I had one goal with my first bullet journal, finish it. My love of notebooks began in primary school when Lisa Frank released that purple sparkle unicorn one. You KNOW the one. Middle School brought trapper keepers, the fancy five stars in high school. Working at an office supply store, my tastes evolved. I had access to leather bound, grid paper, executive! Class notes, projects, new jobs, meetings notes… dozens, maybe hundreds, of unfinished notebooks. Started.. but never finished.
I had to ask myself why I didn’t, or rather couldn’t, finish a notebook? Why would I buy a new one when I had perfectly good blank pages? I liked the idea of a fresh start, needed to be able to start over. That remains true.
I had seen Rivers video on the bullet journal system. Spending so much time in front of screen for work, I was looking to adopt more analogue systems, but I didn’t trust myself to adopt it fully. So my first bullet journal was just a series of lists. To do lists, lists of lists I wanted to make, grocery lists, packings lists… I really love lists. It was a Moleskine dot grid A5 craft notebook, and a felt tip pen. I finished the damn thing. And it’s the only advice I had then. It was a mess of different colors, coffee stains and scribbles, along with with perfectly neat checklists with a mark to show just how complete it was. I was really proud. This was the permission I needed to invest in the Leuchtturm1917 and “some” pens.
Bullet Journaling Basics
You do not need a yearly log, future log, habit tracker, sleep log, all at once. First see how you’re going to use it. My first bullet journal was the standard monthly/ weekly with a space for the tasks. That’s it.
High off the success of completing my first journal I got over zealous. Mistakes were made. Year two was really about learning lessons. I did finish my second notebook, and bought and tried so many pens. So.. many many many pens.
Here is what I learned:
- My notebook is not a coloring book. While I absolutely desire and NEED my notebook to be aesthetically pleasing, stressing about color choices, and highlights, and god the script writing only made me anxious and hate using my notebook. The opposite of the point. So the attitude that I was already trying to work into other areas began ringing true for my journal as well. Minimalism, it is the aesthetic that appeals to me the most. Simplicity is sexy. I can draw lines, and I’m pretty good at numbers too. Gone are my attempts for fancy fonts and cute little grids. I’m over it. Not only because I had to get over it because I couldn’t do it, but because the minimal approach allows me to actually use my journal. My life is busy enough without the trial and error of design within the one system I’ve found to work the best.
- I need more than one notebook. I need… several notebooks. I can’t take notes in my bullet journal. It gets messy, and I don’t always understand myself when I go back through them. Trying to catalog exactly what notes go where in the index also gets really confusing for me.
Systems & Processes
I have 3 notebooks. My bullet journal, which is my task list, and a catalog system of tracking goals, events, things I want to remember, and a way to stay productive and most importantly, make progress.
- A “note”book. And that is what it sounds like, notes. Meeting notes, project notes, any large scale anything that I work on goes in a spiral bound notebook.
- A catch all, or brain dump. Mess this guy up. Cheap legal pads and whatever pen I can write the fastest with. Anything I need to jot down goes in here. Ideas, phone numbers, meeting notes, quotes I liked, all of it. At the end of the day, it then either gets put in the bullet journal, the notebook, or goes to the macbook to be digitally filed. Whether a calendar event, website, or email it always gets put somewhere else.
Seem redundant? Maybe it is. But it does save me from getting frustrated with my notes later. And writing it down the second time typically commits to my memory. It’s unlikely I’ll ever reference it again, but I know where to find it if I do.
Habit trackers – I don’t like them.
Two things I saw consistently with the habit trackers. Tasks were either not getting done, or always getting done. Having a monthly list of everything only annoyed me at the end, with its lack of check marks because I never really enjoyed using it. And while it was easy to go back a few days and remember events or tasks I completed, I couldn’t always remember if I had done the habit.
My solution… it just goes on the daily task list. The habits I truly care about just need to get checked off every day, until I do them consistently enough that I don’t need to see the task. This worked both for drinking more water and adopting a skin care routine. For weeks, MONTHS “am routine” and “pm routine”, were checks on my daily list until I could look back at weeks and weeks of successfully accomplishing them and I didn’t need to add them anymore.
Instead of putting a habit tracker in my monthly spread I use monthly goals. While I am excellent at completing daily tasks I am not great at establishing big picture, or long term goals. So I started making a monthly goals, and then establishing weekly tasks to accomplish the goals. I’m ashamed at how many weeks those weekly goals would carry over. Including Launching this sites.. Solid 4 months.
So What does that look like? A set of monthly goals, maybe 15-20? And then every week I break that down in to the 1-3-5. One big task, three smaller tasks, and then five smaller errand like tasks. This has so far proven to be the best way to make progress on long term, and very short term tasks & habits.
And that’s something I’m hoping to adopt with year 4. Because, when I look back at 2017, I did a lot. Like I a lot. I moved, Visited several cities, did my first trip to California, , and my first solo trip to Europe. I doubled my instagram followers, Launched a website, lost a bunch of weight, but my journal doesn’t really reflect that? Sure there are hints with travel itinerary and contact info, but did I celebrate it? Not really.
All this talk of no color and black and white and well.. I am gonna buy some colored pencils and try a mood tracker.
I did track my sad moods. Or rather depressed moods? It is somewhat difficult to explain and perhaps someday in the future I’ll write about it. I am not sad, or depressed, I just lose interest. For someone like me who is always interested.. In everything, it can be a scary place to go. So I did mark those days down. And it has already revealed some truths that I’ve found helpful, probably the biggest one being, that it gets better.
When you’re knee deep into those feelings it’s easy to to feel like it’s never-ending. You get scared that you’ll never want to do the things you used to want to do. Work is easy for me. I love work. I love being good at it. So to just lose all interest is scary. When I begin to feel that way, to look back and see… oh yeah, this happened a few months ago, it lasted about a week and then you felt better. Oh.. yeah this happened around Christmas, you started feeling better after a few days. That helps… a lot. You put your head down, you do what must be done. Give yourself breaks, cut yourself some slack. Do what needs to be done, shower, eat, do your job, and then yeah.. You need to play video games all night? You wanna cuddle your puppy and watch Bob’s Burgers while eating the entire Hershey bar you bought for smores? So be it.
I intentionally waited to publish this post until the middle of January knowing that some of the excitement of starting a new journal had worn off. It’s so easy to enjoy making goals at the start of the new year. But to keep going? When its so cold, and so dark, and you’re so fulffy from so many cookies. This system, has helped me move through those moments. And because its the system I will use. And I use it, because I enjoy it.
Quick shoutout to the Art Supply Depot in Bowling Green for having many many pen options to try. Helped me finally narrow it down. Perhaps in the future I’ll do a post just about pens