Daily spreads, a cornerstone of the bullet journal, are so much more than a basic to-do list. Read on for how you can make the most of them.
Daily spreads are a cornerstone of the bullet journal, but for months after I started bullet journalling I didn’t even use them. I figured my weekly spread was enough, because I could fit all my tasks there and had space to assign days. And I loved how economical that was in terms of paper; if you’ve read any of my past posts on bullet journalling you’ll know that one of my main gripes about using a traditional planner is the paper waste, so only needing 1-2 pages for an entire week was fantastic.
But a daily spread is so much more than a to-do list. Sure, I can fit a full week’s tasks onto a single page, but all that is is a list of things to do on each day. I don’t need a bullet journal for that; the calendar app on my phone does just fine.
If you’re not currently using daily spreads, or you’re using them purely as to-do lists, then read on for ways you can unlock the full power of this deceptively simple tool.
Mind sweeping is one of my favourite productivity tools, courtesy of Laura from How to GYST. Essentially, the daily spread isn’t just for writing the tasks to be done that day, but also any tasks to be performed in future, any details to remember, etc.
For instance, I like to use boxes for my daily tasks, because I love being able to fill them in when I’ve finished a task, but for any tasks that need to be done ‘at some point’, I jot them down with bullet points and transfer them to my backlog or weekly spread at my leisure.
This means that my daily spread isn’t just a record of what I’ve accomplished in a given day, but also a place for notes of things to do in future or to remember.
This was actually what got me to use daily spreads again after months of using just weeklies. I was running to the end of my future log and I wanted to try a Calendex-inspired system. I knew there wasn’t space on my weekly spread for jotting these notes, and while I considered setting aside a new page each week or month for notes, ultimately I decided to just give traditional dailies a go.
This ties into the mind sweeping concept, in that again I might just write a note in my daily spread that I have an event coming up, and then that evening when I go through my bujo I’ll migrate the bare bones information to my future log.
One of the things I love about this aspect of the daily spread is that it means that spread is the only page I really need outside of my morning and evening planning sessions. I’m awful at remembering to update my index, and many of my collections and weekly/monthly spreads are colour-coded or use Post-It flags.
If I were to add everything to the appropriate place immediately, I’d have to carry half a dozen pens and a pile of Post-It flags around with me, and then spend time thumbing through my journal to the right page every time. Instead, it takes me five seconds to jot down a quick note while I’m out and about, giving me time later to record it in a more accessible manner.
Your daily spread doesn’t need to just be a list of tasks, details about appointments, and other information you need to remember. It can also be a place to record the little pleasures in your day, as in #5 in this post from Jessica at Pretty Prints and Paper, where happy moments and thoughts of gratitude are recorded with a heart-shaped bullet.
This is particular good for those days when you’re just not feeling productive, because it’s a reminder that life isn’t just about getting things done. Some days, you might have empty task boxes or no tasks written down, but a heart with the comment, ‘snuggled up with the cat and a cup of tea and read Harry Potter’, and that is just as valuable and just as worth recording as something like, ‘clear out linen cupboard’ with a ticked bullet next to it to indicate its completion.
Besides a rapid log of memorable moments, a daily spread is also well-suited to more freestyle journalling. Of course, you could do this in a separate journal, or use your daily spreads exclusively for journalling, but I think there’s a value in having your journalled thoughts in the same place as your day’s tasks and other notes. You might, for instance, write that you’ve been feeling overwhelmed and burnt out, and when you look at your task list realise that you’ve been putting far too much on your plate, much of which you don’t even need to do.
By keeping your to-do list and objective notes in the same place as your subjective thoughts, you can see the impact of the one on the other, allowing you to make changes to your life to support your happiness and wellbeing.
A weekly spread can hold a list of tasks, but a daily spread can allow you to schedule those tasks.
I don’t always bother to schedule my tasks when I’ve only got a couple of hours in the evening after work, but if I have a full day’s work on the weekend it’s the only way for me to actually get everything done. At one point, in fact, I was using a weekly spread for Monday-Friday, then dailies for Saturday and Sunday.
So why is scheduling so important? Two reasons. First, it means that when no time-based commitments, I can schedule work where it fits best. For instance, I find I do my best creative work in the morning, and likewise I like to go to the grocery store early in the day to avoid the crowds, so I can schedule in grocery shopping at 8am on Saturday, followed by creative work from 9-12.
An alternative to this would be to simply list your tasks in the order in which you want to complete them, and this works well for shorter task lists; in fact, it’s the approach I tend to take in the evenings. But when my task list has a dozen or more items on it then I find scheduling helps to get them organised and to see if I’m staying on track through the day or if I’ll need to modify my schedule going forward.
The second reason I like to use a schedule is specifically for the days when I don’t have an empty page to start with. Cal Newport explains it best in this post:
In short: to-do lists are a terrible daily planning tool. Why is this? They are missing two key pieces of information:
- How long each task requires.
- How much and where your free time is available for the day.
Without these two facts, you are stumbling blindly, hoping your random decisions of what to do (or not do) at a given moment will lead to an efficient schedule. Here’s the secret: it won’t.
This post is aimed at students (from back in the days when his entire site was geared towards students), but applies to anyone with a few scattered events over the course of the day. I’ve even noticed myself doing it when I don’t have existing appointments splitting my schedule; I’ll be watching TV or faffing about on the internet and think, ‘Oh, I can get everything done later’, only for it to be ‘later’ and I’m left with more work than time.
Whether you use a basic time tracker, like this one from Kara at Boho Berry, or take the time to block out every single task, as Cal Newport recommends, using a daily spread allows you to decide where a task best fits into your day and, therefore, maximise your productivity.
If you’re only using your daily spread as a to-do list, you might think you don’t need it at all. Incorporate some of these aspects into it and reap the benefits of this particular bullet journal spread.
Over to you
What’s your advice for getting the most out of the daily spreads in your bullet journal?
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