I have been bullet journaling for almost a year now, so I’d like to think I’ve learnt a thing or two. There are some standard tools people tend to use when bullet journalling, listed below; I’m going to give my experience of each of these, which ones have been effective and which haven’t, and, how to get the most out of the ones that were.
My initial reason for starting a bullet journal was actually because of needing to juggle an incredibly busy schedule. However, now that my life has calmed down a bit, I’ve found it really helpful in terms of keeping a healthy work-life balance, and developing good physical and mental routines.
In case you don’t fancy clicking to an outside link (I know, my blog can be super difficult to look away from), I’ll give a comprehensive explanation of each tool as we go along, accompanied by photos from my bullet journal (taken on my fabulous IKEA table).
Some general pointers:
DO: Keep things simple, particularly at the beginning. Start with the basics, and try to narrow down everything you’re measuring and doing to the essentials. Try to stay focused on what you’ve decided you want to achieve each month.
DON’T: Worry too much about aesthetics, at least initially. If you worry too much about getting the perfect design, you could easily end up forgetting to actually use your bullet journal. I’d recommend focussing on creating good habits at first, and only then getting into the really creative aspects of bullet journalling (your bullet journal is a fantastic way to connect with your inner creative god/ goddess). However, not everyone is equally artsy, and that’s ok too – it’s actually pretty irrelevant to how successful your bullet journal will be. Personally I really enjoyed the artsy aspects, and they made me get more into the project – but there are ways of getting around the hours spent drawing and still making your journal look pretty cool. Examples include gluing in photos, ticket stubs, and other memories at the end of each month. I can also HIGHLY recommend buying a shit tonne of washi tape (I got this, this, and this).
DON’T: Let yourself draft anything in pencil, erase anything, or rip out pages. This is a recipe for unhealthy perfectionism. My first rule in my first bullet journal was actually that I wasn’t allowed to erase anything or cross anything out. What I found was that this made me think of creative ways to cover up “mistakes”, and made me feel less stressed about it being “perfect”.
DO: Treat each page like a fresh start. Even if you screwed up one page, the next can still be beautiful – and I can’t even count the number of times I THOUGHT I screwed up a page, only to find it actually fit in quite well once the pages around it were filled in.
An index is pretty much what it sounds like – on the first page, you index things like where each month begins, and reference the appropriate page number. For journals that aren’t numbered, you get the fun job of writing in each page number yourself!
Personally I never bothered with this. I’m not creating a book for others to read, so why create an index? As this is something I’ve never done, I can’t really say much about it. Let me know if this is something you found helpful and why!
Basically a table overview of your year (or the next 6 months), with tasks to do each month and events that are happening.
I tried this last year, but simply found I never used it. Plans that far in advance tend not to be fully formed and concrete for me, and so I’ve found it works better so use an app such as Calendar for long-term planning. I also find it quite stressful writing to-do lists for next month – way to feel more tied-down than necessary!
A monthly overview of what’s happening every day and any tasks you have to do on specific days.
Similar to the Future Log, I’ve found that I get a much better idea of things like this when using Calendar. However, I have found it incredibly helpful to draw out how the days of the month fall at the start of each month. It gives me a much better mental image of where the weekends are etc., and has helped me stay on top of things in that way.
A weekly overview of what’s happening every day and any tasks you have to do on specific days.
This has worked really well for me.
DON’T: Give yourself too much daily space – I recommend one week per page. Many people use a double page spread per week, which I also did initially – but I’ve found that if there’s too much room on each day, we tend to want to fill that space with things to do, and are much more likely to overestimate how much we can fit into one day.
DO: Wait to fill in your week until the previous week has ended (plan each coming week the Sunday before, for example). This splits the time into more manageable chunks, and helps keep you focused on the week ahead.
Monthly To Do list
A To Do list at the start of each month (what it says on the tin really).
I personally found monthly to do lists helpful, but not weekly to do lists. Daily tasks are also incredibly helpful.
DON’T: Put too much on your monthly to do list, or stress about not getting things done on your to do list – they are long term goals after all. Having said that:
DO: Decide on specific days to do your monthly goals (otherwise they’ll never get done and you’ll feel like they’re always hanging over you and it will be stressful).
DO: Break big tasks into smaller tasks, and tick each off individually.
Each month, you pick a few things you want to “track”, i.e. every day that you do or don’t do a certain task, you get a tick (or get to fill in a box if you’ve bought a fancy new set of Tombow pens and you want to use them goddammit). There are various ways of setting these out, but a classic is to draw a grid similarly to how you might draw a calendar, with a square representing each day and the number written nearby.
Extremely helpful. Probably my favourite thing about bullet journaling, and by far the most useful. I have helped form and break many, many habits through this. I’ve eaten less sugar, started flossing, started cooking more, started going to bed earlier, motivated myself to work on my PhD, and stopped unnecessarily taking ubers thanks to habit trackers.
DO: Keep your goals small and achievable, and measure concrete, simple things. For example, if you want to make sure you work 8 hour days, try to set a smaller goal of starting work at 10am – the hardest thing is often to get started with things like this. Similarly, if you want to make sure you keep your flat tidy, put down “tidy something”. Even if you only tidy your work desk or make your bed, the first step is often the hardest and you will be more likely to carry on the good habits throughout the day.
DON’T: Put down a goal that involves more than one thing to go well. For example: I wanted to stop eating out and ordering takeaway so much. So I tried to put down “don’t eat out” as a habit tracker. However, I found that what happened was that if I’d eaten one meal out that day, I often developed the following train of logic: I’ve already broken my rule -> I don’t get to tick the box off either way -> I may as well order in for dinner as well. I found that it was much more effective to measure individual things, such as “eating a home cooked dinner”. Other goals I wouldn’t recommend setting are things like “eat healthy”, “get up early”, and “do x hours of work on Y”. Instead, I’d recommend “no sugar”, “eat at least one salad”, “be in bed by x”, “do ANY amount of work on Y”.
