Bullet Journal: daily log or how to spare willpower

Even if I have a lot of things I want to do, I often end up spending most of my time wondering what to do next,  overwhelmed by the multitude of materials to study. Every time that I have time to study Japanese, I think that I should make the best of it but I don’t know what to pick. If I read a novel, I feel like I haven’t studied at all, but if I don’t read, I feel that I am not on the main track anymore (my main goal for 2018 being to read one novel in Japanese per month). I end up doing a little of everything without really progressing in any field. At the end of the day, I feel both guilty and frustrated because I had time to study Japanese but didn’t use it properly.

This is where the bullet journal helps me, but I understood its real benefit only recently when I associated it with what I learned through the book 「自分を操る超集中力」by メンタリストDaiGo. Having to make choice consumes our willpower and thus, affect our capacity to concentrate. One way to spare willpower is to reduce the number of choices we make each day. This is where the daily log of the bullet journal’s method is handy.

Every morning, I start the day by writing down things I want to do for Japanese this day. I adjust it depending on the day and the amount of time I know I can devote to study. I also write the things I want to do in order of priority.

Writing my daily log takes me no more than one or two minutes and this is the only time of the day when I think of what I am going to do and what material I am going to use. Then, all I need to do is to follow my instructions without thinking twice about it. Even if I doubt whether an activity is worth it, I don’t take the time and energy to think about it now, I just do the task because it is written in my daily log. Thinking about the worthiness of this task will be tomorrow’s job when I sit at my desk in the morning and write down my log of the day. The idea is really to stop thinking about the things to do once the daily log is written.

These are two benefits I gained from this method:

  • First, I don’t lose energy or willpower every time I complete a task, asking myself what I should study next. More than that, I do not lose myself anymore in pursuing ephemeral goals. A typical example would be, that I suddenly feel that I should improve my listening skills and listen to something in Japanese. I would then spend half an hour (or more!) looking for a drama to watch even though I do have a lot of material to listen to already. Looking at different reviews would consume my willpower and I would end up looking maybe half of the first episode because I would already be tired. The next day, I would certainly have forgotten about this drama and won’t watch it again or won’t use it for study. If watching a drama is part of my plan, then I can add an entry “look for a drama” in my daily log for the next day.
  • While doing an activity, I don’t have to worry about the other things that I am not doing at the moment. This is something that happened to me a lot before. For example, I would read a novel but won’t be able to concentrate on it because I still haven’t started writing the post I have to publish on the same day. With the daily log, it never happens because I write things attached to a deadline or important things that need to be done at the top of my list. This means that when I come to other activities, all the things that could rob my attention are already completed. Especially when it comes to reading in a foreign language, concentration is essential. Sometimes, I read a chapter and don’t understand at all what it is about. I read it again sometime later and understand everything. My Japanese ability has not changed, but my concentration level has. I saw how true it was when I worked for the JLPT. Every time I looked at the watch and saw how little time was left I would understand nothing from the texts of the reading part and had to read some parts twice or more. This is because I was focused on the time, not on what I was reading. My strategy was then to stop looking at the time when I start the reading test. I could concentrate on what I read and understand all the text after reading them once. In a way, I could say that using the daily log helps me read better in Japanese!

Shall I write tasks that I want to do every day anyway? 

Writing every day the daily log can sometimes feel very repetitive. For example, let’s say you want to listen to NHK radio news every morning or listen to Japanese songs or an audiobook in the metro when you go to work. This will happen every day of the week, so why bother writing it down every morning? Personally, I find that writing down the same thing every day helps me considerably. First, it doesn’t take that much time. Second, being able to mark this task as “done” is a great source of self-satisfaction. And last, this repetitive system helps me turn this task into a habit. However, if a daily task has acquired the same status as “brushing your teeth” or “drink coffee”, you don’t need to write it. To me, this is true only for “studying my Anki deck”, so I don’t need to write it in my daily log… but I do it anyway because I feel rewarded when I draw the “completed” mark in front of it!

What happens if I can’t finish the list?

To be honest, I almost never come to the end of the list. This is not a problem at all, as I wrote my things to do in order of priority. The important things and the things attached to a deadline (for example, writing this blog’s posts) are all at the beginning of my list. I don’t feel like I failed to do my entire list, I just feel like I planned too much this morning. Seeing how far I was able to get helps me adjust for the next day. I also see what tasks are constantly being left behind. If they are things that I really want to do, I can try to put them at the beginning on my list at least once a week.


I used the daily log until the JLPT of December and it worked well. After December 3rd, I took some break, made a trip and thus, stopped using this method for a while. When I got back to study I felt completely overwhelmed by all the things that I wanted to do. I lost precious days that I could have devoted to studying. Not being productive for one or two days is not a big deal, but if we don’t decide how to use our time and stick to it, the weeks go by and then a whole month is over and we don’t know where it had gone. At the end, saying “I am learning Japanese” would not make any sense anymore, it would only be some kind of state I am in, but not something I actively do.

I really want to have made progress by the end of the year. I really want to be able to read any “mainstream” novel (I mean not Soseki or Nobel prices authors for example), and the Japanese news. These are the two things I want to achieve the most, and I hope that I can post an article at the end of 2018 and say that I achieved these goals. But I could also be posting that “the year is already over and I haven’t studied enough, time definitely goes fast and so on”. So now that we are still at the very beginning of the year, let’s do everything we can to make the best of it!