A+ Bullet Journaling for Productivity – Matt Ragland



Reading Time

22 minute read

Here’s a confession…

I have tried to start journaling several times, and I’ve failed each time.

However–I’m also obsessed with maxing out my personal productivity.

So when people like Matt Ragland reach out and tell me I can see benefits from bullet journaling (or other similar exercises), I listen.

Spoilert Alert:

Ever since recording this episode w/ Matt–I HAVE JOURNALED EVERY DAY IN 2020! Wooooo go me!

Also, a weekly “productivity planning” session has been SO HELPFUL for me and my business. We chat about that on this episode as well.

In this episode…

  • What EXACTLY is a bullet journal?
  • What are the huge benefits of journaling?
  • “Productivity Planning,” I.e. planning to be productive.
  • Podia (the company Matt works for–and which Pete JUST switched over to for online courses! Squee! I’ll have an official review soon)

Listen to my episode with Matt Ragland

or listen on Apple Podcasts \\ Google Podcasts

Resources mentioned:

Special thanks to today’s sponsor, Freshbooks!

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  • Online business?
  • Blogger w/ expenses and revenues?

Freshbooks is for you! It’s an incredible tool, AND it’s thanks to them the DYEB podcast is possible–so go show them some love!

Head to Freshbooks.com/doyouevenblog and enter DO YOU EVEN BLOG in the “how did you hear about us” section.


Below is the transcript from today’s show! Want to download the full transcript as a PDF? Click here.

Pete: [00:02:56] Matt, welcome back to the show.

Matt Ragland: [00:02:58] Thanks Pete. It’s a pleasure to be here again

Pete: [00:03:00] Okay. We’re recording it this to save time. Yeah. All right.

Matt Ragland: [00:03:04] tell them that.

Pete: [00:03:06] Oh, well, that’s okay. I’m all about radical authenticity and transparency in this brand, so, you know, I’m just, I’m a lazy podcaster. I did change headphones, so it might as well be like a whole new session. No. Uh, so last time you were on here at  20 minutes ago, we talked about planning specifically, but something I stink at and, and relatively clueless about to which you are apparently a.

Master from what I hear, at least gaging by some people we both know, and your YouTube channel is journaling more specifically bullet journals. I don’t even know if that means, by the way, I’m going to ask you in a second, and or productivity planning. So a bunch of people know what planning is, how much people know what productivity is, but could you like define or help us understand?

Like what do you mean when you say productivity planning?

Matt Ragland: [00:03:58] Yeah, it’s a great question. And you can think of it really in like its simplest sense of saying that I. Intend to, I’m planning to be productive or productively planning, but it’s really like I’m planning to be productive with the time that I have. And there are a bunch of different elements that go into that.

So I’m going to break down each one. Add, like it’ll tell you how, how I think through it. And a really simple acronym that I have for this is just ACE, so a, C, E, and that stands for awareness, clarity, and execution. And the way that I think through that is first and foremost, I think this is something that a lot of people struggle with.

I know I did four years of a, like. Like I wanted to get this thing done, but like I got to the end of the day, end of the week, end of the month, no progress or very little progress based on what I planned. Even on doing so way to productively plan or plan to be productive is by building an awareness of the time that you actually have available.

And you can do this by just doing it. Probably just a couple of weeks, or even just a couple of days of reviewing time that you’ve, recent time that you’ve had in the past, and then previewing time that you. Yup. Assume that you’re going to have available in the future by doing that re and preview. Then you can kind of look at it in this point.

You’re raising your awareness of the time that you believe you have available. Now, I do recommend that people spend, if they really want to get serious about this, spend a few days, like literally tracking your time, like in 30 minute increments, and that will. That will really, really raise your awareness of the things that you actually spend your time on.

The next part of

Pete: [00:05:52] can I make a quick comment? I’m sorry. , I just finished writing a freelance article for Fiverr on like time-tracking and specifically like devices, software and stuff like that. And so I pulled a bunch of people, I just wanna share this really quick, and I ask people like, what is. Uh, the best way to like get started or what did I ask?

