For those who aren’t in the know, bullet journaling is a method of paper planning that you can employ with literally any empty notebook. It can be as detailed or as minimal as you need it to be, and you control everything you put inside.
Sound pretty vague? If you’ve ever looked at bullet journals on Pinterest or Instagram you’ll see just how wildly different they can look as they are completely customizable and can be put together to fit your life and your specific productivity needs. If for some reason you don’t know a thing about bullet journaling and you want to know more, then check out Ryder Carroll’s official Bullet Journal website. There are resources and video tutorials and I highly recommend it as your starting point. He did come up with the system after all.
But this is not a post about what bullet journaling is, but why I do it in the first place. To be honest, I sort of fell into the method as I was trying to figure out a way to organize my life. I have a lot of side projects and I’m easily overwhelmed. If you saw my earlier post on 2019 goals you’ll know that I have struggled to reach my goals in the past. Part of this is undoubtedly how I plan. I’ve tried regular planners, cloud calendars, Filofaxes, traveler’s notebooks – you name it, I’ve tried it. I even tried bullet journaling for a while, but at the time it didn’t work for me.
I just couldn’t keep up with it, and a big part of that was my perfectionism. I spent way too long trying to make it look perfect, adopting other peoples spreads and inserts after seeing the success they’d had with them. Instead of thinking more critically about what I needed, and what purpose my planner would serve, I was filling it with useless spreads and wasting my time and money.
So I decided to simplify. I just carried around a notebook. There is something about writing things in a physical notebook and having a tangible object that takes up space in my life that makes it feel more significant, more permanent. There is a commitment there that just can’t be replicated by adding things to my Google calendar. I was always the type to prefer sketching and brainstorming on paper anyway, and I liked always having that option available to me.
Whenever I wanted to jot something down or expand on an idea I would pull out this notebook and get to work. Pages and pages later I found that it really worked for me – having one place to dump everything – sketches, scraps of ideas, and eventually I began project planning in it as well. Then I began adding to-do lists and before I knew it this notebook I had been carrying around with me had become some form of bullet journal.
Unlike some other bullet journalers, who make in-depth spreads prior to the year, I continue to treat my bullet journal organically. It’s something of a mess, I have to admit, but that was the point. It’s the bucket that catches everything I don’t have space for in my brain. It can’t be perfect, and it won’t ever be perfect. I don’t try to make my spreads the most beautiful you’ve ever seen. I like them to look neat but they have to be minimal and functional. There are smudges and coffee stains and for once I feel like I can embrace those imperfections.
I have yet to change into a new notebook, as I still had about 50 pages left in my Moleskine at the end of December, and I wasn’t ready to move on and leave those pages unused. That being said, I only have a few months left there at most and then I will need to purchase a new one and set it up all over again. I’ll do a separate post when that time rolls around.
As of January 2019, my spreads include:
- Books Read – a list of the books I’ve read, their genre, category and length
- Notes on blogging, SEO, plot structure – quick reference guides I can refer to as I work
- Lists galore – my goals for the year, project ideas, to-do lists for various projects, etc.
- Project pages – just more in-depth one or two page spreads that allow me to develop my ideas a little better. May or may not include sketches
- Future Log – I guess you could call it that – I break down the entire year by month and plan all my content in a series of columns (pictured below)
- Quarterly Spread – a quarterly breakdown of what I want to accomplish
- Habit trackers – writing, reading, blogging, yoga and the like. I am currently tracking 12 different things though they might change going forward
- Growth tracker – as I’m getting more serious about my blogging and writing platforms I am paying more attention to my stats and how I am influencing them and what I can do to encourage that growth
- Monthly Posts – I like to have an overview of all of the posts I am going to be writing in the month and a breakdown of their categories, tags, related media, etc. I have yet to find a good digital way to keep track of that stuff, so for now I have a double-page spread for that sort of thing
- Weekly Spread – a breakdown of the week with all of my events and tasks broken down underneath. I still haven’t found a method for this that I find useful but I’m going to keep trying. As of yet, my life is not busy enough for dailies, but I would like my weeks to have more structure
I’m taking the effort this year to break down my year into quarters, months and weeks, as I want to be strategic about what I’m doing and when. And that includes breaking down the steps I need to take and being generous with the time I take to accomplish them. It’s better that I give myself too much time than too little. Finishing ahead is better than feeling rushed.
One of the spreads I am most excited about is my quarterly spread. And you might think that I’ve been overly generous with the amount of room it has, especially as I have yet to fill it. But that was precisely the point. The creation of this journal was organic – it changes to fit my needs, and I need my spreads to be able to do the same. I need the space to change things around as the unexpected pops up. When I write things down they won’t be set in stone. I can’t be afraid of crossing them out and rescheduling. I have to be able to adapt, and my notebook (and accompanying spreads) must do the same.
There are some layouts I use a little more regularly and some I make as I need them. Sometimes I find one that I might like to try out. Maybe because I’m still fairly new to the concept I tend to change things up fairly frequently. I’ve started using weekly spreads this year and I’ve already tried three different spreads for January. I’ve also been through several growth trackers and word count trackers. I’ve yet to settle on something I want to stick with but it’s a work-in-progress and I enjoy that about it.
The main reason I began using the notebook in the first place was to have a place for all of my creative projects. I’d say project pages, sketches, designs and to-do lists make up the bulk of its content. I really need to employ some sort of collection system to make them a little easier to reference. In the beginning, it wasn’t quite so overwhelming as it has become with over 150 pages of notes and planning. I use my bullet journal to plan everything – stuff for my (upcoming) Etsy store, setting up my blog, developing my podcast, among others. I will say that writing takes up the biggest chunk of my paper planning. I have some pages, like the ones pictured above, for things that I really need to work on and an appealing spread to encourage me to get to work on it. As I flip through my notebook I am repeatedly reminded of these projects I need to work on.
And that is the story of my rather unexpected journey into Bullet Journaling, and some of the spreads that I am working with at the start of 2019! It’s been a fun and liberating process, and I feel like I’ve finally got a handle on my goals with a tool that will keep me productive. If you’ve been burned by planners before I encourage you to give bullet journaling a try. Be open to trying new things and scrapping old ones. Let yourself make mistakes. It may take some time but you will find what works for you!
Do you use a bullet journal? Why or why not? Why did you start, and what spreads can’t you live without? Let me know down below!