Taking a bullet (journal)
June 4, 2019 9:38 AM   Subscribe

I am in need of a more effective way to keep my life in order. I need to be able to see and adjust the big picture (months) and the needs of the hour easily. My Google calendar is a mess and no matter what I do, there are times that entries go inexplicably missing and then show up again later. My day planner is ridiculously inadequate. What works for you in 2019?

I need something better. I don't want everything to be on my phone because I need to type on a keyboard instead of on a phone to make this efficient (I'm in my 50s, and my thumbs have never caught up in speed to the texting age.)
I'm seriously thinking that going back to analog is best (or combining?) but I need a system.
I have been interested in bullet journaling, but when I watched this tutorial it just seemed so overcomplicated and overwhelming.
I'm a humanities professor if that makes a difference to any suggestions.
What do you do?
posted by nantucket to Grab Bag (17 answers total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
I answered a similar question about simple resources for easy bullet journaling in 2016; you might find some good answers and links there!

I also really like Shutterbean's approach and her post about bullet journal layout ideas; she often shares pictures of her bullet journal, and it's imperfect and practical and gave me a lot of courage to make mine look whatever way works best for me.
posted by stellaluna at 9:47 AM on June 4 [4 favorites]

I do bullet journaling (bujo). I don't do fancypants artsy drawings and all that because I don't have the skill or time for it. I do minimalist bujo (really what was the original bujo). On a daily basis I track my to dos and appts and a log of my work for future reference (and for filling in my my timesheets). This is the essential part of bujo. I also do a number of other things with it- i start each new month on a fresh page with a simple picture i have printed out that feels to me like it matches the mood of the month (a pic of lilacs in March, Easter theme in April, bicycle with basket of flowers in May, etc). On the next page I have a list of tasks for the month. Some of these tasks come from work. Some come from my 2019 goal planner (which is what makes up the first 20 pages of my bujo this year). Some come from my 2019 Master task list that includes items delegated by others that aren't work related or tied to my goals. And some come from last month's task list i didn't get done and got pushed forward. Next page is a sleep tracker for the month. Next page is a water tracker for the month. Next page is a habit tracker where i fill in bubbles for each day for the habits i am trying to institute. Then i get to my weekly spreads for the month. I use 2 facing pages per week to track daily stuff i mentioned above. And at the end of the month i have a page to track best of worst of moments of the month. It is simpe and easy and very useful especially as i have adhd. Analog was the answer for me.
posted by TestamentToGrace at 9:49 AM on June 4 [24 favorites]

Flagged as fantastic, TestamentToGrace.

I have both a blank bullet journal and poor executive functioning skills (courtesy of ADHD); I've been wanting to use the former to combat the latter but have been intimidated by the prevalence of "fancypants artsy drawings and all that" in the bullet journals I've seen on social media. Thanks for a simple template that makes sense to a person without the bandwidth for anything elaborate.
posted by virago at 10:03 AM on June 4 [1 favorite]

look at Rocketbooks?
posted by nikaspark at 10:37 AM on June 4 [1 favorite]

For lists and reference type stuff, Google Keep is really nice. You can use it on your phone and in a web browser. It takes pasted in text or photos, you can draw on the phone app and you can easily turn a list of text into a checklist.
posted by soelo at 11:07 AM on June 4 [2 favorites]

All you need to make bullet journaling work is the Monthly and Daily Logs, and the notes, events, and tasks markers. Start there and forget everything else including the future log. Do the end of day and end of month task porting. You will start adding anything else (stars for top priority tasks etc.) that is helpful on your own. I've never found the collections particularly useful.
posted by edbles at 12:10 PM on June 4 [2 favorites]

This year I've been using a Hobonichi Weeks because it's very light and unobtrusive and I love the week planner on the left half of the page and free writing space on the right. The Weeks also has monthly pages at the beginning and more blank pages at the end for notes.

Hobonichi make planners with January and April start dates, so you won't be too late for an April start planner.
posted by sukeban at 12:13 PM on June 4 [2 favorites]

I have a nice notebook with a nice sticker on the cover. I get excited by fancy pretty things but I can't keep up with them, and I decided that a not-perfect thing I did was better than a perfect thing I imagined doing.

So at the beginning of the month, I have a calendar that takes up a full page. On the next page, I have just the days of the month with notes for any activities going on each day, deadlines, tasks to accomplish, etc. Every Sunday night, I use a page to outline things going on that week, and highlight anything specific that needs to be accomplished. And then every day I keep a running list of things done, to do, notes, etc. On Sundays, I cross-check it with my google calendar and outlook calendar so that I make sure I don't miss things for the week.

I've used it to organize fieldwork, packing for the field, packing for other trips, museum research, library visits, organizing classes, organizing my academic job search, and my day to day running around. I take notes during conferences, meetings with my supervisor, and language classes.

