8 Months In: Bullet Journaling Review

So… Last May — the second week of may, actually — a Facebook friend posted a link to this video.

I’ve been keeping sketchbooks for a while, and in particular I always carried the same one to faculty meetings because some of my best ideas seem to come to me during periods of forced idleness. If I have somewhere to doodle and write down those ideas, they don’t completely distract me from the content of the meeting.

To say that I was captivated by the idea of a bullet journal was an understatement. I had already decided to start a To Do List Notebook because of an Instagram account that I follow, and had been doing that for about 10 days when I saw the video linked above. I like the idea of Art Journals, though I’ve never kept one. The idea of painting in a book and waiting for it to dry tortures me a little, I guess.

As far as a planner… I love the idea of a planner, but I’ve never been able to successfully use one because I’m too fickle about what I want from a planner. This week I may have a lot going on, so I need more space. Next week I don’t have as much on the schedule, so I may not. This week I’m going to meal plan. Next week I’m going to be gone half of the week, so meal planning doesn’t make a lot of sense… Some planners these days even have places for water tracking and steps tracking, school planning… Whatever you want, there’s a commercial planner out there that probably specializes in it.

But: No matter what commercial planners I looked at or tried, there was always too much real estate devoted to something I don’t care about or wouldn’t use, OR there’s not enough real estate allowed for what I want to do. Or there’s too much pre-planning involved. HOW DO I KNOW what I’m going to need at the END of 2016? I had big goals at the beginning of 2015 and I did meet them, and things happened because of meeting those goals that I couldn’t have foreseen, and there’s no way I could have customized a planner in the fall of 2014 that would have begun to meet my needs in December of 2015.

What do I need? I need a FULLY CUSTOMIZABLE, organic, changes-with-me system. That allows me to be creative. That allows me to be lazy. That allows me to be crazy organized and yet free spirited at the same time. In short? I need the Utopia Planner.

The Bullet Journal System was the closest I’ve seen to what I want from a planning system.

So I started keeping a Pinterest Board of ideas that appeal to me or interest me or fascinate me about bullet journaling/art journaling/planners/note-taking styles. To me, they all go together, because in my BuJo, they coexist.

Some BuJo fanatics out there get really arty with the washi tape and very decorative with their weekly layouts. Some religiously color-code. I dutifully pinned those because I love the idea, but let’s get real. I’m not going to do those things, at least not all the time. I don’t need the stress. I grab whatever pen is handy (and actually I started just closing my BuJo around my favorite pen sometime around October, and now I don’t even have to fish for one…. In the softcover Moleskine, it doesn’t come out even when I shake the notebook. Except for one time, in the Cleveland Clinic. I hope somebody out there is enjoying what’s left of that fabulous Uniball Signo 0.38mm pen because I was bereft.

(As an aside, my brothers mocked me about that pen at first, but then a week later one of them sheepishly sent a text asking for the brand name and point size because he agreed that it really was nice. I AM VINDICATED.)

Anyway.

You wanna see pages from the evolution of my 8 months of Bullet Journaling? Well, then. You’ve come to the right place. And here are the details of what I used: I had a large (5″x8.25″), dotted, soft-cover Moleskine that Jerry bought me for Christmas 2014. It’s exactly the same size as my iPad mini and feels good in my hand, so I knew I wouldn’t mind carrying it around. Since I’m a teacher, I carry a tote and not a purse, so dropping it in the tote wouldn’t be a problem either. At the end of December, I had 19 pages remaining to fill. Considering I was about to go into the first week of school again, I knew that it would bother me all year if 2016 started halfway into January, so I just switched to a new one for 2016 even though I wasn’t quite finished.

Back to the nitty-gritty: here’s how I started out. To-do lists, double spaced.  (If stuff is obscured it’s because it contained too much personal information. I’m a schoolteacher. Gotta be diligent.)

 

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The next week I got a little crazy and added a sketch, which ultimately turned in to Friday’s Quilt.

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I stopped double-spacing after that, realizing that my handwriting is definitely legible enough for single-spacing.

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Over the summer I was reupholstering a formal chair, and had to redesign the entire back of it because the supply company sent the wrong sized channel stuffers. Rather than wait for them to send the correct size, I just redid all of the calculations, and picked up my Bullet Journal for that since the dotted paper lent itself to that purpose beautifully. I absolutely love that it’s in there, chronologically, so I will know exactly when I did that forever and ever amen.

