A month later: The pros and cons

One month later — a busy, crazy, rollercoaster of a month — and the bullet journal experiment isn't quite an experiment anymore. I would instead call it a success.

Advantages

The most helpful part of the bullet journal is its flexibility; every week, month or even day can be personalized to your needs. After the first week, I pretty much figured out a weekly layout that's worked for me: horizontal days from Sunday to Saturday with space to plan ahead for the next week.

Some bullet journals have separate daily layouts that take up a half or whole page. These can be useful for those who prefer to have daily to-do lists or just have a ton of events every single day. If you fit that description, maybe larger daily layouts are for you. If not, planning big daily layouts can be too time consuming, so a weekly spread is likely the way to go.

One of the important features of the weekly layout, which I overlooked the first couple rounds, is the "upcoming" section, which I've started putting at the bottom of the spread's second page. I draw the next week's layout typically on Saturday, the day before the week begins, so without this section there isn't a place to put reminders about important deadlines or events in the next week. In a hectic college life, planning ahead is essential, so make sure your bullet journal allows you to do so.

,Although it isn't necessarily the most practical part of a bullet journal, my favorite part, is redesigning the details of each week. Admittedly I haven't branched out much from the basic weekly layout that I decided worked, but each week I change the color palette slightly or try new handwriting for the week and day labels. I've never been much for color-coding, but it has been helpful when it comes to prioritizing assignments. And I also limit myself to four or five colors a week; I have three English classes and two journalism classes, so each "field" gets its own color instead of five separate class colors. (I haven't tried five different colors — yet? — so it could actually be a winner.)

Another practice that has proved helpful is scheduling things I look forward to, such as going for a run or spending time with friends. These activities take up special chunks of time, and not only does writing them down help me plan ahead, but also it gives me a visual confirmation that there's something fun coming up.

Challenges

The biggest challenge has probably been consistency. As in, keeping up with the habit tracker and, honestly, setting aside time to create the next week's or month's layout. Several times I have forgotten to fill in the habit tracker and had to guess on some of the days, which sort of defeats the purpose. One tactic I'm going to try in the future is making it a habit to check my bullet journal first thing in the morning, to familiarize myself with the upcoming day and make sure everything is checked off that needs to be.

This lines up with the need to take more time to plan the journal, especially at the start of a new month. A bullet journal's purpose is to make you more organized, but you have to give yourself the time to get there. If you don't plan ahead, you won't be able to keep up with preparing the layouts and letting the journal keep you on track. Once it's ready, it will help you.

Conclusions

This is absolutely something that works for me, and I think it would work for anyone who wants to be more mindful and organized and who would like doodling and designing layouts. If a premade planner or digital calendar works for you, by all means, use it. But if you want something more adaptable and creative, a bullet journal is worth a try.

There are some things I haven't tried yet but am planning to in this next month and in general. I want to use my bullet journal more as a journal, not just a planner. My plan at this point is to start writing from the back of the notebook, even if it's just a couple of sentences saying something significant that happened that day. I'm going to couple this and the habit tracker with a mood tracker, so if a repeated situation leads to repeated stressful days, that will be easier to see.

I also want to start doing lists: books to be read, books already read, things to be grateful for (November month spread?), places I want to visit while studying abroad. So many of these exist as disconnected points floating around in my head, but putting them down on paper, perhaps in order of priority, would give all these ideas a sense of order.

My best advice if you decide to try a bullet journal, is to decide what you want to get out of it and tailor your design to that. And if whatever you try doesn't make your life easier, try something different.


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