Diary, Productivity

My First Month Using a Bullet Journal


Back in the day, I was a #PlannerGirl.

As I write this, my lovely aqua-colored Filofax sits on my printer, collecting dust. I spent hours pouring over Instagram posts and YouTube tutorials on how to make my planner super pretty. I quickly tired of lugging the chunky Filofax to work with me and decided it was too much to maintain. It wasn’t helping my productivity, it was taking up time.

I assumed bullet journaling was the same. I was very wrong.

There are some incredibly talented artists out there who share their art via their bullet journals, creating something of a bullet/art journal hybrid. To find it being used in a more simple and minimalist way, a person actually has to wade through a mountain of script fonts and doodles. I landed on the YouTube channels of Bullet Journal® system creator Ryder Carroll and enthusiast Matt Ragland and that’s when I finally got why the bullet journal was working for so many people.

For those not familiar with a bullet journal, this is how Ryder Carroll describes it on the official Bullet Journal (“Bojo” for short) website:

Though it does require a journal, Bullet Journal® is a methodology. It’s best described as a mindfulness practice disguised as a productivity system. It’s designed to help you organize your what while you remain mindful of your why. The goal of the Bullet Journal is to help its practitioners (Bullet Journalists) live intentional lives, ones that are both productive and meaningful.

Usually found within a dotted grid notebook, a bullet journal is a planner the user designs themself: drawing out calendars, weekly spreads, habit trackers, whatever they need to plan their life in the exact way that works for them.

I was hesitant to try bullet journaling because I tend to be a perfectionist and hard on myself, especially when comparing myself to others. But I can proudly and firmly say: my weekly spreads in my bullet journal are, in general, a hot mess.

My bullet journal currently includes the following:

  • month calendar
  • a Smile File (positive things that happened during the month)
  • Done! List (big tasks I finished)
  • a weekly spread (more info below)
  • health tracker (a chart divided by stomach, head, and anxiety with a section for notes)
  • habit tracker (more info below)
  • checklist for next year’s trip to Europe
  • checklist for business tasks that don’t have a firm date
  • house improvement checklist
  • Future Log (this is where I throw future events beyond October)
  • Movies + documentaries to watch
  • TV shows + mini-series tracker
  • Online order tracker
  • Reading List (more info below)

My Weekly Spreads

My weekly spread runs Monday to Sunday, five days on the left page and the weekend on the right. I include an area for tasks that don’t have a set day; I sometimes move these over to a day, over to the next week or I just leave them in that list. Depends on the list item. I also include a section for grocery items that might not be on our list every week. It’s just a handy place to write things down as I think of them.

Habit Tracker

My habit tracker is broken up by how often I need to do a thing. I have a couple daily trackers (including one for practicing my French on Duolingo) and a few monthly, weekly, and bi-weekly trackers.

Reading List

This is one of the first spreads I made and I positioned it carefully because I knew I’d be flipping to it regularly. This is where I track what books I’m currently reading, what I want to read next, what I have reviewed, which ones I own, what format the books are in (I read ebooks, physical books, and listen to audiobooks), and which ones are available at the library.

Future Bujo Ideas

Mid-month and late in the year is kind of a weird time to start a bullet journal so I have some ideas in mind for when I start a fresh new notebook in January.

  • blog post ideas and a calendar for timely posts
  • This Week/Month, I Enjoyed…
  • a cheat sheet for how many rows and columns of cells are on a page (handy for when you’re laying out a page)
  • section tabs made from washi tape

I will for sure keep adding to my ideas list for spreads as they come to me.

What I Like About the Bullet Journal System

  • I like that it encourages me to spread out chores throughout the week instead of putting everything off until the weekend.
  • I like that it’s a simple yet flexible system.
  • Making layouts may seem like a pain but it’s actually a soothing activity to do while watching TV.
  • The habit trackers are… actually weirdly effective. I’ve always enjoyed the endorphin rush from checking off a completed task, but there’s something extra nice about crossing off a box and keeping a streak going.
  • It’s portable and works nicely with my existing Evernote productivity system
  • I like that I can experiment with different layouts easily.
  • I like that it’s messy. It’s okay that it’s messy. (There’s a good reason I didn’t share any of my spreads in this post. Maybe someday, but not today.)

Do you have a bullet journal? If so, what’s a spread that you can’t live without? Let me know in the comments.

Diary, Productivity


Jillianne Hamilton is the author of Molly Miranda: Thief for Hire, its two action/comedy sequels, and The Lazy Historian's Guide to the Wives of Henry VIII. She is also a graphic designer, a history enthusiast, and a dog mom. Learn more.

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