While I've been using planners, journals and sketchbooks for as long as I can remember, I'm new to the more systematic side of planning with a bullet journal. It's also the first time I'm actively trying to not only organize my days and weeks, but to do so beautifully.
I enjoy the whole process a lot! But of course, there are still parts of the system I'm playing around with.
Adapting the Bullet Journal to personal needs
One personal adjustment that works very well for me is keeping anything related to the past - like writing down achievements, social media stats and finances - and fixed dates like deadlines in a separate journal. As I describe in this post on my overall planner and journal setup, this makes one of the two 'bullet journals' a more permanent record keeper, and the other a flexible daily planner. It also gives a great feeling of satisfaction whenever I get to use the 'permanent' journal and write down any results of the past month.
Another personal adjustment is still very much a work in progress: My weekly and daily layouts.
As a freelancer, self-employed, working from home (and with an unpredictable housing situation in the near future) most of the systems I've tried in the beginning focused too much on events and appointments. Most of my own appointments are very spontaneous (seems to be a culture thing here in Korea - most of the time, friends just drop by the house unannounced) and my days aren't defined by events, work hours or meetings, but projects and tasks.
What does that mean for my bullet journaling habits?
- I don't really need a very detailed monthly overview - most plans fall apart as soon as a new client commission comes in, or a deadline moves up...
- I need a lot of space to break down projects into smaller and smaller tasks
- I need to give my days structure through my to-do lists instead of fixed time slots
First week: Minimal Approach
Daily layouts: Horizontal with simple task to-do lists
A rough overview of the week on the very top with tiny 'main goals' of each day.
Separate categories: Blog, Etsy, Work/Commissions
These 'main goal' tasks are all nice and good, but I have a tendency to never cross them off after actually finishing the item. I love crossing off in my daily to-do lists but then completely forget to add that final touch...
I also tend to be over ambitious when it comes to planning my week, forgetting that depending on how many guests the cafe I work at has, I don't really have that much free time to work on my own projects or client commissions on the side. Around Thursday, I started re-arranging, adding new tasks, moving around old ones... I prefer just planning day to day with only the most important deadlines written down.
Second Week: Getting creative!
The second week of March was where I wanted things to be pretty - mostly since I came out of a bit of a lull after fighting the flu.
Combining my task lists with simple watercolor stickers my daily spreads more structure. The stickers came in handy in creating a visual separation for different areas of focus.
I still kept my 'main goals' on top, but with a slightly different arrangement. Again, I kind of just left stuff unmarked despite finishing the tasks and now I'm getting antsy just LOOKING at these pictures!
Habit tracker: First steps for self-care tracking
I've so far never felt the need to add a habit tracker. It just seemed like so much effort for tasks that would, in themselves, already be an effort. I refuse to even write down household chores - I do those on autopilot and I'm trying to keep my journal focused on work and art. :)
BUT. I stand corrected. Habit trackers are fun! I'm still intimidated by large monthly ones, but tiny weekly trackers? Those are the perfect baby steps in the right direction. And since I'm a lot better at working and getting stuff done than I am at actually taking care of myself, I decided to add a little self-care tracker this week (alright, I started Thursday...).
First self-care tracker in my bullet journal:
- Tea: Instead of counting glasses of water (I drink A LOT anyway) I kept track of special teas.
- Skincare: Living in Korea, I've got an abundance of masks and scrubs available, but need to get into the habit of using them more regularly. This worked out great since I wore masks while working in Photoshop or blogging! :)
- Yoga: I love to exercise. I really do! I was an avid Yoga-Class-Goer when I still lived in Switzerland, and did martial arts and jogging, too. But working out at home? What a failure - I always get distracted by other tasks. Despite all my habit tracker motivation, I got to fill in exactly ZERO here.
- Massage: I've got this strange wooden contraption for facial massage (like a wooden spatula?) and it's so relaxing to massage my jaw muscles and shoulders with it. I also counted using my oil cleansing step if I focused on doing massage movements instead of just quickly rubbing the oil in.
- Food: To keep track of any special, healthy food items. Strawberries and Kohlrabi ruled!
- Supplements: I'm terrible at taking anything regularly, so I started to keep track of my vitamins. The result is sad.
I really want to incorporate a self-care habit tracker for real in the coming weeks, if only to show myself that I probably SHOULD do something.
So in the following week, I added the habit tracker on the very top, slightly reduced. Does this even count as a habit tracker? I write in variations instead of just filling out task boxes...
