Bullet Journal Breaks: Starting and Ending Them

At the end of October, I took a break from my bullet journal (and most parts of life, let’s be honest). Recently, I took an unintended break at the end of March that last through most of April.

These two recent incidents aren’t the first hiatuses I’ve taken from my bullet journal. In fact, it’d be rare for me to commit to bullet journalling with the same motivation and dedication for more than 6 months.

Sometimes I feel guilty for setting aside my bullet journal. I should use it daily and rely on it. But there was a time before a planner and it wasn’t as bad as it might be in retrospect.

When you use a planner, it isn’t as if your skillset stays with the tactile book or software you use. A planner, whether it’s a bullet journal or printed agenda or an app, will strengthen your time management skills even when you’re not using it. That’s what a habit does, after all. So taking a break from your bullet journal won’t always be because of chaos or cause chaos.

My tips for taking a break from a bullet journal—whether it’s intentional or not—are similar to the ones in my post on how to take breaks from writing.

You might need to take an intentional/planned break from your bullet journal if you’re experiencing any of these:

  • getting distracted from your journal
  • feeling bored by using it
  • forgetting to use it at all
  • overwhelming pressure to create something (a nice layout, collections, spreads) despite not wanting to
  • “burnout” of any kind

Tips To Take A Break From Bullet Journalling

Be kind to yourself.

There’s nothing wrong with putting aside things. A bullet journal isn’t a primary necessity in your life, like hygiene, food, or sleep. You can account for its disappearance in your daily routine if you need to take a break.

Pick a time to break from the bullet journal.

My last break, at the end of March, was just then: at the end of March. I noticed the above signs (all of them) on top of my priorities and mental health changing. I started a break from my bullet journal in the beginning of April.

A good guideline for starting and ending your break? Make them the same amount. If you’re start your break at the beginning of a month, have the break last a month. A week, a day, whatever suits your flow. If you notice you’re naturally stepping away from your bullet journal, take a look and see if you can extend the break mindfully.

Aim for a length of time to take the break—but make it flexible.

My month-long bujo break wasn’t exactly a hard-and-fast, cold-turkey disconnect from my bullet journal. I was barely using it for the first 3 weeks of April. During the last week, I needed to use it again, though not to the capacity I had previously been using it. My plan was to break for a month, but when necessity kicked in, I had to adapt.

Returning To The Bujo

My last point in taking a break mentioned necessity. When necessity kicks in, I use my bullet journal.

Signs it’s time to start planning again:

  • feeling disconnected from your activities
  • taking on more projects
  • increasing workload (personal work, professional work, housework, etc.)
  • making to do lists on scraps of paper, in your phone, anywhere

Tips To Start Bullet Journalling Again

Be inspired to create again.

You can look at Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook groups, and your own spreads to get jived to make something in your bullet journal again. My favourite way to get inspired to make a new spread is to look at new ones. Most often, my breaks happen because I’m bored of doing the same layouts.

Assess what needs to go into your bullet journal.

At one point, you may have had a habit tracker for every habit—a dozen or more—or you had an elaborate monthly calendar with quotes and routines all over it. Do you need that now, at this moment, to get planning again? You don’t have to set it aside forever, but is it what you need now? Think about what you need to write down, rather than what you want to look at later.

My recent return features a calendar, a sleep tracker, and 3 habit trackers. I thought that’d be good enough, but then I started making to do lists and… well, I’m bullet journalling again. But I’m doing it in such a way that leads me to my final tip for restarting.

Start simple.

Keep the pressure off yourself by making a simple spread first. This is always a good chance to go back to the roots of bullet journalling and look to Ryder Carroll’s system. The central concept for a bujo is adaptable and simple. It’s meant to be a quick and effortless way to plan, track, and remember your time. You may love doing calligraphic flourishes, or pretty headers, but ease back into them.

Incorporate the bullet journal into your routine again.

I like to look at my bullet journal once before bed, and after I’ve woken up and eaten breakfast.

At night, I review how the day went and see what needs to be done still. For an incomplete task, I add an arrow and write out the task again for the next day, or I look at a list of important, but not time sensitive, tasks that I’ve put in my spread. I also flip back to previous spreads to fill in habits and other places I need to touch base (bookmarks are handy for this).

In the morning, I assess how I’m feeling and how much time I have for the day. That way, I can accommodate any leftover tasks that I didn’t complete. Throughout the day, I occasionally check my bullet journal for what I need to do, especially if I find myself losing track of time.

