Bullet Journal 101: Finding What Works

I started my bullet journal in February of 2016 (which, incidentally, coincided with me starting short-term therapy), so I’ve been in the bujo practise for over a year now.

It took me a while to find what works for me. Before I found layouts and modules that helped me be more productive, mindful, and happy in my bullet journal, I was confused. There were so many spreads for me to choose from, and I felt more disorganised than ever while I tried to find methods that were right for me. I think I spent about 6 months in bullet journal/planner hell before I realised there was a way to find what would work.

Trying new things can be absolutely terrifying, so I can understand if you’re nervous to put lines on pages that you might never look at again. I know I’m a perfectionist, but perfection is a subjective illusion, and I can decide what’s perfect, what isn’t, and when “perfection” is even necessary.

Here are my tips for finding what works and what’s right for your bullet journal.

Start with the basics.

Don’t jump into fancy and complicated layouts. It’s always easier to add modules, lettering, stickers, colours, washi tape, and all the extra embellishments. I started with simple layouts and lists, like the original creator focuses on. I wrote out my tips for getting started in a bullet journal, and they’re techniques I use if I need a soft reset.

Review what you’ve already done.

You don’t have to make a bullet journal spread for your review, like some people, but you can use a sticky note, or even type it up in a document. Ask yourself questions like, “What did I like? What did I dislike? What did I use? What did I neglect?” Some weeks, I write out my review—these tend to be near the end of the month in a larger monthly review. I focus on what I used versus what I didn’t, and that helps guide me. I also think about what I need to add, if I found myself forgetting about parts of my life, such as goals and habits.

Start with a hypothesis or a curiosity before trying something.

“If I add a habit tracker to my week, I’ll see it more often and be more aware of the habits I want to improve.” This is what I asked myself before I started adding a small habit tracker to my weekly, always-seen spread. The monthly habit tracker is nice, but I don’t see it all the time and I get lazy and neglect myself. My hypothesis was right: by seeing the module more often, I’m more aware and motivated. When you review your complete (or incomplete!) spreads, these are great questions to keep in mind. Always ask how something can serve you in your bullet journal, whether it’s adding, adjusting, or removing something.

Don’t focus on making things pretty.

The ~*~aesthetics~*~ of a bullet journal are entirely individual. I will, in the future, write a post on the basics of decorating and personalising your bullet journal spreads. But at this point, when you’re trying to find layouts and spreads that work for you, not what looks Instagram-worthy, the aesthetics and style aren’t as important. If you find yourself gravitating toward the layouts that have a nice colour palette, then consider taking some time to add decorations. I prefer a bullet journal spread that has colour in it, but it has to be minimal. I don’t want to spend my planner time decorating and fussing over the style of my spread. I want to use the bullet journal for organisation, reminders, and mindfulness.

Adapt to changes in your lifestyle and needs.

While I was in university and attending classes, I needed daily logs to help organise all the material I needed to read and places I needed to go. Now that I’m no longer in school, I don’t need daily logs anymore. I didn’t force myself to continue using daily logs just because they used to work. Changes in your lifestyle, like your job, school, home, and family, will necessitate some rearranging in your life. Your bullet journal is included in that rearranging. This is where the practise of reviewing your journal will help you.

And most of all… Permit yourself to experiment and fail.

You’ll never find what works if you don’t search for things. I looked at inspiration online and copied layouts. I sketched out small outlines of what I wanted to try. I needed to try changes and new spreads entirely, as well as allow myself to dislike what you do. The beauty of a bullet journal is a lack of commitment. Unlike printed planners and agendas you can buy, you aren’t stuck with a set layout in a bullet journal. The day, week, or month will end. Time passes. Your bullet journal, and the pages you don’t like, only exist for as long as you keep it. You can recycle the whole book if you want! The majority of my spreads in the middle of 2016 were awful and I hated them. But they helped me learn what I need to avoid. I’m in my 3rd bullet journal now: the 1st one was never filled in all the way, because I hated the notebook I used.

Let your bullet journal be the one place you can fuck up however much you need to. Let it be a place for you to explore. Let it be something you play with, rather than create. Let yourself mess up while you find what works for you. Remember to explore and consider what serves you, what might serve you, and what doesn’t serve you.