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A Bullet Journal Update

It has been a while since I last wrote about my bullet journal experiment. The first year of that experiment was a learning experience. Some parts of my bullet journal worked well; others went completely unused. For 2020, I started a new bullet journal with the goal of incorporating the lessons I learned over the last year. Here are a few of those lessons.

Practicality over artistry

I often learn by example. When I got started with my bullet journal, I went down the rabbit hole looking at countless pictures people had posted of their bullet journals. I often felt like I was walking through galleries of some strange art museum where the works of art were 8 x 6” grid notebook pages full of color and fine design. Everyone in the world, it seems, had bullet journal that was a work of art compared to what I had. I finally resigned myself to a level of artistic competence far below what I was seeing. Instead of fancy multi-colored calligraphic month name with art matching the theme of the month, my monthly spread was headed with a hastily scratched “Dec. 2019.”

 For 2020 this helped me when I set up my new bullet journal. I don’t have the skill or time to produce a bullet journal that is both Instagram-worthy and practical. I settled for practical. The pages in my bullet journal are filled with scribbled blank ink, cross-outs, smudges, and resemble my chemistry lab books from college. Works of art they are not, but they serve their purpose.

Keep it simple

Practicality also meant some changes and simplification based on what I learned in my first year:

  • I found that I didn’t use my Future Log very often. I kept it around in 2020, but I’m not sure it will last into next year. In most months, my future log is blank, and only occasionally did I move something from my daily or monthly log to the future log.
  • My monthly spread has changed as well. I was using this more as a place to record, after-the-fact, some noteworthy events from the day. This year, to make it more useful, I added some habit-trackers to my monthly spread. There are four of them and it may be too many. We’ll see.
  • My daily log is the meat of my bullet journal. I use this throughout the day to capture tasks, and record things that I have done so that I can remember them later. I’ve gotten better at using it for notes and events as well as tasks. These are messy pages, and I envy those bullet journalists who have such neat and clean looking daily logs.
Example of my daily log for 2020
Example of my daily log for 2020

An Article A Day

I had all kinds of unique spreads last year that I never ended up using. Others I used quite well. It’s hard to say what will work and what won’t. I’m trying to minimize these this year, focusing only on those things that are practical and important to me. For instance, I’ve tried off-and-on for a few years to keep track of the various magazine articles I read. I get a lot of magazines, and it is hard to keep up with them. A while back, I decided the best way to keep up was to try reading a single feature article a day. Over the course of a month, I’d read 30 feature articles, a good percentage of all of the articles in the magazines I receive. I’ve wanted to track these for a while, but it’s never worked out. Certainly not the same way that capturing my book reading has.

For 2020, I decided to create a monthly spread called “Article a Day.” On the spread, I’d jot down the title, author, and source of the article I read that day. This worked out well in January where I was successful in reading an article every day except January 26. It is continuing to work well in February.

Article a day spread for January 2020
Article-a-day spread for January 2020

My simplified bullet journal is working well for me so far this year. I don’t carry it around with me everywhere I go, as is often recommended. (I have my Fields Notes notebook for that.) But as a way of organizing my day, the work I need to complete, the tasks I have to take care of, and in general, getting stuff out of my head and onto paper, it has been a big help. My bullet journal looks more like a messy lab book than a work of art—but that’s the way I like it.