I’m chuckling to myself right now because originally I thought one bullet journal would last an entire year like an old school planner would. Boy, was I wrong. Once I began using my bullet journal, I realized it’s much more than a planner. It’s basically a lifeline. It includes personal calendars, work assignments, all types of notes, deadlines, quotes, habit trackers, lists for this and that, goals, free writing, blog brainstorming, etc.
My first bullet journal only lasted from January through April. I’ve now moved on to BuJo #2, but my first bullet journal will also be special to me. Over the last four months, I’ve learned several lessons that will hopefully make the next phase of my bullet journal journey even more successful.
1). The Leuchtturm Table of Contents is not long enough for me, or maybe I need to tweak my method:
I absolutely adore the Leuchtturm 1917 medium dot grid notebooks and will continue ordering them from Goulet Pen, but for me, the table of contents section isn’t quite long enough. With bullet journal #1, I documented what each page was used for and I ran out of room because I take notes on a lot of different topics. What I’ve decided to do with my next bullet journal is lump insignifiant pages together. For instance, if I had a string of client meetings over a span of days where I took a lot of notes, I would notate it like “pp. 3-10 (client notes: SMN, LCUMC and WNCP-June ed.)” That way, I’m not taking up 7 lines in my Table of Contents.
2). The habit tracker became too tedious; I need to eliminate or change.
I was gung-ho about the habit tracker for the first two months. I honestly felt like it encouraged me to do certain things that I often put aside, such as getting my clothes out and packing lunches the night before, reading ten minutes before bed, practicing violin with my older son, etc., but then if I didn’t have time to achieve the habit and color in the squares, I would feel backed up and frustrated with myself. By March, I’d lost momentum with the habit tracker. I haven’t totally discounted it though. My life schedule is completely insane right now, so I currently just don’t have time to sit and color in squares, but one day I hope to have that time. I enjoy evaluating current habits and incorporating new, positive habits into my life. I eventually plan to continue with the habit tracker but be VERY strategic about which habits I select and only choose the few that will make my life happier or more efficient.
3). I am much less artsy that I thought I would be.
Before starting my own bullet journal journey, I looked at tons of photos of other people’s bullet journals on Pinterest and Instagram. I had all of these visions that I would be super artsy and creative with a lot of doodles and drawings to make my pages look crafty and whimsical. None of that has happened. In fact, I haven’t even really felt the desire to be artsy. I may draw a little coffee cup here and there or make a banner for my titles, but I am certainly not what one would call an artistic bullet journalist. I do, however, still have goals to be more creative with my handwriting and doodling, though I don’t see myself as ever drawing many pictures. And you know what? That’s totally okay. I feel like people go into bullet journaling thinking they need to be really artsy and creative, but if you are better with words (like me) that’s totally fine. To each their own! I have finally learned how to draw a banner quickly. Below is my hand-drawn tutorial for you.
4). I love my dailies and weeklies; they have truly helped me streamline my days and weeks.
I knew that my bullet journal would help streamline my life in the broader sense, but I didn’t realize how much I would rely on it to plan out my weeks and my days. Each Sunday afternoon, I carve out some time to sit down and plan out my week, then I use these pages religiously for the next seven days to keep track of my life. As a freelance writer and blogger, I have a number of clients and deadlines to keep straight. Before using a bullet journal, my desk was covered in post-it notes and I had a number of different planners, folders and notepads. My brain was constantly racing trying to keep up with everything. It was a nightmare. Below is an example of my weekly and dailies. I’ve tweaked it even more since this photo was taken, but this is still the general system I use.
5). The back pocket of the Leuchtturm 1917 is perfect for receipts.
This isn’t a huge thing for everyone, but it is for me. Being self-employed , it’s imperative I keep up with receipts for travel, client dinners, supplies, etc. Before my Leuchtturm 1917 notebook, I was putting my business receipts in my wallet with personal receipts, and then they would sometimes get lost or thrown away. By having a safe pocket in the back of my bullet journal, I am now separating my two worlds of receipts and it’s helped me in a huge way.
6). I’ve become much more relaxed over time.
