What I Learned From 2 Years of Bullet Journalling

I started my first bullet journal in the leap year of 2016 on February 29. I can’t remember why I started, but I had seen a few spreads online. In the beginning of 2016, I was still in university. The bullet journal looked like a great way for me to help organise my schooling and personal life. So over the last 2 years (and a bit!), I’ve learned a lot. I’d like to share this wisdom to anyone interested in starting a bullet journal!

Bullet journal changed constantly.

My bullet journal evolved from week to week and month to month. Not every layout I used for the week was useful for the next week. Though I’ve gotten into a bit of a pattern with my monthly spreads, there are still lots of differences each week and each month.

Notebook was key.

I started out my bullet journalling in a spiral-bound ruled notebook. The brand was one I loved using for taking notes in classes, as well as notes for my writing, so I had lots of them available to me! But I quickly found that the notebook limited the way I wanted to plan. The dotted notebooks were more appealing to me, both because of how much space was available and the range of designing I could do on the page.

Planning “style” relied on lifestyle.

The beginning of 2016 was one period of my life. I was in school and had a very busy schedule due to my semester. Fast forward to the fall of 2016, and my life changed again. 2017 was another entirely different year! The summers also had different planning styles compared to when I was in school, and the past year when I left school. I couldn’t use the same planning and layouts that I did for every point in my life.

Separate bullet journals.

For 2018, I moved my daily and time-sensitive planning into a Leuchtturm and kept my collections in my 2017 bullet journal. Unlike the original system by Ryder, I much prefer having an agenda separate from my project planner.


Tips for people starting a bullet journal

I’ve been planning using a bullet journal system for over 2 years now, without much break. I think the longest time I took away from my planner was maybe a month? A few weeks? My planner is vital to my lifestyle, especially my mental health. So I have some tips for beginners, whether they’ve been planning for a few months, or who are just starting a bullet journal!

Be picky about the notebook you use.

This will be a bit of trial and error, but also check out reviews for notebooks! I’ve tried 3 types of dotted notebooks: two from Productive Luddite’s Everyday Carry line (first impressions review and a follow-up review on the quality), a Scribbles That Matter notebook, and a Leuchtturm1917. My favourite so far is Scribbles That Matter, though I’m currently in a Leuchtturm. There are a few things I would advise you look into when picking a notebook:

  • ghosting (ink showing through the page)—consider the weight of the paper in “lb” or “gsm”;
  • bleeding (how easily ink smudges)—look at reviews online;
  • page style (dot grid, lined grid, blank, ruled); and
  • binding (perfect, spiral, whether it lies flat or not).
Be picky about what you design.

The layouts, spreads, collections, and designs you make are up to you. Rather than adding or copying everything suggested online, think about what you need. This will also be a bit of trial and error, since it’s hard to know what you use regularly until you start using it. But starting a bullet journal should be simple, rather than overflowing. Your bullet journal doesn’t need all the suggestions in order to be a bujo! So be picky about where you invest your time and ink.

Don’t force a layout that you aren’t using or enjoying.

Once you start trying designs, you’ll find ones that flow well and ones that don’t. Rather than forcing the layouts that don’t flow, review what isn’t working. For example… Is there not enough space to include all your tasks? Do you find yourself overloading your modules and putting too much on your plate? The layout size may not be right. losing sight of your goals and habits? A dutch door design may help by keeping a visual from day to day.

Try new things!

I know I said to not be picky and to also not force things, but the only way you’ll grow is to try different things. You can look up inspiration online, or doodle some plans for yourself. I like to do both. I have a Pinterest board for bullet journal inspiration! But I also doodle my own layout ideas. Additionally, you should try different supplies. I’ve used a variety of pens through my bujo time, as well as loads of washi tape and markers. You don’t need fancy or expensive pens, and you only need a few embellishments. They go a long way.


For the next year, I will use the bullet journal system. It’s served me incredibly well. And since there’s a 90% chance I’ll be returning to school this fall, it’ll be great to stay on top of my studies. If you’ve hesitated starting a bullet journal, I highly encourage you try!

May Monthly Bullet Journal Spreads

May Monthly Bullet Journal Spreads

I know what you’re thinking. “Coryl, another bullet journal blog post?” Yes. This time I’m sharing my monthly bullet journal spreads for May. I shared the weekly spreads in my post about ugly layouts, so this will be a short post! Also, look! Pretty pictures!

My planner is one of the core elements of my life. It helps me manage my work, writing, mental health, and physical wellbeing. I love sharing it and talking about how it affects each area of my life. My monthly bullet journal spreads for May ended up being prettier than my weekly ones. I found myself using the month layouts more than my failed weekly layouts.

