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* This turned into a two-part post. Part two can be found here.
I have a love/hate relationship with planning and organization. I love the idea of organization. I love looking at pictures of clean organized homes, and closets with “just enough” in them, etc… I don’t know how many times I’ve spent hours on a project like the kitchen or meal planning, gave myself a high-five for the results, then watched it fall apart because I don’t like taking time out of my day for the upkeep.
This makes it embarrassingly easy for me to buy into a “quick fix” system or product. And this is how I started with bullet journaling.
I heard about bullet journaling on a lunch date with my daughter who recently started a bullet journal (BUJO for short) and it sounded like a fun idea to look up when I got back to the office. This was a few years ago before bullet journaling gained the popularity it has today, but there were a handful of resources online that gave a rundown of what it was, including this video, which is considered the “original” BUJO video.
I was instantly sold, seeing a super-efficient, minimalistic, novel way to get a grip on my life. I was constantly forgetting things, losing things, and missing appointments. Looking back, being in the middle of a battle with depression was probably a big part of my “brain frizzle” but the bullet journal idea was a fun diversion if anything else. As someone who likes to “make stuff” I loved the idea of creating a custom planner/journal/catch-all out of nothing but a plain dotted notebook. It made both sides of my brain happy – the logical side that craved order, and the creative side that wasn’t getting much love those days.
Another appealing aspect of bullet journaling was that Ryder Carroll, the man who created the system, has ADHD. While I don’t have a diagnosis of ADHD, looking through the traits of people with ADHD, I see many familiar brain quirks. So I was excited to try this journal-planner created by someone who’s brain might work similarly to mine.
So that same evening after work I visited the local mall and bought a Leuchtturm 1917 notebook and a couple of journal friendly marker-pens. I had a blast that night setting up my very own BUJO according to the original video plus many Pinterest ideas. It was all new and shiny and clean and… organized! I was sure it would be the solution to my disorganized, scatterbrained ways.
And it worked…kind of… It worked when I actually wrote in it. It worked even better when I’d review and consult the info I wrote down. But I didn’t do either regularly enough for it to make much of a difference in my daily life. I was frustrated that this seemed to be another “fail” in my efforts to “get it together.”
The problem was familiar. In my mind I was buying a prepackaged solution to my problem. I thought (unconsciously) that if I bought into BUJO method, got the right notebook, and set it up according to specifications, it would fix my disorganization/forgetfulness problem and life would be better.
And there were some immediate improvements. I now had a place to write important things down, which I did, albeit irregularly so my bad habit of writing important notes on random pieces of paper, my hand, and other ridiculous places slowed down.
Unfortunately, the habit trackers were a fail for the most part. The idea was genius and I set up several (too many) trackers. They were actually a lot of fun to set up… but then in my (overactive) imagination, the trackers were silently waiting… watching… silently judging me…. Those were the pages I didn’t want to open to.
In my enthusiasm to fix everything wrong in my organizational life, what started out as a clean minimalistic system turned into a tome of “stuff” after adding various trackers, collections, etc… All of them were great ideas, but I added way too many to be useful. It made my bullet journal into a reflection of my current state of disorganization instead of a tool to help me get out of it.
But as sporadically as I used my BUJO, I’d made more progress “getting it together” than with anything else I’d tried. I was having fun too, especially after grabbing a few rolls of washi tape. Playing with washi tape to “pretty-up” trackers and such was the most creative thing I’d done in a while. So, I decided to overhaul my BUJO instead of abandoning it altogether.
What was working:
The ability to spontaneously jot down notes day to day was great. I didn’t have to search for ”somewhere” to write “something” down. All I had to do was turn to the current day of my BUJO. If there was something on my mind I didn’t have to figure anything out about it or make any decisions. I could simply write it down and move on. Later I could copy it to a better place, make a decision, or take action, but then again, I didn’t have to. If it ended up being not useful, or only useful for the moment, no biggie. The next day was a fresh start.
I didn’t have to think about if I really “should” write something down. With it being so easy to turn to my bookmarked page of the day, if I had any inkling a piece of information was necessary, interesting, or needed for future reference it went on the day’s page. Simple. The daily pages could be a total mess as long as I used the signifers to quickly identify what the items were. It didn’t have to be pretty or even in a particular order. This was probably the best thing going for my BUJO.
The cute savings goal tracker I created from a Pinterest idea was also a big winner. I had a habit of sticking my head in the sand when it came to my savings, which was in desperate need of building up. The cute tracker was an upbeat way to gamify the process. It was satisfying to fill in more of the graphic as I socked away a little more each week. Yes, I could have logged in to my online banking app for the same info, but the cheerful tracker somehow made it less stressful and encouraged me to pull my head out of the sand. That was a big win.
What wasn’t working:
Problem number one was simply not using my BUJO regularly. I didn’t write important things down consistently enough to make it reliable, then I didn’t to reference it because it wasn’t reliable.. so went the spiral.
With the exception of the savings tracker, the whole tracker concept was a flop. Checking off boxes for tedious things like drinking water, exercising, or sleeping eight hours was a total drag and made me resentful of the nitpicking, even though I was the one who put it there in the first place. And the trackers for more “significant” habits stressed me out. Essentially, I added trackers for everything I thought was wrong with me and it turned my BUJO into a big, judgemental, wet blanket. Did that make me want to use it? Big nope!
The monthly spread pages also weren’t working. I just didn’t reference them. I would set them up at the beginning of each month, but after that they went unused, which was a shame since they seemed like a great way to keep on top of my schedule and commitments instead of being blindsided on a regular basis by events and deadlines.
My index wasn’t being maintained either, which quickly made it so I couldn’t find anything. Trackers, collections, lists… all fell into a black hole. I had all sorts of information that wasn’t useful because I couldn’t find what I needed or even remember it existed half the time.
So this was my “Fix List”:
All the extra “stuff” had to go! There were simply too many trackers, lists, and spreads that sounded like a good idea at the time, but combined were just. too. much. I needed a system to help with my stress and overload, not aggravate it! My BUJO needed to be pared down closer to the original concept in the first video that got me hooked. What initially caught my attention was the simplicity and order of the system. This is what I wanted more of in my life – simplicity and order. To lure me want to use it more, my BUJO needed to reflect what I was trying to create in my life instead of the chaos I was trying to get out of.
My BUJO needed to be less “permanent.” I wanted to figure out how it could be swapped out before it got too cluttered and bogged down with “stuff”. A messy, overstuffed, un-useful notebook was a ball and chain but buying a new journal every month would be a ridiculous waste of money and paper. But I did still want my BUJO to be a reference tool with a longer-term aspect for planning, a calendar, maybe a few useful lists, and goal-setting.
The monthly spreads and index needed something to make them stand out so I didn’t forget about them. I knew they would be useful if only I’d turn to them!
Trackers… I loved my savings goal tracker and hated all others. The last thing I needed when I opened my BUJO were a bunch of nit-picky, trackers judging me. I needed to pare them down to one or two that were meaningful and had a big pay-off.
Now that I had a grasp of what was working and what wasn’t, it was time to get to work! Part two of this series outlines what I did and how it turned out.