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Bullet Journal: A Planner for the Planning Impaired

When I was in college my method of organization and deadline management was a row of migrating Post-It notes lined up on the bottom of my computer monitor. Looking back on I see how 19 year-old-me instinctively created a tangible, flexible method of organization in order to get good grades, but still feel free.

So here I am 15ish years later. It’s January of 2018 and I have a lot of ideas and growth to explore this year. I’ve already committed to one life-changing course, and there may be another emerging soon. Blogging, writing, and extra side jobs are a big part of this year which means setting a schedule of tasks, ideas, writing, and publishing. How am I supposed to keep track of all this?!

Last year I heard about the Bullet Journal method and I was intrigued. I actually went as far as to set up a blank journal in the bullet format and start the process! But last year I was a mess and didn’t need to focus my energy on productivity and growth. I needed to breathe and heal. And that’s what I did.

This past month I re-visited the Bullet Journal idea. I did a little more research this time, I explored the community of bullet journalers to see what they have to say, AND I BOUGHT A BULLET JOURNAL! You can use ANY journal, but I knew buying it would increase my likelihood to use it by approximately 700%.

Tabitha's Bullet Journal Decree:

  • There will be no calligraphy, stickers, colored pens, or washi tape in my journal. I am not and will never be that girl, so let’s just let go of that pressure right now.
  • My Bullet Journal will be messy, scribbly, blotty, and fully of crossed out lines.
  • I will allow my Bullet Journal journey to evolve month to month, changing format to serve my needs as necessary.
  • There is no wrong way to Bullet Journal.
  • I will focus on using it as a tool rather than a master.

I know it’s only February, but so far so good! I have made lots of scribbly “mistakes”, I’ve already played with a format change, and I’ve still not totally sorted out how to use the Future Log vs. the Monthly Log. However that’s all PERFECT for me because it’s doing what it’s supposed to do: I’m getting more little things done every day, I’ve captured so many ideas, I’ve acted on ideas, and I’ve even written out tasks for later in the year rather than trying to pile it all into January and February.

I now have two journals. My Bullet Journal and my life journal. I had an epiphany about their individual and collective use and importance. Each journal represents one side of my brain. Left Brain: organization, drive, get it done. Right Brain: feelings, creativity, expression. So many ideas come to me in my daily faith time of writing that should be captured and acted on. In order to do this I started numbering the pages of my life journal and then making a note in my Bullet Journal, “Blog Idea: see pages 22-26 in life journal”.

Sometimes ideas come to me while I’m meditating/walking the dog, so I text those ideas to myself and later decide if the idea should be expanded upon in my life journal or acted on in my Bullet Journal. It’s been relieving to find this harmony between my two energies.

In the past my motivation to use a planner was to exact control over my life in the white-knuckled, perfectionism kind of way. I became a slave to my planner rather than my planner being tool. I would get so obsessed with doing exactly what was in my schedule, writing in, and crossing out that I would actually go back and add things I had done because I felt guilty if I hadn’t stuck to my schedule perfectly. I value freedom above all else so the ordeal would fizzle out leaving a planner with 351 blank pages. I would view this as failure and punish myself with guilt about being so unorganized. Sad young Tabitha!

Side note: it’s a good thing I have an excellent memory.

Index: keep track of what page your months or sections are on so you don't have to search pages and pages of scribble. You write in the pages as you create them so you're not committed or confined to a specific number. Please note, already a mess up and I'm not even a little ashamed.

Future Log: each moth of the year with at-a-glance events. I'm still learning what goes here and what goes in my Monthly Calendar. I get confused. Help me if you have a better way of doing this part!

Monthly Calendar List: a list of all the days of the month with specific events written in. So you can quickly see what's coming on what day. Birthdays, Anniversaries, appointments, parties, etc. There isn't enough room to write all the things on all the days though. That's because all the little things go in the Monthly Log. Hold that thought.

