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Calendars, to-do lists, kanban boards — it feels like a new "life-saving" organizational tool crops up every week. They're usually app-based, always mobile and often have a fun, cheerful name that makes you an instant believer.

The following article first appeared on RBC Direct Investing’s Inspired Investor content hub on May 1, 2018.

Then there is the bullet journal. The term sounds vaguely ominous, but somehow intriguing. A notebook and coloured pens? A ruler, even? You mean it’s not for Android or iOS?

Bullet journal basics

Do you find that scheduling systems tend to miss one thing or have too much of something else? You end up ditching it after a few weeks because it’s just not quite right. With bullet journaling, you build your own personalized system and add/delete (read: erase, rip out the page) features as you go. You start with blank pages and change, update and evolve the journal as your life and priorities shift. It’s been called an analogue system for the digital age. It’s also been described as easy to do, but tough to explain. So, here goes…followed by how you can apply it to investing.

Take a blank notebook, or maybe one with dots or lines if you prefer. Use a pen, pencil or fine-tipped marker and maybe a small, steel ruler to start creating layouts. Here’s a rundown of a basic bullet journal set up:

  • The Index is your continually updated table of contents. Reserve the first few pages of your notebook for this.
  • The Future Log is a year-long monthly view for things already planned or distant, but date-specific goals. Six months fit nicely on a two-page spread.
  • The Monthly Log covers one month in detail. One page, two – you decide. It probably includes a daily calendar and a to-do list.
  • The Daily Log is well, you see where this is going. It’s not rocket science. This is where you write daily activities, tasks, notes, observations.

Each new section should be added to your index right away. After a few months, you’ll need it. Items added to lists are bullets, short and concise. Maybe the toughest bullet journal habit to adopt is symbols. Rather than triumphantly crossing off a task when completed, bullet journalists use a system of symbols to denote events, notes, to-dos and tasks (scheduled, migrated from another day and completed). The symbols are a different, tidier approach and getting used to them doesn’t take long.

Don’t let ideas get lost in the chaos

Using the index, you can add pages anywhere, anytime. There may be pages dedicated to an upcoming vacation — reservations, dates, restaurant recommendations or excursion planning. There may be a “Books to Read” page and an investing page.

Investing is a lifelong learning process — ideas and education can come from anywhere. It’s important to keep track of them. A phrase to look up, a ticker symbol that’s new to your ears, an investing website to review or a local financial literacy class to check out. All of these can be recorded and organized in a bullet journal to help your investing knowledge grow.

Tracking, tracking, tracking

When it comes to your financial life, keeping track of routines helps ensure progress. Bullet journal aficionados call it habit tracking. Setting up pages with simple checkboxes is a sure-fire way to find out what is and isn’t being accomplished on a daily, weekly, monthly basis.

You’ll find basic habit-tracking templates online that can be customized to suit your needs – whether geared toward finances, health, creative output or relationships. For healthy, productive living you might track: Take vitamins, make bed, go for a run, call mom. For finances, it might be: Pay phone bill, don’t buy latte, call accountant, put $100 in investment account, cook at home.

Life can be busy, chaotic even. Making good decisions becomes infinitely easier when the mind is free from clutter. The bullet journal is an easy-to-access place to store and organize the many thoughts, worries, fears, ideas and inspirations that continually flow through the mind. Get them down on paper and free up capacity for bigger and better things. Like that book you wanted to read, or that great investment concept you wanted to research.

Just don’t forget to use the “completed” symbol in your bullet journal when you’re done.

Inspired Investor, RBC Direct Investing’s content hub, made its debut last spring on the RBC Direct Investing website. Featuring personal stories, timely information and expert insights, Inspired Investor offers clients inspiration, investment learning and how-tos – with the ultimate goal of empowering self-directed investors through content that connects with their everyday lives.
Visit RBC Direct Investing to find out more about self-directed investing.