What are some common mistakes that beginners make? And I pulled like 50 people. The overwhelming response to that was like, stop trying to like over-complicate that and just grab a piece of paper and a pen and just write down what you were doing. Like you don’t need the fancy apps, so you don’t need to like spend money on toggle or rescue time or tie Miller or whatever yet, if you want to, great, go for it.

But you don’t need any of that. Just like a piece of paper. Start trying to become aware of where your time goes. Okay. Sorry, I interrupted.

Matt Ragland: [00:06:37] Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. I’m really glad you brought that up because the way that I teach time-tracking too, like people from a YouTube channel or my email list is just that like using an index card or a say like pocket sized notebook and I just write down. In Rose, the hours of the day that I’m awake, and then another line down the middle, and I’m basically just writing it in 30 minute increments.

This is the main thing that I’ve spent my time on. Like say for example, people I like, say I wake up at five or six, usually one of those hours, and normally what I’ll just write in that six to six 30 is like coffee read or journal. And people be like, Hmm. And you know, they just, you know, some like minor trolls online.

I’m like, well, what about your shower? Do you go to the bathroom? Like, stop, stop. And so, but what I

Pete: [00:07:29] How many minutes

Matt Ragland: [00:07:30] Yeah. And, but what I mean by that is don’t, again, don’t overcomplicate. Even like a simple, like pen and paper tracking, just gotta write down or like, I don’t write down, like spent seven minutes making oatmeal.

I write, you know, for 30 minutes we made breakfast and spend time together as a family. Or it might just say breakfast, whatever. But by doing that, the other, and the other thing that’ll be is that you can really feel when you’re lying to yourself at that point. And if you write down like spent time with my family, but you were just looking at Twitter on your phone the whole time, or seeing where the latest college football recruits have committed.

Not saying that I’ve done that from personal experience, but you’ll know like, Oh gosh. Even if you still lie to yourself by writing it down, you’ll know and you’ll know that if I can be focused on my family for this stretch of time, then it’s going to be easier to feel good about focusing on another project that I have coming.

So yeah. That is the awareness piece of understanding the time that you have available. The C is for clarity, and that’s where we get a little bit more into planning out. We’ve talked about this in the past episode, that kind of like 70, 20, 10, um, and now Alesis of where your span of. What projects you need to spend your time on.

And so that gives you a lot of clarity with the goals that you have, the systems that you need in order to implement them and for, for achievement of those goals. And then the E part of that is for execution. And so what we’re doing with executions are saying like, okay, I’m aware of the time that I have.

I’m clear. On the things that I need to do and the, and then I need to be able to execute on those tasks, on those tactics that I have set out. And a lot of that is just being able to stay focused, remove distractions, and keep like consistently kind of reviewing and previewing your days and weeks so that you make sure you’re staying, you’re staying on task.

Pete: [00:09:33] I, I’m really glad you brought up that last word, reviewing that. I was going to ask about that. If you have any system in place or habits or whatnot to actually doing a little bit of retrospective, not just for analyzing, like just how you spent your time. , you might look at, I’ll try and tracking report or go back and look at your piece of paper of like how you spent your days, but also like judging the, the C and the E like, okay, what race was I spending my time on?

How did I execute this for soap? Do you have any like systems in place for that?

Matt Ragland: [00:10:04] Yeah.  the biggest one for that is just like a simple series of prompts. And you kind of brought up too, that I use already as like, you know, what did, what did morning Matt intend on doing and was I able to execute on that throughout the day? And yeah, that will, I’ll say this also too to the listeners, is that right?

Even, you know, for me, you know, again, radical transparency.

The more that I do it, the better I get it. Kind of understanding what I’m actually able to do in a day. And like when you start doing this or low and you’re going to be like, I’m going to knock out these five to seven things, and then you do like two or three if that, and it’s good to do two or three, but you feel bad.

