The Origin Story
I use my bullet journal as a glorified collection of to do lists. I’ve used a planner to organize my homework since 6th grade. I’d write down what homework was assigned that day. I didn’t bother with due dates – everything was almost always due the next day. Long term projects and due dates went in the monthly calendar. I’ve kept this system, at least some variation of it, throughout all of middle school and high school.
When I was a mere freshman, I was suddenly faced with a lot more work. I actually didn’t have a ton of homework, but I had a lot of extracurriculars that were time consuming. As a freshman, I did light design for school theatre productions, competed in congressional debate (which required writing 4-5 speeches on policy issues like national flood protection insurance and abolishing private prisons), and I was a writer on the school newspaper. All of these activities had deadlines and many complex tasks. For example, to prepare for one debate tournament I would have to:
- Research (1-2 hours)
- Write speech (30-60 minutes)
- Practice speech (30 minutes)
I would repeat that process 4-5 times per week as I prepared for each of the topics to be debated that weekend. Light design and school newspaper required similarly demanding workloads. To cope with this, I started making to-do lists. I used to do this on whatever random pieces of paper I that were conveniently nearby. Then I had the idea – what if I put all my to-do lists in one place? So I used a small notebook (a bit smaller than A5) to write my to do lists. Then I “upgraded” to a bullet journal I bought at Walmart.
Quick (but not really) tangent: This Exceed notebook from Walmart is literal trash. Like the ghosting was insane!! Pencils, ballpoint pens, literally air would ghost in this notebook. It was the most obnoxious thing ever. I cannot unrecommend this book enough. It’s just an awful, simply terrible, no good, very bad notebook.
Anyways, I used this bullet journal off and on for a year. Then when lockdown hit, I had a lot of time, not a lot of structure, and stuff to get done. Also, my teachers gave me a bunch of assignments due at the end of the week, so I needed a way to keep track of everything. This is where my bullet journal came in – I used it as a master list of what I needed to complete in a week. I also wrote my daily to-do lists there. It worked well.
When the school year ended, my use of my bullet journal did not. I continued to use it as a task manager.
What I Actually Do
My bullet journal is 90% daily logs. I use Ryder Carrol’s rapid logging system. This is what an average daily spread may look like for me. Bullets (•) are for tasks and dashes (-) are for notes.
The H,G,L is an idea I got from Ali Abdaal’s daily journaling practice. The H stands for Highlight – that’s one thing you want to get done that day. For me, it could be finishing a supplemental essay for college admissions or doing a Peloton ride. It doesn’t really matter what it is, just something you really want/need to do. G stands for Grateful – pretty self explanatory. One thing I’m trying to do is recount one thing I’m grateful for from the past 24 hours. The L stands for Let Go. This one I feel a bit iffy about just because it feels negative, and I don’t love the idea of bringing more negativity into my daily planning. On the other hand, I think it’s a good way to practice self compassion, I use it to remind myself to let go of negative self talk, anger, or other unsavory feelings.
I also like to track how many 25 minute pomodoros I complete. I just use a simple tally sometimes.
Other things I occasionally include in my dailies
Somedays, I include other high priority tasks in separate sections. Sometimes, I highlight an important task, but that’s pretty rare. Also, occasionally, I’ll number my tasks in the order I intend to complete them. I only do this if I’m feeling either overwhelmed or unmotivated and thus don’t know where to start.
These are really rare since I have more defined deadlines now. But here, I would write things that needed to get done as they were related to certain projects. For example, I would have separate sections for English, math, science, Spanish, and history homework assignments. Then I would have a section for any other projects.
I also might include goals for the week ahead or tasks that need to be completed at some point during the week but don’t have a specific deadline (such as doing laundry – in case, the only deadline is running out of clean underwear).
What I Use
This changes, a lot, a lot. I don’t fancy myself an indecisive person, but when it comes to stationery, I’m like the Bachelorette, I can’t make up my freaking mind! It’s a bit of a problem – if you see me standing in the pen aisle of Staples absolutely stuck on which 0.5 black gel pen to buy, then um, no you didn’t. As such, what I use to bullet journal changes.
For pens, I like to use the Muji 0.7 ballpoint pen, Pilot Precise RT 0.5 gel pen, and the Bic Xtra-Smooth 1.0 ballpoint pen. I recently learned that Bic tests on animals, so I’d recommend the Papermate Stic ballpoint pens as a comparable alternative.
For my bullet journal, I use a hardcover Leuchtturm1917 A5 Journal with squared paper. I got the notebook in a swag bag from a convention my dad attended, and I couldn’t find a white Leuchtturm1917 A5 Journal, so I’m going to assume those aren’t made. The notebook I have was custom made for that company with its logo embossed on the front. Here’s the link to a black version of the notebook from JetPens, a small business based in San Francisco. Here’s the link to an *adorable* (tbh, I’ve been trying to talk myself out of buying this absolutely precious notebook) sage green soft cover version from JetPens too! Here’s the link to the hardcover version.
Other helpful supplies include my 6 inch ruler because I like to underline my headings sometimes and got tired of carrying around a long 12 in ruler that I was perpetually afraid of snapping in half. And this circle stencil for when I want to use open circles instead of bullets to signify tasks. Also wite-out for mistakes. And page flags to mark pages I might want to reference later like weeklies or packing lists. Perhaps most importantly, a binder clip to hold my notebook in place.
Stay tuned for the next blog post on how I keep track of deadlines and organize my homework!