Once upon a time, I used to think Pinterest was the most dangerous social media-type site for me. For this reason, I actively avoided getting an account for as long as possible. Pinterest made this very difficult by limiting most access to their site for people not logged in. In the end, I was forced to create an account just so I could view the odd recipe or writing tip.
And that’s about all I’ve used Pinterest for. Turns out it’s not really my speed. No, my vice is Tumblr. Who woulda thunk? Turns out (though I’m sure by now this is not really a revelation) Tumblr is a wealth of self-improvement ideas. It’s a little dangerous for people like me, who get inspired by the notion of things more than their application.
Not long after joining, I stumbled across the Studyblr community. I don’t study if I can help it (hence my Sunday lessons being mostly seat-of-my-pants), but these blogs offered resources that benefited more than college and high school students. Wanting to be more productive and to learn to manage my time better, I followed a couple of Studyblrs for inspiration. Pretty quickly I noticed the largest trend in this group: bullet journals.
Of course, I had to try it. After all, 1) I love to-do and check lists (they are my downfall), 2) I jump at any excuse to buy a new notebook, and 3) they’re all so pretty.
As you’ve no doubt gathered, whenever I try something new, I go at it full-force. True to form, I dove into bullet journaling with optimism on high and common sense out for a stroll. I got a grid-style notebook (quickly determined to be much too large to be practical), some washi tape (fantastic and multi-functional), and some colored pens.
I lasted about a week before I lost track. That was back in October. In starts and fits, I’ve tried to adapt this productivity habit to my personal style. A couple of small Moleskine notebooks were added to my supplies, as well as more colored pens. While some bullet journalers include actual journal entries alongside their monthly or weekly to-do lists, I found it was easier to separate the two. I’ve been going strong for over a month and my optimism is returning.
I’ve played around with the format over the past month: keeping a writing and exercise tracker alongside my to-do lists; trying to track how I spend my time (I was too distracted to even begin this); one- versus two-page spreads; different
banners and other heading markers; different color schemes; and using a monthly and weekly overview.
Things I’ve learned*:
- Fill in daily to-do lists every day rather than at the beginning of the week. Last minute things tend to crop up, forcing me to rearrange plans like working in the garden, making quiche for my to-go breakfast, and making phone calls to set up appointments. Having a bunch of arrows all over the place denoting rescheduled items can get frustrating.
- Don’t give myself too much space to work with. When I spread out an entire week over two pages, I found myself micro-managing my to-do lists, which is not a good strategy for me. Some people work better with a play-by-play (e.g. buy ingredients, make dough, mix up quiche, pack quiche for breakfast) but I have learned that I work better keeping things a little more open and generalized.
- Keep things simple. I am envious of the people who go wild with their spread designs, incorporating banners and quotes and magazine clippings and doodles. While I may slowly work up to something like this, I don’t have the knack for it now. Also, my penmanship leaves much to be desired. For now, I’m sticking to simple headers and bullets. In addition to limiting stress, this approach allows me to spend the absolute minimum attention on my journal and thus have more time to procrastinate over the items contained therein.
- There are certain things which I cannot track. These include how I spend my time; my sleep schedule; what I eat; what I read; and my moods. Very organized people who are better attuned to their bodies can go wild with this stuff, but I have yet to learn how to be still long enough to decide what my mood is like. And I have Goodreads to track my reading.
And here’s what works best for me**:
- A single page for daily tasks. Any more and my to-do lists run rampant.
- A separate section for weekly goals that I have trouble tacking down to one day, such as scheduling future appointments and getting in so many days of exercise.
- Keeping color schemes to one or two coordinating colors, and keeping all of my indicator symbols in black. This makes everything easier to find and track, and makes the whole week easier to read at a glance. It’s also more aesthetically pleasing (because that’s really important, right?).
- Employing nothing more than daily to-do lists and perhaps a short weekly overview. Traditional bullet journals employ indexes, monthly overviews, log pages (where you can collect all information on specific topics, like future events), and even page numbers. Until I know I can consistently maintain a journal, period, I’ve opted out of using these tools.
- The dotted-style notebooks. Lined notebooks would work in a pinch, but aren’t suggested for this type of journaling. Some people use straight-up grid-style, but I had a hard time fitting my writing into the squares, and it was too industrial for me. The dotted pages are good for people who can’t draw straight lines but also want room to doodle. (My current journal is a Chapters Journal from Moleskine. It’s slim and lies flat when open.)
*See? I like lists.
*I really like lists.