And so what I do with this prompt is I look at it, you know, I review it and I think to myself like, okay. Why did I not get those five to seven things done? Especially if they’re like pretty core things, like not just like, you know, maybe you know, unload the dishwasher or you know, something else. It may not take a ton of time

Pete: [00:11:06] it takes me a lot of time, by the way,

Matt Ragland: [00:11:08] Okay.

Pete: [00:11:09] lots of kids at home. It takes me a lot of time to do that. I have to plan that

Matt Ragland: [00:11:11] that’s fair. That’s fair point. That’s fair point. But I’m reviewing and I’m looking at it and the important, like same mindset for me is that I’m reviewing it not as a judge, but as an observer. So I’m not sitting there like, why was in I able to do this? Like you were bad. You are not as productive.

I’m just kind of re I’m observing myself throughout the day. Again, kind of going back to that awareness piece a little bit, but I’m just observing myself throughout the day and being like, Oh, well morning Matt thought he could do this, wasn’t able to do all those things. What were the reasons? Like, well, yeah, I actually didn’t have as much time.

As I thought I did. So I need to like be a little bit better with my awareness of the time I have available. Uh, what is very common is that I either get really into a task or something just takes longer. And so I need to be able to understand, again, be clear on the time. That the time that something’s going to take.

And so that review and preview, cause then I can go into the next day as I’m previewing the next day at this point and think to myself, okay, I actually can probably only do two or three things, two or three main things really well. What do those need to be. Can I block out some time for them? Do I need to like change my environment in a way to support focus and remove distractions so that that ACE kind of method of awareness, clarity and execution is how, like I productively plan for the days, weeks, and months.

Pete: [00:12:45] I love that. I have a few comments. One, it almost seems like the AE and ACE awareness is probably like the one thing that most people are kind of. Not missing, that’s not the right word, but they too like gloss over a little bit, which is interesting to me. I actually, I’d forgot about this until your, you were just talking last week I had the like the longer we do this, like once every couple of months, my number two, my integrated Reyna, we have like a three or four hour call and we like just do like some longterm planning and visioning and stuff like that.

After that, like a day or two later, she sent me a Voxer message, like a voicemail and she was like, Pete. I am going to create a doc that I humbly request you fill out. And it was literally called things you do, things you do. She wanted me to like break out all of my tasks, like for the blog and for the podcast and like email marketing and like customer support and like everything she wouldn’t have know all the things I do.

So we could break out like roughly how much of the, uh. Roughly how much time do these take? Does Pete really need to do these tasks or can we get rid of those? Or like vice versa, or like what is that? And now that I think about it, I’m using air table. By the way, I struggled to kind of define a good spot to like put it because a Google doc wasn’t quite enough air table.

, let’s just awareness and it’s been really helpful to go through that process. So that’s one last point. And then I want to move on to bullet journals. The C, , wait, why aren’t F ease execution a is awareness. What does he stand for? The actual word. Clarity. Okay. We kind of went through that really quickly cause we talked about it in the last episode and I would highly suggest people go back to that because just knowing what to spend your time on, I feel like there’s also like another humongous battle.

So I think that’s worth going back and checking out.

Matt Ragland: [00:14:36] Yeah. One, one quick addition to that because I you, you’re right. We talked about a lot more in the previous episode, but another kind of a system or like way of thinking about how to, how to get clear about the kind of projects or tasks to spend your time on is, , Jim Collins has a similar, like his is in 70 20, 20.

His isn’t 70, 2010 but he has one for 50 30, 20. That is also really, uh, applicable to creatives. And he says that he has to spend 50% of his time on creative on his creative projects. So whether that is writing a new book, this is the author of good to great and several other business books, but it has to be on something writing or creating a workshop or training program.

For his, you know, for the clients that he has. So 50% of his time, , has to go towards those activities. Uh. 30% needs to go towards researching the content and systems and strategies that then like inform the actual, like 50% and you can, you can look this up. Uh, it’s pretty, there’s several articles on it.

