Something that may surprise you (given my erratic presence here) is that I actually love keeping journals. I still have, buried somewhere in a box in my basement, the first paper diary (with a lock on it!) that my 9-to-12-year-old self ever kept and to this day I find it extremely calming to have a paper spot to record my thoughts.
In support of this little nugget of trivia is the fact that when I was reading through my crash course in camping, the “camping trip log” that the author describes was one of the aspects of her adventures I found most attractive. Needless to say, I started a mini-camping-journal and… it didn’t take. My sketching abilities are not up to scratch, and just having a notebook full of packing lists wasn’t really what I wanted either. (Ahem; also: I don’t go camping all that often.)
With this in mind, it’s not too surprising that in May or June of this year, when I’d come across all the Bullet Journalling craziness happening on the internets, that I’d be curious to try. So I did. Below are my notes on how I used my adapted BuJo, what I learned from the experience, and how I would go forward with it, assuming I keep it up (spoiler: I totally intend to keep it up). One of the reasons this post has been so long in the writing is that journalling, like any habit that one might undertake, has a high incidence (for me, anyway) of being extremely well-adhered to for the first couple of weeks or so, but then tends to get left by the wayside. I wanted to test drive this for long enough that I could report back with actual, sustainable results. It having been a good 4+ months now, I feel confident in presenting my experience as An Actual Thing, Not Just A Flash-in-the-pan Trend Thing.
First up: what I journal for / my life pre-BuJo
This is important, because nearly everyone has a different reason to journal. I don’t do “morning pages”, or BuJo task lists, lists of books read or movies watched, or long, flowery accounts of daily life, etc. Realistically, I hadn’t kept a “notebook + pen” style journal for over a decade when I started this. Earlier this year, I felt that in my day-to-day life, I was just angry more often than I really should be. Among the changes I made to address the situation, was a desire to incorporate gratitude on a daily basis. Not entirely sure how to start with that, I bought myself The Five-Minute Journal and started scribbling away in April as a way to force myself to remember and focus on the (many!) good parts of my days. I found that while I loved the daily wrap-up with a focus on the good things, and most especially the morning exercise of building your day around things you can control and achieve, I felt cramped when summarizing my 3 “what made today awesome” items — 3 little lines for a girl with big hand-writing isn’t enough to get much detail in, and I wanted to really remember! To elaborate!
That’s pretty much where my intersection with the Bullet Journal happened.
What is a Bullet Journal?
If you’re going by the creator’s guidelines, this is a way to gather calendar events, to-do lists, notes, random brain dumps, etc. into one unified collection. This allows you to avoid losing track of something by scribbling on a scrap of paper, or burying it among several phone apps, emails, etc. It comes with a built-in review system to move important unfinished tasks forward so they don’t get lost or forgotten. It also relies heavily on an index which, I have to admit, I have referred to more times than I thought I would. Some journallers include monthly markers in their index, which I found strange. I colour-coded my months on the outside of the pages for easy reference, but really just kept index references for planning, note-taking and brain dump pages, myself.
When I first started reading through the methodology, I was actually a little amused to find that the BuJo method is basically a more codified version of what I do for my work stuff anyway (yes, with an actual paper notebook). Strange to think it had never occurred to me to apply it to my personal life.
So how do I use it?
As a devoted calendar addict, I don’t use my journal for meetings or events. As described above, my journal’s main purpose in the first few weeks was to record my “gratitude highlights”, and create a space for me to really document and cherish happy family moments. (July featured a visit from my cousin as well as a two-week visit to The Boy’s parents’, so there was plenty to write about in my journal’s inaugural month!)
As I poked around the BuJo community for layout ideas, etc., I noticed a lot of people talking about tracking their habits (or training new habits) which sounded like a great idea. Over the weeks, that has become one of my favourite monthly-view facets of the journal. It’s easy to remember how your past few days have gone… but how are you really doing in terms of building a habit into your day to day life? Enter the habit tracker.
When I started to build my journal’s structure in July, one of the ideas I blatantly stole from Kara (who is the extremely artistic rockstar of the “pretty BuJo” world) was the “Level 10 Life” analysis. 10 is a little overwhelming for me; I’m a Top 5 kind of girl, myself. So I chose 5 aspects of my life, evaluated how I felt I was doing in each of them, and then came up with actions to move my life closer to being 5/5. (If you’re wondering, my 5 aspects were Health & Well-being; Mindfulness & Contentedness; Relationships & Family; Work & Personal Growth; and Creative Output.)
