Dear Bullet Journal, We Need To Talk.

It happens to everyone. One day, you’re hugging your Bullet Journal because it *gets* you, and the next, you’re staring at it wondering why you two don’t talk anymore.

Alright, it’s not as dramatic as I made it sound – but it does happen in the course of forming a habit. You just don’t want to do it today. Or aren’t quite feeling it today. Today soon becomes a couple days, a week, a couple months – and poof, habit? What habit?

If you love Bullet Journaling like I do, it’s pretty disappointing when you just aren’t that into it anymore.  It could be any number of things – boredom, lethargy, not seeing the results you want to, etc – that are robbing you of the spark you’d felt initially. But if you wish to rekindle the romance, here’s a bunch of tricks that may help. People resist the formation of habits for various (pretty subjective) reasons, so a fair bit of reflection becomes necessary as you wade through the following tips.

Take a break

Yep, take a break from Bullet Journaling. If you aren’t feeling it anymore, you just aren’t – don’t fight it. Instead of forcing yourself to log entries every day and resenting what you once loved so much, take a short break – a week, fifteen days, your call. Some distance helps. While you do this, it’s important to keep a soft deadline for getting back to journaling, just so your break doesn’t turn into a break-up. Making notes as often as you can (even on the break) helps too . Not logging tasks, just notes about how you’re feeling, the events of the day and so on. This practice lets you track your mood and figure out if your break from journaling is a symptom of something larger you need to address.

Fight the guilt

I assume taking a break from building a habit when you’re really keen on it would make you feel pretty guilty (if you’re anything like me). But you really gotta fight that feeling! Guilt and habit-formation are not friends, so don’t beat yourself up for missing weeks of journalling. It’s a break, you’re allowed to take breaks, and it’ll only make your relationship stronger!

Love your Bullet Journal back

Experiment

If you don’t want to take a complete break from journaling, you can try experimenting with how you approach your bullet journal. Do you enjoy one aspect over the others? Stick to that, then. When I got bored of journaling, I stuck to writing notes, jotting down inspirations and ideas, and doing weekly migrations of sorts – because these are the things I love most about Bullet Journaling. I also noticed that logging tasks (and not completing them) was making me anxious, which was in turn, making my journaling miserable. So I ditched the logs for a bit. When I craved some structure in my days I got back to logging – but reduced the number of tasks I was aiming for. This helped build back my love for daily logging, one tiny task at a time.

Protip: don’t be afraid to tweak this system and make it put in the work for you.

Break Up

If none of this is working and the Bullet Journal is no longer serving you like it should, feel free to break up. We’re all different people with different needs, and you’ll find a system that fits you well – there are plenty of other productivity fish in the sea. Life’s too short to be married to a system that doesn’t love you back.

 

Setting up the Bullet Journal – a quick walkthrough

In the late 1960s, psychologist Walter Mischel ran a series of interesting studies at Stanford University. As a part of these, children aged four to six were led into a room with little else but a treat (often, marshmallows) laid out on a table in front of them. The children were then offered a choice: you can eat the marshmallow immediately, or wait for fifteen minutes and receive not one, but two marshmallows.

But you’re here to set up your Bullet Journal (BuJo), so let’s get straight to business. If you think you’d choose the marshmallow immediately, follow method 1 of setting up the BuJo. If you’d rather wait and get two marshmallows, follow method 2.

Setting up your Bullet Journal

The Bullet Journal is an analog powerhouse for planning, motivation, and organising, but its benefits extend way beyond these, as you will soon discover. It’s a simple, minimalistic approach to journaling that relies on four modules or building blocks: The Index, Future Log, Monthly Log and Daily Log.

basic-layout

Basic layout for your bullet journal

Method 1

  1. Grab a notebook/journal you like to look at. It doesn’t have to be exceptionally pretty or perfect, but you’re going to spend a lot of time with it – so at the very least, you shouldn’t hate it. Do pay attention to size, keeping it comfortable to carry with you.
  2. Number the first 15 pages of your journal.
  3. The following instructions work best for a large journal (13x21cm). If you’re using a much different size, I’d suggest reading through the all instructions before writing anything down. On the top of page 10, write today’s date and get started on your daily log.
    Your Daily log lists the tasks you want to do today. For the purpose of setting up, we’ll add the following tasks on today’s Daily Log, like so:
  • Set up Index
  • Set up Future Log
  • Set up Monthly Log
  • Review Daily Log

