bullet journal update

Back in April, I blogged about starting a bullet journal and as 2016 comes to and end, I thought it was time to reflect and update on my personal experience.

Bullet journal past…

To setup my thoughts, I wanted to mention that I knew of the bullet journal system well before this year, but I never looked into it enough to actually try. I was so overwhelmed with regular life that I pretty much rejected anything new. I think also because I’ve always had creative art journals, I didn’t think the bullet journaling system was that special. I used journals as art sketchbooks, but I also regularly wrote notes in them as well. So, previously I sort of scoffed at having to learn a new system of sorts.

However, earlier this year I recognized the need for more organization and planning in my life, both on the work and personal fronts. Although I loved my sketchbooks, I found myself starting multiple journals in attempts to categorize “types” of information or projects and it really just became overwhelming. Suddenly the thought of “one book to rule it all” seemed awesome.

Bullet journaling beginnings…

Suffice to say, I started bullet journaling in the simplest way possible. Old lined paper notebook that I actually started using upside down and backwards (talk about starting off with a bump!). After a month, I actually switched to a smaller lined notebook I had lying around, because the larger size was just too unwieldy.

bullet journal sizes

I decided to start barebones and not incorporate anything art related, so keep it simple. I would love to be able to report that I had a life transformation after starting to use a bullet journal, but instead I have some downers and tough love to report instead.

Bullet journal difficulties…

I have to admit that there are huge gaps in my bullet journals. New habits are not easy for me and I often fall off the bandwagon. I would start out a week or month with the best intentions, but then life would take over and I would forget to write things down. I also got sick at one point and literally did not touch my journal at all. Finally, I went on a long vacation overseas in August, so I was thrown out of all routines. I simply could not develop the proper habit of planning regularly.

Despite those difficulties, I did try to get back into it once I returned from vacation in September. As I tried to get organized again, I was momentarily seduced by other planner systems. Honestly, I was probably seduced by pretty planners that were just cute and attractive, rather than any other kind of “system.” I wanted to believe maybe I just need a prettier planner to make it all work out.

Thankfully, I shut that thought out of my mind as quickly as possible, because I realized that it wasn’t the planner or paper or pens that was really the problem. It was just me, not putting enough time and effort into actually experimenting what works best for me. Whatever type of planner I use, I knew that I would still need to pick up the habit of planning intentionally!

Bullet journaling really won’t work for you if you don’t actually bullet journal. Duh!

So I knew I had to give it a better shot. In my case, I chose to continue with bullet journaling because it’s a flexible system that can be done with any type of notebook, rather than a specific product. I was also attracted to the possibility of creative doodles (once I get the hang of it) – so there’s room to make it look even more pleasant as well. I wanted to give it my best shot.

After restarting and diving back into my bullet journal, I tried a different size and even various printable planner pages to capture information. However, I came upon another difficulty. Since I was just starting and had too many things on my mind, I started creating HUGE lists of tasks. Ideas, tasks, nice to dos… whatever you want to call them, I went a bit crazy and listed too much. I think the issue was that I was doing brain dumps out into my daily log and having to migrate repeatedly. Obviously, that is why you are supposed to put future ideas into a future log or create a collection.

A to-do task is small and specific, the opposite of listing a cool project idea.

Suffice to say I had a hard time splitting up all the mental baggage that came rushing out and my bullet journal was fast becoming a list of doom and gloom. So another lesson was to keep dailies with the most urgent items and to create specific collections to capture brain dumps and list that would be addressed at a later date. I also tried to brain dump outside my bullet journal, so I could access the items, organize and transfer only what made sense after a bit of curation. You can check out my free printable winter stationery here that’s nice for a brain dump!

It might seem obvious that I should have dealt with issues like this from the start, but I just didn’t have that clarity to begin with. When first starting out, it’s like the list of decades came out of my brain… yikes! I’m also the classic type of person who loves to start projects and has a million spark of ideas… but then the sparks might fizzle and multiple projects just bog me down over time. I run myself to the ground, I suppose. I’m still learning to push things out into the future or to log them as a collection of ideas, not “to-do now” tasks.

bullet journal page

Collections is a way to group information, so your mind doesn’t explode.

I still need to get used to the fact that my bullet journal will have all kinds of information in it and sometimes there will be no “category” to the freestyle thoughts that come out of my head. Of course, that is the point of the table of contents, to sort of track things, so you can reference over time. However, I haven’t had much luck in keeping a contents page or future log. Maybe I’m just not there yet…

The great thing about bullet journaling is that there’s amazing flexibility to create whatever you personally need, in terms of tracking and planning. And it’s also almost always expected that your own personal use of the system will evolve over time. I finally realized why people change the way their spreads might look from month to month or might incorporate something new over time.

It totally makes sense that the notebook grows and changes accordingly to your needs as you use it.

I used to think of planning as a chore, but I had failed to realize that it’s part of the point. Taking the time to plan, means you are forced to slow down and intentionally organize your life. Nothing comes without effort, right?

You take stock of what you have done and where you have been, so you can plan what you want to get done and where you want to be in the future.

Another difficult I had was keeping my journal at arms length. It usually sits on my desk, but that means often personal elements are not easily recorded because I have to run upstairs to my desk… or when ideas strike, I’m tempted to scribble elsewhere instead of my journal. Maybe someone needs to invent a bullet journal hip strap? I’m horrible at keeping things with me 24/7 – I don’t do that with my phone either. Maybe I’m just old fashioned!

So I’m still in the process of figuring out what works for me and constantly evolving… but I’m definitely still keeping at my bullet journal. I know that I need to experiment with more possibilities to really refine my own way of using the journal. Thankfully there is a huge bullet journal community, with so many different ideas to try and folks who are happy to help resolve issues. I really like this video by Boho Berry answering questions about bullet journaling – many questions I had as well!

I hope that sharing my experience will help to encourage you to give bullet journaling or really, any kind of planning or system – a well concerted effort before throwing in the towel. It’s only for your own benefit to take a long hard look at the reality of the situation. Because there’s no other way to know if something will be effective until you try it wholeheartedly. I will be sharing my 2017 setup soon! How has your bullet journal experience been?

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