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    I Finally Tried The Bullet Journal Trend That Everyone's Obsessed With

    I am what you may call an ~organized~ mess.

    Hey, I'm Emily! I'm 23 years old, so it should come to no surprise to you that I have trouble with this whole adulting thing.

    Emily Shwake / BuzzFeed

    I've always been a relatively responsible human being, but lately I've felt so shambly.

    I wanted to find a way to get my shit together, but my strategic plan is typically more along the lines of ~organized chaos~.


    Bullet journaling always seemed like a great resource, but the beautiful spreads all over Instagram felt a little intimidating...

    @the_rewm / Instagram / Via, @nc.journal / Instagram / Via, @bumblebujo / Instagram / Via,

    The concept has certainly evolved since Ryder Carroll introduced the idea, but bullet journaling (AKA dot journaling or rapid logging) is basically an all-purpose note-taking or organization system for your goals, appointments, aspirations, and thoughts. Everyone's bullet journal has different levels of complexity, but a few common elements are:

    • A weekly or monthly log: To track what you have to do, what you've done, and what you hope to accomplish.

    • A habit tracker: Or a checklist for daily goals — such as reading or exercising.

    • A mood tracker: Kind of like a diary, but simpler and faster. Some use symbols to indicate events, notes, and obligations, but others prefer to keep a page for each.

    Basics aside, I also have the intimidating experience of working with Rachel Wilkerson Miller, queen of dot journaling at BuzzFeed. She literally wrote a (great) book about it.

    And I’ve been wanting to start a bullet journal for forever, but that level of organization always seemed entirely out of my reach. I am no queen. I am a disorganized mess who still hasn’t signed up for her 401(k) and whose mother nags her to go to the dentist (ILY, Mom).

    But I decided to go for it! I bought all of the journaling necessities and committed to journaling daily for at least one month.

    Emily Shwake / BuzzFeed

    I wanted to see if bullet journaling could help me:

    1. De-jumble my ideas for work that are currently spread across my entire virtual universe.

    2. Stop relying on my brain to keep track of all the shit I have to do.

    3. Be less of an idiot with my finances.

    4. Settle my chattering stream of consciousness that actually gives me headaches.

    Here's how the month went.

    BuzzFeed / Emily Shwake

    I got nervous about making my first page perfect and had no idea what kind of layouts to use. After procrastinating for a week, I screwed it up anyways.

    Emily Shwake / BuzzFeed

    The buildup to this was really dramatic, TBH. I wanted the first page to look just right, and I didn't know what kind of tracker to use... and I was being hella lazy. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    I finally started while waiting for the subway at 11:30 one night. I know — I'm great at timing. And guess what? I still hated it. I tore it out and trashed it. And the next page, and the one after that. And you know what? Nothing bad happened. How crazy is that?!

    I was only a few pages in, but I decided to just embrace the fact that my journal doesn't have to be pretty or mistake-free to be helpful.

    Emily Shwake / BuzzFeed

    I wanted this journal to be a speedy way for me to keep my thoughts organized. I decided to start pretty bare–bones with just a weekly log and a monthly habit tracker, but I quickly added pages for budgeting and ideas for work. It was nice to have to have one journal for everything from my planner and budget to my meeting notes and post ideas.

    A mistake I definitely made from the get-go was not taking advantage of the index section. You're supposed to write the subject of each page of your bullet journal in the index so you can easily access what you're looking for. Use👏 your👏 index👏! Or else you're just frantically flipping through to find what you need and look like an idiot during meetings.

    I'm totally going to try this genius trick of making tags on the page that correspond with their spot on the index next month.

    BuzzFeed / Emily Shwake

    Going into Week 2, this system still felt a little clunky and tedious to me.

    Emily Shwake / BuzzFeed

    Though I liked writing down what I did every day because I knew what I had to accomplish, it didn't feel like I was accomplishing anything new. Instead, it kind of felt like it was just an extra thing for me to check off my list. 😑 My ideas, calendar, and notes were still spread all over the place, so I felt a bit frazzled.

    However, I did make an A+ move because of my journal: I decided to swap my biggest distraction (my laptop) for my journal. It turns out that taking notes helps me just as much in the working world as it did in school.

    Emily Shwake / BuzzFeed

    Working at Buzzfeed dot com means I spend all damn day staring at a screen, and we tend to bring laptops to meetings. When I was a student, I knew that I couldn’t focus on anything in class if I had my laptop open. I had to completely relearn this lesson in the working world. I actually paid attention and came up with ideas in meetings when I quit pretending to multitask, shut my laptop, and took hardcore notes by hand.

    BuzzFeed / Emily Shwake

    So I'm finally getting the hang of this thing! I ~upgraded~ my weekly log so that I could see everything (to-do, did, ideas) on one spread and I was so damn happy.

    Emily Shwake / BuzzFeed

    This layout was chill enough that I wasn't burning man hours on pretty lettering or elaborate flourishes. (I'm not talking shit — I can't wait for the day that I'm this put together.) But I'm starting to realize the benefit: my thoughts are organized on the page so they feel organized in my mind. I can quickly look at what I did yesterday to know what I need to accomplish today.

