Tuesday, September 06, 2016

Bullet Journals: Comparisons, Reviews, Ideas, Thoughts, and Information Overload

I've been using a bullet journal for nearly two years now, and I've learned a few things that others might benefit from, so I'm pouring my entire brain out here. This is going to be long.


What is a bullet journal? It's a planner and a journal and a system of organizing thoughts created a few years ago by Ryder Carroll. You should go to bulletjournal.com to read about the origins and his thoughts behind the system. At the most basic, a bullet journal can be made out of any paper and any writing instrument.

What goes into a bullet journal? Whatever you want to write down. You could just use the journal as a diary or a planner or a calendar or doodle pages or anything, but most people have some combination of tasks, events, and ideas. The journal is adaptable to your preferences--that's one of the things that makes it so great.

Is a bullet journal the best way to stay organized? No. There is no best way. It is possibly the least expensive way to have an analog organizer, but that doesn't make it the best.

Do I have to use a specific notebook? No. Tons of people use the Leuchtturn 1917 notebook because it has dedicated index pages in the front, but any paper will work just fine. You could use a Filofax, a composition book, a spiral notebook, a scratch pad, a fancy planner like one by Erin Condren, or plain notebook paper. Just be aware that if you use paper that has pre-planned sections for days like a planner, then you may have a lot of wasted or empty space.

Do I have to make my bullet journal pretty? Do I have to use washi tape and stickers and stamps and cut-outs and markers and glitter? You do you. You can do as much or as little decorating as you'd like. There are some really nice minimalist bullet journals that use no color. There are also some stunning colorful bullet journals that have almost no space leftover for lists or thoughts. There is no right or wrong way.

What kinds of habits can I track? Many, if not most, bullet journals contain a habit tracker. People have all sorts of reasons for tracking all kinds of behavior. Maybe you want to do something more or less, or maybe you want to see how often you're really doing something. The habits can be tracked daily, weekly, monthly, or in whatever increment you choose.
  • Exercise
  • Weight
  • Meditation
  • No alcohol/coffee/soda/caffine/vice-of-choice
  • Water intake
  • Social media posts
  • No meat/wheat/dairy
  • No spend
  • In/out of bed by
  • Hours slept
  • Read x minutes
  • Vitamins/medications
  • Eat more fruit/veg
  • Bible or prayer time
  • Couple time (like talking, not... you know)
  • Flossing
  • Instrument practice
  • Chores
  • No nail/cuticle biting
  • Savings/budget
  • Goal progress
  • Netflix/TV progress
  • Movies watched
  • Books read
  • Health and wellness
  • Moods
  • Lessons or classes
  • Sales of crafted items
  • Progress on a craft
  • Meals cooked/eaten out

I prefer loose leaf paper and a three-ring notebook for a few reasons:
  • I like being able to move my pages around and use dividers rather than an index. I want my weekly pages together, my ideas and notes together, and have room for other things like an address book or household management pages.
  • I make mistakes. I want to be able to rip pages out and start over.
  • I can buy half-letter graph paper in my local office store near the half-letter notebooks. These items are not easily available online (which is shocking!).
  • I like the old-school DIY feel of a three ring binder and dividers and being able to customize everything each year.
  • I am cheap frugal. My binder, pen, and paper were less than $15 together.
I use a Uniball Signo Micro black rollerball pen and some stickers. (While I use fountain pens, the Signo pens are my #1 all time favorites. They're fraud proof for signing checks, they're super fine point, and they don't make globs of ink.) I'm not a doodler, and I don't have the time or gumption to make my journal look like a magazine spread. For me, a planner is, first and foremost, a productivity tool. If that tool takes up more time than the tasks I'm listing in it, then there's a problem.

I make calendars every year for my family, so I don't have to go to much extra work to print them half-size and pop them into my planner as the first page in the monthly sections. These calendar grids are great for recording appointments, plus my family's birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays are already on them. I only have three or four appointments in a month, so I don't need much space.

This is the old look to my bullet journal pages. It is very simple. I don't mind the look of graph paper, but this paper is particularly thin at 14lb. Standard copy paper is 20lb. The new paper is 32lb (see below). This graph paper is the only commercially available graph/grid paper for half-letter paper, so I didn't have much of a choice when I was getting started. I've since learned how to print my own dot grid on thicker paper, but I chose to go another route (again, see below).

I don't use a fancy key or signifiers. A task, an event, and an appointment all mean the same thing to me: something to do. That task is either waiting to be done, in progress, or completed. I don't migrate tasks: either they get done, or they get crossed off later when I've done them. This is how I symbolize things in my bullet journal:
  • Open box: not yet started
  • Half cross: in progress
  • X: done
My bullet journal is more about the bullets than the journaling. While I do keep some lists and thoughts in my bullet journal, most of my actual journaling goes here on my blog. And that's okay.

This is the new look! I recently did a total overhaul of my weekly pages. While I still prefer my loose-leaf half-letter paper, I'm not really interested in the dot grid or graph paper anymore. Though I can certainly draw my habit tracker by hand, it's just faster and easier to make it in Excel or Google Sheets. And, I figured, if I'm going to go to all of that effort, I might as well assess my entire bullet journal system and design new weekly sheets. I really like the week-at-a-glance option, but I hate flipping around to different sections for habit tracking and tasks. So I smashed them together into an all-encompassing weekly spread. I'm really liking this new look. The color is nice but not overwhelming, and it feels clean and simple while still providing great functionality. Now I can look back over my old menus, and I get credit for things that I wasn't writing down before like making the bed or dinner or my husband's lunch. Now it looks like I do more! even though I'm not doing more than I was before I had this fancy spread. The top section of habits are really the "must do" items, and the lower ones are the "want to" items. That's the only reason they're separated.

My one pet peeve of all of the habit trackers is the water intake tracker. This seems to be the most popular habit for everyone to track, and I do not understand it. Unless you are stranded or in some sort of isolated situation, or you have a severe illness, you're not going to die of dehydration. Your natural thirst will kick in, you will drink something, and you won't die. The pressure to drink so much is ridiculous. (Adam Ruins Everything just did a great YouTube video about this, and I finally feel vindicated for my loathing of water trackers!)

So now I have pre-printed bullet journal pages. I feel like a bit of an imposter, seeing that I'm not laboriously drawing each of these grids by hand on dot-grid paper. But, on the other hand, I'm tracking habits and making lists, and I'm staying organized in a way that works for me. The bullet journal system is adaptable, remember? Do what works for you.

1 comment:

Yinti said...

I really like this concept. As someone who is constantly forgetting things, and can't well recall my activities in a week as I'm so busy. This seems like a efficient way to just log your life. You could go further and make graphs on water in take and exercise habits to really see if you're sticking to that new years resolution or whatever. (We all know when we've compromised that though.)