  1. Now head to page 1, (or page 2, if that is where you first 2 page spread is) and make that your Index. This is where your entire journal is condensed, for you to access quickly. It’s where you list important collections of notes on a topic, your monthly logs, everything you think you’ll need to come back to, and their corresponding page numbers. I like to call it Fantastic Entries and Where to Find Them, but that’s just me.

    index
  2. After this is done, move to page 3 (or 4, depending on where you started) and make this your Future Log.
    The Future Log is a snapshot of your entire year. Here you add goals for each month, and plan in advance for the especially big ones. For example, if you plan to write a book by December 2017, add that in. Now, planning ahead for this big goal, add in smaller goals like writing half of it by June 2017, finding an editor by November 2017…and so on. While setting up, merely divide this 2 page spread into 3 rows (for the first 6 months) and the next 2 page spread for the remaining six months.

    daily-log-4

    2/4 page spread for the whole year!

  3. On page 7 (or 8), rests your Monthly Log. The Monthly Log is the home for your immediate goals this month, and also hosts a quick calendar, for any important dates you want to remember. Your 2 page spread should look somewhat like this:

    daily-log-3

    Monthly log – Calendar + Goals list

  4. Now we’re on page 9 – If this one’s empty, you can use this to leave yourself some encouragement as you start Bullet Journaling. If not, just head to page 10.
  5. We’re back to the Daily Log we made at the start. Since you’ve finished some of the tasks you listed, you can cross out the bullets for those, indicating their completion.

    As you use your Bullet Journal every day, you can use more of the signifiers in your Daily Log to mark tasks that you want to postpone or are no longer interested in, notes, inspiring ideas, and those worth exploring. The BuJo uses signifiers to make this easy-peasy, and it looks like this:

    daily-log-2

    Daily log feat. signifiers

  6. There, your Bullet Journal is all set up! Take some time out later today to fill your Future and Monthly Logs – you don’t have to do it all at once, baby steps work best.
  7. Pair this guide with the original Bullet Journaling guide and video for best results.

Method 2

Thank you for waiting, here’s your extra marshmallow: Before you begin setting up your Bullet Journal, I’d suggest making a quick list of what you want from your Bullet Journal. Do you want to put a routine in place? Do you want to create more free time for yourself? Do you want to finally get to work on a side project? Write the most important expectations you have from your BuJo – I’d suggest writing it on the last page of your Bullet Journal, so it’s handy, especially for when there’s a drop in motivation or practice.

Once you’re clear about this – have your clarity inform your goals and head on to setting up the framework of your bullet journal.

  1. Grab your favourite new notebook, make sure the size is comfortable enough for you to carry around as well as fit all your entries.
  2. Begin setting up the framework – the Index, the Future Log and the Monthly log. Take your time filling these up with simple, precise goals. Follow steps 4-6 from Method 1, ignoring the page numbers.
  3. If you’re keen on using the BuJo to support your creativity and build a pipeline of ideas, consider creating a spread for your Ideas. Read more about customising the Ideas spread here. You can make a big annual list of ideas, or break it down to monthly lists – whatever works for you.
  4. Once you’re done with setting up the basic building blocks, it’s time to make your first daily log. The daily log is the place to list your tasks for the day, one day at a time. It uses signifiers to tell you the nature and status of your entries. For example, a ‘-’ for notes, a ‘!’ for inspiring thoughts and so on. For information on signifiers, see step 5 of Method 1.
  5. You’re all set to begin Bullet Journaling! Have fun, and do write to me if you have any questions.

Happy Bullet Journaling!

How to stick to Bullet Journaling

When I first discovered the Bullet Journal, I was excited… and sceptical. As a productivity junkie, I’d tried a bunch of hacks and systems before the Bullet Journal. My relationship with them pretty much followed the same path: an excited start, a gradual decrease in motivation, and eventual abandonment, heavily laced with guilt.

Today, it’s been over six months since I started Bullet Journaling, and I’ve made very satisfying progress on exiting my old, often frustrating ways. My list of untouched ideas has changed to one with many implemented ones. I’ve moved from being stressed out by deadlines to being on top of them. I still avoid uncomfortable tasks at the bank – but with way less intensity than I used to. Perhaps the most valuable difference has been this:  I’ve gone from being intimidated by my future goals to having them in my line of sight everyday. And my most important learning? I no longer try to force-fit productivity systems in my life. I try to make them work for me.

