I’ve been wanting to write this up for awhile and finally just decided to do it.
I heard about the Bullet Journal method of planning/life tracking/journaling via someone in the library circle I follow on Twitter (I suspect it was either Sophie Brookover or Kelly Jensen, but I’m not 100% sure). It sounded intriguing, so I tried it last year for my work plans & tracking and this year have started to use it for both personal and work stuff. However, I haven’t used it in exactly the way the original Bullet Journal method works and, even though there are a thousand different ways to adapt it, I wanted to write up my own.
I use the journals a little differently for work and personal stuff, so I’m going to talk about both.
Here’s the cover of my personal notebook. I bought both for about $3.99 each at CVS. I mention this because a lot of times bullet journal people put a big emphasis on getting really high quality notebooks and pens. And that’s great if that’s your thing, but it’s definitely not an actual requirement. Personally, I’ve found that I strongly prefer spiral-bound notebooks, because they’re easier to deal with in the places & situations I tend to use them.
I also really like the pockets in the front of these notebooks. Bullet journaling aims to cut down on an accumulation of little pieces of paper, but some amount is pretty unavoidable (at least for me) so I really like having a contained place to keep them all.
And here’s the planning page for January. I really need to have an overview of the month so I can keep my goals in mind. I also am trying to do better at tracking people’s birthdays this year, so I made sure to put that as one of the planning things I should be aware of. This is very different from the way the original bullet journal method lays out monthly planning, but for me this contained version works much better.
And finally, what I wanted to talk about most, which is the way I’m setting up the actual pages. I mostly use this notebook as a to-do/planning list, as opposed to a journal. That’s just how I’ve found myself using it. The pages of this notebook are large enough that I wanted to do two columns, fitting four days per page. So I am only allowed to use 14 lines per day. This actually helps me a lot, because it forces me to consider what I need to get done, as opposed to writing down everything I’ve ever thought of and getting bogged down in long lists.
At the end of the year last year, I started experimenting with using stars to show priority items. For personal stuff, I let myself have ten stars per day. These are the things I most need and/or want to get done. I try to make sure that, as well as the necessary adulting, there are a few fun or more creative items starred. If I finish an item completely for the day, I check the box and cross it off, and if I work on it without completing it, I just check the box. This is a departure from the bullet method; I just find crossing things off way too satisfying to give up. If I complete a starred item, I then add a star to the day and date. This lets me track how many of my priority items I’m getting done in any given day/week. Also, honestly, I find it fairly motivating. I think the origins for this came from Erin Bow’s sticker method for writing, but I’ve found it very effective for everyday stuff too. It’s also helpful if I’m having a particularly rough day: so after I get five stars done, I get a piece of chocolate or something. I am totally not above bribing myself into good behavior.
Sometimes I have, to borrow a term, stretch goals. These are things I hope to get done if I get another goal done . If the original goal was starred, I give myself a star for the stretch goal as well. I usually write these on the same line, so it’s clear what’s going on.
Most of what I do with this notebook is exactly the same as for my personal one, above. However, there are a couple of differences. First, when it comes to the index page (above), I make sure to star important pages which I’ll need to come back to. For instance, since a lot of my job involves planning programs and displays, I have both of those pages starred for quick reference. I’ve seen people use colored tabs to mark these pages too, but I found that personally I couldn’t remember what was what and always spent too much time trying to find what I was looking for.
Second, unlike my personal notebook, I let each day fill as many lines as it needs to. Some days, like the 12th, I have a lot I need to get done, and other days, there isn’t as much that I need to focus on. But I still find starring priority items and having a limited number of stars to give out very helpful. Since I don’t have the set number of items, I usually do half as many stars as I have tasks, rounding up instead of down. So if I had 8 things on my list, 4 can be starred; if I have 9, 5 stars.
I’m not actually by nature a super-organized person, but I’ve found that this method work well for me. I’m sure I’ll tweak it from time to time as well–I like that it feels flexible enough to work in many different circumstances.