I am an obsessive list maker. I make full use of the ToDoist app, I always have sticky notes in my purse, Excel is one of my favourite pieces of software ever, and I constantly keep Notepad open on my computer with a running tally of what I want to accomplish that day.
I also love a good notebook. Finding one with a funky design and good binding will get me every time. The problem is I always try to give my notebooks a dedicated purpose and my lists are spread out across every facet of my life. So when I first heard about bullet journaling, it seemed, on the surface, like the perfect way to combine my two obsessions.
For those of you who may be unfamiliar with bullet journaling, the elevator pitch is that it’s a customizable, analog organizational system. It’s something that can function as your agenda, your to-do list, your journal, sketchbook, etc., all in one place. Originally developed by digital product developer, Ryder Carroll; you can find out more about inception and how to get started on their official website.
I began to do a bit of research (research here being code for “browse Pinterest”), and I was initially a tad sceptical. If you want, your bullet journal can be made up of many unique parts (otherwise known as “layouts”). Anything and everything goes – daily gratitudes, a list of movies watched, exercise tracking, and so on. Some users spend a fair amount of time on the design/decoration of their journals. It felt overwhelming and way too time consuming since I was just looking for a place to keep track of all my scattered thoughts, notes, and ideas.
But I have a good friend who swears by her own bullet journals, and she eventually convinced me to give it a shot. I decided I couldn’t be too precious about layouts or designs in the beginning. I would only start with the basics that made sense to me and then expand and adapt from there. Though the official bullet journal website has a handy “start here” section, I actually found the piece “WTF Is A Bullet Journal And Why Should You Start One? An Explainer” on Buzzfeed much easier to go off of.
After reading through that piece half a dozen times (and a trip to the store to buy yet another notebook), I started setting up my first bullet journal. Here are the initial pages/layouts I added:
- The Index – basically a running table of contents of everything that’s in your journal
- A 6-month future log – the future log is generally four pages with one section marked off for each month. But I started my journal in June so I only made one to cover July-December.
- A two page spread for June – which included a hand drawn calendar on one side and a single line for each day of the month on the other.
- A “financial” page to record what bills needed to be paid that month and when
- My WWAC to-do list
- My WWAC ideas list
- My wishlist of books & comics
- The first of my daily logs – used for what bullet journal users call “rapid logging” a.k.a to jot down any tasks, events and notes on a daily basis.
It kind of looks like a lot of set-up when I write it all out like that, but other than the calendar, all I really needed to do was number the pages, add a title, and copy information in from other sources (like ToDoist and Google Calendar). Once it was set up, I started using it right away and quickly added pages for things like meeting notes at work, rough drafts of book reviews, and grocery lists. Writing in it became a daily habit, and I constantly had the current “daily log” open on my desk at work so I could cross out tasks as I completed them (which is just the best feeling). I even bought my very first roll of washi tape to try and make my journal more Pinterest-y, but I never felt inspired to do any more decorating. The only use I found for it was to make a tab along the edge of the monthly log page to allow for easy flipping.
By the time July rolled around, I decided I wanted to keep using the technique, but I made a couple of changes. The first was that I didn’t draw a calendar. I wanted to, but the June calendar had been so time consuming and didn’t turn out very well, and I hadn’t looked at it much until I added the tab. But not having that high level calendar view is something I really missed. I can keep track of my events/tasks better on a daily and even monthly basis but it’s not so great for planning or scheduling without the calendar view. If I set up August I’ll probably print out a blank one and tape it in.
The other thing I decided to stop using was the daily logs. Since many of the items on my to-do list don’t have specific to-do dates I found I was constantly rewriting them (or “migrating” them in bullet journal speak) day after day. Instead I switched to a makeshift weekly log. Each day of the week had it’s own square – deadline and meetings could go on the appropriate day and more general tasks could be spread out across the week and marked completed when done. The added benefit being that I have a convenient weekly view that lets me see if I’ve overloaded myself or if I have room to squeeze something else in.
Unfortunately, on a recent business trip to Nashville, I lost my first bullet journal, so as August approaches I have the opportunity to decide whether or not I want to keep using this system. There are certainly a number of benefits – for starters, it allowed me to compile all of my notes and ideas in one central location. And the layout is extremely flexible since I can decide what’s working for me and what’s not as I go along. The financial log, the WWAC pages, and my rough reviews were some of the most used sections. I found I was able to stay on top of things better and things were less likely to fall through the cracks. I still keep sticky notes in my purse and Notepad is still open on my computer, but I find myself turning to ToDoist and Excel less and less.
That being said, I’m not completely sold. I’m not much of a journaler, which was one of the reasons the daily logs didn’t work for me. And though the future log is helpful for keeping track of long term events and appointment, I ultimately missed the more structured approach of a dedicated agenda. I think the same results could be achieved if I had a good agenda with a large section of blank or lined pages at the back. (But then what would be my excuse for buying more new notebooks?)
Ultimately, I think the bullet journal system is worth trying. There’s a bit of a learning curve as you attempt to figure out what you need and how you need to access it. And some people may find that other methods – like agendas, apps, or Google Calendar – work better for them. For others, however, it could soon become exactly what they were looking for.