My Digitized Bullet Journal (aka Why The Bullet Journal Did Not Work For Me)

You click this post, aghast. "But Nich," you cry out, "Look at all the  gorgeous   Instagram   accounts   that showcase h...

You click this post, aghast. "But Nich," you cry out, "Look at all the gorgeous Instagram accounts that showcase how amazing the system is for someone like you, a creative organizer and manic over-planner. The Bullet Journal has to work for you."

Unfortunately, it doesn't. There are things about the analogue system that just didn't work for me on a fundamental level. Months of trying to adapt to the system (which, already, should have been a sign that myself and bullet journaling weren't meant to be) had left me with feelings of discomfort, and regret at the things I spent time focusing on, and the things left to peripherals, respectively. It just wasn't working out. I couldn't get into it, and let me tell you why in bullet points (because it is only thematically appropriate):

  • I was generating waste: One of the biggest sources of my discomfort was the fact that I was wasting paper (and time) creating repeated layouts on things that were modular. "Spreads" drove me crazy with how wasteful they were to me -like a habit tracker (which took up a whole page sometimes), or a mood tracker, or an ongoing list of books read, and TV shows watched. It makes me especially ashamed because I am a software developer, and I know there exists software that allow you to track these things in a convenient, quick-and-easy way without the frill, and most importantly, indefinitely in terms of physical space. It makes me especially ashamed because I prefer it, and I tried so hard to make this damned pen-and-paper system work.
  • I couldn't marry my creative impulses with my need for minimalism: The problem with having the freedom to decide how my bullet journal looks is that I'm not the type to decorate my planner -I need it to be clean, and simple, or else I'll tire of it. It's not a matter of clutter. It's a matter of I-need-things-to-look-different-or-else-I-get-bored. With apps, there is no control over the UI. It is what it is, and what it is allows me to do what I want without worrying about how what I want looks like.
  • I also felt like I couldn't make mistakes: I felt like mistakes meant I wasn't organized enough, or I wasn't creative enough, or I just wasn't keeping up with what was "the proper way" to bullet journal.
  • I hated setting up the layouts: Fuck rulers, Jesus Christ, I know we have a dotted grid but man.
  • But I also could't get into having things free-form: One of the reasons I wanted to start bullet journaling was because I wanted to track my activities -what days am I most productive? How are my moods? At what point did I stop caring about writing down a habit, and actually doing it instead? I wanted to compartmentalize, but I didn't want pre-cut boxes.
  • Lastly, I finally acknowledged that I was forcing a system rather than a concept: There is no universal system -those things belong in dystopian novels. I was trying to convince myself that yes, I do need to be fluent in legends and symbols that meant "important" or "do later", and yes, I do need to be a master at linear planning, and yes, I do need to write everything down.
I don't. I really don't. All I needed was to understand what a bullet journal was, conceptually. It's a planning method where you put everything you need to do in a bucket, taking them out per task, and setting a time to actually do said tasks. It's how we've been planning things since planning things was a thing, just neatly wrapped in a Leuchtturm 1917 notebook. 

Taking all that into account, I broke down each "spread" I wanted to keep into their most basic ideas, and tried to find a corresponding digital version. My current setup looks like this:

It took a pretty long while before I reached the level of satisfaction I am at now with my organization routine, and honestly, I'm not even completely satisfied yet. Getting organized is a process in itself, and the only thing you can really do is have fun with it and not stress out over how compartmentalized your journal notes are. Here are a few things I've learned that hopefully might help:

  •  Figure out what you need, and why: Why do you need to track your mood? Why do you need to track how much you sleep? Why do you need to spend thirty minutes with a ruler manually writing down every day of every month? Something I fell into was wanting to put in every single spread I came across on Instagram, and bullet journaling Youtube videos, and at the time, I didn't realize that what I was doing was trying to insert someone else's routine into my life and thinking that my life will become as interesting as theirs. There's a beauty in the life I live, and figuring that out through self-questioning is a part of that beauty, and more often than not, a part of finally getting your shit together.
  • Start with one: Start with one thing, and build on it. It shows you what you're missing. It shows you how much commitment you have, and (as much as we'd like to not have to face it) it shows you how much discipline you have with yourself. Sometimes, the root is not a wrong system, but something a bit more fundamental that needs to be worked on. If you find yourself realizing it, start with that. Start with one. Start with you.
  • Do not overdo with the apps: It's the same thing as wanting to do multiple spreads at once. Again, break down your spreads into their basic ideas and see if you can find one, to do multiple. Many spreads can be done in Google Calendar -a daily highlight, daily task, daily quote, weekly chores, monthly budget, spending tracker, mood tracker. It all depends on your needs.
  • Find a way to incorporate your social media platforms: As mentioned in the previous point, a good way to not overdose on applications is to use ones you already have. This is why I use Instagram as a daily highlight tracker. I already have an account, so I don't need to install another one-a-day photo application. Break it down to the basic ideas.
  • Figure out if seeing an overview of what you're tracking is important to you: The reason I don't just use Google Calendar, or Twitter to track my mood is because I want to be able to see a high-level overview of how I feel, when I feel, and for how long at a time. I want to be able to press a button, forget about it, and at the end of the month, see how my mood went over the period of time.