Love keeping track of all the strange teas I drink! And the skincare tracker got me to use some old products (and my skin looked great that week haha).
Yoga/meditation/pilates/ANYTHING that you can't do while working on other tasks is still my biggest struggle.
The supplements are a great thing to track, though.
I'm not yet happy with the overall tracking system, though. Maybe I should make some sort of stickers...? Give myself more space?
Week 3: Structure with boxes and drawings
The habit tracker did replace those pesky 'main goals'. If I was afraid of forgetting anything, I could just look it up in my permanent planner and write it in ahead of time in my dailies.
This week I focused on structure in my layouts by drawing boxes and flags to contain my to-do lists.
While I love my Kraft paper sketchbook, I do find that the brown hue is a bit of a visual distraction. The contrast between my black pen and the background isn't big enough to make individual items pop. This was when I started looking around for a white, blank journal. All my sketchbooks are already in use, and while Korean stationery stores are adorable, most of their journals are either lined or already outfitted with (really cute!) planner layouts.
This was the week when my flu came back with a vengeance. My weekend to-do lists are pathetic thanks to that.
I like adding little drawings, but again, the overall combination of drawings, task lists AND the background color can be a bit of an overkill.
Week 4: Streamlining & Stickers
Ah, date mistakes. One huge disadvantage of a Kraft paper journal: It's impossible to correct any mistakes, so my week will forever start out with that 'lol nope' at the very top.
The yoga tracker became even smaller. Did I hope to be less intimidated by it if it was tiny? I seem to just have forgotten about it instead.
I messed up the skincare drawing for that tracker, so I put a sticker on top of it.
As you can see, instead of tracking habits over days, I set myself goals of 'five times per week' or 'four skincare efforts per week' - didn't like how that turned out, though. Also, where the #@* did my supplements and tea tracker go?
That's what I mean with 'not good at self-care'. I always replace simple, relaxing things with more drawing ideas, instead.
I had a free day on the 22nd (as in, no construction/renovation work, and the cafe closed) so we went to the city to meet friends and I went on the hunt for sticker paper.
Also, our cat Hedwig got hurt (probably fell down somewhere...) so that's where the little cat doodle came from.
Of course, I had to test out my new pens. I love them - they're by the Japanese brand Sakura, actually. But the (beautiful) gray pen just didn't look good on my Kraft paper. This was when I decided to go ahead and order a new journal for next month instead of using sketchbook leftovers like this. I'm already fully committed to the whole journaling system after three months, so the investment seems worth it.
The white gel pen does look so pretty on Kraft paper, though. Ah, I'll be forever torn on this.
This week was also a week with fewer commissions/client work, and I went ahead with a lot of personal projects, instead. From coloring pages to new sticker motives, vocabulary illustrations to blog posts...
Last days of March: Switching it up
Monday came with a large dinner event, which had us go to the city again to do a month's worth of grocery shopping. And stationery! New sticker paper and pens were in order since the stationery store from last week had nothing waterproof and no glossy sticker paper.
More by accident than by design, I started to list my tasks vertically instead of horizontally. I really liked the result for Monday and kept the layout for the entire week. This automatically makes my lists look cleaner, more structured and gives a nice sense of time - top of the list is for morning tasks, bottom for evening tasks. It's a nice mix of day structure and flexibility.
Due to a mix of optimism and stupidity, I left out Saturday and Sunday - I'd hoped for my journal online order to arrive before the weekend and switch to that one for the new month.
While it's nice to have more space, the task lists seem to look less neat the wider they become.
Bullet journal inspiration and lessons learned:
- Arrange dailies in vertical blocks instead of horizontal ones.
- Go roughly in chronological order when writing task lists down for the day. First task of the day: Top of the list.
- Putting the most important or big task of the day at the top of a list has me paralyzed like a deer in headlights.
- Habit trackers are fun.
- Habit trackers are hard.
- I really need to ... get into the habit of using a habit tracker. There's an inception joke somewhere in there.
- Stickers can be used to add structure.
- My handwriting looks better when I elongate my letters.
- I can't draw straight lines with gel pens.
- Weeklies don't work for me - I'll just add important dates to my dailies directly.
That's it for my bullet journal month. I love playing around with different layouts and new ideas, but need to keep it simple or else I get overwhelmed.
I already look forward to trying new layouts on white paper in April! What are your favorite bullet journal spreads?