May Monthly Bullet Journal Spreads

I tried to bring in more artistic and drawn elements, like what I did in April. But something was off. I didn’t doodle and colour as much as I thought I would. Even the splash page gemstone border stayed bland and uncoloured. I was trying so hard with the weekly layouts that I didn’t have the energy to put in effort for the monthly spreads.

My two-page mental health tracker is still the focal point of all my monthly planning. Since I have a chronic illness (hey bipolar!), seeing patterns in my health is more important than tracking habits. My overall wellbeing is more important than whether I washed my hair that day, or did my whole routine. Some aspects of my routine are affected by my mental illness and its symptoms. But I’d rather record my symptoms than the symptoms of the symptoms. Neglecting my hygiene is a symptom of my mental illness, for example, but it’s a sign of low energy and motivation. I’d rather track the broad symptoms that affect my life than the way my life is affected.

I tried to bring in mini-trackers for good habits and self-care, though! My calendar spreads are always a great place for me to experiment. So these monthly bullet journal spreads are a whole new thing for me. I tracked the weather, since I was aiming to be outside more. I didn’t have as large a section for my calendar and agenda as I did in April. That ended up being a bad decision. I was losing track of time-and-date-sensitive plans each week from the poorly planned weekly spreads! I’m glad I was able to review and be mindful of what wasn’t working, so I can plan better for June.

I didn’t showcase my goal spread for this month. That’s something I wanted to keep completely private. I’ll blur out information I don’t want to share, if it’s a few lines; but my goals for May aren’t something I want to share at all. I would have ended up posting a blurry notebook page!

These monthly bullet journal spreads aren’t the best. But that’s okay. June will be better, and I’m looking forward to it. I’ll be posting about my June spreads at the end of the month, so stay tuned for those pictures and reflection! I think they’ll be an improvement.


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My Ugly Bullet Journal Spreads

Sometimes the ugly things around us are a reflection of ugly things inside us. Next week, in my regular month review, I’ll talk more about how May has been a rough month for me. But I’m focusing on the bullet journal this time around because it’s one of those ~*~aesthetic~*~ things in life, and I wanted to share how the non-aesthetic results are just as important as the beautiful accomplishments. I also wanted to mention that, even though I don’t like the ugly spreads, I still appreciate them.

For my weekly layouts in May, I had anticipated on using a similar format to the ones I had used in March 2018 and April 2018. But for a few reasons, they turned out terrible.

Sometimes, my bullet journal gets neglected. If you want to compare, April’s layouts were beautiful. I put effort in them and really enjoyed planning my month. But for May, my weekly spreads didn’t jive with me. There was something off.

I know I like to show the best sides of my life, especially online. Why shouldn’t I? After all, if I’m proud of something, I should share it. If something is beautiful, I want to show it to others. There’s nothing wrong with putting the highlights on social media or my website. I don’t deny the ugly sides of my life, after all. (Like when my mental health gets bad and destructive; or how I experienced therapy in 2016; or reflecting on changes, conflicts, and regrets each month.)

So here’s some of my trashy bullet journal spreads! They’re incomplete, they’re filled with scribbles, and they’re failed attempts at keeping my life on track.

A spread created after half the week had gone by, with unfinished art…

 

A week with missed days of planning…

 

A layout with a time codex that just didn’t work at all in the small module size…

My favourite thing about the bullet journal is the customisation capabilities. It’s nice to have the creative outlet as well, but it’s times like now—when I’m looking back on May and preparing for June—where I’m grateful for this planning system’s lack of commitment. If I had a printed planner designed by a company, no matter how beautiful it is or how well it previously worked, I wouldn’t have the opportunity to change it up on a whim.

I’ll be noting all of these struggles in my monthly review, which is one of my favourite bullet journal hacks, next week! My planning for June will change for sure, since my issues with using my journal this month were present throughout the month. Sometimes I’ll miss a few days in a week, or a week doesn’t get designed as well as the rest. But those are non-issues compared to ugly bullet journal spreads week after week. They’re a sign that I’m using the wrong tactics, and I need to readjust what I’m doing. They’re also evident that my mental health isn’t condoning good planning.

Layouts like this remind me of times over the last 3 years when the same thing happened. But now, I’ve started to notice that it’s a sign that my mental health isn’t at its best. I use my planner to keep on track of my life. My mental illness affects all aspects of my life. The two go hand-in-hand, so I’ve become aware of when my planner reflects my health. My journal is another tool to stay mindful of my life. The ugly layouts and ugly moments are part of that.

