Is it a tiny tiny notebook? Is it an American scrapbooking practice? Is it one of those extortionately priced Paperchase gimmicks which charges a premium for you to jot down the things you’re most grateful for, as if normal paper can’t rightly harness the power of your many thanks? I wasn’t sure, but I’d seen my friend Hannah getting pretty animated with a roll-out deck of multicoloured pens, and with her being the most organised person I know, I wanted in.
Turns out bullet journalling is a system of sorts - a way of collating a busy mind into an easy-to-navigate series lists and sections. The aim is to keep things super simple, compiling information in different segments which you create for yourself depending on your unique needs and objectives.
I wanted to start a bullet journal to create more cohesion in my working day; I flip between ‘blogging/influencing’ (who tf knows what to call it any more) and marketing, and so I often find myself dipping into the different roles multiple times throughout the day which can become a little hectic without direction.
The purpose of the journal was to be able to create daily to-dos alongside monthly overviews and larger project breakdowns, all within a few pages of each other. You’re supposed to create a Index at the beginning of the journal, too, and number each page thereafter so every section is simple to locate.
Notice I said ‘supposed to’, there. I kept the indexing up until page 62, whereupon I evidently lost the zeal for scrawling digits in each corner and decided to simply take each page as it came. A few other modes of organisation have also been lost to the waining enthusiasm of time, but despite that, as of last week, I have officially completed my first ever bullet journal. Each and every multi-dotted sheet, scrawled on and scribbled in, pored over or quickly accented, punctuated by doodles or neat and orderly, evidence of a rare flame of focus.
Time stops for no woman however, and already I have a shiny new friend by my side. In honour of our fallen comrade (gone but never forgotten), I wanted to run through a few of the practices I decided to ditch, and which I found most helpful for organising my thoughts.
In the words of Simon Cowell: it’s a yes from me
Daily Lists. These dated bullet-lists are the beating heart of the journal (the clue is in the name, really) and what I find most useful for easily accessing an overview of everything I’d like to achieve that day.
They’re literally just bullet point lists so even if you don’t “bullet journal” you’re probably doing the same thing anyway, but I suppose it’s the structure of the notebook around these which helps me to focus. I haven’t continued with the key system (if you’re confused, watch this), but I like dividing each set of lists by the monthly calendar and being able to see which tasks I wasn’t able to complete yesterday or the day before, all within one spread.
Previously I’d been writing lists willy-nilly in notebooks but never going back to review what had been ticked off, whereas now each day is ordered and I can quickly glance through the past week to see what I’ve missed. I’ve taken to splitting the list between blogging stuff and freelance stuff so each set of activities is clearly outlined below its applicable role.
Monthly Earnings. I keep a spreadsheet of my income so I know how much money I have coming in and from where, but before I started journalling, I hadn’t bothered to jot down exactly how much I was earning per month. It was more of a big annual round-up, just in time for the tax man. Now I note down which jobs I accept within each month, allowing me to understand which times of the year are most successful and, going forward, when it is best to future-proof myself for expected lulls or quiet periods.
Monthly Overview. Strictly speaking I haven’t kept this up every month, but it is a practise I find useful. At the beginning of every month you vertically list the date and the day (1W, 2T, 3F and so on) with the title of the month as the header, and on the opposite page you make a list of any plans/essential tasks you need to slot in. You then simply place them within the monthly overview - your best friend’s birthday on Saturday 5th, for example, and a day of meetings on Wednesday 9th - and you’re quickly able to see where you have space and where you’re particularly busy.
Because I work for myself and by myself, starting work each day can feel a little open-ended. Sounds great, right? But not always. Sometimes that lack of structure is simply a funnel into procrastination, so I like to use the monthly overview to give myself direction day-to-day. Even if it’s just writing in ‘desk day’ on a Monday, it helps me to not feel like I’m trying to scale a great mountain of possibility without any sense of the route I'm taking. The monthly overview is also great for sorting out the friend schedule, which, if you don’t know, is this.
Birthday grid. How antiquated I used to think it keeping a phone book with your pal’s birthdays and ages in! How foolish I was! This one-page overview of the year I keep on the final page of the journal has been a god-send. In one glance, I can see which birthdays are when, how old everybody is and at which point I need to start saving for presents, which is particularly useful given that December is my busiest birthday month of all and I'm not even including Jesus. *checks bank account with hopeful despair*
In the words of Jim from The Vicar of Dibley: no no no no no no no
Blog schedule/Instagram schedule. Wow, I really thought this was going turn me into a more consistent writer. I really thought scrawling a date next to a title idea would somehow motivate me out of y sporadic bouts of inspiration into some kind of ordered, regular creative. EEEHHHHNN (that’s a ‘no’ buzzer noise, btw).
I have to accept who I am: inconsistent. I’ve said it before, but writing is a bit like popping a spot for me; it takes time and pressure and it’s an uncomfortable process, but there’s relief when it’s out and I usually have clearer skin for it. I can’t schedule my creativity as hard as I might try, so this rigid approach to post-publishing left me feeling deflated when I inevitably couldn’t keep it up. Instead, I’ve started to simply make lists of title ideas which I can then draw on and expand when I’m ready, so when the mood strikes and the words are flowing freely, I have access to all of my inspo in one place.
Future log. I don’t think I’ve looked at the Future Log once since I painstakingly divided the page into multiple meticulously ruler-lined sections. The object of this segment for me was to direct the type of content I was creating each month and give myself ideas ahead of time for what I could share, but again, my self-discipline and creativity is not that ordered. I’d originally jotted down a few relevant focus points for each month - Valentine’s lingerie in Feb, for example, and outerwear in October - but past this a lot of the space has remained blank. I just never turn back here. The only useful thing I included was a reminder of the dentist appointment I’d made six months earlier. *shrug emoji*
And that’s pretty much it! If I’m being frank, even I didn’t think I was going to keep the bullet journal going, but by making it a habit to start each week with a comprehensive list of everything that’s in my mind, I’ve found that it’s become a really useful tool for working as a self-employed person with eyes on every part of the business. It also feels like a mindfulness action: making space for free thought and the development of ideas, uncrowded by ‘oh fuck, I need to do-’ and ‘damn, did I forget-?’.
Stick it on your organisational horizon and get journalling, friends.