So just in case I’m like paraphrasing some of it, but then 20% is like all the other stuff. So. Managing it like the managerial, like admin tasks. And so as you’re thinking about, again, like what do I need to spend my time on? And it could, that can also shift based on where you are. I know for me early on, and still kind of to this day, I spend more like 60 70% of my time on trying to create content because that is like the lifeblood of, you know what, what I’m doing outside of my main, my main role with Podio.

Pete: [00:16:21] So really quickly, I kind of want to dive into this. I’m such a noob when it comes to journaling. I want to give one confession and then want to ask you what is a bullet journal? For those who don’t know my confession, and this is good context for you to have, Matt, and as I asked these, I stink at journaling.

I stink at it. What I eventually ended up with that has been helpful for me personally is, and a bunch of people will kind of talk about this as well. I don’t, I don’t, it’ll do the morning routine thing. I don’t do much in the mornings at all. What I’m really good at is thinking through how I want my day to go the night before.

So I literally open up my calendar and my to do list right before I go to bed. , and I’ve watched people say like, you know, avoid that right before you go to bed. No, I need that. And I want that. I look at all my, like. Podcasting, interviews like this and my, like other meetings or whatever, and I looked down at my to do list and then anything on my to do list, I literally get rid of, I push it to the next day if it’s not done yet, or I reschedule often the future, or if I did it, I check it off or whatever.

So I end each day with zero things on my to do list. Even if I just pushed them off. It feels good, by the way, when you do that, it feels great even if you just like push it off. , and then I like just go through mentally my entire day and that’s pretty much, yeah. That’s it. And then I hit the ground running like the next morning or whatnot.

I’ve tried journaling at night. I’ve tried journaling in the morning. I’ve tried doing it digitally through some different apps. I’ve used OneNote, I’ve used, um, bear is my like writing app. I use that from time to time. I’ve tried like physical journals, like leather-bound beautiful. I’ve even like spent money on it.

So I would like do it more, that sort of technique. And I failed at it. So I have two questions in here, but the first one is. Very specifically. What does bullet journaling mean.

Matt Ragland: [00:18:07] So bullet journaling is a term and a method, uh, coined, created by writer Carol, who is a designer in New York. And it literally is, you know, like the bullet point that is the bullet in bullet journaling and basically, and there, there’s a. It was kind of like a whole key or legend of like different signifiers that you use again too in a signify what something is that you’re writing down in your bullet journal.

And I actually, I think bullet journals sounds better than bullet planner, but that’s like, and people use it for different things. But I, I actually use mine as a little bit more of like a bullet. Planner, because what I use my bullet journal for is basically when you create a little bullet, you’re saying like, this is a to do item.

And when you ask writer why you chose the bullet instead of like, . A box or like a circle that you could check off for a to do item. He would say that, um, he, that the bullet was just faster and easier to create and he wanted to do that. So it’s as simple, it’s as simple and nontechnical as that. But when you complete.

When you complete the task, you basically then put an X through around over that bullet to show completion. And if for you, let’s say like just translating this to what your current evening routine is. So as you’re, as you do things, you’d go through and you put an X over those bullets. If you want to push something off to the next day, then you would basically create a like right facing angle bracket that shows you’re migrating it.

Moving it, pointing it to that next day. And then you’re just, and then just kind of go through everything that you had. The way that I use a bullet journal usually is that I’ll have two sections for each day. And the top section is any time specific agenda items. So whether that’s a meeting like our, uh, or you know, an interview, something that has a specific time to it, I write those down at the top.

Cause those are most important to me. And I’ll get to the digital aspect of this in a second. But then after that I’ll start to write out like. The three to four bullets, you know, main tasks, any sub tasks all go in underneath that. Um, where people mainly think about journaling or even like keeping a diary of like, this is what happened today and this is how it impacted me and this is what I feel about it.

I don’t do a ton of that in the bullet journal, and if I do, it’s usually just like just a hyphen dash to indicate a note. That’s the signifier for note and I’ll just write down usually like one or two sentences about recording or documenting the day. I don’t often talk about like my feelings around the day or I don’t.

