My Bullet Journal + GTD Mashup = Mission Control

I am not by nature an organized person. I do not think in systems or processes. My thoughts are typically scattered, roving from a movie I just saw to a book I’m reading to what’s for dinner to my grandson to a car repair to a friend to…

You get the idea.

Some Doc would probably slap me with ADHD given the chance. They will not get it.

For most of my life my way of “getting things done” consisted of what I could remember. To-Do lists were few and far between.

As new opportunities brought increasing responsibility, I turned to Daytimers and other time-management tools. These helped, but regardless of what tool I used there was always a gap: a gap between what I could get done and what I should be able to get done.

Several years ago I accepted a position at a large corporation. The company provided an opportunity for training/education so I attended at Getting Things Done seminar, hosted by the David Allen Company. It was there (and a follow-up seminar, and Allen’s two primary books, Getting Things Done and Making It All Work) that I found an approach to organizing my thoughts and actions that made sense. It actually worked for me and was flexible enough to use with almost any tool.

Problem solved, right?


It is frustrating how quickly I revert back to my old, entrenched, less-productive habits. Why technology did not guarantee a corresponding increase in productivity is not the fault of Steve Jobs, though I wish it was.

I implemented Getting Things Done (or GTD to the legions who swear by it) by creating an Input sheet. I carried everywhere the red plastic file-size folder all attendees receive.

After the first effort ran dry, I tried a digital integration with GTD using Evernote as the primary tool. That went well for a time, but eventually I ended up using half analog, half digital, then 100% nothing.

Over the past few months responsibilities in my business life have expanded. In addition to my full-time job, I am part-time staff at our church. Both jobs have multiple segments and involve ever increasing and ever changing numbers of people and projects.

That I need an approach capable of keeping me on track is without question. Back to GTD? Something else?

Introduced to Bullet Journal

A friend mentioned she was trying out Bullet Journal. A quick search returned a new-to-me system called Bullet Journal, developed by graphic artist Ryder Carroll. It became so popular an actual Bullet Journal was developed through a successful Kickstarter. So, I took a look.

At first I thought BuJo (as it’s known to its legions of fans) would be the ticket. I want to return to the tactile feel of real paper, and being a pencil geek want to write instead of type.

Another reason I decided on the return to analog (using a paper journal and pencil) is fewer distractions. I do not get sucked into the Internet vortex when putting graphite to paper.

After researching the site and watching a dozen or so “Here’s My Bullet Journal Setup” YouTube vids, I concluded BuJo couldn’t carry the heavy lifting I needed.

But, could it be integrated with GTD? I’ve found a mashup that is working for me, at least in the early phases.

Mission Control

First, over nearly every other consideration, the system had to be easily portable. I’m a laptop/smartphone kind of guy, but sometimes I want to move sans messenger bag. And, I do not want to fumble around with six or seven pieces of gear.

Second, I thought a journal would work, and had to choose it. Both the official Bullet Journal and Michael Hyatt’s just released Full Focus Planner cost more than I wanted to spend. I had switched from Moleskine to a Leuchttrum1917 this year for my regular journaling; I really like its wider size, structure, and pagination. I thought it could integrate BuJo and GTD, so I ordered the Medium (A5) Lined Hardcover Army.

(The dotted version seems to be preferred by the more artistic.)

Third, I had to choose what to migrate from Bullet Journal and what to leave behind. That was easy: the bullets. BuJo’s appropriation of modern computing’s bullets, circle bullets, and arrows both makes sense and saves time. It’s quicker to draw “>” than write “calendar.” It’s quicker to draw “>>, pg 35” than to write “moved to new list, pg 35” as I had previously done.

The other item I borrowed from Bullet Journal was the 6-month calendar, called the Future Log in that system. I enter only the most significant things upcoming: major projects, business travel, vacations, etc.

Because my full-time job uses a shared online calendar to which I’ve merged family and church calendars in iCal, BuJo’s written daily and monthly logs would be redundant for my needs. A six month, 40,000 foot view is all I need to carry around.

Below is a series of photos of how my journal, which I dubbed “Mission Control,” is set up.

Mission Control includes a made-by-my-amazing-wife custom made pencil case, pencils of three colors (black, red, blue), and an eraser. The colors correspond to my three primary areas of responsibility making it easier to find related tasks, projects, or events: black = primary job and life, red = one part-time responsibility, blue = one part-time responsibility.

Closed and secure.

As suggested by Ryder Carroll, I included an Index page which melds perfectly with the Leuchttrum1917 Contents pages.

The Key page includes the Bullet Journal symbols I kept and a couple of mods.

From GTD, these are Process and Define pages.

The Output column is mostly for delegation as BuJo symbols have replaced the need to write Calendar or Done when an Input is completed or otherwise acted upon. The Response column includes waiting on an email or returned phone call.

Projects pages and Events pages are self-explanatory.

I made a ruler from a perforated page in the back of the Leuchttrum1917 for making lines for the Calendar/Future Log and the P&D pages. The width and markings ensure I can easily reproduce the sections on new pages. Since it is the height of a journal page, I store it inside the back cover.

The 6-month calendar spread (Future Log in BuJo lingo).

Part of GTD is the use of a bucket (or buckets). I use the voice memo app on my phone for when I’m driving, Evernote for articles found online, and this little bag for handwritten notes. I use 3×5″ memo books from Walmart (27 cents each) for the notes, which I call “scraps,” representing both scraps of information and because scraps are what often go in buckets.

I carry emergency scraps in the Leuchtturm1917 inside pouch.

I hope this is helpful and will be happy to try and answer any questions in the comments.

Marty Duren

Just a guy writing some things.