As 2021 begins to wind down (and what a year it’s been!), I start my annual ritual of preparing my new bullet journal. I’ve been bullet journaling since 2017 and it’s really helped me in so many areas: my health, my relationships, my education, and my professional life. I’m going to share some tips for setting up your bullet journal and using it for success.
Don’t worry about getting too fancy
I won’t lie – I have an entire Pinterest board dedicated to people’s pictures of their beautiful, elaborate weekly and monthly spreads. Some people go all-out and do monthly themes, like the ocean or Disney. And there’s nothing wrong with wanting your bullet journal to be pretty
and personalized! But if you want to use it for better productivity, don’t get too bogged down in making it look gorgeous. Over my years of bullet journaling, I’ve settled on a simple basic layout that can be customized later if I have the time and inclination. Below is my standard weekly spread. It makes life so much easier - one glance and I know exactly what I'm doing that week.
It’s really easy to look at your lovely, pristine bullet journal once you’ve gotten it set up and think, “This is it. I’m going to get my life completely on track, change my habits, and basically be the best, most productive version of myself ever.” I’ve definitely gotten overly ambitious and written that I was going to do an intense workout every single day, because I felt so good about seeing my whole week laid out for me. Unfortunately for that dream, other aspects of my life got in the way – as did the fact that taking breaks is important. Who would have thought? It can be satisfying to track your habits, but start small and work your way up. You might want to totally overhaul your behaviour starting now, but it’s more sustainable to do things gradually.
Make it work for you
Some people fill in their bullet journal gradually, not starting to set up the next month until the current one is almost done. That’s valid, but I like to get the whole thing set up before the year starts – the whole twelve months, or at least the bones of them. This is partly because I use my bullet journal to keep track of my schoolwork. When I get the syllabus at the beginning of the semester, the first thing I do is write down due dates and readings. This lets me structure my time and schedule my work, with the security of knowing that the important stuff is already plugged into my calendar. Using a calendar app can be handy but writing things down by hand helps me remember them better. I like to write down the Focus Bubbles that I’m attending and hosting, as well as what I plan to work on in the Bubble. Intention is everything!
It also helps me stick to commitments in my personal life. Plans aren’t really “real” for me unless I write them in my journal, so I schedule time with my partner, friends, and family – which has helped me get closer with them! With my weekly D&D session scheduled in my journal, I protect that time for fun and relaxation.
Use it every day
Or try to. I know hectic days happen, and I’ve had my share of them. But checking your journal each morning for your daily schedule and tasks and reviewing it each evening are nice little moments of mindfulness to bookend your day. You can also use the blank pages to really lean into the journaling aspect – I have pages where I list things I’m grateful for, songs I like at the moment, how I’m feeling, challenges I’m facing, and so on. You can include whatever you want in your journal – it’s a tool that is endlessly customizable, and its whole purpose is helping you.
This January cover page was inspired by this one from Martha's Journal on Instagram.
I’m a full-time university student, part-time Focus Bubbles host, and a part-time D&D dungeon master. When I’m not working on my journal, I love meeting new people, hearing their stories, and getting new perspectives on life. I can’t wait to see you in a Bubble!