As I mentioned in a couple of previous posts (and on Instagram), I have ventured into the realm of bullet journaling. As the name suggests, it has to do with bullets and with journaling and it is – in short – a customizable planner system. If you have no idea what I am talking about, I suggest you take a quick look here for a quick introduction, before you read any further. I assume though that most of you have heard of bullet journals by now.
I am not new to planners and journals. I’ve been using paper planners for forever, but this year, I had the itch to try something new (and I also didn’t want to shell out the money for an expensive planner, to be quite honest). I was looking for something more “engaging”, because I realized that I often wrote the same things into my old planner every week (meals, workouts, occasional appointments), but didn’t feel like I was getting the use out of it that I wanted to.
So, I set out to find a planner that was more “customizable” to my needs, and which would help me to focus on planning, but also encourage more journaling, tracking, and creativity, all in one space. I want it to be a planner, a journal, and a creative outlet all in one.
I’ve used some sort of paper planner ever since I can remember. Definitely starting in High School. Early on, I used to buy cheap planners (or even got the promotional planners that companies would give out for free) and then spruce them up with photos and other decorations. My planners always functioned as hybrids – part planner, part journal and somewhere in my parents’ basement should be (I hope!) a bunch of old planners with tons of sentimental value. As with lots of other things growing up, time consuming things like journaling became less of a habit (and also partly replaced by my blog) and list-making (to stay on top of all the demands of adult life) became more important. Still, I still continued to make planners part planner, part journal for keeping memories.
I had Erin Condren Life Planners for a few years when they were all the hype, then I switched to Inkwell Press Planners in 2015. I blogged about them here and here. At the end of last year though, I realized with a bit of a shock that I often wouldn’t even bother writing things down, which made me sad (and alarmed me a bit, if you want me to be a little dramatic). My work doesn’t require a lot of organizing and list making, and we use a (shared) Google calendar for meetings, but not using a paper planner for my personal life? That was out of the question. If I was honest, I just didn’t dedicate as much time to it as I used to, and I wanted to change that.
Bullet journaling is not new. I heard about it quite a while ago and I originally thought that the system was intriguing, but too “simplistic” for me. It seemed more like a system to keep track of to-do lists, but nothing more. If you look at the original bullet journal website (and watch the introductory video), it says, all you need is an empty notebook and a pen and then organize your year, months, weeks, and days by creating a list of tasks, events, and notes.
I was confused by the symbols (which I didn’t seem to be able to memorize) and it just didn’t seem like a good fit for me. I wanted something more engaging, and to be honest, something prettier than just a list in a notebook. Of course, other more artistic people took the bullet journal approach and ran with it. And this is where the bullet journal system recaptured my attention.
So, I spent some time searching the Internet for more information. I searched the hashtag #bulletjournal (or #BuJo, as it is often referred to in planner circles) on Instagram, which is where surprisingly, I did not find the simple text version that was envisioned by founder, Ryder Carroll, but a wide variety of layouts and styles.
Rachel Wilkerson Miller, senior lifestyle editor at Buzzfeed, jumped on the bullet journal train early on and coined the phrase ‘dot journaling’ for the more elaborate, diary-style layouts. She then wrote a book about it: Dot Journaling: A Practical Guide. I think she was trying to separate bullet journaling in its pure form from the ‘planner-to-do-list-diary’ hybrid that it has evolved into by renaming the approach, but so far it seems as if most people still refer to both methods – the minimalist and elaborate layouts – as bullet journaling.
According to Rachel, bullet journaling is good for …
- People who have a million little to-do lists floating around
- People who like pen and paper to-do lists
- People who are into goal-setting and habit tracking
- People who like stationery, journaling, scrapbooking, beautiful pens, etc.
- People who really love planners
- People who want to really love planners, or who want to be more organized
- People who would really like to keep a journal/diary but are having trouble sticking with the habit
… and I realized, I am all these people!
Well, let’s just say: I went down the rabbit hole browsing that hashtag and the artsy layouts instantly spoke to my creative heart. Although,
I think I am pretty sure that my personal bullet journal will probably fall somewhere in the middle between the bullet and the dot journal: a more minimalistic-leaning version with a bit of embellishment here and there. This really is the beauty of this planning system. It can be anything to anyone. There is no right or wrong way to do this. And I know that I need something that is functional, but will also keep me enganged creatively.
I like aesthetically eye-pleasing planner designs, hence my previous use of the Inkwell Press Planner, but I also wanted to have more space and freedom when it came to using the planner, so the idea of a completely handwritten, hand-drawn journal was appealing to me on many levels. I also wanted a notebook that I could pick up at any time and jot down everything I wanted to remember: things to do, notes, blog ideas, thoughts, and obversations. The bullet journal seems to combine both.
It allows you to use its pages as you go, instead of a pre-printed planner that has the whole year layed out for you, and it encourages to write down anything that comes to your mind on the next free page (or pages!) of your journal, regardless of what page came before it. You have all the space that you need to put down your thoughts (and then you just note the page in your index at the front of the notebook, so you can easily find it again later).
On a side note, one of my complaints about other planners often was that I felt like I couldn’t write everything down that I might have wanted to write down, because the pre-printed space wouldn’t support my rather large handwriting or there was not enough extra space to get creative. As I said earlier, I want to be more engaged with my planner and in my bullet journal, I can use as much space as I want, because there is always another empty page waiting for me. I can throw in some journal entries, scrapbooking pages, book or craft project lists, or anything else I deem worthy of writing down.
I will probably share some of my other layouts at some point. I am still in the “setting up and trying out” -phase and I am keeping it fairly simple for now. One thing I read over and over again was to keep it simple and not overthink your layouts, especially at the beginning. Once you get the hang of how things work and when you figure out what kind of layouts/spreads will work – or not work – for you, you can start getting more creative (if you wish). I’ve been told that spreads will likely change over time, either due to boredom or out of necessity (and I consider this a good thing).
That is one of the things I am expecting to really love about bullet journaling: the flexibility to adapt and change my spreads as needed. Not every month looks the same, so why should your bullet journal layout? Give yourself permission to change your approach and your layouts as needed and let go of your perfectionism (hard one for me!) and embrace that your bullet journal will likely change with the times. It’s a good thing (or so I heard).
If you want to get an idea of how things might go right after you decide to start bullet journaling, this made me laugh (plugged from Rachel’s Buzzfeed article linked above), because I was definitely a bit overwhelmed at the beginning. But fear not, it’s really not as complicated as it sounds. I am barely 6 weeks into this adventure and feel much more confident already. It’s really only as complicated as you yourself make it out to be.
If this post piqued your interest, there are a ton of resources out there (Instagram accounts, tons of blogs dedicated to bullet journaling, and YouTube videos with page-throughs and tutorials), so I won’t go into any more details here. Let’s just say: you can make a bullet journal into whatever you want it to be and that was the most intriguing part for me.
Some blogs I have been following (to name a few):
Phew. This got much longer than anticipated, so kudos to you if you made it all the way down here. If you have any questions for me, hit me up, although I think most questions have already been answered in all the helpful posts you’ll find about bullet – or dot – journaling online. If you also bullet journal, share your spreads with me! I am curious!
I’m planning to share some of my bullet journal supplies in a follow-up post, if you’re interested.