My Bullet Journal Experience, 3 Months In

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Life

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I‘m an unabashed notebook hoarder, with 5 or 6 actively in use for specific purposes (e.g. “work,” “health,” “projects,” “church,” etc.) and many more blank beauties waiting in the reserves. So when a deluge of trend pieces on something called the “Bullet Journal” flooded the web over the last year, I was viscerally intrigued and responsibly hesitant…am I really going to do this? Add another one? Especially something that seems to come with the expectation of “being creative,” which is code for “I probably won’t make time to do this.”

Yet for some reason—Peer encouragement? Stationery lust? A certain bright-eyed-bushy-tailed-ness fresh from moving into the city?—I passed the temptation threshold one day last October, and within minutes, had added all the Bullet Journal starter essentials to my Amazon cart (more on this later.)

There’s so much on the who/what/why/how of Bullet Journaling online, but here’s two (1, 2) that got me started. The main takeaways that convinced me to take the plunge are:

  1. A Bullet Journal can be anything you want it to be—just because some many people have fancy notation systems and impressive artwork in theirs doesn’t mean you have to, too.
  2. There’s just one cardinal rule to remember: Number the pages (or get a notebook that comes with printed numbers)—A little bit of discipline early on pays off here; this is so that you can have a comprehensive “index” up front to keep track of contents for easy reference later.
  3. Summing up the previous two points: A Bullet Journal has the potential to serve a multitude of purposes—You can have it all!

Using the popularity of BuJo as major evidence, a recent BBC article makes the case that paper is the real “killer app” (Though I keep reading it as “app killer,” same thing?) And I think it’s a compelling one.

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In my world swirling with lists, notes, and ideas recorded through so many different channels (notebooks/planners, the amazing Teuxdeux, Gmail Tasks, iOS Notes app…), the Bullet Journal offered me a “reset” button, a chance to consolidate, filter out the noise, emerge from the daily grind, and carve out the time and physical space to prioritize and reflect.

Three months in, I think it’s working—not quite as perfectly as I dreamed (yet), but in way that has made the BuJo an indispensable MVP on my desk.

♦♦♦♦♦

SUPPLIES

When you begin to entertain the idea of starting a BuJo, you’ll soon notice a set of things internet people recommend, the most salient of which is a Leuchtturm1917 notebook with dotted pages. The main appeal of this notebook is that it does a lot of the work for you, like having dots for you to make bullet points on, numbered pages on the bottom corners, and a built-in index up front. And like a Moleskine, it’s thread bound, with fancy, high quality paper and an important-looking black cover. But you also have to pay for those perks—about $25, in fact. Other often-recommended items include this 6-inch ruler ($3.80) and this pack of pens with 10 colors ($12.90).

Those were the three things I hurriedly added to my Amazon cart back in October while asking my roommate if it’s too early to buy myself a Christmas present. I slept on it though, and ended up getting cold feet about the whole thing the next day. Eventually, I reasoned that it’s entirely possible to do this in a low-key, low-stakes, low-investment kind of way. So I went to Muji.

…And ended up with:

  • A double-ring dotted notebook with a translucent plastic cover ($5.50)
  • 15 cm aluminum ruler ($2.50)
  • Pens! (I already had a few of these—they’re $1.50 each—but I got a 6-pack of black ones for $8.00)

They’ve been great. The spiral in the notebook makes it easy to lay flat, the ruler is s’cute, and the pens work just fine.

This combo is minimal and utilitarian, which matches my intentions for the journal. Since I wasn’t planning on doing much art, fancy paper and binding were not as important. Just as how a Bullet Journal’s content can be tailored to your needs, the materials you use to do it are also highly flexible.

♦♦♦♦♦

LAYOUT

Man oh man oh man. The best and most tempting thing about BuJo has to be the endless possibilities of things you can do. Here are some things I love, pulled from the same Buzzfeed article I linked to above.

Much of the appeal and wow-factor of BuJo is in all the beautiful custom art and design, but, again, my personal goal for it was to be able to prioritize and reflect. To me, this translates into “looking ahead” and “looking back.” The way I set up my pages emphasizes this intention.

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The bread and butter of my BuJo are:

  • Weekly pages that record anything I want—big happenings, small happenings, silly things, maddening things, and everything in between—on a daily basis. But at the top of each week is a two-column section: on the left, a list of major things I’m looking forward to or hoping to accomplish this week, and on the right, a list of takeaways to keep absorbing, gleaned from the week’s highs and lows. I fill out the left side at the beginning of the week, and the right side at the end, with the hope that weeks will no longer pass by without me having a chance to grasp the important stuff.
  • Monthly pages that follow the same concept as above: A “before” column on the left and an “after” on the right. The former is filled out at the beginning of the month as a preview of goals and plans, the latter at the end of the month to check-in and see how I fared against expectations and record anything else important to remember.

Before starting BuJo, I kept feeling like I had no time to think—or at least, was making no time to think. After using this system for several months, I still don’t think I’m spending enough time engaging in the big-picture, but it is helping me do it as much as I can on a regular basis. It’s certainly useful in keeping me accountable for the goals I make from week to week, month to month.

Besides the weekly and monthly pages, I’ve also adapted some themed pages that are popular with other Bullet Journalers. These include:

  • Gratitude Logs for recording blessings big and small every month
  • Books for jotting down things I want to and have read (though I’ve also started doing that on this blog)
  • Habits for tracking how often I’m doing the things I want to do regularly: blog, draw, and learn foreign languages (“cooking,” defined as something not-frozen-Trader- Joe’s has been a massive fail :X)

A note on notations: There are many variations, but this is not the most important thing. We all know how to-do lists work with just bullets that get x-ed out and I would argue that’s good enough. I added ” ❤ “s to denote extra special and lovely things, and a ” ” to denote things that should be continued or moved to the next week.

A note on staying consistent: One thing that has helped me stay consistent with filling in the BuJo is tying it to a routine I already have down pat, which is night time skincare. BuJo time now comes at the end of my skincare routine, and it just works to prolong the feel-good daily self-care.

♦♦♦♦♦

ALSO

I’m an introvert who likes to take time to think things through before voicing anything. But at the current pace of happenings in the world, there’s virtually no time to process anything before the next thing happens.

At the same time, I don’t want my resistance to a quick response to turn into a lack of response, so I’ve found myself turning to the BuJo for sorting through my thoughts over the last few months. I had an one-off “Elections” page in November, and more recently, a page of reflection after the shocking travel ban executive order.

Inspired by some peers, I’m starting to write down plans of action and/or things to keep in mind as news unfolds. Whereas Twitter is a firehose of other people’s loud opinions (and a platform I have to stay on for work), the BuJo is a place free of distraction to isolate what’s most important and actionable to me.

After three months, that’s one of the reasons why I’m gonna be cheesy and meta and put the Bullet Journal in my Gratitude Log.

2 Comments

  1. Yeasol says

    Hey, I enjoyed reading your blog. 🙂 One of my new year’s resolution was to write a planner consistently, and a coworker of mine suggested me “bullet journal”. I didn’t keep it as tidy as you did, just use as means to remind myself what to do for the day/week. Thanks to you, now I got some good ideas on how to use mine more efficiently. I really like your goals/plans and reflection column. I agree that planners or journals are free of distraction where I can really hear my voice on any matter.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for reading Yeasol! Happy that my experience was interesting/useful for you. Have fun with yours, let’s talk more next time in person. 😉

      Like

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