    Visualizing my budget made me more aware of where my money went. But being diligent about entering my spending was still difficult.

    Emily Shwake / BuzzFeed

    So, yeah, I spend too much money. I try really hard to keep an eye on it, and end up saving in really strange places. Like I'd rather walk an hour than pay $2.75 for the subway, but there doesn't seem to be a difference between $20 and $30 when I'm out to dinner? I can't explain. But actually writing it down (or drawing it) really helped at least make sense of what I was doing. My plan for the next month is to just do weekly budgeting because it was an easier way to keep track of how much I was spending and restrict it.

    Though it wasn't a completely accurate picture of my budget because I sometimes forgot to fill in certain purchases, keeping a page for the money I spent helped me be more cognizant of my money. Next month, I'll probably just do a weekly budget because it's easier for me to break down how much I can afford to spend.

    BuzzFeed / Emily Shwake

    With one week to go, I realized that I was generally feeling more settled and ~mindful~ about my choices.

    Emily Shwake / BuzzFeed

    I know, I know mindful is such a buzzy, annoying word, but it's totally true. I wasn't doing anything differently besides putting pen to paper (instead of relying on my shit memory), and yet doing so noticeably ceased some of that "chatter" in the back of my mind.

    BuzzFeed / Emily Shwake

    In Week 5, I decided to experiment with the diary element of the bullet journal.

    Emily Shwake / BuzzFeed

    Ok, so I’m not going to share my notes with you because I’m a HELLA private person so I'm just showing you something that didn't work: I tried assigning colors to my feelings. Considering my mood can sporadically bounce from pissed off to laugh-crying in seconds, it was a crapshoot.

    Instead I tried tagging each of my emotions throughout the day. I’ve always kept a journal, but it hasn’t looked like a ~diary~ since I was like 6. Writing down your thoughts doesn't have to be articulate or necessarily help make sense of that emotion; it just helps you externalize and acknowledge those thoughts so they don't eat you alive.

    Rachel, journaling queen, provides a few options for tracking your mental health here. Just because one didn't work so well for me doesn't mean it won't be good for you, so I recommend playing around with a few different formats.

    BuzzFeed / Emily Shwake

    The monthly tracker was tedious — but ultimately helpful. It actually did help me establish one habit: I started making my bed every day. (Which makes me feel VERY adult.)

    Emily Shwake / BuzzFeed

    I have a lot of feelings about this tracker. What worked? I became religious about making my bed which made me feel great. And even though it didn't have a huge effect on how often I worked out, I did like having a better picture of how often I was exercising. AND HOLY HELL I'm drinking too much. I swear, that's my money pit, so I'm definitely going to start making an effort to cut back on that.

    In next month's tracker, I'll attach numbers to each habit (instead of just checking a box) to get a better picture of things like how many drinks I have or how long I work out.

    So did one month of journaling help me meet my goals? YES.

    BuzzFeed / Emily Shwake

    Moral of the story, I definitely want to keep doing this. In just one month, it helped me:

    💸 Be more aware of my spending.

    📸 Have a better snapshot of my work goals and accomplishments.

    💡 Keep better track of my ideas.

    🙉 Cut out some of the noise.

    🌈 Let out all my fucking feelings.

    But am I going to do things differently going forward? For sure. Specifically:

    📆 Keep every week on a single spread so I see everything I need at a glance. Monthly trackers may work for you, but they definitely don't for me.

    🗝 Write up my index so that when my bullet journal is really filled in, I can find everything.

    📌 Limit my habit tracker so that I'm setting more manageable goals — and make those habits quantifiable (time spent, money spent, drinks drunk, etc).

    💵 Create an actual budget that details what I'm allowed to spend instead of just tracking what I do spend.

    👹 Note the emotions that are really nagging me. Though tracking every emotion is a useful exercise in mindfulness, it's a bit of a time-suck.

    📈 Continue experimenting with tried-and-true trackers to find what really works best for me.

    ✔️ Check off my to-do list to make prioritizing my work more efficient.

    Last thing: I bought a bunch of stuff for this project but TBH, all you need is a good set of pens and a sturdy notebook.

    Emily Shwake / BuzzFeed

    I got annoyed having to carry a bunch of stuff around which is one of the reasons I started leaving my journal at my desk, but here's the list of products I tried:

    This dotted journal from Amazon for $19.95 that was a little heavy for me but great in every other capacity. There's an index, numbered pages, a sturdy cover, a folder in the back, and two bookmarks to easily access the pages you regularly use.

    A really fun pack of 3 stencils from Amazon for $7.80 that are great for doodling and decorating.

    A set of 8 brush pens from Amazon for $10.99 that I didn't really understand how to use but from what I understand from calligraphy fanatics, they're awesome.

    I ended up using my set of Stabilo pens that I already owned instead, and I highly recommend them because their color is gorgeous, always has an even line, and everyone that uses them loves them. You can buy them on Amazon for $9.49.

    This set of leather calendar tabs from Amazon for $7.99 which weren't good for me because you can't move them, but if you already have a very organized journal, these will be very pretty/helpful.

    These 20 rolls of washi tape from Amazon for $8.49 that I didn't use in my bullet journal but I've used on everything else.

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