One of the great benefits of the Bullet Journal is its ability to be flexible enough to work for people in many professions. That’s one of the reasons I began uniting a community of Bullet Journal professionals. I’ve had the opportunity to talk with professionals in marketing, healthcare, education, manufacturing, sales and many more industries. One group of professionals show up regularly in my conversations: project managers (PMs). The Bullet Journal and its basic components –Index, Future Log, Monthly LogDaily Log – is an ideal tool for PMs. I wanted to dig into this job category to learn more about PMs who are using a Bullet Journal on the job, how they are using it and, importantly, the difference it makes for them. More to the point, I have seen posts from people over the last year – many who claim to be PMs – who have made some glowing comments about the Bullet Journal but here now are some hard data points to support these claims.

In August 2016, a survey was created especially for PMs. In total, 205 project managers completed the survey, giving us some terrific findings that we want to share with you this month.

One of the core issues that often arises for new adopters of the Bullet Journal is whether to use the same journal for work and personal needs. We wanted to know how PMs used their journal.

As you can see by this chart, it is a contentious issue. A little more than 50% of PMs polled told us they used the same Bullet Journal for both work and personal matters. But more than 36% of PMs use two journals. Only a small number of respondents stated they use their Bullet Journal only at work (7%) or only for personal matters (4%).

1a-work-personal_pie
Since the focus of this survey was to understand how project managers are using a Bullet Journal on the job, we didn’t continue with those who use their journal only for personal matters.

We next wanted to better understand how loyal these PMs were to the Bullet Journal. I often see posts in the Bullet Journal for Professionals Facebook group about how users are searching for digital tools, apps and cloud-based services to complement their journal. So we asked PMs whether they use their Bullet Journal exclusively. And it was no surprise to see the answers almost equal between yes and no.

2b-bj_only_bars

So what are PMs using in addition to their Bullet Journal? Well, that’s a matter of personal preference. While a quarter of respondents indicated Microsoft Outlook as the tool of choice to complement their Bullet Journal, the range of responses varied widely. This word cloud only hints at the variety of responses, which ranged from sticky notes and 3×5 index cards to mind maps and Gantt charts. Digital applications also ranged widely from Google Docs to Trello and Asana to Toodledo and Wonderlist. Respondents also touched on other methods including David Allen’s method, Getting Things Done (GTD), to Kanban and Agile methodologies.

While the survey was certainly targeted to project managers, we wanted to make sure that we were talking with respondents who were actively involved in project management on a daily basis. We had the respondents clarify their job title and verify if they were solely performing project management activities at work or if they had other responsibilities. We found a great variety of job titles but a little more than one-third of the respondents who answered were Project Managers.

3-job_title_listWe also found that project managers are multitaskers. 80% of the respondents indicated that along with project management activities, they had other responsibilities at work. Less than 15% of respondents focus exclusively on project management.

4a-pm_atwork_pie
So, what are the responsibilities that PMs have on the job? Or, more specifically, what are the types of projects that PMs are managing? While many PMs were unable to answer this question in order to protect the confidentiality associated with their projects, those who did respond provided descriptions as varied as their job titles.

5-projects_mgd_cloud

So, let’s get to the meat of this survey. Here was the burning question that we wanted answered: How often are PMs using their Bullet Journal for project management?These two charts below show the great power and benefits of the Bullet Journal system for project managers.

6-bj_usage_chart7-bj_easier_pie
85% of PMs are using their Bullet Journal all the time or sometimes specifically for project management activities at work. And, further, 77% of PMs state that using a Bullet Journal on the job makes their work significantly easier or easier. Many of you may be nodding your heads right now and saying, “Of course using a Bullet Journal at work makes life easier.” But now we have significant research among users, specifically, project managers, who verify the merits of the Bullet Journal as a meaningful professional tool.

While we have documented how effective the Bullet Journal is for PMs on the job, there are still aspects of project management that are not captured. More than 50% of PMs told us that meeting notes and reports are not logged in their Bullet Journals. Surprisingly, a small number of PMs — less than 10% — do not use their Bullet Journals for managing the project tasks or the calendar module.