Honestly, when I put this all down in July, none of the 5 scored higher than 3/5. In keeping with my compulsive adherence to the number 5, I thus came up with 5 daily habits to work on to support that score bump, as well as 5 “projects” to complete on a monthly basis. Those monthly goals focused heavily on the act of making, which I had been feeling a major drought in for several months and the result of creating a metric for myself surprised me a little.
What surprised me?
Just by giving myself a space to write out potential creative projects, as well as having a minor push to “make something” every month, my total creative output over the past four months has been amazing — I’ve made way more than one “something” every month, and have branched out past my normal knitting and sewing to do so. It’s invigorating and making my heart very happy.
Similarly, having “brain dump” pages in the journal has helped me to sort through my ideas and organize them, and knowing they’re written down somewhere keeps me coming back to refer to them, and actually build actions. One example of this would be finally building a “for real”, planned capsule wardrobe (future post on that) which includes “to make” items that will carry over into my post-pregnancy clothing. None of this is rocket science: as I said above, I do this all the time at work. The revelation was giving myself a chance to get organized on the creative side, and seeing the results materialize seemingly effortlessly. I love it.
One thing I had expected to use my journal for more was to take notes on ideas I came across: in books, in podcasts, in blog articles. In reality, I’ve only done it a couple times, but have found that I definitely do refer to them quite often. (Those that I refer to really often, I marked with washi tape or stiff post-its for easy reference.)
One thing I discovered only in this last month was that I don’t actually need a full page for each of my days. I had presumed that I needed all that space to truly document my “gratitude highlights” but in October, after doing some page-counting to see if my beloved Moleskine (bought on clearance!) would last till the end of 2016, I swapped to half-pages for a couple weeks to stretch out the diary. The conclusion? Giving myself a full page just results in bigger writing. The amount of content was pretty much the same on half a page (well, okay, fewer doodles). Good to know!
I had qualms at first about the list-form month view, where each day of the month gets one line, and your month is represented vertically on one page. Being a visual girl, I am pretty attached to the calendar-style view of a month. I tried using that “month list” in July to track a daily highlight or summary though, and colour-coded the really fantastic days and… it’s really nice to have a quick summary of the month to glance through with your banner days marked out! One more form of gratitude journaling, I guess.
Weekly planning, on the other hand, definitely required more space. I started using the weekly pages to track both my meal plans and what we actually ate — after years of failing to keep a “dinner diary” in the kitchen! — as well as a weekly “needs to get done” list. At one point, after getting frustrated with never feeling like our house was clean, I divvied up the cleaning tasks I felt I was failing at, across a two week schedule, assigning one task to each day, and just started putting them on my weekly planner. It’s not perfect, but has definitely restored a sense of control (and reduced the “eww”) in my house. Totally unexpected use for my journal, and I’m so glad I have it. The evolution of my weekly layout here:
So now what?
I am whole-heartedly onboard with this, especially with an impending baby-related leave on my horizon. I remember very well how rhythm-less and lost my early days with Starfish felt, so having a system in place to keep my days and weeks in some kind of order seems like an extremely good idea going into this next iteration. No matter how trivial and trite it seems, knowing what’s for dinner and that you’ve done one thing to keep your house clean, go a long way to creating peace of mind, at least for me.
In terms of actual notebooks, after watching so many videos, I am curious about the Leuchtturm 1917 books that the BuJo community seems so enamored with (oh, to have pre-numbered pages!), so I ordered myself one, along with an ink pen. I’ve gone through 3 Sharpie pens since July, and feel I should probably find a more sustainable workhorse. The notebook’s here (in sunny yellow! mostly so I can easily find it in a diaper bag…), and I’m still waiting on the pen. Interested to see if the paper will stand up to fountain pen ink!
Of course, if the pen doesn’t show up in time, at least I have the pen that Starfish apparently insisted be bought as a present for me on her latest shopping trip with Mémé. It is both heart-warming and slightly terrifying that my toddler is able to choose a gaudy, woobly, light-up pen which still falls within the fringe of what one might classify as “my style”. Hmm.
One thing I am also curious about is whether I will find the dotted grid helpful or limiting. To my surprise, I actually didn’t have much of a problem free-styling my headers/doodles/etc. on my Moleskine’s blank pages. I will be the first to admit my journal is definitely not the prettiest or even most decorated book you’ll find out there, but I still like having colourful date and weather doodles.
Expecting to see some evolution in my daily layout (with the additional of more detailed to-do lists) and probably some more planning pages in the year ahead, but I’m definitely wrapping up this year with the expectation that the Bullet Journal (such as I use it) will be accompanying me through 2017.