DON’T: Track more than 3 habits each month.
DO: Mix things up – each month, think about what worked and didn’t work for you, and select the next months habit trackers based on this. Feel free to track the same things in consecutive months if you found it helpful!
DON’T: Try to get a full house. The most important thing about habit trackers is that you’re aiming for the majority to be coloured in – you are observing without necessarily judging. The goal is not perfection – if it was, missing one square will make a part of you want to give up, as you’ll have already failed. Each filled in square can make a monumental difference to the overall “feel” of how that month went, and so it’s vital to keep trying every day, even if you’ve had a bad streak.
You “track” your mood every day of the month, usually by filling in a square in a similar way to the habit trackers and colour-coordinating various moods. Often drawn out in creative ways (google “mood tracker” you’ll see what I mean).
I’ve only been doing these for two months, but I’ve found them extremely helpful for my mental wellbeing. Last year, due to how much I was trying to cram into each week, I simply did not have time to think about how I felt every day. I’d highly recommend using mood trackers as an opportunity to tune in with your mind and wellbeing.
DON’T: Measure all your moods in one go. My issue with mood trackers (and why I refused to try them for the first 9 months of bullet journaling) was that often people seem to give one colour per day, with options like “happy”, “anxious”, “sad”, “angry”, “excited”, etc. The issue is that it’s hard not to feel more than one of these emotions, and often the one you’re feeling last will cloud your judgement on the rest of the day. Even the “happy” to “sad” scale is quite hard to measure over the course of a full day. If you’ve been happy all day but end up crying just before bed, what do you put down? I therefore recommend limiting what you’re measuring, but allowing yourself to track more than one thing each day (in separate boxes and with separate colours).
Examples of things you can track are: tiredness, stress/ anxiety levels, ease of falling asleep in the evenings, whether you’ve had down-time/ time to relax that day, cosiness (or “hygge” – a concept that is becoming increasingly more fashionable, but that people still seem to misunderstand, so I will explain more thoroughly in a later post), positivity, and productivity. Let me know if you have any more suggestions!
DO: Track concrete things, but in a subjective way. I tracked how tired I felt (note: this isn’t necessarily related to how many hours I slept), and how productive I felt (again, little to do with how much I’d actually achieved that day). I found this to be so helpful and insightful that I’ve actually ended up tracking the same exact two things this month. An example of an insight I gained: one day, I felt a bit blue – I felt like I hadn’t done much over the past week, and on top of that I’d managed to sleep in until rather late (2 or 3pm). I felt lazy and inadequate, and like my day had been ruined. However, I then looked back over the past week, and realised I’d been tired every single day; on a scale of 1 to 3, I’d put between 2 and 3 for each day that week. Suddenly I understood why I had needed that extra sleep, and no longer felt guilty about the fact that I’d slept in – that day ended up being a lot more positive and productive than it would have been otherwise!
DO: Aim for a balance. You don’t want to be feeling the same every day. For example, when tracking how productive I felt in October, my goal was to have balance – it was important to me to have days where I didn’t feel productive at all, as well as very productive days and days that fell somewhere in between. Similarly with being tired – ideally I’d want to not be tired at all, but realistically a day or two without much sleep is necessary if you want to be able to enjoy a party or get a lot done. A wide array of colours each month is not a bad thing. Don’t stress yourself out over the way you feel! That’s not a good cycle to fall into… remember, the main purpose is to observe and learn about yourself.
Films to watch, books to read, etc
Write out a list of books you want to read sometime, or films you’d like to watch, places you’d like to visit (you get the picture).
I personally didn’t find this very helpful. I spent a long time drawing out these pages, but often ended up not filling them in, and when I finally did, I more often than not never got round to watching the film in question. I found that for me, it made something fun a chore – I’m not a huge fan of “bucket lists” in general, as I find they tend to turn things that are meant to be spontaneous into box-ticking exercises. Let me know if it worked for you though, and what aspects made it helpful or not!
Saved ticket stubs from events you went to, notes or cards you got from people, that crossword you finally solved by yourself, photos, etc.
I really enjoyed putting memories into my journal every month. I did find that it meant I hoarded a lot more papers, ticket stubs etc., but it’s definitely nice to look through my old journal and see reminders of everything I did. This year I’m keeping things quite clean, so I’m sticking in photos but most likely not much else. Who knows though, things might change!
Reserve a page for writing down particularly positive experiences – perhaps someone said something really complimentary, or did something really nice for you.
I found this really helpful the one month I did it. I don’t think it’s necessary to do each month – but on months where I was doubting myself, and my decisions in life, it was really helpful to make a note of positive things people had said to me or about me. I think this can be a really useful tool, and would recommend it if you think you’d find it effective!
Bonus Category: Events
This isn’t one of the “standards” (in fact I’ve never seen anyone use a bullet journal for this purpose), but I’m super into events and have really enjoyed bullet-planning them. Many future dinner parties will be sketched out in this way, I can tell you that much.
Overall I think bullet journaling can help you become a happier, more productive, more well-balanced person, and would highly recommend it. The best thing about it is that you can tailor your journal to you, so experiment, find out what works for you, and let me know in the comments!!
Tape: Outflower 6pcs Vintage Decorative Washi Tape for Handbook Diary DIY Album Stickers Scrapbooking,Random
3mm gold foil washi tape pastel colours cute designs – 5m long – moon stars dots stripes clouds hearts
Marble Modern Peach Gold Foil Washi Tape – 7 rolls each 10 metres – journaling, card making, scrapbooking
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