While I've always savored the potential between the covers of a fresh notebook, I've never quite been able to turn myself into a "planner person." Even the swankiest, most intuitive journals end up abandoned within weeks as I find myself bored with penning obligations I don't need to be reminded of, or when I discover that perhaps I don't love the layout as much as I thought I did upon purchase. But, from time to time, I'll find myself perusing the stationary section of a bookstore for entirely too long, flipping through blank pages and imagining the vast transformation my life will surely undergo if only I can find just the right journal.
I set out on exactly this quest in early January. Feeling hopeful in the glow of a new year and inspired from a holiday trip to Shanghai and Hong Kong, I once again decided it was time to find a planner to keep me organized and motivated. As a Millennial on the internet, I'd of course already long-since heard of the Bullet Journal craze, but I wasn't interested. It seemed like a lot of work and, with all the elaborate watercolor/calligraphy/hand-lettered #bujospo out there, Bullet Journals seemed better suited to those who are far more artistically inclined than I.
So, imagine my own surprise when I left the bookstore on an overcast, chilly winter's day with not just any notebook, but in fact the actual Leuchturm1917 Bullet Journal, three metallic pens for color-coding, and a little ruler to ensure straight lines.
Even more surprising is the fact that the calendar has just ticked over to June—halfway through the year, mind you—and not only am I still using my planner every day, I actually can't imagine not using it anymore. I'm fully hooked on this thing, and it really does help me keep track of what needs doing and how my goals are progressing.
Just typing "bullet journal layout" into Google yields 15 million results, which is insane. Like I mentioned, people get extremely elaborate with these pages. Because a Bullet Journal is essentially a blank notebook with dots instead of lines, it is 100% customizable. There are no dates, no prompts, no preset sections for appointments or to-do lists or reminders or anything that tends to come to mind when thinking of a traditional planner. You have to do all the work yourself. This felt overwhelming at first, but after enough browsing of ideas and strategies (shoutout to Little Coffee Fox, which is probably my favorite BuJo-related website), I was able to sketch out a template that I've tweaked here and there, and is now what I use pretty much every week.
At the top, I have the calendar week number and dates from Monday - Sunday. The left side is my day-to-day outline; this is where I'll write down fixed obligations like English classes I'm teaching, any appointments or meetings I might have, social engagements, if I have a writing deadline, if there's a public holiday, or if I'm going to be out of town. The right side is for everything else I want to keep an eye on. The 'to-do' box is, obviously, for things I need to take care of and I add to the list throughout the week as needed. 'Goals' is there mostly as a little reminder to myself for things I hope to achieve during the week; maybe a certain number of workouts or Instagram posts, or just the aim to write something with more depth than a tweet. 'Efforts' is to help me keep track of anything I do in the pursuit of new freelance income. Pitches, "just wanted to reach out!" emails, that kind of thing. 'Blog' is where I'll jot down post ideas, or if there's something I've been meaning to research or otherwise tackle on the back-end of the website. 'Upcoming' is for whatever is happening in the near future that I've either learned of this week, like a schedule change with an English student, or something that I otherwise need to keep in mind when I go to sketch the following week's layout.
(I draw my template with blue metallic ink and I'll generally use pencil to fill in the rest. Super-exciting things, like travel plans or the completion of something I've been working on for a while, might be written or circled in green. I may also mark a major cancellation or a public holiday in red just so I can see at a glance that something is different.)
The little chart-looking piece at the bottom of the right page is my habit tracker. Each day I'll make an X with either a red or green pen to indicate whether I've done whatever it is I'm tracking. Currently, my categories are stretching, 10,000 steps, instagram, workouts, and writing. This is just a fun, visual way to keep track of things that are important to me to keep up with. The more green Xs, the better!
Whenever I feel like jotting down thoughts or impressions about something, I'll just turn the page and start writing. I don't worry about keeping anything perfectly symmetrical or getting disorderly from one page to the next—and I think this is what I find so agreeable about using a Bullet Journal as a planner. I can change my layout anytime I want, and I can make the next page anything I want. So yes, it's more work in that I do have to draw all these lines each week, but it takes me all of about 10 minutes. Bad handwriting? No problem. Ink bleeds as I'm drawing lines? Doesn't matter. Realize that I want to change a component of my layout? Cool, I can simply switch it up for next week.
So, has my life undergone a mystical transformation since I've finally managed to become a "planner person" after all? It actually kind of has. I'm more organized, which is important with #freelancelife and an ever-evolving schedule, and I'm more accountable to myself. I can look back through my weeks and see where I've either accomplished something or put it off, my ideas end up collected in mostly one place now so I rarely have to search through a haphazard legal pad or an errant phone app for something I scribbled down in a haste, and I have an ongoing record of what I've been up to, even if I'm not writing about it in a traditional "dear diary" sense.
The Bullet Journal has been the most effective method I've found for keeping my personal and professional life nicely organized and all in one place, without ever feeling like the overlap is illogical or inappropriate. It makes tasks like invoicing a lot easier because I can quickly skim through my weeks and not forget about anything out of the ordinary, such as a class substitution or a cancellation. Furthermore, because I actually use this thing and review it so frequently, nothing can sneak up on me. There's no "oops, I forgot about coffee with [insert friend here]" 30 minutes before I'm supposed to leave the apartment, or thinking that we have a free Saturday when we actually have an appointment for this or that. As soon as I learn about something that impacts my schedule, into the journal it goes.
For anyone who has already been a planner person or an active user of something like Google Calendar, most of this probably sounds like common sense. For someone like me, who tends to assume I'll remember important things and scribbles the rest down on whatever sheet of paper is closest and blankest, the Bullet Journal has been a revelation. I wanted my 2018 to be a bold year of action, of actually following through with my intentions and getting shit done. So far, so good, and I think I'd be remiss if I didn't give partial credit to this fancy new journaling strategy.