April Bullet Journal Spreads

April Bullet Journal Spreads Weekly Monthly BuJo

In an attempt to bring spring into my life, I went hardcore with my April monthly bullet journal doodles. I haven’t gotten this artistic and drawn this much in my bullet journal before. The pops of colour in the flowers really brightened up my month for my spreads. The snow hasn’t completely melted where I live. I’m pretty desperate for florals and greenery!

Monthly bullet journal spreads

April Bullet Journal BuJo Spread Month Monthly Layout 01 Filled

As is my style, I have my bubble layout tracker, which I didn’t feel like photographing for this month. If you’ve seen any of my other posts with monthly bullet journal spreads, you’ve seen my tracker layout. It changes ever so slightly from month-to-month, but between my March monthly bullet journal spreads and April, they were basically identical.

April Bullet Journal BuJo Spread Month Monthly Layout 02 Fitness Calendar Tracker

I really wanted to focus on the flower drawings. Bullet journal doodles are outside of my normal journalling, after all. For some of the flowers, I used Planning Mindfully’s flower drawing tutorial to get started. I also used references from image searches and from a drawing book I own. Also against my normal journalling, I used pencil crayons (“colored pencils” to Americans, I think?) to colour the doodles. I typically use markers for my monthly bullet journal designs, trackers, and calendars. The pencil crayons made the monthly layout a bit softer, since I could blend colours more easily.

April Bullet Journal BuJo Spread Month Monthly Layout 03 Calendar Agenda

Overall, I’m very, very happy with these monthly bullet journal spreads.

Weekly bullet journal spreads

April Bullet Journal BuJo Spread Week Weekly Layout 01 Filled

The weekly layouts for April are a bit similar to March, but because I had more small projects to work on this month, I adapted slightly. The daily modules for April are a tiny bit larger than they were in March—a very good thing. After I filled up most of the days, I barely had room to decorate.

I used the same layout each week this month, and prettied them up afterward with washi tape. I don’t like decking out my bullet journal spreads with designs before I fill them in. It’s impossible for me to know which days will be busier and fill the module.

Here are some before, during, and after shots of my weekly layouts!

April Bullet Journal BuJo Spread Week Weekly Layout 02 Midweek

April Bullet Journal BuJo Spread Week Weekly Layout 03 Filled

April Bullet Journal BuJo Spread Week Weekly Layout 04 Filled Closeup

My bare-bones layout for weekly spreads is incredibly bland. My last week in April started off with pops of washi tape only because I messed up with marker in an area and wanted to cover it up!

April Bullet Journal BuJo Spread Week Weekly Layout 05 Empty

April Bullet Journal BuJo Spread Week Weekly Layout 06 Midweek

Since I’ve gotten into the habit of doing my monthly bullet journal spreads and weekly layouts at the start of the month, I use my journal more consistently. It takes some time to get set up before I can use it (about 4 hours total, actually—more if I’m experimenting). But then I don’t have to set aside time each week to draw a layout. It’s much easier to commit to a weekly layout and use the same design for the month.

I’m excited to start designing and planning for May’s monthly bullet journal spreads!

March Bullet Journal Spreads

March in my bullet journal looked like most of my months. I had fun with an illustrative splash page with some hanging plants! I drew out all of my weekly layouts in advance, and then customised them with washi tape and colours when I got to those weeks.

I’m still obsessed with my bubbles for tracking! Maybe it’s because I grew up having to take so many Scantron tests… Or maybe it still reminds me of equipping Materia like in Final Fantasy 7.

My monthly calendars got a little more artsy than they normally do. I didn’t end up looking at them pages as much as I thought I would, including doing the exercise I thought I would, but that’s okay. For April, I’ll be changing up how I do these spreads!

For my weekly spreads, I start off very blank and add in the washi and other decor once I’m about halfway through the week. Some days have longer to do lists than others, and I can’t really guess which days those are for where I can add a strip of tape.

I’ve enjoyed these layouts for my week view, but I’m changing them for April since my needs have changed.

April looks beautiful, by the way. If you want a sneak peek, there’s a post on my Instagram!

Bullet Journal Mental Health Tracking

The largest feature of my monthly spreads for September is my mental health tracking! I have two pages devoted to tracking my mental health, and with me, that’s a lot of space to devote to a single topic in my notebook.

Being on medication or going to therapy aren’t the only ways that we can take charge of our mental health and work on managing mental illness. They can help, but they aren’t the only resources. Self-awareness through my trackers has given me an edge to being on top of my management that I never had before I started doing it.

