Process not Product: My BuJo Journey

Surprise! It’s a Sunday post. A couple weeks ago, I posted a picture of my bullet journal on Instagram, teasing an upcoming post, but I wanted to make sure I had something fresh to say on the subject. A lot of people bullet journal nowadays. It’s a fantastic way to track important dates and manage responsibilities. However, the process can be daunting for a newcomer. I spent years admiring bullet journals from afar. Pinterest made it easy: the site constantly bombarded me with images of beautifully maintained notebooks. When I searched for more information, I was sold on the concept. An agenda that was completely customizable to my wants and needs? Yes, please!

No sooner had I mentally committed to the process though, I became intimidated by the start-up. I didn’t do long-term planning. I maintained regular routines and had a pretty good memory for tasks that needed doing. More than that, the whole undertaking seemed like more responsibility on my already busy life. I didn’t want to commit to drawing new weekly spreads. I didn’t even really need a weekly spread! And there was no way my work would be as pretty as what I saw on Pinterest. Also, buying a new notebook? I already had dozens of empty notebooks that I never used.

I cycled through inspiration and repulsion for years before Sara, wonder woman that she is, reintroduced me to the idea last September. She had started keeping a bullet journal, and her process was much more streamlined. A notebook, a pen, and an emphasis on simplicity: her BuJo had everything that I wanted but couldn’t find online. Within a matter of days, I had picked one of my empty notebooks and started my bullet journey, and I have stuck to it ever since.

Bullet journaling is a system of tracking events, appointments, and tasks; it’s a way to increase productivity and meet goals. That it’s completely customizable adds to its appeal. The bullet journal can be as dressed up as the spreads on Pinterest or as dressed down as you see fit.

My own has gone through a dramatic shift in the past couple months. What started as a simple collection of lists has actually come to include monthly and weekly spreads as well as short dailies. But what I want to make clear is that as pretty as my journal has become, it’s only because of all the learning I’ve done along the way. I’ve made a lot of mistakes, abandoned tonnes of spreads, and wasted pages; I’ve hated some things and loved others. Rather than start from where my bujo is now, I thought it was important to show the transformation, to emphasize the bullet journal as a process instead of a final product.

Humble Origins

My first bullet journal was in a discounted notebook I had lying around. I didn’t want to invest in an expensive, dot grid book right off the hop. I am notoriously bad at keeping up with an agenda. More importantly, I have a bad habit of investing in beautiful notebooks and being too afraid to make mistakes in them. I wanted to know bullet journaling worked before making any big purchases.

The best introductory info for bullet journaling is from Ryder Carroll and is offered on the Bullet Journal’s official website. I followed along with the video on the site and started with three spreads: a future log to track the remaining months of 2017, a series of weekly to-do lists, and finally, a comic book release schedule (yes, I am that #nerd). Tracking my comic books was actually the most useful spread in my bullet journal. Equally helpful was drawing up my weeklies in advance; many bullet journalers will create them as they go, but I knew, starting out, that I would never keep up if I did it that way. I also didn’t bother with any kind of daily tracker, instead leaving my weeks open as a series of to-do lists. As time went on, I did experiment with different spreads (as seen with my Reading List and Habit Tracker).

My first future log that covered the remaining months of 2017. I knew planning further in advance would set me up for failure.
What passed for a weekly spread, which ended up being a list of open tasks and the occasional event.
A comic book release schedule was and still is the most useful spread in my journals.
My first experiment with a Reading List: 50 pages into my journal and basically the same format as my weeklies. Notice Michael Chabon’s Moonglow. It didn’t get off my reading list till January. 
An early version of a habit tracker. I didn’t get a chance to use this as I moved into my Leuchtturm by the end of September.

