

Every item that does get completed gets an "X", while each item from a previous spread or day gets a ">" to indicate that it was not completed on that day but moved to a later date. This is great when I can look back and see how productive I was on any given day. Here are some of the X and > signs in action:

As you can see, I also track my water intake (each box is a Nalgene's worth) and have some fun with doodles and other to do items. This last spread is from March and I have actually moved away from tracking some of my regular habits on each daily spread but this was one of my less personal pages. :) 

Something about having everything in one place and getting to doodle and scribble in a world where I spend 99% of my time behind the screen is refreshing. I also dedicate a few pages in the back to general notes, though try to keep this as focused as general to keep the journal from getting too bloated. I also love that if you happen to skip a day (or even a month), it's no big deal compared to a printed week by week planner: you can just pick up where you left off like it was nothing. 

For example, here's most of an entire week, where I clearly missed the memo on Tuesday: 

I have also used bullet journaling to get my life in order beyond the daily to do iems. Typically, as any triathlete logging crazy work and training hours is apt to do, I would neglect my house until the point when someone was about to come over and then cram all of my dirty laundry and messes into cabinets to sort out later (yeah, gross, I know—the perks and terrors of living alone). The bullet journal has helped me create a routine of sorts where I now spend no more than 10 minutes a day keeping everything intact to avoid any last minute cleaning frenzies.

Check out my weekly cleaning schedule: 

Secret Bonus Life Hack: You can also see here that I invested in a Roomba after seeing it pop up on Kinja Deals for $250 cheaper than normal. My Roomba has quite literally been the BEST CLEANING INVESTMENT OF MY LIFE. I never have to vacuum and already I feel like my allergies are better with less dust and fewer dog hairs floating about the place. 

A few things I do differently:

Future Log: I don't use the Future Log but instead have 2 pages dedicated to each month a la the Monthly Spread. I also use this for a spread dedicated to habit tracking (took my vitamins, got 9 hours of sleep, etc.), as well as sponsor mentions and social media activities. 

Dailies: I migrate things to the new spread or new month after each two-page spread (approx. 1 week, typically) instead of waiting for the new month to roll around. I also try to include no more than 5 priorities per each daily but can have a running list up to 30 per each day. I simply add an up arrow for each of the top 5 priorities for that day to focus on first.

Work vs Life: I started out including both work to-dos along with my life to-dos but found that digital systems work much better for my smaller work tasks (much greater in quantity). As a result, I typically only write down my larger work priorities, as in—you must complete before you shut off the computer for the day. 

Successes/Improve Upon: Inspired by Gwen Jorgensen, I have tried at the end of each week to highlight 3 successes to celebrate and 3 weaknesses to improve upon. I know she typically does this daily but to be honest, I tried doing this daily initially and only felt overwhelmed and slacking.

Final Thoughts

Not only does this method provide a nice way to stay on task throughout the day and keep the focus on my top priorities, it is also a nice way to look back and see what has been going on in my life.

I have started adding some more notes about training and specific workouts and general feelings so I can compare performance while training day to day versus all the other shit on my plate. Bad run?  Yeah, clearly an issue because you were way under target for your hydration goals. Slept poorly? Well, see the 20 work items that were blowing up that had you stressed to the nines thinking your job was at stake. You get the point. 

It is wild to me that a $10 investment (probably less depending on your preferred utensils) could be so revolutionary and help me GSD and get my life in order. If you're struggling to find a task manager that works for you or want to explore your creative side a little more day to day, I highly recommend you check out the bullet journal technique. Just search #bulletjournal on instagram or google it and you will be treated to more ideas than you could imagine (or honestly have time for...)!

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