In December of 2016, I started getting into bullet journal videos on YouTube. Back then, I thought it wasn’t ‘for me’, so I just enjoyed the videos and went on with my day. To me, bullet journaling seemed more like creative procrastination than productive planning.
I wasn’t really into the hand lettering, collages, washi tapes, and drawing that I saw other people do in their bujos, and I think a lot of people still believe this misconception that that is what bullet journaling is. Sure, for some people it is largely about washi tape and hand lettering, but there are plenty of people who prefer the simplistic style that the creator of the bullet journal, Ryder Carroll, uses. They call them ‘minimalist(ic) bullet journals’, if you want to know what to search for.
In the video below, Ryder Carroll explains the basic bullet journal system:
So, it was December: time to buy a new planner for the upcoming year. I was curious about trying out a bullet journal but didn’t feel ready for it yet. So I bought the usual: a black softcover weekly Moleskine planner.
In January of 2017, I was starting to regret that decision. The more journaling videos I watched, the more excited I got about starting a bullet journal.
I didn’t want to buy an entirely new journal and let that brand new Moleskine planner go to waste, so I decided to just try out ‘bullet journaling’ in my weekly planner. If I ended up liking it, I’d do it properly the next year.
Looking back, I think this way of journaling can work very well for some people. If you don’t have the time or energy to make every page layout yourself, but still want to try out some bullet journal techniques or implement a daily journaling habit, this could be the way to do it.
I took the basic bullet journal system and modified it to what I needed it to be. I needed weekly tasks (because spoon levels are unpredictable), short sections for daily journaling, and a pre-made layout. In my next journal I will do things differently, but for 2017, this worked.
An important part of my journal is memory-keeping. I have a terrible memory (which is why I document my life on YouTube), and I want to remember when I did certain things. So instead of using it as a planner, per se, I used it more as a journal. Each day has a box where you’re supposed to write what you have planned for that day, but instead I wrote what I ended up doing.
I wrote down how I felt mentally and physically (I eventually also started documenting this in monthly trackers), what I did/accomplished, and if possible, something good about the day.
In the Moleskine planner, the page on the right is meant for notes. I wrote down mostly lists. The note section of week 1 consisted of a list of new year’s resolutions, some quotes, and a packing list for a few days away.
In week 2, I started writing goals for the week. ‘Start working on a video’, ‘vacuum my bedroom’, ‘pick up medication’, anything I needed done.
In week 10, I split the to-do list up into two lists: weekly to-dos (the same every week), and weekly goals (things I needed to get done that week). Weekly to-dos were things like ‘charge Fitbit’, ‘wash hair’, and ‘water plants’: those repeated every week.
Other goals were things like ‘re-pot plants’, ‘return library book’, and ‘buy dog toothbrush’.
Health and habit trackers
February: My first tracker was easy to make because the month is so short, meaning I had space on the left to write out the habit in its entirety. I didn’t think about the fact that the next month would be two days longer, and the writing would no longer fit.
So from March onwards, I started color-coding with rainbow colors. It wasn’t ideal but it worked well enough.
June: I added a mood tracker at the bottom. This made it easier to make connections between my mood and stress-levels (in red).
Ignore the awkwardly drawn ‘rose’. It’s terrible, I know. I was trying to copy some girl who can actually draw.
September: As you can see in the picture below, I fucked up and forgot to write two dates. When I started writing down the habits, I was confused why it suddenly fit again for the first time since February… It took me half a month to finally see it! This frustrated me so much that I just stopped tracking for the rest of the month. Oh well.
In September I also started tracking more health stuff. It’s important for me to know how often I take certain medications, how often I have stomach pain, and how sensory overload affects my physical health. I can use this information later to make health decisions (like quitting a certain medication), or to realize things (like figuring out I get frequent nosebleeds the week before my period).
November: I tried out weekly habit trackers for the entire month of November. The year was nearly over and I wanted to know how I was going to track my habits and health in my ‘proper’ bullet journal, so I had to at least give it a try.
Remembering to fill it in was easier, but analyzing how I did that week didn’t work since you don’t have a big enough overview to make connections between moods & habits. I also didn’t see a way to include a health tracker without sacrificing much-needed space for my to-do list. So, back to monthly trackers it is!
Lists & journaling
I wrote lists about all kinds of stuff, some more useful than others. I made a list of service dog tasks for the puppy I was training at the time, my dreams for the future, all the different types of therapy and treatment I could still try before giving up, the weekly chores I was able to do at the time, things to look for at flea markets, cat names…
I wrote down an entire chat conversation I’d had with a friend where we talked about goldfish and made some really funny jokes. It was something I wanted to remember.
I wrote down dreams I’d had, funny things my friends had said, what I had for dinner, the movies I watched.
I wrote down G-schema’s, a technique I learned to do in cognitive behavioral therapy years ago. It is essentially a report of a difficult and/or stressful situation, where you write down: the situation, your thoughts on it, your feelings on it, what you meant to happen, and what ended up happening. I hadn’t used the technique in ages because there hadn’t been many conflict situations, but I really needed it in the first few months of 2017.
• Limited writing space: Having a limited amount of space for daily journaling helped me write at least something most days. I knew I didn’t have to fill an entire page, I just needed to write down the highlights. That makes it doable even on low-spoon days.
• Movie watchlist: I made a list of movies I desperately wanted to see in 2017, and seeing this list every now and then when flipping through my journal kept me focused. I watched 8 out of 12 movies on the list, so I still have some to move over to next year’s watchlist but I think I did okay!
• YouTube upload checklist: When uploading a new Document Your Life video, I sometimes forget a step or two in the editing & uploading process. It’s usually things like color correction or adding annotations to the end screen. I made myself a handy checklist to follow when working on a video.
• Monthly habit trackers: Having tried both, monthly trackers work better for me than weekly ones. Weekly can be easier to fill in because it’s always right there — you can’t forget. The most important thing about trackers is that it makes it easier to make connections about your habits, so you can actually change your behavior based on what you’ve learned from your tracker. With a monthly overview, it’s much easier to spot these things.
Keeping note of when I had a nosebleed (and which nostril it came from, and how heavy it was) helped me figure out that I have this something super weird thing called vicarious menstruation. It’s like a handy notification from my body that I need to get my contraceptive injection (to help lessen PMDD symptoms) soon.
What didn’t work?
• Not enough empty space: I didn’t have enough space for collections like a movie watchlist, notes on a specific topic, the future log, a master task list… I had to write all of these things over the pre-made ‘monthly calendar view’ and ‘dialling codes’ pages in the Moleskine planner, which makes it look messy and chaotic.
• Plant log: I had a hard time watering my plants on time so I thought making a plant log would help. It had the name of the plant + the nickname I gave it, how much sun and water it needed, and how often to water it.
What did work was that this page gave me the idea to group my plants into four groups: daily watering (recently propagated plant babies), weekly watering (big leafy plants), bi-weekly watering (succulents), monthly watering (cactuses).
I then added repeating events to the calendar on my phone to remind me to water a certain group of plants, always on a Monday so I wouldn’t forget. So far it’s going well!
• Being creative: I tried being as creative as I saw other people being with their journals, but I’ve decided that simple fits me better. I’m not great at drawing and most other ‘decorations’ just make the whole thing messy and chaotic.
I am going to keep taping ticket stubs in my journal, though!
I already have a yellow Leuchtturm1917 journal ready for next year’s bullet journal adventure — properly this time.