I Tried Bullet Journaling To See What The Hype Is Actually About
So much washi tape.
If you go on Instagram, or just the internet in general, you don't have to look very far to find the bullet journal, a system of organising that's part to-do list, part diary.
Bullet journaling can involve creating your own "keys" of symbols to differentiate things, coming up with lists on just about anything you want to do, and even design work! It basically seems like a hobby for people who have their shit together.
As someone who is obsessed with stationery, writing, and organising, this seems like the perfect meeting of those three things, but also, like, a lot of effort.
Looking at pictures of bullet journals, I got the feeling that people who are into them own marble tables, and drink coffee from independent cafés, and have nice houseplants that they never forget to water. I wanted to be like this.
I decided I'd see what the hype is about by bullet journaling every day for four weeks. I'd also try various aspects of it, like different layouts and "modules" – aka lists such as wish lists and gift ideas for family.
Now, I'm kind of bad at keeping with anything for very long, so trying this for four weeks felt like a long commitment. All of the jargon around it, like "modules" and "future logs", and the fact you need to use a key, made it sound overly complicated, but then again, if it actually helped me get more shit done, maybe it would be worth the effort?
Before I could start the journal, I first had to set the whole thing up.
To start a bullet journal you first need to buy a notebook and number the pages. You also need to fit the notebook out with:
* A "daily log", where you write your to-dos for the day, what events are happening, and your daily observations and thoughts, using different symbols to differentiate between them.
* A "monthly log" you do at the start of each month where you write down events and to-dos for the coming month.
* A "future log", where you lay out all the months ahead for the rest of the year and any stuff going on in them.
* An index at the beginning of the book.
* A key, i.e. a list of the different symbols you're using (you can put the key at the back).
Some people also like decorating their journals using:
* Coloured pens.
* Washi tape, a semi-transparent decorative tape.
For my bullet journaling, I decided to buy an A5 grid notebook (£11) , a black pen that cost £2 at the most, and some washi tape (£6 for eight rolls).
This setting-up process was actually kind of stressful, I’m not going to lie, because I wanted it to be perfect and Instagram/Pinterest-worthy. If this was just the start, how would the rest of the month go?
What I liked about it: In terms of getting shit done, spending 10 minutes every day going through things was actually really helpful. Also, even though the whole using symbols thing seemed excessive, it's actually a good idea and helped give a clear picture of what was happening in the week.
What I didn't like: I was kind of worried that mine looked so sparse, and was also like, what the hell do I even write in this? At first it was just to-do lists, which didn't really make it different from anything else I used. I realised that there's a reason there's a symbol for observations and started adding those in too. Unfortunately, despite writing your day-to-day stuff being called "rapid logging" (see, jargon), I sucked at keeping things concise. I had seen a few people add in things like graphs to track their spending and habits to their outline for the week, so I vowed to be more ~experimental~ next week.
How I did: I tried, I really did. Please, someone teach me how to use washi tape because my gut instinct is that this isn't right.
What I liked: Now I was kind of getting into using it I definitely realised I was actually ticking more stuff off of my to-do lists than I did prior to bullet journaling, so it was helping me get shit done. The whole thing is definitely a "you get out what you put in" thing, so I understand why people who are really into this find it super helpful and rewarding.
What I didn't like: So I tried something different this week, and did some of the ideas I had seen online, like spending logs, habit trackers, and meals for the week. For reasons unbeknown even to myself, I did them all at once. Because of this mistake, this week I felt like completing the bullet journal was a bit of a chore, and although things like the spending tracker were helpful, some of the added stuff just felt a bit unnecessary. The meal plan was also a mistake for me because most days I ended up having something different anyway.
How I think I did: I mean, there's lots of boxes. You know who like boxes? Organised people. Seriously though, I did a little better than last week at the whole making it look ~interesting~ thing.
What I liked: At this stage it was definitely something that felt like a hobby instead of a chore. It's also a really easy way to dump things all in one place; before, I was precious, thinking Is this worth writing down? and working out what order things should be in, but with this I had my entire week, from personal stuff to little tasks to work things, all laid out without it being hard to interpret. Also, "migrating" tasks (putting a task aside for a different day) is good at making you prioritise stuff, because if you've migrated a task a dozen times you either need to get rid of it or just finally do the thing.
What I didn't like: This is on me: If the previous week taught me anything it should have been "do what works for you". Which is advice I didn't heed. I kept forgetting to use the sleep graph I'd set up as well as the blue squares to show how much water I was drinking. And tracking these things didn't really help other than making me think, Damn, I need more sleep, which I knew anyway.
How I think I did: Tbh, I thought this was a good effort.
What I liked: At this point, it was second nature to use it every day and was actually something I looked forward to doing. While generally I still looked online for inspiration, I felt pretty OK with how I was going about it and it didn't feel like a chore. I felt more on top of things, remembered stuff I needed to do, and wasn't putting off doing stuff so much.
As it was the start of a new month I did a monthly log (top left), which was actually a really great way of planning and sorting stuff that's a little ahead in the future. I also started adding more modules (top right), which was a nice way to break things up and make it feel more personal.
What I didn't like: Nothing, tbh. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
How I think I did: This actually looked kind of good IMO, especially if it had been a bit fuller. But sometimes (perhaps often) I have virtually nothing going on, and this was one of those weeks.
When I first started bullet journaling, I was pretty sceptical of it and whether it was any different from what I was doing anyway. But after the four weeks were over I've continued to use it every day, to keep me organised for day-to-day stuff as well as to remind me of any long-term things I'm meant to be sorting out. It is definitely not as complicated as it initially seemed, and through a bit of trial-and-error and seeing what you do and don't like, it's something that's easy to get into and actually enjoy.
I also learned some stuff along the way, namely:
* What works for some may not work for you.
I felt irrationally bad that mine didn't seem as full as others, or look the same, but that doesn't account for the fact that people use these very differently. They're great for studying, but also for things like long-term projects and stuff you want to do around the house. This also applies to all those trackers. While some people will really benefit from them, I definitely preferred doing it without.
* It's not as time-consuming as I'd have thought.
It doesn't need to take up loads of your time – other than doing layouts for each week, it took up virtually no time at all and helped in a big way to get me more organised, especially with stuff outside of work that I otherwise wouldn't get round to doing.
* Don't feel like you need to be precious about it.
Everyone wants stuff to look nice, but eventually you just get over it. The fact that you have to number pages helps too, because it makes it harder to just rip out stuff you're not happy with as you'll mess up the whole order of things. Also, even though bullet journals can look pretty, the actual content is way more important and ultimately useful so don't get too hung up on the additional stuff.
* I still don't really get washi tape.
I will though, one day.