I'm Taking Another Stab at Bullet Journaling
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  • Abby

I'm Taking Another Stab at Bullet Journaling

I’m sure I’m not the only one who is a sucker for all those gorgeous bullet journal spreads that are all over the internet and have been for a few years. They’re stunning and so creative and interesting.


But when I first gave bullet journaling a shot a couple years ago, it didn’t work for me at all. I stuck with it for a couple of months before quitting because I didn’t feel like it added anything to my life. I wanted to find a journaling strategy that increased my productivity, and the things I saw people tracking and listing and doodling didn’t seem to improve my life.


Since then, I’ve hung onto my bullet journaling notebook (just a plain old 5”x8” 400-page spiral bound notebook) and used it for random note taking, as well as the morning pages that I’ve started doing as part of my morning routine.


Recently, though, I’ve realized that tracking a few parts of my life in a notebook may actually keep me more organized and consistent, but instead of trying out all of those lists that the bullet journal community draws out because they look pretty, I need to focus only on what works for me. (Sound familiar? I’m taking my own advice.)


So I’ve decided to make a couple of simple bullet journal spreads for the month of June to see if they help me at all.


But this time, I’m doing it my way.


Just in case you’ve never heard of bullet journaling (do you live under a rock? You’re about to go down quite a rabbit hole) here are a few quick resources to get you started:

The basics on the official bullet journaling website

The lazy genius collective

And one more


My Why:


As you know, when I make a change in my life, I start by finding my Why. This helps me stay motivated and on track, makes sure I’m trying new things for the right reasons, and keeps my journey in life intentional and in line with my values.


My primary reason for trying out bullet journaling again is that I just want to see what happens. Like so many things in my life, I’m doing this as an experiment.


Ultimately, I’m hoping that I discover something helpful that makes life a little more organized and enjoyable. Maybe this will be the system I need once I’ve made it suit my life. Maybe it won’t work this time, just like it didn’t when I tried a few years ago. We’ll have to see if my changes help.


What Didn’t Work Last Time:


When I first tried out bullet journaling, I think I tried to use it for too many things, and none of the things I used it for really needed to be tracked in a bullet journal.


Using My Bujo as a Calendar


Last time, I tried to use it as a planner/calendar system. I don’t know why I thought that would work for me. I’m too tied to my calendar blocked Google calendar because that’s what works well for me. I already have a great calendar system in place, and trying to draw a new one from scratch is time-consuming and pointless, at least for me. My current system is flexible, fast, easy, convenient—everything that I need in a calendar, and everything that my bullet journal was not.


Using My Bujo for Lists


I also filled many pages of my first bullet journal listing out things that I wanted to try, eat, buy, read, listen to, or do. Instead of using it to get things done, I was just using it to add more to my to do and to consume lists, which is not what I need.


These spreads were likely ones that I found online and thought would be cool, but in the end, didn’t contribute anything to my life. I never revisited them. Though looking back, I have actually tried, eaten, bought, read, listened to, and done many of these things. I know what I want, and I don’t need to keep lists for all of these things to remember them. (Aside from books, but I keep a list of my to-read books on Goodreads which is more convenient anyway.)


Many of these list spreads look great when other people draw them out with cute pictures, and I’m sure some people find them helpful, but they just aren’t something that I found useful or needed in my life.

Using It For My Budget (sort of)


Using my bullet journal for my budget wasn’t the worst thing. It did work pretty well, but because I now keep a shared budget with my fiance, we use a note-keeping app on our phones so that we can both edit the same note. This makes budgeting more convenient and flexible than using a bullet journal.


One of my biggest issues with my bullet journal was that I’d run out of space pretty often and have to jump back several pages to the next blank page to continue writing. This made it awkward to go back and find everything I was looking for. Having my budget all listed together on one note is less cumbersome than 3 random pages in a notebook.


My Plans for June


What I Want to Get Out of This:


My aim, for now, is just to try out bullet journaling for one month and then take some time to assess how well it went, whether or not I should continue, and if I choose to continue, what changes I need to make moving forward.


My aim is certainly not to create a gorgeous bullet journal full of washi tape and watercolors, though that wasn’t my aim last time either. I’m keeping it simple with whatever writing instrument is closest to me at the time. Though I may bookmark the important pages with some tape.


I do see the value in creating stunning spreads, and I love admiring them online, but those stray more into therapeutic journaling than productive journaling, and I’m in it for the productivity.


I also don’t want to try out anything long-term yet. Since I’m just experimenting and don’t know if I’ll stick with it, I intend to keep any long term planning and random note taking limited to the places online that I already do those things. I don’t need to reinvent the wheel here. My Trello board works just fine.


Lastly, I don’t want my bullet journal to be too time-consuming. I don’t mind taking some time to set up the spreads initially, but day to day, I want to spend no more than five or ten minutes on my bullet journal. I need something that’s easy to stick to, not something with lots of fussy, nitty-gritty details.


