I hadn’t been able to decide on a planner that could accommodate page space for balancing work, home and going back to school. Using an electronic calendar alone wasn’t working well for me as I felt like I constantly had ideas and to-do’s rolling around in my brain. My friends Emma and Angela both encouraged me to try out this “analog system for the digital age” and so with much fear and trembling, I decided to try Bullet Journaling in 2017.
At first, I was super intimidated. A quick search of the words “Bullet Journal” will yield dozens of pages with bright colors and beautiful hand lettering. I started to doubt my decision. I had already dropped $20 on the notebook and I didn’t want to buy a different planner, so the only option I had was to try.
If you look at the original Bullet Journal website, you won’t find fancy calligraphy and artistic habit trackers. The original concept for Bullet Journaling was just that – a journal of bullet-pointed tasks and thoughts. I held on to this concept and started in on my attempt to Bullet Journal. Now, four months in, I’m hooked.
Here are the things I’ve learned about Bullet Journaling (and about myself!) over the last few months:
There really is no “right” or “wrong” way to Bullet Journal.
At least three of my Bullet Journaling friends had to tell me this before I believed them. So in case you need to hear it again as well, there’s no “right” way to Bullet Journal. The beauty (and terror!) of it is that you make your BuJo what you want it to be.
My Bullet Journal is incredibly simple. I have an irrational love for office supplies, so when it comes to my BuJo (something that is supposed to help me be more productive) I intentionally allow myself to use only one pen and one roll of Washi tape. That’s it.
I’m also a recovering perfectionist, so I suspend judgement about my handwriting in my journal and just jot things down as needed. No hand lettering or calligraphy for me.
My Bullet Journals will only have a 3-4 month life span
When I bought my bullet journal in January, I was thinking of it in the same way I’ve always thought of a traditional planner. I expected to be able to map out things for the whole next year, or at least the next few months. I wrote out a full year spread in the first few pages of the book. I have not used these pages since I wrote them.
For long-term plans – like family vacations, business trips, etc. I decided it worked best to keep a paper calendar in my office. I don’t need (or use) this information my journal.
I still make a monthly spread, but I’ve changed the format. My first monthly spread I tried to map out of the ordinary events, menu plans, birthdays, #ALLTHETHINGS and it wasn’t helpful at all.
Instead, I create a traditional looking calendar spread at the beginning of each month, and only a few things go on the spread. Out of the ordinary events, all-day commitments and when major assignments are due for school.
I’ve learned that my Bullet Journal is a great place to dump the thoughts that would otherwise be rolling around in my brain all day. I write Morning Pages early in the day to clear my mind, and then I take time to rapid log my tasks for the day using the symbols suggested by Bullet Journal creator, Ryder Carroll.
Once this is done I can work through the tasks for the day without being distracted. If I do remember something, in the middle of the day, I just add it to the log. I leave space at the bottom of the page or on the adjacent page to record things I am grateful for (again, a bulleted list) or to tape ticket stubs, small notes, etc. that are meaningful.
I also use my journal to take notes in my classes each week. It takes up space, but this way I only need to remember to grab one notebook when I leave the house. I also can look back and see how and when what I was learning in class interacts with my Morning Pages.
With all of this going in my journal, I needed to order a new notebook this month. I have just enough pages to finish out the month of April, and I’ll start my new journal in May.
There are no empty pages haunting me
One of my least favorite parts of using a traditional planner was when I got off track I had all these unused pages in the book. Because the planners I used were always dated I couldn’t go back and reuse them. I felt guilty about wasting the pages, and frustrated because I was typically less productive the weeks I didn’t keep a close schedule. It wasn’t just the pages that felt wasted, they were a physical reminder of what I felt had been wasted time.
When I was sick in January for a few days, I didn’t write anything down in my journal and it was fine. No pages went to waste. I didn’t have blank spaces staring at me reminding me of the “wasted days” from when I was sick. I just picked back up when I felt better.
I started Bullet Journaling to have space to write down all the things I needed to keep track of in my life. I originally thought it would be a space to track my school assignments, work outs, menus, my daughter’s school schedule, work projects, so on and so forth. What my BuJo has turned out to be is less of a space to meticulously track everything my brain needs to keep up with, and more of a space to dump everything out so that my brain is less cluttered and freer to keep track of things on it’s own throughout the day.
I love this system, and while it’s not a direct replacement of a planner I doubt I will go back to a traditional planner anytime soon.
Have you tried Bullet Journaling? What do you like about it? What has surprised you about the way you use your journal?
Megan Westra is on the pastoral staff at Transformation City Church in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She also blogs regularly at http://www.meganwestra.com. Megan lives with her husband Ben, and her daughter, Cadence Grace in the inner city of Milwaukee as part of an intentional relocation movement within her church. Megan recently began studying at Northern Seminary, pursuing a Master of Divinity. She loves to read, run, practice yoga and she’s an unapologetic coffee snob.