Finally, I noted at the beginning of this post that I personally believe the Bullet Journal modules that Ryder created – Index, Future Log, Monthly Log and Daily Log – are ideal for PMs. But I needed to understand if PMs felt this way and what modules they were indeed using on the job. When asked about the modules of the Bullet Journal, I was delighted to see that 42% of PMs said they were using all four modules in their Bullet Journal. Further, less than 5% of PMs surveyed were not using any of the modules. Again, this shows the effectiveness of the Bullet Journal system for most project managers.

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In regards to the modules that were used, we see that more than 40% use the Monthly Log and Daily Log together. Another third of the PMs work with the Index and Daily Log as their go-to modules. And, further, about 29% of the respondents use the Future Log and Daily Log together on the job.

11a-module-list

Summary

The role of a project manager in most organizations is to keep a couple dozen plates spinning, all while tap dancing a four beat shuffle and singing The Impossible Dream note perfect. And that’s all before lunch. The Bullet Journal is a wonderful asset for most anyone who needs to bring greater organization to his or her life. As I noted earlier in the article, most of us can agree that our Bullet Journal is a top-flight business tool, but that is table stakes for PMs. Project managers need an entirely higher level of organization than most of us. This survey provides statistical proof of the Bullet Journal’s ability to significantly improve task management for professionals whose jobs depend on it. Online calendars and project management software are essential tools for the job but we also now have evidence that a pen and paper-based system, while not exclusive to the job, can indeed enhance productivity.

Coming up, we hope to field additional surveys to look at other professions and how they are using a Bullet Journal to enhance their productivity and organization on the job. Until then, stay on the job!

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Main Photo by: Thomas Lefebvre

About Todd Foutz

Hello Pros! I’m Todd Foutz, head of marketing and business development for an advertising agency. I write about people, like me, who use their Bullet Journal on the job, planning their busy days and nights and meeting their career goals and job requirements. My mission here is to unite and bring ideas to a community of professionals who use their Bullet Journals to be more successful on the job. Let’s go, Pros!
  • Ryan Finkbiner

    I just learned about bullet journals and I love it. As a PM I’ve already seen its benefits. Btw, I use all the modules and I keep separate journals but high level events and deadlines do get populated in my personal journal vice versa.

  • Jae

    This is a really interesting article, Todd!

  • Tom Redd

    Todd – get the Bullet inventory problem solved. Someone needs to get product in place before the heavy promo

    • Thanks Tom – I know this is a concern for Ryder as well.

  • Saruqui

    Very interesting results of the survey. Congrats Todd!

  • Cole

    My first “official” Bullet Journal is almost full. I’m also a Federal Employee, which means our fiscal year started this week. So, it was a perfect time to examine how I use my BJ prior to starting my next journal. I fall into the – Use it for EVERYTHING category. However, in the work that I do, it’s not uncommon to have all your notes/files/etc. placed on a litigation hold pending a lawsuit. So, I talked with one of our lawyers about keeping all my work and home stuff together and she cautioned against it. In a recent case, one of my colleagues did just that. Our lawyer had to go through EVERY page of her journal and photocopy anything that could be in reference to the case. If that page contained personal notes, that was copied too. Fortunately the legal team for the other side accepted our lawyer’s review of the journal. Otherwise my colleague would have had to turn her journal over to the court and it could have been years before she had it returned.

    Lesson Learned: I will now be part of the 2-BJ camp, one for work and one for everything else.

    Anyone have any good lessons learned/experiences with keeping 2 BJ’s? What do you duplicate and what do you only keep in one journal? Do you keep the same monthly/weekly layouts or do you have one layout that works better for work and another for personal?

    Thanks!

    • Ryan Finkbiner

      Cole–high level dates intertwine my two separate journals so that when planning my private life, big dates and commitments at work are considered and vice versa. For similar reasons you stated, detail is omitted about work stuff in my personal journal. Any company could argue it is their prerogative to see your private journal if any level of detail crossed that “barrier” between journals. But having something like “commitment A on oct 15” isn’t a big deal.

    • Linzé

      I use two BJs. My work requirements are just so much that adding my personal stuff will only clutter and confuse everything. It works for me – and it is really not more effort at all to keep them separate.