This month, I have three separate spreads: unhealthy habits and triggers; healthy habits and self-care; and symptoms and side effects. I also track my moods within these, and how they fluctuate over the day. My friends and family have commented that my moods can change very quickly in a day, so that’s something I’ve looked at and attempted to balance out. This month, I haven’t tracked my sleeping, but my sleeping has been fairly regular due to the sedative portion of my medication.

I like recording some of my “unhealthy” behaviours. They’re unhealthy in the sense that I have a suspicion they can interfere with my wellbeing that day—hence why I have caffeine and nightmares in the same section. Yesterday I had an awful dream and the rest of my day felt off because it kept intruding my thoughts, so I checked off “nightmare” for that day.

My self-care and unhealthy habits are side-by-side so I can see if I’m balancing out the two, or doing one more than the other, and how that affects my mood. I contemplated putting everything into one table, but I wanted to be able to compare my “good” and “bad” activities at a quick glance.

I started doing the “bubble” list last month to track some symptoms, and I’ve tweaked it to get more information tracked. I started doing the bubbles because they reminded me of material equipping in Final Fantasy VII. That’s really it. I wanted to have a “scale” of sorts to gage how I was feeling.

I’m not sure how much this has helped this month. My medication doubled a few days ago (thankfully), so I’m still adjusting to that. But these layouts are definitely the most eye-pleasing I’ve done. They’re both pragmatic and nice to look at.

Since I’ve only posted the blank spreads here, it’s hard to see how they look nice. However, I will have some pictures on my Instagram by the end of the month!

These spreads are some I’ll definitely repeat in the future.

Bullet Journal July Weekly Layouts

At the start of this month, I did something I normally don’t do: I drew all the weekly spreads for the month. I wanted to test out how productive I am if I just do all of the layouts in one go. When I make my monthly spreads, I have to set out a large amount of time anyway—and if a certain weekly layout design has worked, why not do it for more than one week?

Each layout has the same structure: 7 days, a sleep tracker, and 2 blank boxes. My sleep tracker also has the added function of being a good spot for me to note the time I take my medication, so I don’t forget and so I can see how it affects my sleep.

I don’t think I’ll be using the blank modules/boxes the same way each week. The first week, I had a space for notes and my meal plan and meal log. The notes section looks really messy, and I didn’t have enough space for all my meal planning. This second week, I’m keeping the notes section, and I’m adding a habit tracker again (yay~!). Another week, I might include my goals, too, but this week doesn’t.

The design will change each week depending on the washi tape and colours I use to decorate everything. I recently bought some lovely, soft, watercolour aesthetic washi tape set, and the first week featured some of the rolls. I haven’t decorated for this second week (or any of the future weeks). I want to decorate through the week, just go with the flow.

I’ll admit, I was very relieved this weekend that I didn’t have to sit and copy the last week’s layout, or come up with a new spread. I dove right into planning out my Monday and writing in other notes for the rest of the week. Based off just this first week and my reaction to the second week? I’ll probably do this again for August!

July 2017 Bullet Journal Spreads

Since I liked June’s layout so much, I did something very similar for July!

I started medication for my mental health just before the month started, so my biggest change is adding a symptom tracker for that.

I messed up on the calendar and did full boxes for the 7 x 6 dimensions, since I didn’t feel like using pencil and then erasing all the lines. I managed to save it with some artistic lettering and pretty new washi tape! It’s a good thing I had a short perseverance quote that I could smack into the bottom.

This month, instead of putting my goals and projects right into the journal, I’m using sticky notes so I can pull them out. They’re smaller and don’t get in the way like my notebook can, if I’m working at my desktop or my laptop. It’s been okay so far (I say, on the 3rd day into the month)—the stickiness is definitely lessening.

I have my mood tracking in the calendar, where the multiple colours are, and the legend on an index card in the front of my notebook near the key. Since the medication I’m on is specifically for moods (well, and other stuff), tracking my moods is going to be a more important part of my life. I’m glad I started doing it before the medication: it’s helped me reference highs and lows, my behaviour, and all that fun stuff to relay back to my doctor.

One other thing I did differently for July is set up all the weekly layouts in advance! That will save me time and decisions on the weekends now. I’ve enjoyed being able to use weekly layouts, instead of daily ones; it feels like I’m doing less during my day and thus everything is more important.

(Sharing on Pinterest helps out my blog!)

My Bullet Journal Index

In my first bullet journal, I set it up with the standard “index” that’s part of the Ryder Carroll system. I hated it.

First, it’s not an index. It’s a table of contents. Second, I used my bullet journal chronologically and didn’t have much need to flip around in the book—especially when my usage of “collections” fell to the wayside. And thirdly, it was an extra step that I didn’t feel the need to use, especially when I could find pages easily through muscle memory and spatial cues.

