my bullet journal is ugly

bullet journalBullet journaling, if you’re unfamiliar, is essentially a personalized organization system kept within a single notebook; while there are some basic principles that most people tend to use, you’re free to set up your notebook whatever way works best for you. Examples of common bullet journal sections include:

  • the index, which is just a list of the page numbers of each section
  • a monthly calendar
  • birthdays
  • daily or weekly to-do lists
  • long term goals
  • shopping lists
  • ideas

The initial stages of reading up on bullet journaling are overwhelming; articles are full of pictures of journals that are neat, minimalist, flawlessly color coded, whatever, shining beacons of productive light that taunt the little pocket of your heart that feels hopelessly out of control.

My bullet journal is not like that. My handwriting is unattractive and I use shitty pens. I never finish my to-do list, only endlessly rewrite it as the list gets overtaken by a fatal combination of checked off items and new additions. Page 15 is a study schedule for my final exams that I didn’t follow; page 16 is a collection of notes from therapy reminding me to breathe and exercise and tell my doctor about my absurd nausea. My bullet journal, like my life, is messy.

It is, however, a great system, if you’re the type of person who likes to organize the fuck out of all your shit. Even though my bullet journal is ugly as hell, I know exactly what I need to do and when I need to do it. (If you’re also a student and this type of existence sounds appealing to you, check out my guide to tracking your grades in excel.)

If you already use a paper organization system (for me, it was a combination of a planner with monthly calendars, apps, and to-do lists), then you can easily adapt what you use into a bullet journal while abandoning all the little random extra bits scattered around. The best thing about a bullet journal is how customizable it is; you know what you need better than anybody else, and your bullet journal can evolve as your needs change.

If you’re interested in getting started with bullet journaling, a great place to start is with the actual original bullet journal website, which gives an overview of the system’s basics. I would encourage anyone looking into this to be open to a little trial and error; you don’t have to use a specific layout just because everybody else does.

A lot of time management is really more about knowing yourself than anything else. It’s an exercise in tiptoeing around your personal limits while still pushing yourself — there’s no use making plans that fit you so poorly that you’ll be miserable and skip actually doing them. Put some thought into your personal limits on the amount of productive time you have in a day and the times you feel best able to focus, and try to schedule around that.