    • Kimberly Stone

      As someone who works in the legal field, I have had to make up codes that nobody would ever understand if I carried a my work spreadsheet (predecessor to my Bujo) outside the office. Not even plaintiff/defendant initials. I made up some arcane, quirky and downright rude nicknames for people. I made up code words for tasks I detested. I just generally let it all hang out. My boss saw it and could not figure it out. So it has privacy locked down. Now, if I were subpoenaed and had to explain it…um….er…….

      • Sheri

        I run into the same privacy problem with my journal for work — I’ve considered writing in some sort of indecipherable script to keep it private, but I like your “code” method much better!

    • Thanks for the feedback – and good question, Cole. I would say check out the Bullet Journal Professionals group on Facebook. This question comes up a lot. Good luck!

  • Linzé

    It was interesting doing the survey, and I had been wondering what the results looked like. Happy to see my fellow PMs also like using their bujos as much as I do. Lizette (writing as Linzé Brandon)

  • Erika Ramirez

    Awesome article. Im in a role where I don’t actually have a lot on my own plate but I am responsible for task managing the office so I look forward to further insight. Maybe also an article for the support staff that helps keep a PM rolling, like Exec Assistants?

    • Sheri

      In my experience, Exec Assistants are PMs without the title!

      • Erika Ramirez

        I concur Sheri!! I call them “the glue” ☺️

    • I have heard from other administrative assistants and executive assistants. Many identify themselves as PMs. Others are truly more administrative. Good thought!

  • Kimberly Stone

    I’m *brand* new to bullet journaling and I’m also neuro-atypical (I have ADD. It’s different and challenging and …shiny!) I work as a paralegal and each case could be classified a ‘project.’ I’ve always used a spreadsheet to manage my cases. Rows = case name, columns = task for case. I could adapt my spreadsheet maybe? Or I could think of each case as a ‘collection’ and bujo the case’s tasks on that page. If anyone has ideas to help me, I would be most grateful. Namaste.

    • Hi Kimberly and welcome to Bullet Journaling. So glad you read the article. There are so many collection ideas out there and I know there are a number of people in the legal profession using their Bullet Journals on the job. You may want to check out the Bullet Journal for Professionals group on Facebook and search/post there to help you out. Good luck and keep at it, Pro!

      • Kimberly Stone

        I think I’ve requested to join that group. I’ll pop over and check. Many thanks, Todd!

  • Sheri

    Interesting article, Todd. I am a PM and was using my Bullet Journal for work and personal. I then realized that it could be seized by lawyers (since I was using it for work) if there was litigation. It is now mostly personal and I use a separate notebook for work. While having your notebook taken as (possible) evidence may seem like a long shot, it has happened to my notebooks at two different tech companies.

    • Very important distinction, Sheri. Thanks for sharing this. I wonder how many other PMs are in this same predicament regarding seizure by attorneys?

  • Jennifer M

    Interesting to hear that Bujo is so popular with PMs. I’m a project coordinator and run 10-15 projects at a time, university student and mom of 3 teens. I have trouble enough with having one Bujo, I can’t imagine two! For calendars I am maintaining
    1. Outlook – necessary for work meetings and any personal appointments that would make me unavailable (others need to be able to see my schedule)
    2. Google Calendar shared with my husband – all personal appointments and any work that well take me out of town
    3. Wall calendar at home – so the whole family knows what’s coming up
    4. BuJo

    It wouldn’t be SO bad except it’s just one more opportunity for things to be messed up – Appointments not recorded in every calendar the same. I’m coming from years of using an electronic calendar and struggling to find the time and brain capacity to update 4 calendars well.
    Open to suggestion – except the “just make time to go over your calendar regularly” suggestion, which would be met with hostility has! If I had more time – ANY time really – I’d love to do that, as well as get back on a running schedule, cook the roast in the fridge, clean my house, practice piano, study…

    • Great comments, Jennifer, thank you for sharing. I know that the GTD method strongly encourages one calendar. For me, it’s Outlook. Yet I still log my appointments in my Bullet Journal each week and they often change day-to-day. Keep at it, Pro!

  • lsmith1951

    I’m an IT PM and have just discovered/learned about bullet journaling…I’ve been playing with it for the past week and created some specific pages for month-end tasks for which it worked very well. Using pen and paper helped me think through the tasks and some creative ways to get things done so I have ordered supplies and will continue to use along with the online tools as required by our corporate methodology….I am waffling on whether or not to combine with personal items, will probably experiment for awhile. Thanks for the survey and article…very informative.