But now?

I started using a new brand of notebook—the Luddite Every Day Carry line, which I reviewed when I first got it in September, and then a few months later when I had finished it. There are four pages in the front for the index (*cough* table of contents) and tags. I started using it for colour swatching my pens and markers. I’ve also started including information about different types of spreads.

This is more of a “tags” and “keywords” type index to me, than a table of contents. Colour-coding really helped me visually set apart all the different information. If I want to know where the March habit tracker is, I look for the March colour in the “Habits” section!

Small calendars for the months of January to June, with colours in the headings of the months.

I use my bullet journal more and more to track my moods and health, and I thought it would be important to have those more quickly accessible to me. I have some health concerns right now, so the history I’ve been tracking since January will be vital when I see my doctor to discuss my symptoms and treatment. My mental health is something else I track, too, that gets included indirectly when I look back at habits, where I fell out of using the journal, and notes I leave when I’ve had a bad day.

A colour coded index for various pages in a bullet journal, such as monthly spreads and collections.

I think this also gives me a little more sense of freedom. I can insert a page without really messing up anything. When I first started bullet journalling, I didn’t do it for record-keeping or archiving my life. I did it so I could get my shit together on one day or through one week, and not fall behind with school.

However, since I finished classes in December, the purpose of my bullet journal has changed.

The index isn’t going to be something I use heavily or even reference all the time. But I figured it was worthwhile to show another change in my planning system, since I have never used the index, or tags, or a table of contents.

Personally, I’d rather have it at the back, like every other index, since a table of contents deals with headers and chapters and sections. An index deals with tags and finding small information. But I digress—I know words are malleable, but for goodness’ sake, can we still try and use words that mean what they refer to?

Do you use an index in your bullet journal? How do you feel about it?

June 2017 Monthly Bullet Journal Spreads

Unlike April and May, my June layouts are full-force spreads that I’ve created! I’m only a few days into using them, but I’ve been enjoying them so far.

I also thought I’d include what my desk looks like when I’m brainstorming/pre-planning a monthly layout.

A desk with a mess of notebooks, pens, markers, sticky notes, and sketchbooks.

The monthly layouts always take a lot of energy out of me. I’ve spent hours figuring out how I want my spreads to look. There’s so much more that goes into them than just using the same ones as the previous month. Sometimes, I can’t do that—like April, when I moved and needed to focus my priorities on other things—and other times, it doesn’t fit what I want to achieve.

My monthly layouts set the tone for how I want to approach the next four or five weeks. I think, “Where do I want to focus my time? My energy? What commitments have I made? Where are my deadlines? How will my goals and projects be affected by my activities this month?” and so on, and so forth.

I’m also always trying new things. My bullet journal is a place for me to play. Every spread is a puzzle that I have to make and then solve, looking for the problems and answers mostly within myself (and the confines of my dot grid space, of course).

I’ve tried calendar layouts like this before, and have found I either neglect them, or I overuse them and get frustrated when my plans don’t line up nicely.

A notebook page in landscape orientation showing a 30-day box calendar for June, with a small table on the left side to input work, goals, and rewards. A quote in the top corner reads, "Great works are performed not by strength, but by perseverance."

I’m being more lax this month with habit tracking. I’m not sure why, but it felt right, you know? There’s a lot of flux in my environment right now—both my living situation and my family are undergoing positive changes—and I wanted to “go with the flow” more this month, compared to May’s focus on spontaneity. Going with the flow just comes off a bit more mindful, y’know?

A notebook in landscape orientation showing a small calendar, divided into sections on each day on half the page, with a list of goals and associated to-do lists on the other half.

I’m very happy with my mood tracker for this month. I went all Pride 2017 with it, evoking the rainbow. I’ve also changed up how I track my moods: instead of picking a mood for the entire day, I have 3 spaces for each day: morning, afternoon, and evening. That way, I can see how I progress through the day, rather than try to remember a feeling for the entire day. We change so much on micro and macro levels, throughout the day and from day-to-day. This month of tracking my moods through the day will be helpful when I see my doctor at some point over the summer to check my blood sugar levels, too.

I’d post my weekly spreads right now, but they’re still very simple to-do lists! I’m enjoying them and I make them as I go along through the days. They’ve got the time codex bar like I was using in September; very simple and not colour-coded.

If you wanna see more of my bullet journal posts, I’m probably going to get back to posting them on my Instagram. Sharing photos there is much faster than blogging about them, after all! (Also lots of food pictures and the occasionally selfie spam, of course.)