  •  Figure out a system that makes it easy for you to 1.) make mistakes, and 2.) forget and pick back up without consequence: I already mentioned that I felt like I couldn't make mistakes -a follow up point to that is once I've dropped and picked the journal back up to try again, it felt so foreign, and having to pick it up again felt like starting over from square one. It might've been because I wasn't that into the spreads I was using, or I was just frustrated at having to remember what symbol meant what again. Regardless, the personnalisation of my own routine based off the bullet journal system meant that I could drop the system for a couple of weeks, go off on a European vacation to forget the world, come back, and pick it up again with no trouble at all.

Lastly, take your time. At the end of the day, it's your own, personalized, just-for-you, fit-to-your-personality-and-needs productivity method. Like I said at the beginning, don't force a system that isn't working for you, especially if you're trying real hard because you think it's the end-all of productivity methods and your life will magically fall into place once you somehow manage to keep up with it. A big part of productivity is being mindful about what you're doing, and accomplishing, and a big part of that is spending a lot of time with yourself. It's always good to question things, especially the things you fail at because it provides an opportunity to become better and to learn more about the type of person you are to make it easier to face the next challenge. 

Do you have an analogue style bullet journal, and have you kept up with it? Or are you also falling into a pit of symbols, and spreads, and just want to have your life together, like me?

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  1. I tried several times to update and design my bullet journal but it didn't worked out, it's like I'm just doing this because it's the trend however I stopped doing it. I follow my own schedule by just writing it down on a sticky note and pin it on the board to help me. Well, in my case, my bullet journal serves as my remind-me-what-I'm-going-to-do-next journal. Haha.


    1. The biggest thing about Bullet Journaling that I had a problem with was that I couldn't reconcile my lifestyle with the system. A remind-me-what-I'm-going-to-do-next journal actually sounds like a journal I'd be down with haha! Also sticky notes are bomb!

  2. I'm so sorry bullet journaling didn't work for you. :( It was, however, the only system that worked for me. I mainly use it as a planner, but I also have a couple of "collections" set up. I did try to "decorate" mine, but it's gotten to a point where it's becoming counterproductive, so I simply maintained ruled/boxed (as minimalistic as it can get) weekly/daily spreads instead as evident in my bullet journal-dedicated Instagram. I tried adding trackers, etc. on mine, but I already have an Apple Watch that tracks my activities (i.e., steps, workout, sleep), so essentially, I don't need them on my bullet journal anymore. Besides, I always forget to log them in, so that brings me back to my dilemma of being counterproductive.

    1. It's not problem -and yeah I totally get you on the whole being counterproductive thing! I just really wanted something quick in terms of tracking this, and almost easily forgettable? Something I can fill in, then forget until the next time I have to.

  3. Tried so hard to achieve the Istagram/Tumblr worthy BUJO as well, but I realized that layouting every spread is not for me so I use planners like the ones from Starbucks instead. I need something that works for me instead of making something work and end up not getting things done. I still love looking at BUJO hashtags tho for inspiration and whatnot :P

    Also, thank you for sharing the apps that you use Nichie. Haven't heard of Google Keep so I might give it a try :)

    1. Yo the Starbucks planner was the love of my life when I was still back home. I found the layouts to be perfect for the scheduling and task management I like to do. The BUJO hashtag is like my guilty unachievable-dream pleasure HAHAHA I wish, but I tell myself I really need to focus my creative efforts elsewhere. And no problem! Let me know how Google Keep works out for you!

  4. So helpful. I've had my bullet journal for a while now, but got tired of following everything so for months, after feeling overwhelmed by all the spreads, I decided to just use my notebook as it is: a journal-writing down thoughts and random ideas whenever they come-and now, I have another notebook for scrapbooking, and I feel good again.

    Love your journal, btw. I have always admired your creativity.
    PS: Thanks for mentioning Daylio. I have it on my phone now and it's so much fun! :)

  5. I feel the same way about BUJO-ing. Mine started out cute and creative but then I got lazy in logging in everything out (because I made a habit tracker, expense tracker, and whatnot, almost anything I can track haha) so the last pages ended up being just a journal with my thoughts and feelings written down. Sometimes it's just too much work.
    I also tried downloading apps such as One Note, but ended up not using them because I realized that I have to force myself to use it so i didn't see the point, haha. It's not for me. Though I always keep a journal :)

    Nika |

  6. Ah, gosh. I've tried creating my own bullet journal but it became too stressful, I reverted back to the old school type of journaling. I suppose it's really just a matter of preference. Glad you've found the one that works for you!

  7. Agree with all the points you said up there, especially the "felt like I couldn't make mistakes" part. I bought a blank notebook at the start of the year to try my hand in this BUJO thing, which i've seen a gazillion times on IG looking all pretty and neat and sophisticated. But i'm not really one to track anything. I realized i just want to try BUJO so i can be part of the trend.

    I love your blog (already said this to you on Twitter lol) and I'm a new fan^_^

  8. Kainis, my comment last time didn't push through pala! :( But I said something like what Jhanz said. Kanya-kanyang preference talaga!

  9. I started my BuJo last March and so far it did work on me. I update it whenever I have time and when I'm in the mood. There are times that I am really lazy and I don't have ideas for it. I just let those days pass. However, there also people who don't like bullet journal and I think it's fine. We all have different preferences. :)

  10. Bullet journal apps for ios help you to be memorable your every day and every second. The Bullet Journal is a system which is a to-do list, notebook, sketchbook, and dairy. It also forgave organization and customizable system. If you want memorable your every day and every second, you can see it. Today will give you some best bullet journal apps.

  11. I don’t know how should I give you thanks! I am totally stunned by your article. You saved my time. Thanks a million for sharing this article.