In the beginning, I thought I wanted my bullet journal to look neat and beautiful, but I have learned that’s completely impossible. With every page being blank, it’s expected that mistakes will be made. When I first started my BuJo journey, I would have never stuck stickers here and here. I wanted it to all look very formal and efficient. Well, I’ve moved way beyond that. I’ve learned that my bullet journal needs to represent me and my personality. In doing that, it feels much more organic and natural.
7). It helps with consistency to use the same color tabs for my regular sections.
There are certain pages and sections that I need to quickly refer to every day. For these areas of my bullet journal, I simply don’t have time to flip to the table of contents and figure out what page I need. Because of that, I’ve started using tabs for the pages/sections I am continually referring to. I have four of these: My personal calendar, my blog content calendar, my daily and my monthly finance page where I record incoming payments and outgoing invoices. By using the same color of tabs every month, my system feels very fluid and efficient.
8). I’m couldn’t survive without my future planners.
While my bullet journals vary from the original system created by Ryder Carroll, one thing I’ve maintained allegiance to is the future planner, and I have come to rely heavily on this section. Because I only create one monthly calendar at a time, I use my future planner to jot down notes and dates for future months. Then when I create a particular monthly calendar, I record those dates on there. I actually like this much better than a traditional calendar because I can change/edit/tweak things on my future planner so that my monthly calendar looks neat and tidy. Recently, I’ve also created a blog content future planner that goes three months out.
9). Clearly title each page if it’s unclear; this helps when flipping through a grouped section.
I’ve learned that it’s essential to title each page clearly; otherwise, you will spend a lot of time flipping through your bullet journal. Even with a clear table of contents, it’s extremely helpful to title each page. This was especially clear when I began clumping groups of pages together. When I do that, I need the title pages to help me find the client or publication I’m looking for.
10). Utilize supplies (pen loop, tons of pens, small ruler, tabs, Post-its, etc.).
I’m sort of obsessed with office supplies in general but especially when it comes to bullet journaling. Not only do I like using bullet journal supplies, but I need them. My main supplies are a huge selection of pens that do not bleed, a small light-weigh ruler that fits in the back of the journal, tabs and occasionally, Post-it notes.
11). I am as in love with the bullet journal system as I ever have been.
While I think Ryder Carroll would say that his original idea of a bullet journal has been pulled and stretched all over the place, I hope he knows that he set the ball rolling for millions of people to find their own way to streamline their days and lives. I could not function without my bullet journal. In fact, each Sunday I look forward to the 30 minutes where I sit down and plan out my week and days. It’s rather meditative. If you feel frazzled in your personal life and/or professional life and have been in search of a better way to manage everything, I would suggest using this system, if you’re not already. If you are using the bullet journal system, I’m curious to know some of the lessons you’ve learned along the way. All right, guys and gals, let’s continue the journey.
Now, where was I…?
I really enjoyed this post as I’m only a few months into my first bujo. I’m already learning that I probably left too little space in some sections and too much in others, but I’ll make it work. A couple of things I decided right away with my journal:
* I’m a writer not an artist. If I spend too much time trying to be artsy, it takes away from writing time. So I do a few sketches and vectors and use cute Japanese stickers I found on Amazon for everything else. They mark holidays, weather, mood, etc. I also use a little decoupage here and there. I basically only get really artsy at the start of every month on the header page. I would love to have it filled with cute drawings and mixed media stuff, but I’d rather finish my novel. I do think I’ll try a few more complicated things when I have some vacation time, though. A little artiness can stimulate the right side of the brain!
* Using my bujo for daily to-do lists was going to fill it up in about a month. I use my pocket for index cards that hold my daily list, as well as for grocery shopping lists and the like. Things that I need to remember to do every day but don’t remember automatically go in my habit tracker (hello, flossing). Major dates and deadlines go on my monthly calendar. I do have a few pages of “Today I’m Going To…” so when I look back in years to come (I keep all my notebooks), I can see what I was up to at this time of my life.
* Since I know I’ll get a year max out of my journal, I don’t use it exclusively for contact information. I have a separate notebook for phone numbers and email addresses that I can keep longer than any one bujo, and I won’t have to rewrite them. I know the bujo is supposed to house everything, but in this regard, it’s just not practical for me.
* I do a post mortem at the end of every month. What did I do right? What needed more work? What could I change organizationally to be more efficient? Each month’s chapter does not look like the previous one, since I only set them up one month at a time, based on both the post mortem and what I know is coming up.
