How Time Works Today List

Jun. 10th, 2019

One of the things that stuck with me from the handful of times I’ve tried bullet journaling is the daily log. The concept of having a paper that reflected what was happening that day really appealed to me. A central place to return to when chaos threatened to whirl me off course. To nobody’s surprise, I have since adapted it a bit.

One of the things it says about the daily log on the bullet journal website is not to set it up in advance, and when using their method, I 100% agree with that. My method turns it completely around.

The daily log is a way to record, as it happens, what went on throughout the day. It is a cousin to the inbox mechanism from Getting Things Done. At the end of the day you can take all the random ideas you had and do something with them because they are recorded. The new companion app also helps with this.

What I do is start at the beginning of my day and look at two key things: what will I definitely be doing today (my calendar, or what GTD calls the ‘hard landscape’) and what do I want to accomplish today (tasks, especially priority or deadline related ones). I then create a list that theoretically will reflect how I spend my time that day. I write in the bullet list format, with one item per bullet, and switch between calendar events and tasks as needed.

Here is an example of a list I wrote in April:

  • Take out garbage/recycling/compost
  • Water plants
  • Update paper calendar
  • Clean bathroom
  • Fold laundry
  • Put away laundry
  • Declutter beside desk
  • Client 1:30PM
  • Writing habit
  • D&D prep habit
  • Journaling habit
  • Schedule self care for the coming week
  • Process inbox
  • Change device wallpaper
  • Food 4:30PM
  • Dishes
  • Client 7PM
  • Start evening routine 8PM
  • Reading in bed 8:30PM

When I accomplish a task I circle the dash, if I decide not to do a task, I strike it off. This gives me a quick reference for what actually got done and how well I estimated how much I could get done that day.

And that really is the tricky part: when I attempt to judge, beforehand, how long tasks will take me to accomplish. People with ADHD are really bad at time estimates. As I’ve written more of these lists I have improved, however.

This is one of the most amazing things about a practice of this kind. As long as you go back and check things, you will organically learn your natural rhythms and abilities when it comes to time. I also find it a gentle way to learn because no one else is involved. I’m not having to deal with someone informing me of how bad I am at anything, it’s just a guess, an experiment, and then a result. It’s far more clinical and therefore easier to process, emotionally.

It is also possible to combine these two methods.

I have a client who does something she calls a “How Time Works Today” list. She will start a list whenever it occurs to her. Starting with a record of what has already happened (which is also similar to a “did it” list, which is fantastic) she will then continue the list into the future. She has a record of what has already happened, and a guide for what else she wants and needs to do that day. This is also amazing because it means she can still make a list even if she didn’t start on it at the “perfect” time. The list can happen regardless, even at the very end of the day when it is completely a record. For her, the key is the momentum of writing at least a short list most days a week.

Any of these permutations and combinations of a daily list practice do require knowledge of a schedule or calendar and a record of the tasks that are currently waiting to be done.

Once the list is made, I find that my ability to work my way down the list without pausing to second-guess myself or make multiple decisions is freeing and reduces my stress dramatically.

I will give one warning to this concept though: I do not find that it boosts motivation. If there are tasks that I am dreading and avoiding, just writing it on a list like this doesn’t really mean it’s more likely to get done. I need other strategies for that, such as my reward system. This method is for tasks that I know I can and will do, and want to organize in a way that means I don’t have to remember either them or the calendar events that will be happening in and amongst them.

What kinds of things might go on your daily list?