If you’ve been following my blog for a while you may well know that I have always favoured electronic methods for note taking and organisation. Some of my earliest blog posts back in 2008 were about online calendars and task management apps I used to use on my iPod Touch. I’ve tried many different tools over the years, and for the last few years have been very happy with Omnifocus for task management, Google Calendar for my personal calendar (I have Microsoft Exchange for my work calendar), and Google Drive for note taking. It’s been a fairly easy system to use, and I haven’t had too many problems. However, of course, it relies on me accessing a device of some sort, and spending a lot of time in front of a screen. I’ve been finding that increasingly I don’t want to do that as much, especially outside of work. I’ve also recently been enjoying making handwritten notes (which I sometimes digitise aspects of). As I’ve started to experience an increase in the number of non-professional appointments and tasks I have (since moving areas we seem to actually have started to have a social life – shock horror!), I decided to try good old fashioned pen and paper* for organising things.
I started out by trying the Pirongs Lifestyle Journal.
This was very pretty and I quite liked the vertical layout as it works well with the fact I love lists. However, it was massive (A4 hardback) and didn’t seem to quite meet all my needs. I found I was keeping it in the home office so I wasn’t checking it that often and wasn’t using it regularly or reliably enough. As I was thinking about it more, I was reminded of the bullet journal. The bullet journal is an organiser that you design yourself in a blank notebook and adapt to your needs (I recommend watching the video from the bullet journal homepage if you’re interested in learning more – it’s a great introduction). Bullet journalling is something that had intrigued me for a while but sounded a bit too difficult for me at the time. However, armed with a new notebook and an hour or two in a hotel room, I numbered the pages of the notebook, created an index page and a future log, and started my bullet journal. Since then I’ve been doing it each day (about 6 weeks now) and have adapted things as I go. I upgraded to a medium (A5) sized Leuchtturm1917 dotted notebook that already has numbered pages and an index, and I’ve been using that for just over a month (spoiler alert: I love it!). I’ve discussed my experience a bit on Twitter and some people were interested in hearing more so here’s a brief overview of how I’m using my bullet journal at the moment.
I like to be able to see a yearly calendar at a glance, and like the grid format so I made one of those for the front of my bullet journal. I don’t use this that often but it is useful for seeing how many weeks away something is or what day of the week a date is. I keep mine as is and don’t add any key dates to this page.
I then have a page for each month where I list the dates and days of the week. I’ve done up to the end of December so far as I don’t tend to need to plan too far in advance so this is plenty. I use this to note any travel (e.g. conferences, meetings) or any events. This is helpful for me to see at a glance what things I have on and when.
I’ve actually found that I’m not referring back to this often so am thinking of experimenting with a slightly different approach (happy to share more information later so if you are interested in an update let me know!).
The main part of the bullet journal is the daily logs. This is where I write down any appointments, tasks I have due or things I want to do that day. I also choose to write down highlights of my day at the end of each day. Some people use the logs to jot down notes too, but I don’t currently do this. I include an icon for the weather which I’ve seen a few people do and I quite like as something more visual and I find it interesting to look back on. At the moment I’m in the process of slowly moving over everything, but my bullet journal initially started out as non-work tasks as I have Omnifocus for my work tasks, so this is mostly non-work tasks at present.
There are a few different versions of symbols people use in bullet journaling. This has developed over time and so I initially tried the official bullet journal way. I have to confess though that only lasted a few days as I found it too complex for me and I couldn’t easily see which tasks had been done and which still needed to be done. I think if I was using it to store notes and other types of information it could be useful, but for tasks I found it too much. I have decided to use the following icons (for now, this may change!):
- Clock symbol for appointments
- Open tick box for tasks to be completed
- Shaded tick box for completed tasks
- Crossed out line for removed tasks (those that are no longer relevant)
- Tick box with arrow for migrated tasks (those I’ve delayed but are still needing to be done)
- Heart icon for highlights of the day or things to be thankful for
Collections are used to describe any other notes, particularly lists. I have a number of these such as blog post ideas, books to read, TV to watch, monthly favourites (for my gluten free blog and my beauty blog) and packing lists. At the moment I add these in when I think I need a new one, but I imagine in future if this is something I continue I’ll be able to add most of these at the beginning. The beauty of the bullet journal though is that you can add these wherever as you’ll have them in your index to find more easily. This gives you an idea of the things I have in mine at the moment:
Something I added in April and am finding quite interesting is a habit tracker. I currently log my exercise via iDoneThis, but thought it might be something I could do in my bullet journal instead. I’m also trying to read more frequently and do more crafts, so I included those in the habit tracker. The other two columns for this month are to track if I completed my daily log in my bullet journal and if I tracked my food/exercise in MyFitnessPal. I recently added a column to tick if I’m in bed by 10.30pm as I’m slipping into bad habits with staying up late (I’m not doing so well at the moment you’ll see!). It seems to be working well so far, as both a motivator and as a visual way to see what I have done, so I think I’ll continue with this in some form in future. I may well change the columns each month if I want to motivate myself to develop new habits, and I’m planning to try a different layout next month.
You’ll see from my photos that my bullet journal isn’t the prettiest you’ll come across, and definitely not the most colourful. I did get out my coloured fine liners when I started my current bullet journal but I found this added another level of complexity and anxiety that I didn’t need. I don’t want it to be complicated so sticking to one colour is good for me 🙂 Some people love to add doodles and sketches and drawing and quotes, but for now I’m keeping mine nice and simple and focusing just on using it to help me organise things rather than as a scrapbook. I am getting quite fussy about the pen I use though and recently spent about an hour in a stationery store trying out all the pens (I have a pen test page at the back of my bullet journal now!). I’m left handed so smudging is always a potential issue. I also press on very hard when I write so bend or break fine liners easily, but I love the way they write. I love the Sharpie Pen in the first few photos but have bent the nib after a month! I’m now trying out the UniPin which is surviving so far but may well suffer a similar fate. If anyone has any recommendations for more robust fine liners I’d love to hear them!
My thoughts so far
I’m really enjoying the flexibility of the bullet journal and the fact I can adapt it to suit my needs. It’s helping me keep things organised and I am enjoying updating my bullet journal, particularly at the beginning and end of the day. I’m also really enjoying reading blog posts and watching videos to see how other people use their bullet journals and get new ideas I can adapt. I tried a weekly spread for the first time last week and have adapted that for this week, and I’m looking forward to trying some new things for next month (which may well actually involve scrapping the weekly spread but that’s the beauty of this system, you can just adapt it and see what works for you!).
I’m also looking at ways to integrate my existing practice into the bullet journal which I think will help me move my work tasks over. I use the GTD approach as it seems to work fairly well for me so I’m looking at ways to integrate that into my bullet journal. I have a few ideas but suggestions very welcome!
So there you have it, my bullet journal experience so far. If you use a bullet journal I’d love to hear your tips and advice too – is there anything you find really useful that I haven’t mentioned? I’d be happy to do an update once I’ve used it a little more to see if it sticks – let me know if there’s anything in particular you’d like to know more about.
* Actual pen and paper not a service called ‘Pen and paper’ that my partner though I meant when I was discussing it with him!