* I have a chapter for each month and also chapters for short-term goals (may go across multiple months), long-term goals (may need to be rewritten in new bujos but keep me focused), writing inspiration, craft projects, moving to the UK (a long-term goal with lots of little bits of info to collect), spirituality, and miscellaneous inspiration. I wanted stuff to be easier to find, so I chunked more together than I originally thought I would.
I know this goes against the whole bujo philosophy, but I sometimes think about having separate journals for work and personal notations. I think the whole idea is to figure out what makes it work for you and do that! Thanks for the great post!
Wow! These tips are astounding. Thank you so much for offering them. I love, love your idea of reflecting at the end of each month regarding what went well, what didn’t, etc. I also love your idea of chapters. I’m definitely going to think about implementing that concept. Thank you again! So helpful.
Jenna P. says
I had a monthly habit tracker as well and it didn’t work out for me. I have a weekly overview where I’ll include a tracker at the bottom of the page for the week and that’s about as much as I can manage.
Congrats on finishing your first journal!
That’s a great idea! I love the idea of a weekly habit tracker since they may change based on the week, not the month.
I liked your post and I too am going to start my second book. I have learned new ideas from others how to make my second book easier, more organized, and fun. Thank you for writing!
That’s wonderful! Good luck with everything.
[email protected] says
I am curious as to what specific items you are referring to when you say “my bullet journals vary from the original system created by Ryder Carroll”?
The main thing I was referring to was that Ryder intended for the Bullet Journal to be a super fast system, but I must admit that I take a significant amount of time prepping and utilizing my bullet journal. He also didn’t utilize add-ons like banners, habit trackers, color coding, etc.
[email protected] says
Well, you do say that you find do the coloring-in for daily habits is too time-consuming. Maybe just stick to the more usual “put an X in a square when done”?
Banners I think are optional; main thing is to get down all the items you want in the collection .. and in your “spare time” wrap the header in a frame 🙂
Yes! All great points. I’ve been missing my habit tracker. The Xs sound like a much better, less time-consuming idea.
[email protected] says
Also, re habits – “I may continue with the habit tracker but be VERY strategic about which habits I select and only choose the few that will make my life happier or more efficient.”
Yes: healthy / happy / efficient are good criteria for selecting. But do have a look at Leo Babauta’s “Zen Habits” blog (e.g. http://zenhabits.net/start/ ). He writes with great insight into habit changing (and not just from theory either if you read his life story).
I really want to try bullet journaling. I love to journal in general. I find it to be stress-relieving.
It really is! You should try it. I’m hooked. 😉
hi susanna, i love your words, i read every single one, absorbed them and learned a lot – also from my previous commenters, thank you all. i wish you the best for your very next week, whenever you read this.
I’m new to bullet journaling and I just started my first journal a few days ago. Thank you for your post. I love hearing/reading advice on how others make their bullet journal work for them. I’m hoping it will help easy my way into this new system.
I have a question about the dark green journal in your pictures. Where did you get it and Is it a Leuchtturm 1917?
I also started the bullet journal recently.. (last month). I am more then obsessed with it. A few things that I do: I sit down on a day when I don’t have much to do and plan out a while month.. With every week. Dates, and all. I have weekly pages. This helps to jump right into a month and when I have an appointment for later on I can go ahead and put it where it belongs. I am very much looking forward to buying a nice notebook for mine, however for now I just went to office max and bought a notebook with grid paper. It’s not perfect and I can’t open it to where it pays flat.. But it works!! Love all your post.. Happy journaling!
Sidsel Horvei says
I’ve sworn by Pam Young’s 3×5 cardfile for a year (and Flylady’s control journal before that), but I’m liking the idea of a monthly or yearly spread to give me a better overview of what’s coming. I think I’d go for a loose-leaf approach though, so I can group for example all months after one tab, or put past months/weeks/years at the back or in a separate archiving binder.
I love this.
Such a pleasure to read. And your art is beautiful!
The banner tutorial was much needed.
w rs says
Thank you Susanna. I recently started my bullet journal and have been feeling a bit intimidated by all the beautiful examples and spreads on Pinterest and Instagram. Your post was very helpful in terms of new user experience and suggestions for bullet journals. I especially like your idea of including a future log for your blog schedule. Look forward to reading more on your blog.