To put it simply: It’s been a ton of fun with my trusted Bullet Journal.

In gratitude, and as a note-to-self, I figured I’d write about what I’ve learnt about keeping a Bullet Journal (and sticking to it).

If you don’t have a BuJo (Bullet Journal) yet:

Merely begin.

A Bullet Journal is your favourite notebook turned into an analog planner, motivator and guide. To get started, I’d recommend the *simplest* guide to Bullet Journaling (no matter what a bunch of websites claim). What I love about this guide is that much like the BuJo, it keeps things easy, clean and self-explanatory. You can also pair the guide with this video.

If this is your first attempt at journaling, I’d also suggest keeping your BuJo simple for the first month, just so you get into the groove of keeping one. After all, the goal is not to keep the journal, it is to get to doing everything you want to get done, and have the journal support you.

If you’ve already begun keeping a Bullet Journal, here’s what has worked for me, and what hasn’t:

Keep it simple

I started off with the basic layout of the BuJo with no extra signifiers apart from the ones for Inspiration and Exploration. The interwebs are full of creative takes and approaches to the Bullet Journal, but to me it’s a bit too complex. I have plenty of clutter to deal with in my head, so I prefer having the Bullet Journal reflect only the most necessary items for my attention – separated neatly into timeframes. I also like that the minimalism allows me to access my ideas and tasks almost instantly.

basic-layout

Follow the rules

You’re trying to get organised, and there’s bound to be some resistance if you’re not used to documenting your life. It’s haaard, I know. However, the BuJo is reduced to just another notebook if you don’t follow the basic rules it comes with. The Index is your friend, and so is taking time out for migration of your monthly goals (forward to next month, or back to the future log…for someday). Planning projects and trips and everything in between is so much easier with the Index. If you’re having a lot of thoughts (and feelings) about a big decision, creating a collection and indexing it is a great way to keep track (and keep your head from imploding).

index

Marking out your daily logs (as completed, postponed etc) at the end of the day or before the start of another is also a neat way to stay on track.

If you’re having trouble setting aside time to write your daily logs, perhaps pairing your BuJo with an incentive may help get you started. For example, reward journaling streaks of seven days with an elaborate meal or buying that thing you’ve wanted for a long time now. It takes a month of practice to form a habit, so keep this up for a month or two and you should be fine.

daily-log-2

 

Often, if a streak is broken, the goal seems less desirable and farther away. Remind yourself that It. Is. Okay.

It’s completely, absolutely, totally okay to miss a day or two or even a week of daily logging. Just make sure you don’t beat yourself up for it – and get back to daily logging, with some notes about the days you’ve missed.

Customise

The BuJo, in its basic form, meets the need for daily planning, reminders, and keeping sight of your monthly/annual goals. However, I found that it fell short when it came to keeping track of my ideas. I tend to daydream a lot, and often end up turning my ideas into comics, artwork, or projects. I wasn’t too keen on making a separate notebook for my ideas, so I turned to my BuJo instead. A 2-page spread every month just for my ideas has helped me list all my ideas in one place, without the pressure of a timeline. It’s as simple as jotting down an idea on this spread as soon as you think of it. I cross out ideas as I implement them, or move them to the next month’s Ideas spread for execution. If an idea no longer interests me, I strike it out. This spread has not only helped me by supplying ideas when I’m having a creative block, but also helped me waste less time on ideas I don’t really love.

ideas-list

Pay attention

One of the biggest reasons I love analog planning is that it needs me to switch off from the distractions of my phone and the internet at large. Setting aside about 15-20 minutes in the morning to make my daily log is meditative for me. You can pick whatever time works best for you, but ensure it’s just you and your BuJo – for best results. Speaking of time, do also set aside at least an hour or two for migration at the end of every month. I find this to be a very energising practice – reviewing your month and examining what has worked and what hasn’t helps you fine-tune your BuJo experience, and boy, is it rewarding.

Another thing to pay attention to is the overall effect the BuJo is having on you. Do you feel more in control of your work/life? Do you feel like you’re seeing the big picture even as you keep an eye on the details? If not, document what you would like your BuJo to do for you, and you may eventually find a custom-fix. If not, you can always write to me and I’d be happy to help.

Here’s to more documenting, being on top of your tasks, and tons of free time. Happy Bullet Journaling!