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Bulletjournaling, Messy and all

It’s been around for a few years, but all of a sudden, it looks like everyone is doing it. They’re filling Pinterest and Instagram with photographs of elegant or exuberant pages filled with perfect handwriting and calligraphy, museum quality doodles and yards of washi tape. But they say they’re using it to keep their obviously well-organized lives organized as well as their stationery stash. Not that any of this is a problem, you understand. It’s called bulletjournaling, or bujo, and it really has made a difference in my life.

It all started with Ryder Carroll,  here. He designed the system to be as simple and fast as possible, to be used in a business setting. If you go to the linked page, you see how elegant it is. You start with a bound journal, and number the pages. Then you create an index page to be a table of contents, so that you can create a reference to each page/log/collection you create, and don’t have to worry about like next to like.  You then make a “Future Log” – major events in the next six months – a “MonthlyLog” – a simple vertical list of all the days of the current month, with the day of the week following. You put the event/appointments of the month on the line next to each date. Then each day you create a Daily log of what needs to be done THAT DAY. Basically, you’re creating an ever more granular To-Do list. You can also write one-line journal entries (This meeting went well, but next time bring coffee!) on the daily list. All you actually need is a notebook and a writing instrument.

And that is enough, but people do go further. Carroll suggests we also make “collections” – pages of lists for goals, planning, brain dumping, books read. He also suggests we make trackers – graphical ways of, well, tracking. Meds taken, exercise done or to be done, habits we want to instill or get rid off. Even moods or water consumed.

Even trackers don’t require more than a ruler, especially if you use graph or dot grid paper. So, it should be simple enough to start, and it really. Until you start looking for examples.

And that’s where it gets intimidating. You see, for a number of the users, and certainly for those who post on Instagram and Pinterest, or make videos for YouTube, it’s also a creative outlet and an excuse (if one is needed) to really get into stationery. They have perfect, elegant handwriting, and beautiful calligraphy. Their pages are layout masterpieces with large and small calendars, drops of water, handmade mandalas to track their moods. They use brush pens and lovely pastel highlighters, stamps, stencils and so much washi tape in so many ways. And it’s wonderful to see. Any creative outlet is good, and they all seem to get so much pleasure in both the means and the results. And you look at your old spiral notebook of lists of lists, written in the ballpoint pen you found in your kitchen junk draw, using an envelope as a straight edge and despair of doing it right.

Of course, as long as it works for you (it doesn’t work for everyone, of course), or you can figure out how to tweak it so it does work, that spiral notebook and ballpoint pen are PERFECT. I’m very certain there are dozens of basic bujo users for each person who posts works of art. It really isn’t required to post photos of each weekly spread, and I’m sure most people don’t. Because what it is is a personalized tool that takes the place of preprinted planners that may not do the job you want them to do. And that’s all it is.

And that leads me to MY bulletjournal. Because I have terrible handwriting, don’t do calligraphy, mess up layouts and make tons of mistakes. And take fuzzy pictures.

Like many, many people, I’ve tried so many systems of planners and organization, from rotating index cards to Flylady’s constant emails, not to mention DayRunner and At-A-Glance, plus using Google docs and, well, nothing worked right and things cost too much or were just plain wrong. The last thing I tried was the Staples ARC system, mostly because I loved the way the discbound system LOOKED. I’d wanted to try Levenger, but it was out of my price range. That lasted a couple of months, which was a record at the time, but then I put it aside.

A few months later, I saw this blog post at Pretty  Terrible, and it intrigued me enough, with her talk of stationery and being productive, to try it. I went to Ryder’s website, did things his way, even bought the Leuchtterm 1917, which might as well be the official bullet journal notebook. In fact, they MAKE a notebook designed just for bullet journaling, but even their normal one has index pages plus pagination. And they are very nice notebooks. But it didn’t work. I made the future log, and the monthly log, and even planned holidays and Worldcon, but I stopped, and then I started again a month or so later, but I made the Monthly overly complex, and the dailies didn’t work because I didn’t take it to work with me, and when I did, I let it sit there. And then I left it, and the fountain pen I was using, at a friend’s house, and I still haven’t gotten it back. It’s not a cheap notebook and I didn’t want to buy it again.

