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Creatively laid plans…
There are numerous ways to make your Bullet Journal your own; you’d be hard pressed to find two journals completely alike. Without question, my Bullet Journal is an illustrated take on the original. Ryder himself tells us “the Bullet Journal is an ever evolving system”, mine evolved into something more…illustrated. Something that paired creativity with productivity, both of them equally beneficial to my life. In fact, the act of sitting down with my Bullet Journal is a daily reminder that it’s good for me to take time to sort my thoughts. Today I’ll share with you some of my spreads, the ideas behind them and why I consider my Bullet Journal to be not just my planner but my most helpful coping tool. The bones of my BuJo (Monthly & Future log, dailies, etc.) are in line with the original concept, but the meat (style, details, added features etc.) is where I let loose.
Since we’re getting to know each other, you can call me Shay. I really enjoy documenting my life in my Bullet Journal. As you will see, it led to the growth of both my interests and ability to make time for them, once I realized I could plan for and reflect on my life simultaneously. Now, whether it’s a date I need to remember, a task I need to complete, or a desire to chronicle an important aspect of my life, I make space for it. Like many, I Bullet Journal because it helps me achieve my goals and break down tasks, but I also use it to catalog my experiences: the good and the “really, though?!”
I’m a full-time parent and wife. The end.
Just kidding…It was the year 2015 (did I mention I have a flair for drama?) and I was the forever sleepy parent of an energetic 3-year-old and 1 year old. A girl was tired! One night, I was up with one of the two offspring at the ass crack of dawn (am I allowed to swear here?), scrolling through YouTube. I came across Ryder’s video and as I watched, it became clear to me that I needed to adopt this planning system. I was already a list lover and aspiring doer of all things, but my best intentions were buried under depression, raging anxiety and toys. So many toys! Basically, if my brain were a house, the foundation was strong, but the rooms were a mess.
It had never occurred to me that all my lists, thoughts and interests could live in one single book— time for a Target run! Ryder’s rapid logging system made so much sense to me; I felt that once I was able to download all my thoughts into one central place, I’d feel a heck of a lot better about how to move forward. Spoiler: I was right.
Those first pages…
Armed with the basics (a notebook and a pack of pens) I began my first set up. In the beginning, I didn’t worry much about the visual aspect apart from what I was already capable of doing. Instead I focused on the function each spread provided. My set up was composed of 5 main spreads (a future log, a monthly spread, a weekly spread, a habit tracker & a gratitude log) and one collection: a grocery shopping list. These spreads made planning while Mom-ing a lot simpler. I now had a hub for all those daily things that previously terrorized my mom brain and the knowledge that I would get to them in due time. Check out my first bullet journal here—practice absolutely makes progress!
I take full advantage…
When the foundation of the system became second nature, I began to add more features and try new things. I’d discovered hand lettering and drawing challengesin the BuJo “community” and began to dip my toes in those areas. With time and practice, I became comfortable with those art forms and they continue to have prominent roles in my BuJo today. As I dabbled in new things, I also learned something important: just because it looks cool in someone else’s journal doesn’t mean I need it in mine. I became more in tune with what worked for me and more able to admire the work of others without adopting every cool thing out there. This can be challenging at times because there are a lot of awesome spreads in the community; slow and steady wins the race.
Being selective and intuitive allowed me to create pages that were valuable to me because of how they served me emotionally. For example, as someone with Anxiety, being self aware is important, which is why I use a daily “Mood Scale”. Many people in the BuJo community track their moods, but I wanted to track the severity of my anxious feelings on a scale of 1-10. The goal is to identify a pattern and try to be proactive vs reactive with self-care. Knowing where I am on the scale reminds me to take a look at what I can affect, which gives me a sense of control. With this tool, I can look at my day and determine whether I need to cancel or migrate tasks in order to avoid overstretching myself emotionally. Having a visual of my mental bandwidth helps me remember (if I’m at a 7 or more) to ask my spouse for help, take a walk after dropping the kids off at school or when I just need to vent to someone. Paired with my Habit Tracker, I’m able to notice how my anxiety affects my productivity. This helps me to acknowledge that it’s OK to get less done because I need to take care of myself.