    • Thank you very much for taking time to write – glad you enjoyed it!

  • ibap

    I didn’t see it mentioned quite this way, though it is certainly implied, but I think a major part of the BJ value for PM is that function in GTD that is getting things out of your head and down on paper. Then it isn’t subject to the “Look a bunny!” or “Squirrel!” distraction effects.

    Also, if you can convince all of your calendars to play nice with one calendar (Google calendar for me) and you’re allowed to (confidentiality issues), then you can at least see all of your dates/times in one place, including family commitments.

  • Timmay

    This was an interesting read! I have been researching BuJo since the article on LifeHacker was posted. I have tried various apps (Trello, Wunderlist, iOS reminders, ToDoist and many more) and notebooks, but nothing seemed to come close to what everyone was saying online. I am a PMP and work in a highly confidential area. Any work notes I have are more on a basic and personal level, while I leave my clearance level notes for OneNote on my secured laptop. I am really looking forward to integrating my new BuJo in to my life.

  • Alexander

    I just found bullet journal – I love the approach.

    I’ve been working for around 15 years in finance transformation; primarily in project manager roles, but also business analysis and systems analysis.

    I would have been interested in a few additional questions to the survey participants – how many of the survey participants were formally trained project manager, what size of projects were they managing (people, budget).

    I suspect that given many respondents also had other work duties most participants were not ‘career’ project managers really into PM methods and tools, but rather more broad skillset people who were taking on some PM work that had to be done (by the way, this isn’t meant as a negative criticism).

    From my perspective for formalised; and especially large scale / critical project delivery traditional tools like gantt charts are necessary as you need to plan your critical path, they are invaluable for identifying the critical activities and periods where issues can lead to delays etc. Other tools like stakeholder matrix etc. are also critical.

    But, one criticism of project management is that there are a lot of isolated tools and a lot of segregation, to see where I am on any giving day I need to look at a) gantt chart, b) issue list, c) risk list, d) calendar e) meeting minutes f) to do list and more.

    I’m a huge fan of notepads and my notepad is where I can bring it all together, keep track of the most important things each day and week and also reference other things e.g. reminder to update another log.

    So I think bulletjournal could be excellent to give my notepad some much needed missing structure. I never considered an index in my journal before, but I have often been in meetings struggling to find some note I took that would answer a question that comes up.

    I think there might be an opportunity here to make a little expansion to the bulletjournal method to show how it could connect to other PM tools – like how does it connect to your issues, risks, change requests, your gantt plan, meeting schedules, meeting minutes etc.

    Someone else talked about litigation and possibly losing your notepad. On the positive side this could also provide an excellent record of daily work done that would prove the project was well managed.

    Looking forward to participate in bulletjournal community!

    Alex

  • This was very comprehensive and beautifully laid out, Todd! Great analysis! 🙂

  • Glad I came across your article! And great comments, too. After reading comments and all, while I had intended to keep one bullet journal, I will be keeping two.

    My friend and I are adjusting/shifting our BJ practices and also have been pondering the question for work + personal, e.g., one or two bullet journals. (As a side note, I only very recently started the more “formal” bujo approach and have enjoyed formalizing and readjusting my cobbled GTD-ish approach to something that “feels” better.)

    I especially appreciate the comments related to “discoverable information”, e.g., work-related information that can be subject to litigation or freedom of information act (FOIA) disclosure (in fed government). When I worked for the feds, I learned quickly (and rightfully and laboriously) to maintain targeted information exchange & retention of work-related info (e.g., note-taking, email content, telephone notes, etc.) separate from personal. However, initially moving forward keeping work/personal separate paid off quite well when several projects I was on became part of multiple FOIAs.

    While I no longer work for the feds and am a solo consultant also engaged in project management and some program management, I can see how a practice of separating the two (personal + work) with regards to the work nitty gritty (e.g., tasks, activities, tracking project status, journal type entries, meeting summaries, issues identification, etc.) can make sense in the context of my current work endeavors. And as others have shared, I use a few digital companions (i.e., Google calendar, Any.do, Evernote) to blend with my paper use.

    Again, thanks much for this!