This time, rather than trying to use my bujo primarily as a calendar or planner that also holds a bunch of random lists, I intend to use it primarily as a tracker. What gets monitored gets managed, and I have a couple (literally, two) things that I want to track for now because I feel that keeping an accurate log of my actions will help me assess what is and isn’t working.


What I’ll Be Tracking


So after spending way too long scrolling around Pinterest and the many bullet journaling subreddits, here are the things I want to try out this month:


Tracking Workouts


I’m fairly consistent about working out and have been for nearly a year, but sometimes, life happens, and workouts get missed.


In order to make sure I get all of my workouts in this month, I’ve made a tracker with the number of workouts that I would complete if I didn’t skip any of my scheduled days.


Because I typically go to the gym M/T/W/F/Sa, I have 21 workouts scheduled in June, so I’m putting 21 boxes on my tracker. I’ve also been trying to spend some time stretching and doing yoga in the evenings, so I’m adding 8 boxes for that as well (2 per week). Finally, I’m leaving some extra space to list other active things that I may do during the month, like swimming, playing tennis, and kayaking. I’m also leaving space to note down the date of each workout so I don’t get confused about which days I’ve tracked and which I haven’t.


It’s not a very exciting layout, but this is my workout tracker for June:


I've learned that sharpies bleed through notebook paper. Oh well. We're here for productivity, not perfect layouts.

With this tracker, I can assure that I complete the intended number of workouts, even if my schedule gets thrown off because of a busy day. Tracking my workouts allows me to make sure any missed workouts get made up, and I can hit my goals without worrying too much about when exactly I work out.


Skincare Routine


Recently, I’ve decided to finally get my skin under control. My acne flared up when I went off of birth control a year and a half ago, and I haven’t really made an effort to manage it, but I’ve been working to change that over the last few weeks.


As I’ve gotten more into skincare, my nighttime routine has grown. Rather than just brushing my teeth and washing my face with water, I’ve been experimenting with cleansers, moisturizers, spot treatments, toners, and masks to figure out how to make my face happy.


If I’m able to stay consistent with my current routine for even 3 or 4 days, my skin clears up quite a bit. I’m not normally someone who cares about maintaining a streak, but it’s clearly valuable to make sure I do my skincare routine every. single. day. I rarely find keeping a streak motivating, but it may be helpful when it comes to this relatively new habit that isn’t fully ingrained yet.


Though my current routine is a big step up from not doing anything at all, I still have some minor issues that I’m working to clear up, so I intend to continue experimenting with different products. By tracking my routine and any changes or inconsistencies that happen, as well as any changes in my skin, I can determine if a new product has made my acne better or worse.


Because I have a strong why (having nice skin is a huge confidence booster, plus acne HURTS), and I’m pretty excited about this whole thing, I think I’ll be able to stick to updating this bullet journal spread daily. It is a bit more involved than just checking off boxes when I complete a workout, but it’s still fairly simple and should only take a few minutes each day.


For my skincare spread, I created columns to check off for each step in my routine, which currently consists of a cleanser/scrub, a moisturizer, and an occlusive (seals in the moisturizer), along with occasional face masks. I also left space to write notes about the state of my skin, as well as any changes that I may make to the routine throughout the month.


More sharpie bleed-through. Also, days 25-30 are on the next page, obviously.

By the way, if you’ve never had a skincare routine, I definitely recommend building one. It doesn’t have to be complicated. /r/SkincareAddiction can help, though they do tend to be pretty intense over there. I know my readership is largely male, but skincare isn’t a gendered thing. Men, take care of yourself, skin included.


Anyway, that’s it. For this attempt at bullet journaling, I’m only going to be tracking two things. I know that’s not nearly as exciting as watching someone try to overhaul their entire lifestyle and track every moment of it while illustrating the whole thing with watercolors, but this is what’s realistic for me. This is what I need.


Maybe my bullet journaling will become more involved as time passes, maybe it won’t. Experimenting with new systems is one of the best ways to improve your life, and you never know what works until you try it. This is what I think will work for now, so based on how this month goes, I’ll reevaluate and adjust for the following month.


Doing what works for you is important, and not often said by self-help people. You don’t have to wake up early to be successful. You don’t have to live your life exactly the way someone else is. Pick and choose what works for you. And that’s what I’m about. Do what you need.


So much of what’s out there is about attracting followers, not about what works in real life. Real life isn’t that perfect for most people. Do what works for you.


If you’d like to keep up with my bullet journal journey, I’ll be posting about it occasionally on my Instagram and Twitter so come follow me for updates. Depending on whether or not anything interesting happens, I may write another blog post about it in a month or so. We shall see.


Have you tried bullet journaling? Did it work? What did and didn’t work for you? Let me know in a comment!