If I do, that’s not a requirement. My only like. Job or rule for journaling or documenting for the day is to write one or two sentences about what happened or, and all I have to do is say, what happened? I don’t have to say like, what happened and how did you feel about it? If I have something that I feel about it, then I’ll just write that down.

But, , that helps me be more consistent with bullet journaling, with planning, with the, Oh, keeping a diary, if you want to call it that, because it’s not just like. Here’s my diary entry, or you know, like Austin Kleon has a really good term for this as well. He calls keeping his log book, which is basically a very similar thing, and it’ll just say, like, when picked up, my kids had an interview with Pete know, did this, you know, did this work, you know, responded to all of our customer emails.

You know, did the, did those things read a book, had some tea, went to bed

Pete: [00:21:55] What would you say the why don’t we just, I guess just answer personally actually as go say like what is the big benefit to doing this, but actually be a little bit more curious to hear like for you personally, if there was like. An aha moment after you started doing this consistently or whatever that you’re like, Oh wow, this helps me do this, or this helps me be better at this, or this gives me, what does that, what has been the biggest benefit for you personally?

Matt Ragland: [00:22:22] without a doubt for me. It helps me stay more focused and be clearer on the tasks, on the projects that I’m working on. My ability to be distracted online  is very high, and I think one of the things that’s interesting that normally will surprise people that do see and consider me a, you know. Relatively focused, you know, task-driven person is how easily distracted I am.

And so I will do it. Writing down, writing down important details in the bullet journal helps keep, uh, helps me keep my head out of my apps. And really focus on the actual work that I have to do. And so that’s the biggest, that’s the biggest thing for me. I’ve also just noticed over the years, and maybe this is just confirmation bias at this point or placebo effect, but I know when I’m brainstorming and note taking, especially, I’m much better.

Going at that from an analog method than I am like typing. Like even if I’m T cause if I’m just sitting down and it’s just me, it’s that you like single singular focus on like an object. If I’m just writing things down, that’s the only thing I really have to do. If I’m taking notes or writing something on, you know, on the computer, I can always like feel kind of distracted.

And go like, it was like, ah, let me just check Twitter real quick. Oh, let me see. Like, you know with what the sports news is and like, that’s so easy. I have to like end another like kind of little point of this is if I’m really like seriously doing this all, I’ll have set my phone somewhere else. If I’m really, really serious about it, I’ll take my Apple watch off too.

And this is, this is a part of like. Improve, like using your environment to affect the work that you want to get done. And so you’re just like kind of removing, removing those as prompts and temptations.

Pete: [00:24:23] So it’s funny you mentioned that. I have always been the person that goes back to doing things digitally. I think part of it stemmed from, I really just enjoy it, like I love the scalability and I love cloud backups and all like all

Matt Ragland: [00:24:36] yeah, absolutely.

Pete: [00:24:38] And what I eventually figured out was actually something that you kind of just said for me.

On my laptop. I’m looking at my like MacBook pro right now. I am super focused on this thing. Like I don’t, I don’t, I don’t immediately go over to Facebook or Twitter. My emails kind, kinda like the iffy thing. I could very easily type out GM and go over to Gmail pretty quick. But other than that, like I’m, I’m generally focused what I’m here for me, it is my phone.

Like I, if, if I can reach my phone, like if I just have it beside my laptop at the coffee shop, I’m constantly picking it up. I’m like, pick it up. Oh, okay. Slack, Twitter, Facebook, all the other stuff. I keep it in my bag whenever I’m like out. I work at coffee shops primarily. Uh, so for me it was just knowing like, it’s not necessarily like analog and digital.

It’s like I do fine on my laptop. I do great. It’s when I have my phone anywhere within reach, I like suck, like picking it up, like all time. So I just think that’s a process of people figuring that out. .

Matt Ragland: [00:25:32] absolutely. And I do have like different kind of like systems or frameworks for what goes in the journal versus what goes into digital, you know, a digital app. Because I, I mean you mentioned bear before. I use bear use air table. I use notion, um, you know, like there is, I still probably spend the, like definitely spend the majority of my work on online.

