(and people short on time, like me)
Bullet journals are all the rage. Basically, a bullet journal is a DIY planner. You take a blank notebook and set it up the way you want, and use it to track anything from appointments to daily habits. It’s a way of managing time that also encourages accountability.
Also, there are some really artistic people out there making journals that are just… mwah!
I’m no stranger to planners and even DIY journals. Back in third grade we were required to have a blank notebook, which we set up at the start of the school year. It was our homework planner, and it was super useful. From middle school onwards the school district provided our student handbooks/planners, and I used mine every day. They made life a lot easier.
Somewhere during college I fell out of having a planner. I honestly can’t remember now how I kept track of assignments, but I managed it. I think I did have a printed agenda. But, by the time I left school? No more regular assignments so no need for one. Plus I graduated into The Great Recession and didn’t find work easily, so I didn’t have a new set of tasks to track.
My life didn’t fall apart because I didn’t have a planner, but it didn’t help. I used my phone as a calendar and I kept notes at work. I was lucky that work wasn’t overwhelming, or I would’ve needed to make a systematic list system a lot sooner.
Anyway, now I’m managing my own time and I realized things were starting to fall through the cracks. I’d seen bullet journals online for a few years and very much wanted to try, but I didn’t want to invest the time in OMG ART. I mean, I love art. I have a drawing tablet and everything.
But I knew that if I put too much pressure on myself to make it arty, I would never see it through. I wanted an easy bullet journal.
I also didn’t have money to invest in a printed planner, which would’ve been my druthers. So I took a small notebook and got to work.
Version 1: Daily To-Do Lists
Starting in September 2018 I grabbed a very small lined notebook to use for daily task lists. It was small because a) I wanted to figure out if this would work for me before I over-committed, and b) I wanted to be able to take it in my purse.
(I love Claire Fontaine notebooks!)
I began at the front with an Index. Then I marked every page with these elements:
- Notebook page number (bottom)
- Daily date (top)
- Day of the week (top)
That’s it, that’s all my little notebook had to have, on every day. I prepped all the way from September through November, when I added little trackers for NaNoWriMo daily word counts. Yes, that was a lot of work in and of itself. But it was worth it, because having dates pre-filled allowed me to schedule things.
My Key to Daily To-Do’s
Every day I made simple task lists, like this:
- An open circle means the task is still to be done.
- A filled circle means the task is done.
- A partially filled circle indicates progress.
That’s all I needed.
Every day I would copy the undone items to the next day and keep going.
That little notebook kept me going for a long while. I did fall down a bit on the daily task lists in November and December. But November and December tend to be like that for me. Something about holiday mode.
Version 2: Weekly To-Do’s and Trackers
My experiment into bullet journaling worked, and I wanted to continue. For 2019 I moved to a slightly bigger notebook. Still small enough to fit in my purse, but with enough room to show what I really wanted.
(I love Anne Taintor! This style of notebook has been discontinued, sadly.)
I’d learned from Version 1 that a daily task list was… not terribly convenient to the way I work. I kept having to copy lots of non-urgent items from one day to the next, over and over again. I wanted a weekly task list instead. I also wanted a way of scheduling appointments, but I don’t have many appointments so I didn’t need it spread across two pages.
I came up with this basic layout:
- Week Number
- Dates covered this week
- Monday-Sunday with dates
- Page number
- Task list
- Page number
Super simple, but very effective. With this I can see my week at a glance, both time-wise and task-wise. Most of my to-do’s have a flexible due date, so knowing I have a week in which to get them done actually makes it a bit easier to do them. It’s a mindset shift.
I also pre-filled the dated elements throughout the notebook for the entire year. Yes, that’s work. But less work than trying to make it pretty.
I actually pre-planned how many pages everything would take using a spreadsheet, because I didn’t want to mess it up. I calculated how many pages I’d need versus pages in my notebook, and worked out I had room for a monthly pattern that included the following:
- Hello [Month] Art Page (right side)
- Weekly layout 2-page spreads (4-5 depending on month)
- Monthly Review/Trackers (left side)
- Here’s how my end/start monthly dividers look:
The trackers above are simply weekly and monthly reminders to follow my progress. Did I do yoga every week as I promised I would? How many units did I sell this month? What was my spending during the month? Having those two numbers right next to each other will help give me perspective.
I did the artwork in late January and kept it simple. Easy is my byword for my bullet journal. If it involves too much work it isn’t sustainable.
Most of my “art” is very minimalist and just freehand copies of similar things I saw online. The succulent and this penguin are my favorites.
I also wanted to have some pretty trackers, but there just wasn’t room to play with them in this notebook. So I fired up MS Publisher (the easiest desktop publishing software around, and if you own Word and Excel you probably already have it) and made some pretty printable pages. I keep these loose in my bullet journal.
This page has a complete calendar for 2019 on the right, so I can reference dates easily. On the left is a NaNoWriMo Par Counter (fill in a square on days where I wrote 1667 words), and a tracker for queries sent.
On this page I start with Quarterly trackers on the left, followed by Monthly trackers. This gives me the year’s overview of things I’m tracking on the Monthly Review pages. On the right is a giant Weekly tracker that will give me a sense of how the year as whole went. It’s a repeat as well, but the visual will be helpful.
Like my organizing? I use it to write novels, too! Check out THE MONSTER NOVEL STRUCTURE WORKBOOK.
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