But to start out with, I check in to my bullet journal at the end and beginning of the day, when it fits into my routine. I’m more likely to remember my bullet journal at the start and end of a day, so I make an effort to sit with it, undistracted, and adjust to changes in my time management. It’s okay to have unfinished tasks!

(An upcoming layout spotlight will feature the weekly + daily log combination I’ve loved using since the beginning of my bujo return.)

My Biggest Piece of Advice?

For both taking a break and returning from a break, I have one, single, be-all-end-all tip:

Don’t force anything.

Planning for something isn’t the same as forcing something. When you plan, you’re making space to accommodate the change. When you force, you’re trying to apply it when the time or circumstances won’t allow. Don’t force a cold-turkey break, or aim for an aesthetic if they’re things you can’t accommodate.

Happy bullet journalling, folks!

How To Take A Break From Your Writing

Before you take a break from your writing, you should first and foremost recognise that you need a break. We can’t be at 100% all the time. Engines need to be refuelled. Pencils need to be sharpened. Insert any analogy or metaphor you’d like; the fact of the matter is that we need breaks from everything we do. Creative projects are no different from taking a vacation from your job, going to sleep at the end of the day, or resting when you’re sick.

You might need a break if you experience any of these:

  • getting distracted easily from your project
  • becoming frustrated at your writing or writing progress
  • embarking on line edits prematurely
  • finding yourself doing other things, whether it’s work, school, family, hobbies, instead of writing
  • “burnout” of any kind

How To Take A Break

Look to the future to see when you might be busy.

It’s hard to focus on creative projects, especially writing, if you’re travelling, swamped with work, handling family issues, or doing a lot with your time that you can’t delegate to someone or address later. Whenever I’m pressed for time and energy, my creative projects and hobbies fall to the wayside. I can plan for breaks from my writing if I look ahead at my schedule. You might end up being too preoccupied with life to feel guilty for not writing on top of it—this is the benefit of planning a break from your writing. You’re going according to plan!

Assess your mental and emotional well-being: could you use a break?

My writing burnout manifests through worsened mental health. I get distracted, frustrated, and tired more easily and quickly. Writing is a lot of mental and emotional work! If you’re feeling less than your best, you should take a break. If your manuscript also feels like it’s dragging you down, or you’re doubting yourself and value as a writer, you should take a break.

Are you at a major transition in your writing? (Between drafts, embarking on revising, etc.)

Authors commonly leave their manuscripts for a few weeks before they revise. This is a break from the writing project! They’ve completed one phase of it (drafting) and are transitioning into another phase (revising). Revision itself has multiple phases. I’m a hardcore advocate for taking time away from your writing when you’re in-between major milestones in completing the project. You become saturated by your work and it’s hard to step back any other way. I like taking breaks after drafts (first draft, second draft, etc.) and before revisions. Doing so gives me the chance to clear my head of the story and meet it again with a fresher perspective. I also have the chance to research, tweak my outline, prepare for the next draft or revision, and do the admin side of writing. It’s a lot less fun than the act of writing, which is why I do it when I’m not focusing on the creative aspect!

Prepare For A Break

Set a place in your writing for you to return to.

A concrete space to pick up your work will make the break easier to come out of. Pick a place, such as at the beginning of an act or a new draft, for you to begin your break—and then return to.

Aim for a duration timeline and a finishing deadline.

This is why you need to look at your future schedule and plans! You can work around the stress of life’s demands. You can pick a day after the stress has subsided for you to return to your writing. This is also a great way to schedule out how long your break will be.

Gather your tools for your return: inspiration, motivation, review of your writing, etc.

It’s harder to pick up something than it is to set it down, especially when it’s a creative project like a book. While you have the time and energy now, compile anything that gets you into the zone or flow of your writing. For me, I use music playlists, moodboards, character worksheets, and an outline. Having these materials at the ready when you’re ready makes the break appear seamless, or at the very least more natural.

My Recent Writing Break

I took a five/six week break from my writing before I started revisions. I was aiming for less than eight weeks, and I knew I’d be moving at the end of April. I work quickly with edits and revisions (it’s part of why I offer editing services!), so I knew I could squeeze in revisions before I needed to start packing.

This break from my manuscript was forced on me, in a way, since I couldn’t continue writing the novel after I finished it. I could have picked up and started a new project, but I assessed my situation and health: this is my first complete novel, my mental health needed some TLC, and I’m a serial polygamist with my writing. With this manuscript, I decided to prioritise finishing one project before starting another.

If I hadn’t had the break in between drafting and revising, I would’ve dived blindly into edits. I’m enjoying the process right now, and that’s because I took the time to prepare for the break and how to return to it.