And so I, but to me also like there is that makes those analog experiences all the more, all the more powerful for me

Pete: [00:26:08] Hmm. That’s interesting. Do you buy a journal that is specifically like a premade predesigned like bullet journal or do you have like a blank one that you just like put stuff on.

Matt Ragland: [00:26:20] Yeah, that’s a great question. So there is a bullet journal branded notebook, but even it is very, it’s very minimalist. It’s very sparse. It basically just has like a couple of pages to talk about the method. And then I’m like an index, which is basically the table of contents for. For the bullet journal is you can write in like, this is where I started talking about January, or this is where I brainstormed this product launch that we’re going to do whenever it might be.

, there are, and so to me, there are kind of two different types of journals, planners, and one is the very unstructured, which . In its essence, a bullet journal is very unstructured. It’s whatever you want to make of it. , and then there are a series of more structured like goal or habit centric journals or planners like self journal from best self, Michael Hyatts, full focus planner.

Um, there is also the clear habit journal from Baron fig and James clear. And so. There’s kind of two different things. It really just depends on how unstructured or specific your particular style is versus like, okay, I want to be really goal focused or I want to be really habit focused for the next, you know, three to six months.

So if you’re doing that, then something like the full focus planner or the self journal self planner are really great options too.

Pete: [00:27:40] Okay. You mentioned the method, by the way, which I don’t want to talk about right here. Actually. I think one, we probably don’t have enough time, and then two, I feel like w Y, w. O, you are literally holding up a book on

Matt Ragland: [00:27:52] Yeah, there’s a, there’s a book, so if you want to know a little bit more about this writer or bullet journal does have a pretty solid YouTube channel. He’s starting to post. They’re more, but it gives, it serves as a good intro. But then there’s the bullet journal method book, which is really good. It’s actually, it’s better than I thought it was going to be.

And, uh, just because it talks like kind of the mindset behind what the bullet journal method is and like being a practitioner instead of just like going to more mindlessly going through the bullets.

Pete: [00:28:23] I was actually gonna throw out your own YouTube channel, but you know, that’s, that’s fine too. If you want to

Matt Ragland: [00:28:29] I also have a YouTube channel

Pete: [00:28:31] you do, and you’re talking about bullets or lying a lot. Um, okay. Those were all great. And I’ll tell you what, where were we before I let you go? I know you’ve got to go here in a second.

If you had one video. That you wanted to appoint people to. I’ll link to it in the show notes and from the podcasts description notes or whatever. Do you have like one video that’s like a start here sort of thing that you point people to.

Matt Ragland: [00:28:53] Yeah, I’m glad you’re asking. And by the time this episode releases, I have a couple. So if you go to just youtube.com/matt Ragland, you’re going to see a bunch of bullet journal specific videos right on that front channel page. But, . I’m about to release my first video in the bullet journal basics series.

And it’s going to be probably 10 10 to 15 videos that go through December and probably into February, 2019 into 2020 that are, cause I did a how to start your first bullet journal at the beginning of 2019 at the beginning of this year. , but that even that one was a little. Still a little too broad.

And so these are going to be really specific, really tight, like five to seven minute videos about specific parts of breaking down the bullet journal

Pete: [00:29:42] Okay. Oh, I love that. And I’ll just come back in and pull those links because this will air, I guess, after you start that. So that’d be nice and easy. So you already threw out youtube.com anybody heard of it? youtube.com/matt Ragland. R. a. G. L. a. N. D. did I get that right? Yeah, Matt Wrangler. Uh, I don’t know why I was thinking that with two GS, just one GT people, Matt Raglan.

, other than that, you’re, I think at Matt Raglan on Instagram, Twitter as well. Is that right? Okay, cool. Well, Matt, I gotta let you go. We’re out of time here. I just want to thank you for coming on. I’ll point people to the YouTube channel and, uh, I appreciate you. Thanks man.

Matt Ragland: [00:30:21] Yeah. Thanks, Pete. Honored to be here!

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