Beyond looking cool, this spread (and others like it) help me to have a more positive inner dialogue, and (Bonus!) makes for more productive therapy sessions. Adapting the Bullet Journal system like this, became a way to get to know myself and what I needed rather than just what I needed to do. This added benefit was something I never expected to get from this system but is one of the most meaningful. Those early spreads made way for what my Bullet Journal is today, a place where the things that I do and the things that I feel exist together.
Keeper of all things.
One book (I use an A5 Leuchturm 1917) keeps track of my deadlines and appointments, holds my collections, guards my feelings and is the vessel for many of my illustrations. Each page provides motivation and courage by reminding me that I can always start again, I can always improve, and I can always take time for myself. In this book, I make space for self-motivation, self-analysis, and self-improvement.
Some things you can find in my Bullet Journals…
Personally, I believe the person behind the to-do list is as important as the to-do list itself. In my pages, productivity lives in harmony with creativity. This book is my brain and my heart. In it you will find:
- Words of encouragement and/or quotes
Memory pages (birthdays, special moments, trips, etc.)
Reverse to-do lists (great for those “autopilot” days where I give myself credit for the stuff I did that wasn’t on the to-do list)
Collections (favorite movies, favorite things to wear, self-care options)
“Private” Journaling (add an envelope to a page, journal on scrap paper, seal journaling in the envelope)
An emotional assessment spread (how am I feeling?, which coping tools can I use?)
You can learn more details and see a flip through of these (and more) spreads right here.
I began illustrating in my journal as a way to relax. I needed a mindful activity I could perform as the kids slept; something that could also help quiet my thoughts. As a kid I liked to doodle, so that seemed like a good place to start. At first, I’d copy from Pinterest, using keywords like: “easy doodles”. Slowly, with practice, I began to challenge myself with more detailed drawings. While these drawings were not “necessary”, I felt good doing something simply for the joy of doing it. I was actually relaxing! Additionally, illustrating within my plans removed the “dread” of all the things that needed to be done. In a way, those illustrations and the growth I achieved with them over time, motivated my planning and kept me engaged with my task list. I was becoming a more productive person and a better artist! Knowing this inspired me to let creativity occupy the space in between plans and productivity. Journaling or illustrating within or around tasks became my preferred form of planning. This helps me to appreciate the life that is happening alongside or as a result of planning. Just as I adopted the system into my life, I also allowed my life to be part of the system. Illustrating, though not an obligation in my Bullet Journal, has become a visual example of how far I’ve come since my first spread. The progress I’ve made as an artist is a mirror to the progress I’ve made with my productivity as well as my emotional health.
Remember: It only needs to work for you.
I needed a place to empty my brain, and spreads that allowed me to see that I was more functional and productive than I felt. Checking each box offered recognition and motivation. Over time, I noticed this simple planning method also offered me some Peace; I no longer had to keep everything in my brain. Once a month, I sit down and lay out the next thirty or so days: what I need to do and what I’d like to do. I plan, using the mindset of “feelings first”. This helps me to not feel like I must make room for everything at the expense of my mental health. I look at the month ahead and think about how I can plan to be productive (doing all the things I have to do) without forgetting to leave room for myself to recharge and reset. I also decide which version of my planning I need; some months may include all 5 main spreads and others may not. Additionally, I create opportunities for self-care by making sure to pencil in creative ideas and things like taking a walk with a friend, time to read a book, and (yes) binging on my favorite shows. Basically, I try to make sure I include myself in the plan vs being an afterthought, which is something many of us tend to fall victim to. We can do hard things, my friend!
I’ve learned as much about what I’m capable of doing, as who I’m capable of being. Though the style of my Bullet Journal has evolved over time, this powerful tool of intention remains a major part of my accountability and wellness journey. Each page has given me the ability to look forward as well as within. I encourage you to think of what You need from your Bullet Journal and pursue it as if they’re not just pages, but the moments that make up your life.
Well, gotta go!
I hope that our time together here has served to inspire you to look at your pages as a safe space, deserving of whatever carries you forward! Speaking of “forward”, this is where I leave ya- these kids don’t raise themselves!