I tried using an inexpensive notebook, and I tried using Evernote on my phone and computer, but neither felt right. But the system itself spoke to me, and I wanted to make it work because when it did, it was good Then I took part in a Twitter conversation where I’d mentioned bujo, but someone else started talking about discbound systems, so I googled. And googled, and googled. I found my old discbound notebook, took out everything I’d already done, added more graph paper, and started all over again. This time, I didn’t use an index page. I divided the book into sections with the dividers I already owned. I diy’d a pen loop with elastic and duct tape. It was the beginning of the year, and I was ready.

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Graph paper, messy handwriting, plain black gel pen. But it was a start. And I was making the effort to take it to work

I added a layer of granularity  – a weekly log. Yes, I was writing things several times over. Yes, I was, and am, also using Google Calendar. It’s what made it work. I used the other side of the page to make little trackers, like for recording my blood sugar. I was starting an new med, and it was oddly high. Turns out to have been the dish soap I was using to wash my hands in the morning. I started keeping a food log, with a carbohydrate count. And I ordered pre-punched, pre-cut for A5 dot grid paper from Etsy.

One stormy day in March, when I had off from work, I planned Passover.

Planning for #Passover 1. Menu 2. Cleaning/shopping/cooking 3. Preliminary shopping list #bujo #bulletjournal

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It turned out to be the easiest Passover I’ve done since I started hosting seders.

I’ve tweaked things since. I’ve added color, I’ve changed to a regular calendar view for my monthly page, I’ve added a habit tracker that I find very useful, and a couple of collections. I’ve played with stencils, too, and at least looked at washi tape.

None of that’s important. What is important is that I feel that I’ve gained a measure of control over my time. I know when my appointments are. I know what my meals are probably going to be, although I plan them in pencil. I have my regular tasks at home and at work listed. I also have candle-lighting times and New Moons, and who watches the phones when I’m on break. My job isn’t demanding enough to need a separate journal, but I have it with me there, and I take notes. I read a section of the Torah portion of the week each day, or I try. I wear earrings and lipstick each workday because there’s a checkbox for that.

This was today’s planning:

1&2 – last week's #weeklyspread mostly competed. I'll do the review later. I liked the smaller boxes, but added the rose because of the empty space. I also liked the book and show trackers. 3&4 – last week's #DailyLog. I do this as the week goes on, so each day has what it needs. I've also been adding new habits I want to start to my action lists. This week has been to start the day without my phone until I've dressed and said shacharit – morning prayers – and to take my nightly shower before 10PM, lights out at 11:30. I'm still sticking to two colors, but I'm having fun playing with writing styles. 5&6 are this week's #weeklyspread. I've reduced my BG tracker to 3x a day, and added a new habit tracker. When I make my new monthly spread, I'll add them to the monthly tracker, which will now need it's own page. Which means I'll probably put the reading and watching trackers on their own page. The tools I used were a 6" ruler, a mechanical pencil, a Pilot Flair pen and a Zebra Mildliner. #bulletjournal #bujo #discboundjournal #jewishplanning

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It’s not perfect. It’s full of mistakes. It’s messy. And it gets tweaked a lot. But it works for me.

It doesn’t work for everyone. Some people need the regularity of standard forms, some work better online, and some don’t feel journals at all.  But there’s no need to be perfect or beautiful or neat (although pretty does help me.) But I’ve been doing this steadily since January, I really enjoy it and it’s all amazing to me.

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Categories: Bulletjournal Tags: ,
  1. June 19, 2017 at 1:40 am

    I think this is actually the best article on bujo that I’ve read. I note that I was sort of doing pre-bujo for decades, by numbering my pages and putting a ToC in the back of each book.Will read the articles you refer to, and look forward to discussing this with you next time we do lunch (which will hopefully be soon).

    • June 19, 2017 at 8:18 am

      I remember that! I knew the system reminded me of something. I’m glad it made sense to you. I mostly love that it’s so adaptable.

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