I remember seeing all these amazing pages online and feeling like I had neither the time nor the creativity to create these pages. Eventually I just gave up and figured that I just needed to write down to-do lists. I like checking things off and to be frank, I needed to empty out the mental lists and reminders that felt exhausting to keep in my head. I had a spiral notebook and made each day a new list. But what started happening was that my to-do lists were massive. I'd literally write down everything, get overwhelmed, and then spent a lot of time rewriting things (and feeling like a failure) for the next day. So I switched to spreading it out in a weekly "at a glance" type of format. And that's basically the start of this journey...
Wait. But what are bullet journals?
Simply put, bullet journals are a customized system to keep you organized. They can range in design and length and intensity, but the purpose is to create a system that works best for you. Some pages include:
Other pages can include keeping track of books read, movies watched, new places to eat, or even cities traveled. Bullet journals can also include "deadline pages" or pages of inspiring quotes. But ultimately, the point is that it works with your needs and helps you stay productive.
Things to consider
Starting a bullet journal also means understanding how your productivity works, so here are some questions that I've asked myself (and also my answers):
How do you stay motivated? Outcomes or process or both?
For me, I like to check things off or cross them out. So, to stay motivated for large tasks (like writing the dissertation), I need to break it down to smaller manageable goals. But, just having tasks isn't enough. For me, I also like to keep track of the number of hours I put it. I find it frustrating (and demoralizing) when one check-box takes two hours to complete. So I use the Pomodoro technique of 25 minutes of work and 5 minutes of rest and for every 25 minutes I complete, I bubble in a tomato (which is related to the pomodoro-tracking website: mytomatoes").
Are you productive with/is your life set up to include pen and paper?
If your answer is no, don't use a paper bullet journal. You can check out online platforms like Trello or even Evernote to create a digitized system for you.
Is it more helpful to see a large-scale task through project-based or time-based segments?
I work best on time-based segments. I have a deadline, and I might map out what I need to accomplish for a project, but I prefer to have those smaller tasks be broken up into the weeks leading up to it.
On the other hand, you might work better where with the deadline, it's easier for you to see all the project components (and write the smaller time-based milestones next to them). Visually this distinction helps with whether you'll gravitate towards "Weekly Layouts" or "Project Layouts" to keep track. (And to be frank, I do use both, but my bread and butter are Weeklies.)
Frequently asked questions
Why don't I just buy a planner instead of designing it myself?
You can and you should if that's what works! For me, I miss being creative and like doodling. And, for the planners I found, there was always that one thing that would bother me, so I found myself spending more time looking for the perfect planner and not doing work. I realized that the easier path for me, was to just make it myself.
So then... how much time are you actually spending creating layouts?
At the end of each week, I spend about 30 minutes drawing out next week's layout and then planning what I should be working on. At the start of each month (when I make the gratefulness-month page, monthly goals, and habit tracker), I take about an hour— mostly because I get anxious trying to think of realistic monthly goals :) And then each day, I bookend about 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes before I go to sleep to look over what I did, what I need to do, write down what I'm grateful for, and check-off what habits I did that day.
I want to get started but... I don't have time, I'm not creative, this feels like a lot, etc.
I feel you and absolutely remember feeling like this too. That's why I have a "Designs" page. There, I have templates that you can download, tape into a notebook you have, trace over into your journal, whatever works. Feel free to use and my only request is to keep the materials free and accessible. (And if you have comments about them, please reach out!)
This page includes tips, advice, and ideas put together by yours truly (hence the "me"). For more, check out "OUT-SOURCED" for curated resources that I find helpful, or scroll down for my WRITING BOOKSHELF. If you're looking for guides, check out TEMPLATES.
Writing is a craft. To sharpen mine, I read a fair amount of books, articles, excerpts, and more. At least for the books, here are some I've enjoyed.
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