I find it's VERY HELPFUL to have everything in one place. The notebook is small enough that it fits in basically all of my bags, and I don't worry about losing track of it or misplacing where I wrote down a particular list.
posted by ChuraChura at 12:19 PM on June 4 [2 favorites]

I switched almost completely back to analog this year [except for calendar events, especially those shared with family] and I love it.

I have one, ONE! A5 notebook on the go (no more beautiful but bulky & heavy leather Filofax, sob) and like TestamentToGrace, I keep mine simple but everything goes in there - what food needs eating up, meals for the week, what to do about decluttering the box room, even a page devoted to "tv to make time for". Everything.

I think where some people come unstuck is that they (a) try and keep feet in both camps - try and commit fully to analog for a week or a month and see if suits you and (b) they spend too much time faffing with watercolor brush pens and the like making pretty layouts. I love those layouts but do I have time to make them daily? Nope! I use a good pen, do a few dotted underlines on headings and try not to scribble but that's as "fancy" as it gets.

The most surprising thing is how enjoyable it is to take a few quiet minutes before bed or before settling in for the evening to review the day that's gone, put things forward to the next day, plan for the future, and so on. Most evenings I make a pot of tea, walk the dog while it's brewing, then sit at the table to do this. Bliss.

(A5 because it fits in most handbags/purses.)
posted by humph at 12:37 PM on June 4 [1 favorite]

I have a 5x8 dotted journal with a super simple layout. The month cover page has my monthly tasks in a list. The next pages are weekly spreads, turned sideways, with a big box for each day so I can note appointments, meetings, deadlines, and daily tasks. Weekly tasks get a list on this page as well. Anything not done on a day or week gets transferred to the next day or week and highlighted.

I don't use mood or habit trackers anymore, I found them to be to time consuming to set up and I wasn't getting much out of them though YMMV.

No art or themed doodles unless I'm feeling particularly motivated, which is rare. I love the artsy layout style but I find a utilitarian box grid quick and easy so I actually use the journal.

Also many journals dont hold up as well to those brush pens and the colors bleed through. There are a couple that have good paper for art if you're so inclined. I can dig up the brands on those if you need, someone did a blog post comparing a bunch of journals for bleed-through a while back.
posted by ananci at 12:50 PM on June 4

The complexity of customizing a bullet journal is really up to the user, even if tutorials make it look mystifying, so don't let that stop you from giving it a try. I used a fairly barebones bujo method while I studied (successfully) for the California bar exam last year: took whatever empty pages were in a notebook I already had (a5 Midori MD), black gel pen (Pentel Energel-X .5mm b/c the ink dried quickly), made simple linear lists per day for stuff I needed to do & to track stuff I already did. Empty circles for "to do" bullets (e.g. "o write out Feb 2016 Q1 Essay"), struck out circles when those were done, x's or dashes for bonus/other things during the day, all of which amounted to roughly a couple days a page for the couple of months I was studying.

My spare time during those few months was very limited, so I didn't bother with habit trackers, monthly spreads, pre-determined layouts, elaborate designs, or complicated codes - just lists of to do, done, and other. Bullet journaling ended up being a helpful and low-effort tool during a stressful time in my life, so I'm a fan.

Nowadays, for my personal bullet journal, I've been using a dot grid a5 Leuchtturm with a little more attention paid to the aesthetics, but it's still fairly simple and low-key compared to the 'official' method. I start each month out with a Monthly Log listing each day of the week in a numeric list for the entire month (e.g. 1 Sa, 2 S, 3 M for June), fill in any concrete notable events/days ahead of time (e.g. 16 S - Father's Day), then fill out the rest as I go. I then make weekly spreads one week at a time, usually a 2 page spread but sometimes it's 3, so I don't do more than a week in advance in case I end up doing more in a day than I had planned on doing/jotting down. Since it's just a personal (non-work) bujo, I don't fuss much over consistency, and experiment fairly often with format. (I still don't use trackers or collections much, but I do like making media/places lists - Books Read in 2019, New Places Visited, Movies Watched, etc).

Rarely do I include anything work-related in my personal bullet journal (besides noting business travel or other non-routine things), but that's just me. For work, I have various blank Field Notes pocket notebooks that I fill out w/ something closer to my bar study method - to dos, done, other. I don't rely on it b/c I primarily use Outlook's calendar, spreadsheets, and various other electronic systems for work tasks, but I do still go back to paper and pen for when I want to focus on a set of given tasks at a time.