The great thing about using a plain notebook was the lack of page numbers. If something didn’t work or if I made major mistakes, I simply ripped out the page and started fresh on the next one. I didn’t number any pages in my index until I was sure they were pages I was going to keep. Making mistakes is a necessary part of the learning process, and trying things out, experimenting with them, is equally important. I learned a lot about what I did and did not want in a bullet journal from messing around. I learned that I am the sort of person who benefits from a monthly calendar, but that tracking my progress through a television series or charting movies that I want to watch is pointless for me. Making mistakes and trying new things helped clarify what was important.

Moving into the Leuchtturm

I finally made the leap into what has become a standard notebook for bullet journalers, the Leuchtturm 1917, in late September after several weeks of successful journaling. By then, I had a pretty good idea about what was working and what wasn’t in my original bullet journal, which made it fairly easy to organize my new journal. I kept the short future log and my comic book release schedule (of course), but I added some boxes to track day-specific appointments, events, or tasks.

My experiments continued: basically until page 100 in my Leuchtturm, you can see evidence of a number of different collections including habit trackers (which I liked), Level 10 Life (which I didn’t), reading lists (LOVE), and diaries (still in development). By the time November rolled around, I was getting bored of my pre-made weekly charts; I ended up abandoning these in December and now draw every week fresh in my bujo. This is to accommodate daily logs that vary in length. I also added monthly spreads, finding I enjoyed having an overview of events and appointments.

My new 2018 Future Log, this time tracking a full 12 months of the year. Obviously, I’ve upped my game since the humble days of a pen and notebook in four months of making an absolute mess of my journal.
Calendar and month-at-a-glance, both spreads I never thought I would have a use for and now find indispensable. February’s set-up was similar.
The transition between my open weekly spread and the addition of boxes to track days along the side. This eventually expanded into my current weekly spread.
My updated Reading List and Habit Tracker, formats I currently maintain. As you can see, I was STILL working my way through Michael Chabon’s Moonglow. So much for productivity, huh?
My experiments with short daily journal entries. I need a layout that is a little more chaotic and free-wheeling, but I find the day-specific boxes to track appointments utterly necessary.

You can also see that I’ve gotten into the habit of decorating my bullet journal. I’m not artist, but I will use pictures, stickers, brush pens, and washi tape. I am currently experimenting with specific colour themes from month to month, but I’m fairly lax with these. Bullet journaling isn’t supposed to be an art project or an additional responsibility; it’s supposed to help you manage responsibilities.

Going Forward

My monthly set-up now consists of:

  • Monthly calendar
  • Month-at-a-glance
  • Collections for what I’m reading and writing
  • Pragmatic Beauty Posts
  • Habit Tracker
  • Expense Tracker
  • Comic book releases

I do a weekly spread for appointments and time-sensitive tasks followed by a series of short daily logs, usually around 3 bullet points each. I maintain separate journals for longer reflections, fiction, and other writing.

I like my Leuchtturm, but I’m planning on moving into a Scribbles That Matter dot notebook next. I’ve also heard that Dingbats makes a great bullet journal notebook; so long as I keep up the process, I’m sure I’ll try that one too.

Helpful Advice for Beginners

  1. Don’t invest in an expensive notebook right off the bat. Use an inexpensive lined notebook to get used to the process before choosing a more specialized option.
  2. In the words of Ms. Frizzle, “Take chances! Make mistakes! Get messy!” Creating a bullet journal that works for you means finding what works, and you don’t do that without trying new things. Don’t be afraid to muck things up.
  3. On that same token, treat your bullet journal is a living document. The spreads and layouts can change according to your needs, your schedule.
  4. Start small. Three to five spreads, layouts, or collections at most. Any more and the whole process of bullet journaling will become burdensome. You can always add more as you go along.
  5. Bullet journaling manages responsibilities; it should not become an additional responsibility in and of itself.

I’m thinking about making Bullet Journal posts a regular series. I know Sara’s set-up is VERY different from mine, and I think the contrast would be fun to explore. Do you bullet journal? What are some ways you stay on top of your busy life?


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