how I started a bullet journal to live intentionally

About three months ago I planned my blog posts through some time in January.

This is usually a great idea. In fact, I recommend it to other bloggers so when you have a chunk of time you can bang out four or five posts and then not have to worry about your blog for ages. It’s a good idea.

The only problem is sometimes you get to writing a certain post idea and then suddenly you realize it’s no longer applicable.

Today’s post was one of those. I was supposed to give an update on how the Chalkboard Method was going…

Remember a while back I started using the Chalkboard Method? Remember how much I liked it and how it had done some good for me?

Ahem.

Yeah, well it stopped working part way through November. This was in large part because I stopped looking at it, maybe lost faith in it, and also just stopped recording my progress. It didn’t work anymore because I wasn’t using it.

If a tool or practice isn’t getting used, it’s not effective for you. It needs to get scrapped. This is what I mean when I talk about spiritual and life practices too – if it doesn’t work anymore, get rid of it. Do something else. There’s no shame in letting an ineffective practice go and trying something else.

But what practice should I try? What practice would help me fulfill my intentions?

The New Practice

I really like notebooks. Really. I have a collection of journals (a harder thing for me to declutter because it’s a recording of thoughts and ideas according to time in life). In fact, I love stationary. I love the smell of fresh paper, pencils, crayons, and ink.

I love the sound of turning pages, of a certain weight, and the way a pen scratches across the surface. I love the way the ink glides across the plain surface, decorating it with ideas. I love the planning and shaping of reality that happens when the pen connects to the page.

I was ready to start a bullet journal.

 

What is a bullet journal?

For most people, this is a notebook that functions as a life planner. The practice was started by Ryder Carroll and has evolved over time (for the basics of bullet journaling, check out this site). Some people track only a few things in this notebook while others include all aspects of their lives. They can be as simple as basic lists with a few indicator symbols or as complicated as in depth charts, doodles, and purchased decorations like stickers and washi tape.

Some basic pages many people include in their bullet journals are:

  • Index pages (exactly what it sounds like)

  • Yearly calendar page

  • Monthly layout page – typically in a list form, though you could easily do this in a grid form

  • Weekly layout spread or single page – a grid much like you’d find in a store-bought planner

  • Daily layout – the amount of days per page (or pages per day) varies depending on how much information you add (i.e. quotes, ideas, doodles, etc)

  • Collections – these are lists of ideas or tasks related to a specific theme such as “100 goals to complete in 10 years,” “Books to read,” etc.

  • Project layouts – these break down specific projects into bite-sized chunks to make them easier to digest. This is good for things like “house renovation,” “launch new ecourse,” etc.

  • Habit Trackers – these can be separate pages or included in your daily layouts that consist of tasks that repeat such as affirmations, exercise, journaling, etc.

Starting My Journal

For Christmas, I asked for some tools to make my bullet journal happen. The ones I got were a slew of gel pens, 6 metal stencil plates, and some tabbed post-it notes (to those who love stationary, these are exciting things, to those who don’t, practice some empathy and feel excited with me!).

I didn’t want to spend $50+ on a planner based on someone else’s idea of what life should look like, so I decided I wanted to make my own. The first decision was whether the journal would be printed (designed on my computer, printed, and then hole-punched, and attached by rings or a binder) or to do it as I go (either looseleaf for a binder or a simple notebook).

There are reasons for printed and not.

The nice thing about printing all the pages is I can add something easily to a binder without worrying about migrating pages. The other thing is I don’t get a hand cramp from a ton of detail work (which let’s face it, can get out of hand). I can also make it highly customizable, including what kind of paper I use (archival, recycled, etc), dividers, and more.

On the other hand, printing requires a lot of ink and paper – and if I want to do it on both sides, I would have to go somewhere to have that done because the printer at my house doesn’t believe in double-sided printing (living intentionally urges me to use both sides of the paper!).

Using a notebook is easy. Anyone can pick up a notebook at any store that sells notebooks. There are a ton of options – with different sizes, kinds of paper, colors, and bindings. There are dot grids, graph grids, blank, and standard ruled pages. I could go fancy with a Moleskin, or I could get something really simple like a Five Star single subject spiral.

While I can fill out the notebook in any way I like, it does require systems to find information that I put in earlier – I can’t keep lists with lists unless I leave a bunch of empty pages in a list section – and I wouldn’t know how many pages to leave.

I could, instead of using a notebook, pick up a pack of looseleaf paper and use it with a binder. This would give me the possibility of customizable sections while allowing me to make pages as I go. I could even use printed elements and loose leaf in a binder.

The issue of course is usability. What is the most usable? What layouts will I use? How many collections of lists and special layouts will I have? Should I just get a small multi-subject spiral notebook and see what happens?

 

What Really Happened

In the end, I made a run to the local office supply store and found a $5 bright pink college ruled book with a bookmark, elastic band, and pocket. Compared to the stupid pricing of Moleskins (really? $20 for a frickin notebook that cost pennies to make?), I felt like this was a great compromise. Plus, deep pink is a power color for me, so WIN!

That day I immediately began setting up my new bullet journal.

Things I’ve noticed so far:

  • Gel pens are not the best for bullet journaling. I wouldn’t recommend them to someone starting out because they smear SUPER easily. That said, I LOVE THEM ANYWAY because they give me versatility that other implements don’t (I like glitter ink and I don’t care who knows!).

  • I may be addicted to bullet journaling. I made 15 pages in 2 days and I can’t wait until the next time I get to use it. I could add this to my spark joy list (ahem…one of my pages…).

  • I’m not sure if the pages are just thin, or gel ink is too thick but the writing from one side bleeds through a little to the other side, which makes it feel a little cluttered. That said, I don’t mind it too much and other kinds of ink don’t seem to bleed through – as I’m using gel primarily for grids, titles, and special lists, I think it will work just fine long term.

 

Here are my pages so far:

  • Index

  • My yearly intentions as outlined in my blog post.

  • Skills wishes and intentions

  • Green wishes and intentions

  • Annual Layout with yearly word (harvest) and monthly focuses

  • Monthly layout

  • Things that spark joy

  • Things that make me feel rich

  • Things that make me feel love(d)

  • Key to abbreviations and symbols

These are pages I expect to add:

  • A daily habit tracker (probably as part of my dailies, but not sure as I haven’t started them yet)

  • Blog post ideas/schedule

  • Project pages

  • Dailies

  • ??? I’ll leave room for other possibilities!

I also expect to add drawings, quotes, and artistic embellishments (paper craft).

Already I feel like this has helped me visualize my year and has directed some changes in what I want included in my days and weeks.

Have you used a bullet journal? How did you like it? Leave me your page recommendations!

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Alexis Donkin

Alexis Donkin is a life coach and intuitive helping creatives build lives based in unconditional love. She is the creator of The Compassion Letter weekly newsletter, and the online course, The Heart Unboxed: How to Love the Unloveable, as well as host of the Intentional Writer Interview Series and author of over 17 books.
How I Started A Bullet Journal to Live Intentionally
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