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Another week, another sketch. The orange washi tape at the top of the page is indicating a new month… The 2 pages before mark the beginning of the month of July, so that I can easily find them at a glance by looking at the top of the book, but without the obtrusiveness of tabs sticking out from the edges.

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The week before school starts is INSANELY overscheduled for teachers, so I tried a different approach that I had seen (and pinned) on another site. Every day had its own page, with the schedule on one side and the to-do list for that DAY (omg) on the left. This worked for that week, but I knew I wouldn’t need that much for most weeks.

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So then I tried a vertical cascade approach to my weekly scheduling, with a to-do list for the whole week down one side. It was OK, but not perfect for me. Oh, and I broke my damn phone.

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Inevitably, when people see my notebook and hear that I keep “everything” in it, they ask if I include grocery lists. I did. Once. Here’s the once. I decided that I don’t need a forever-and-ever record of when I needed toilet paper, thankyouverymuch. I also tried to keep track of the girls’ homework that week. HAHAHAHAHA OMG no. This was too much. And sloppy as hell.

(As an aside: the big fat checkmarks? Those are documented schedule changes to the academic schedule of individual students at our school. I’m the assistant to the scheduler, so I am tasked with making (and documenting) any changes to the schedule database. Initially, I started keeping the documentation in my BuJo just because it was handy, but after a while it became very apparent that the documentation was valuable. So after about 3 weeks a system was born: the fat checkmark. Flipping through, they’re REALLY easy to spot, and I can find the exact date a change was made very quickly.)

I tried a more artistic approach to a weekly layout, with meal planning and activity tracking.

Once. Yeah, no. More effort than I’m willing to put forth.

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On occasion, I like to flag pages just so that they’re quick to find, and I like to use lime green washi tape for those pages. So far I’ve used the same tape every time but as I live in a house with kleptomaniac elves who like to steal adhesives, I’ll just say lime green. This page was marking favorite quotations. It’s also listed in my index.

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…. and this is what I do during meetings. I can tell you who was talking, where I was sitting, who was sitting on either side of me, and what was being discussed, just because I remember drawing the (Fibonacci-based) doodle. Betcha the other people at the meeting couldn’t do that.

Oh, and look: more schedule changes.

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And here’s where I found the weekly layout that seems to be the best for me, for normal weeks.

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And just to highlight the multi-purpose…. purpose…. of the Bullet Journal:  while I was at the Cleveland Clinic for my Dad’s surgery, my brothers and mom and I played Cribbage but we didn’t have a Cribbage board for keeping score. Tom said, “We need something to write on,” and I grabbed my trusty notebook! When I got home I marked it with the navy blue checked washi tape that I had been using for all things about Dad’s surgery on one side, and my lime green washi on the other side so I can find it and smile at the memory.

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And here’s a sneak peek into my 2016 Bullet Journal… I put a 2-page spread for each month at the beginning of the notebook, so that I can forward-plan, which has been a common complaint among people trying out Bullet Journaling for the first time.

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And here are the January pages:

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So.

After 8 months, I can tell you this: for me, Bullet Journaling has helped me reach goals that I wouldn’t have thought were possible a year ago. I have kept track of more, accomplished more, and felt less stressed about the whole experience.

The best advice I can give you is this: make an effort that you are willing to repeat, and be flexible. If it is too difficult to do week after week after week, you’ll quit. But if you’re prone to list-making anyway (like me), then list-make in a book. It’s not that big a stretch. And the payoff is incredible.

It may not work for you, but it’s been completely freaking amazing for me. Part of that is because I haven’t been a total arty perfectionist about it. I haven’t picked up the correction fluid even once the whole time I’ve been using my BuJo, and I don’t intend to do so.

This is me, and I’m not perfect. And I’m not sorry, either.

6 thoughts on “8 Months In: Bullet Journaling Review”

  1. Whoa. I’m exhausted just looking at it! I do enjoy lists though. You seem to be having fun with your bullet journaling. I’m definitely a doer and a maker, but this post and all of the works you crank out make me feel like a regular three-toed sloth!

  2. Thank you so much! I joined a BuJo group on facebook, and all the pretty and colours and decorations have made me feel stressed. Yours doesn’t make me feel stressed! It makes it seem doable.

    Thanks for the detailed instructions showing what it can do!

  3. I laughed with your opening paragraph because I was a teacher and later principal and in both roles my agendas were covered in “to do” lists, shopping lists, etc. I’ve tried many different types of planners and journals, but what you describe seems more doable for me. Thank you for this very realistic and detailed post.

  4. This looks like something that might work for my son. He’s an engineering student. I sent him the video link. Thanks for sharing!

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