Now that I’m well over a year deep into using a bullet journal for my everyday life management, and seeing that bullet journaling has become a hot and happening and trendy thing now (even BuzzFeed wrote an extensive image-driven post about how-to do it), I thought it would be worth revisiting what mine looks like for those who are curious about how it works, how you can modify it to make it your own, and why you absolutely do not need to buy a million fancy things to make this task system work for you.
I love looking at the bullet journals people post on Pinterest or on Instagram or on Tumblr or on Twitter. But something about seeing them over and over has bothered me a little bit — there’s been a weird need to make them super fancy, to create what amounts to an entire industry, over a task management system. No shame on those who love doing it, since I am a person who keeps numerous notebooks and art journals for various things, but I want to emphasize to anyone intimidated by the idea of bullet journaling to realize that the goal isn’t to make it fancy. It’s to make it functional for you. I am bare bones with my journal, and that works for me. I use only supplies around my house, and I don’t make anything fancy. I don’t even use a lot of the suggested setups that the original bullet journal video suggests. I tried some of these things out when I first began but soon realized that they do no work for me, my life, or how I think. So I ditched ’em.
There is no index at the beginning of my bullet journal. Instead, I just hop right into the monthly calendar.
I like a quick overview of some of the big events happening in the month ahead. I don’t feel the need to fill everything out. I included one note about a private yoga session I have, but otherwise, I don’t mark down on the overview when I’m going to work out or anything. That’s easier to implement in the day-by-day pages.
Immediately after the calendar for the month, I like to keep a running “read” and “to read” list. The read is straightforward, and the “to read” isn’t necessarily my agenda of reading, but books I’ve heard about or have nearing their expiration date on my Nook. As you can see in April, I read a lot, but I don’t have anything noted on the “to read.” I don’t use it as much as I want to, but I keep it there because there are times I think of something or need to make a note and want it where I know I’ll find it.
Following the books lists, I keep two or three pages with the super helpful and descriptive title “Notes.” This is where I keep notes to myself so I don’t have a million pieces of paper floating around. Above, you can see my flight and travel information for going to Providence in March. I marked it with a little washi tape so that when I was sitting in a cab, I could flip to that ASAP without juggling a lot of paper or searching. As you can see, too, I mark so little with tape or coloring that it stands out immediately.
I also like to keep a list of blog ideas in this section every month. This is so much easier than random bits of post-its, which was my prior method. Efficient, but not necessarily organized or useful when you have 50 of them floating around. Capturing all those ideas in a single space each month is actually useful.
And then here’s how I lay out my day-to-day pages. Every day gets a half of page on the journal, and I usually combine Saturdays and Sundays into one half-page, since those tend to require less “to do” space. Starred items are things that I have to do/are appointments, so I know those are priorities around which the other things will fit or fall. I cross off tasks as I complete them, and then I spend each evening or early morning choosing which tasks will get carried over and completed and which will be thrown away completely. I don’t have time to do everything I want, and it’s through bullet journaling I’ve learned how to pick and choose what gets done and what gets left behind.
Sometimes I keep additional notes to myself in the journal. On the top right is a card with some of the assignments for my photography class, and I keep it in the journal for quick access. I don’t want to lose it, but I haven’t gone out to tackle the assignments yet. I did the same thing with edits for Here We Are, in that I kept track of who sent back revisions or who I was waiting for stuff from on notes like that. Keeping everything in this journal saved me from never finding exactly what I needed when I needed it.
I keep my journal written out a month in advance, so the pages for June and July are done now, and next month, I’ll create August and September pages. I know a lot of people need more planning time than that for their lives, but I rely on reminders or my own brain for things (I can recall appointments and plans for months in advance in my head, and some places, like my dentist’s office, send me text reminders a week in advance). When there is something well in advance I need to keep in mind or fear I’ll forget, I’ll pull out a post-it or notecard and stick it in the journal like the photo assignment card above. Easy!
The very last page of each month, I create a “month in review” space. This is where I write about triumphs and things I accomplished that I want to remember come the end of 2016. I just spend a few minutes at the end of the month writing them down in a list and keeping it simple. It’s a really nice way to reflect on the achievements, rather than on the things that didn’t go so hot, during the month. One of those is more useful to remember and reflect upon than the other.
I have in the past also kept pages for logging workouts, but since working out is now a daily event in my life, I no longer feel the need to see my progress like that. I have a yoga routine and a cardio routine and they work for me without the log. But it’s never out of the question I might choose to implement it again. Same with a word count tracker for writing — keeping a running list of how many words I wrote per day was nice to see and motivating when I needed it.
And that’s the beauty of a bullet journal: there aren’t rules. You can do what you want and make it work for your life.
If you’re curious about what tools I use, it’s a grid-style large Moleskin, along with black Pilot V5 pens (my go-to for every kind of writing). Each month’s dates and titles I put in color from the Staedtler colored pen collection I have, and the washi tape I got at Target (the masking sticker set I got in a subscription box, but it’s $4 at Amazon). The little library checkout cards I got from Knot & Bow.
There is literally nothing else to my bullet journal. I do nothing fancy, I draw nothing wild, and I don’t feel compelled to do more than list stuff I need or want to get done. I am not a digital planner at all, despite being online all the time, and the bullet journal lets me manage my time and my life in really satisfying ways. I see stuff getting done, and I make conscious choices about time and energy use. I don’t separate work tasks from life tasks, since my time with work is fluid and working on all of those things within my day is my reality. Keeping separate logs would confuse me.
I don’t have any symbols or keys or page numbers or indexes. Minimalism is what works beautifully for me. Others find fancy and pretty works for them, and heck yes, I love looking at those works of art. But they just aren’t realistic for me and my life.
Do you bullet journal? What sorts of things do you track or keep notes about? If you use another method of managing your life, I’d love to hear about that, too.