Re: Intimidatingly complex systems - there's certainly a lot of those out there, but if you look up, say, minimalist + bujo or minimalism + bujo, you'll find some nice examples of simple layouts to try copying or modifying for your own purposes. Don't worry about making "mistakes" or goofing up on layouts etc, it's all about trial and error and whatever you end up liking to include. Monthly logs + weekly spreads are the most useful bits of it, but feel free to experiment!
posted by rather be jorting at 1:33 PM on June 4 [2 favorites]

I only just started bullet journaling, but yeah: what works for me is doing just the really basic stuff, and not worrying about all the #bujo stuff on Instagram. I follow the basic setup described in Ryder Carroll’s book, and keep it minimal. I tried it once before with all the different colour pens and pretty pictures and it just stressed me out.
posted by synecdoche at 2:31 PM on June 4

Flipping through my own bujo just now, a couple other pages/spreads I find useful are:

- Yearly goals list: a page (or more) listing out various things I want or have to do this year, some with dates (e.g. anything that has a deadline), some without. Visit ____, read ____, renew driver's license by ___, etc.

- Bi-yearly(?) planner/log: 4 pages divided into two 2-page spreads, each page divided into horizontal thirds, 1/3rd for each month's various notable todos/events/appointments - makes it easier to look ahead and keep track of stuff that isn't coming up right away. 1st two pages are for Jan-June, 2nd two pages for July-December.

BTW, if you're interested in pretty pens, a wider range of colors, or just want to try out different stationery items to see how you like them, Japanese stationery stores are great for that. Online, JetPens has a huge catalog and various sampler packs to try multiple brands of pens w/o buying an entire set.
posted by rather be jorting at 2:32 PM on June 4

I like the online -- and relatively expensive -- Todoist enough to subscribe. What beats paper for me is the ability to set reminders, especially recurring reminders, so that once I've put in a task it will come up on the day it becomes doable or relevant. I do use it on my phone, but mostly to read todo lists and check things off.

It's fast with keyboard shortcuts when at the computer, and sorts and rearranges stuff brilliantly. (Lots of to-do apps do, matter of taste which one clicks for a person, I think.) And I just noticed that there's a microphone option for entering tasks on the phone, which does speech-to-text. I do find myself with a physical postit stuck to something waiting for an easy moment to type it in, though.
posted by clew at 4:21 PM on June 4

I have a modified version of a bullet journal, where I use a traveler’s notebook, which uses elastics to hold together three softbound Moleskins. One is my bullet journal with daily and weekly spreads. The second is work notes with an index page. And third is a personal notebook with an index that combines bullets and notes. That way, I keep things separate and I only keep the work notes and personal notebooks. There are other ways to organize the traveler’s notebook, but I like the ability to have multiple small notebooks together rather than put everything in one big running notebook.
posted by jilloftrades at 4:28 PM on June 4 [3 favorites]

I do use a combination of google calendar+bujo. I once heard someone say google keeps my schedule, my personal planner helps me realize that schedule. That to me has been very helpful in thinking about the differences between a calendar and a planner.

I put appointments and meetings in my phone (synched to work and google calendars). I think you could accomplish the same idea by having a separate hard copy calendar. I plan my life in my bullet journal. I use a blank notebook, and my own modified system. I think the idea of the bujo is to modify it, which is why it works great for so many different people!

A few days before a new month, I do a quick monthly page with the days of the upcoming month running down one page vertically. I also do a habit tracker on this same page because it makes me happy! I only write down big days/ unusual appointments on the monthly view - like birthdays, vacations, appointments that will mean a change in my schedule. I will also list any monthly goals I have on that page, or the following page if needed. This means I think big picture about the month before it begins.

Then each Friday afternoon I create a weekly page/s for the next week - this sometimes changes based on how many individual meetings I have. Usually it's just one page with a row for each day reflecting my meetings/appointments for that day. On the next page after my weekly schedule, I make a list of weekly goals/ to-dos. So again, I am reflecting on the week and how to approach it before the week begins. Then as the week goes on, I have ongoing notes for each day. Then at the end of the week, I start a new week and pull over any goals/todos that weren't done.

My journal has zero pictures, is not fancy, and is actually somewhat messy. I do occasionally google what other folks do for inspiration. But for me it's about function, not art! I also think the best way to get started is to just start. And then start over if the format you tried with doesn't work for you.
posted by donovangirl at 8:17 AM on June 5 [1 favorite]

While I use Google calendar for things with specific times, I like bujo for everything else. I actually really like the collections, probably because I have a bunch of disparate things in my life to keep track of, that I'm not necessarily working on at any given moment. So my daily to do list will be things that need to get done and things I'd like to do, that I decide each morning. My collections have the next steps for when I get back to something or just info related to it that I'll want later. My lists include accounting class, art, visiting parents, house declutter, and name change. If I have extra time one day, I can flip through and see fairly quickly that, say, I'm waiting on my new passport and can't do more name change details until it comes in, so that to do list can wait. Or that I've got the book art that was ready up on my website, but I want to edit some photos of more art before I do a projects post and do a painting from my Grand Canyon sketches. My visiting parents page has things like instructions from the hospice nurse and the schedule of buses that I take to get there. It's so useful to have all these things without a giant overwhelming to do list. And while I am artistic, I have yet to do art on any of the pages. So I wouldn't worry about that.
posted by Margalo Epps at 10:05 PM on June 7

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