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I don’t want to become another bullet journal user who blogs about bullet journaling, but the same sorts of questions about “bujo” (as it is mercifully abbreviated) keep popping up among my friends, and in case anyone is interested, I thought I’d put my take on them somewhere less ephemeral than a Facebook post. The moral of this post is: do your own thing.

For the basics on bullet journaling, I refer you to Google, though with a pinch of salt, because there are some “explanations” out there that I found confusing, including the originator’s. Here’s what I’ve culled, taking what works for me and leaving what doesn’t.

The actual bullet idea, with its potential complex key of “done,” “delegated,” “events,” tasks,” etc., leaves me cold. Yes, I need a list of the things I need to do, and some direction to myself indicating when to do them and whether they are done; that’s easily done with an empty square for to-dos, an arrow for “moved to a future date,” and a checkmark for “done,” for the most part. The hardest thing about any organizational system, for me, is keeping up the daily discipline of looking at my previous to-do lists and dealing with every single item: forwarding it to another day, delegating it, deleting it, whatever. No system will do that for you, if you, dear organizationally-challenged friend, share this difficulty. It just has to be done. I find a handwritten list less intimidating than an electronic one, for whatever reason, so “bujo” has that in its favor.

The big “ahas” for me are the index and the all-in-one-book approach. The index I see in most bullet journal sites, oddly, is not an index: it is a table of contents, arranged by page number, not alphabetically. This is more than a quibble over correct terminology. The book is already organized by page order (and if the journal doesn’t come with page numbers, I add them, several at a time in a down moment). What I really want is an index: a couple of pages at the end of my book (or the beginning, whatever), in which I can go to “B” and immediately find out which pages will have “Board agendas,” or to “S” for “sermon notes,” or “J” for “journal.” I don’t get the point of a table of contents, but if it works for you, hey, go for it.

The beauty of the index is that it makes a notebook encompassing a jumble of different things workable. After years of carrying a journal and a planner and a sketchbook and having lots of miscellaneous stuff like “song list for CD for friend’s baby” stuck in the back section of one or the other of them, the bullet journal approach of all-in-one was a revelation. I already tended to put my sermon notes in my journal. Such is the seamless nature of my minister mind, in which an interesting idea I’ve been pondering morphs into the sermon for that service five weeks from now. I felt obscurely wrong about this, but it was (to use an overused term) an organic development out of the way I think, so I kept doing it. Bujo just patted me on the back and said, “Right, there’s no reason to have separate books for those two things, and lots of reasons to have just one.” Thanks to the index, I can actually sort out the journal pages from the sermon jottings, if I ever need to. The same with all those lists. Shopping. Gift ideas. Tracking habits. Lists of 100. Everything.

. . . Well, not everything. I plan weekly and daily in my bullet journal, but I keep an electronic calendar; I have a lot of repeating events, and our administrative assistant schedules some of my appointments, so a cloud-based calendar works best for me. When I make my weekly, handwritten plan, I consult the online calendar, and in addition to writing out my schedule for the week, I note “MITs” (Most Important Tasks) and other items I’d like to do/buy/remember on the page for that week. Some things that I track, I track elsewhere, because there’s a good system for them elsewhere: water and exercise on Fitbit, books on Goodreads (though I certainly keep a list of things to read in my bullet journal, because it’s quick and easy to write them the moment I think of them, whereas it’s cumbersome to open my phone, open Goodreads, and add them there; I transfer them now and then using a desktop computer). And I carry a separate sketchbook. I seldom feel a need to combine my drawing-life and writing-life, and I’m picky about paper for both of them, which have very different paper needs. But I know some people’s bullet journals are also their sketchbooks.

Speaking of paper needs, here’s what to consider for your journal. We all have different preferences. Just think about:

  • size (small enough to carry easily, big enough for comfortable writing)
  • binding (something that doesn’t fall apart and that you find comfortable; for example, despite the advantages of spirals, I don’t like the way they dig into my writing hand for half of the pages, so I never buy them)
  • marking (lined, plain, grid, dot)
  • opacity, which matters if you like gel pens, fountain pens, and markers.

. . . Which I do. And that’s something else I like about the bujo craze: the permission to get arty with my to-do list. Silly, right? Why do I need permission? But like the mixing of journal and work writing, I had a “shouldn’t” in my head that bujo kindly kicked out: I “shouldn’t” “waste” time drawing or doing fancy lettering. Why the heck not? For some people, layouts like these are intimidating, but for me, they’re inviting. A little time spent color-coding my daily list, or delineating sections of the week’s plan with washi tape, or writing the header of my “dreaded list of lots of little things” in a horror-movie-poster font, is my lure to do the planning. It’s fun. And it helps make me want to look at my journal, which is half the battle each day.


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