Habit Log: this is not part of the original format. I found the idea through another Bullet Journaler and I thought it was the perfect way to track all my regular events so they don't clog my Daily Logs and I don't have to cross them out if I don't do them. Also, I'll have a great record of what I ACTUALLY do all month. Things like ballet, Every Day Faith, and walking Thora are on here.

Blog Ideas: this is an experiment. Eventually I'll find a tracking system of when to write and when to publish posts, but for now I'm just using a little space to write down the post ideas as they come to me. This is also where I put in page numbers from my life journal to refer back to an idea that came to me during my Every Day Faith time.

Monthly Log: at the beginning of the month I reference my Future Log for things that I have noted to be done this month and add them to the Monthly Log. Next, I write out alllll the things I need to do this month. (I took this picture before I wrote out all the things. Privacy. Ha.) This is the list I'll refer to when making my Daily Logs. At the end of the month I'll scan the list for items left undone and migrate them. more on migration in a second.

Daily Logs: this is where writing out all those little things in the Monthly Log comes in to play. I scan my Monthly Log for things to complete and add them if that day is a compatible day. I don't write my daily log until I get to it. Because I don't know how much room any given Wednesday will need.

Checking Things Off or Migration: I check my Daily Log throughout the day to see what I still need to complete. When the day is done I can put a little "X" through the bullet point to show that it's finished. Vanquisher of tasks: Tabitha.

At the end of the day if there are items I haven't finished I re-assign (migrate) them to another day, or realize that it's not worth my time and strike through the whole line. If it gets migrated I put a little arrow next to it. And there are two kinds of arrows!

A right pointing arrow points to the next Daily Log where I have again rewritten "make sauerkraut" because I really have to do that or the cabbage will rot.

A left pointing arrow points to the Future Log. Example: we want to sell these extra snowboards, but selling snowboards mid-season is silly. But I don't want to forget to do it, BUT ALSO I don't want that to-do item staring at me for the next 10 months. I migrate it to the Future Log in "October". Because that's a smart time of year to sell boards. Now I've captured the action to make sure it gets done, AND un-clogged my current list.

When I get to October and scan the "October" Future Log I'll see, "Sell Snowboards" and put it in my Monthly Log, which will get broken down into smaller tasks, which will each take their appropriate places in my Daily Logs. And then we'll finally sell these board we've been talking about selling for 3 years. 2018 is already better.

My life journal: I've been journaling regularly since I was 11 years old. I have almost 30 filled journals stacked in a box. This particular one was bought in Istanbul, Turkey from a non-profit that offers protection and counseling to battered women and their children. They're called Mor Cati, and Team #WeLive and I got to go to their offices and interview one of workers while we were on the Mongol Rally in 2016. I am so excited to finally be using this one! I just started in December.

Life Journal + Bullet Journal: I journal almost every day. Especially now that I have this Every Day Faith habit going. I write out prayers, meditations, scripture, and thoughts/hopes/ideas/revelations. Some of these turn in to blog posts, which is where numbering my pages as I write is coming in handy. My Daily Log has tasks that read, "Write post about pages 22-24 in life journal." Instead of, "Write blog about all the parts of forgiveness and the verses that go with it from life journal." And then having to find that entry.

Daily Bullet Journal Use: sounds like a lot of work? It's not. Once a month it's like 30 minutes of prep, and either the night before or that morning I create my Daily Log with migrated items from the day before and items from the Monthly Log.

The Bullet Journal allows me to focus energy in areas that I want to grow! It's a wonderful system to do the next level $#!& I'm ready to do by segmenting the details and thereby diminishing the bigness of a goal.

Are any of you using a Bullet Journal? What systems have you come up with? I'd love to hear! Here's to the Bullet Journal Journey!

I want to be clear about something: if you do not feel the need to schedule your days, don’t. Our culture prizes organization, business, and productivity. To the great detriment of spontaneity, experiences that enrich, and therefore creativity. Scheduling should be what you need to facilitate productivity rather than busy-ness. Find what works for you. *rock horns*

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