Your Bullet Journal Doesn’t Have to Be Instagrammable

Why did it take me so long to try bullet journaling?

For a while, I’d heard about using bullet journals for scheduling, project planning, journaling, making lists, and jotting down notes and ideas. But I was hesitant to try it for three main reasons:

1) It seemed to be just a fad, and I’m wary about fads (this tendency sometimes helps me avoid something harmful or useless, but other times may keep me from trying something that could be helpful).
2) The examples of bullet journals that I came across online seemed super fancy and elaborate, full of gorgeous graphics, reflecting a skill with drawing that I don’t have.
3) A quick glance at the bullet journal method gave me the impression that it was confusing and cluttered.

Why did I finally decided to try using a bullet journal? Last October, I had finished using a regular planner and was searching for a better way to keep track of different tasks. After hearing yet another recommendation for the bullet journal method, I decided to revisit it.

This time, I gave the method a closer reading, and I tried it out with an old spiral notebook I already had at home.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far, using a bullet journal:

– There’s no need for you to buy an official bullet journal. You can make use of an old notebook like this one:

bulletjournalnotfancy

– Your bullet journal requires no visual art, no artistic touches, unless you feel like adding some to it. (If you don’t want to draw something, you can paste in photos or cutouts from a magazine on certain pages.) Your approach to journaling can be minimalistic and entirely text-based if you want.

– You don’t need to make your journal worthy of an Instagram post, with fancy fonts and such, unless you really want to. Sometimes, people design their journal to make it look like a standard planner, which may interfere with its looser format and the more flexible way it’s meant to be used.

– Rather than being too cluttered, I’ve found the method of numbering pages and keeping a running table of contents (or index) helpful in finding what I need, including lists, notes, and fragments of fiction I’ve jotted down in between days.

– The instructions on the bullet journal website, linked to above, are a good starting point. As you use the journal, you can make modifications in how you organize or present the text in it (such as the way you highlight or prioritize certain tasks or set up weekly trackers). You can adapt its use to meet the specific demands of your life. It works well in tandem with other systems of organization, including project management software.

– I still find ways in which I can use the journal more effectively. This flexibility is one reason I like it.

Progress Washed Away During Lockdown

Along with the threat of the disease itself, one of the great challenges of the COVID-19 crisis is how it has washed away people’s progress in different areas.

– Savings eroded or gone.
– Businesses run to the ground.
– Carefully planned projects that need to be abandoned, maybe never to be picked up again.
– People who have just started to become healthier in some way, physically or mentally, only to find themselves slipping (or crashing).

One person I know who has social anxiety made some efforts in recent months to get out of the house more. She started attending meetings of some local groups that share her hobbies. Since the lockdown, she has been struggling in isolation, and the gains she made regarding her anxiety feel largely illusory, as if they happened to someone else.

(Although there are video tools for connecting with people, and these tools may be better than nothing, they aren’t a substitute for in-person interaction. I’ve found this to be the case myself. Also, video calls can be mentally draining – the Harvard Business Review offers some advice on how to deal with “Zoom fatigue.”)

To the heartbreak, frustration, or despair that may result from the COVID-19 crisis – including its social and financial effects – there are obviously no simple answers. It can be stressful enough if your daily schedule has changed or you had to cancel certain plans. But I’m thinking right now about people whose hold on the world may be made more fragile because of the crisis. People cut adrift, with relationships severed, major opportunities lost, and progress seemingly reversed.

One thing that may help (at least a little) is to provide yourself with written reminders – in a journal, for example – about who you are, what you have done, what you hope for, and how you promise to give yourself time to get through this day by day. When there’s a massive amount of stress in your life, it’s easy to lose sight of many things, to disregard yourself, and to forget your capabilities and potential. Your current emotions may be so terrible and overwhelming that you can’t think of how they’ll ever end, even though they won’t last forever. You may not be able to see how your current situation could ever improve, but you don’t have all the answers (even though discouragement or despair may offer you answers that seem definitive).

Reminding yourself of who you are can also help you remember the ways in which you’ve been healing and the ways you have met particular goals in the past. Even if you’re feeling lost now, you aren’t starting from absolutely nothing. You may be struggling with the types of problems that have dragged you down before, but you bring with you more wisdom from your previous experiences and some evidence of how things can improve – if not immediately, then one day. You’ve managed to do it before. Will it be harder the second (or third) time around? What will restarting look like? Are you trapped? Write down your thoughts, and keep your thoughts flexible. The answers may change over time. You don’t know for sure.

If you’re keeping a journal, and you don’t think you can write anything about yourself at the moment, then maybe just write today’s date. Then tomorrow’s date. Maybe a short line with each entry. I’ve done that on days when I didn’t think I could write more, and sometimes that’s how you mark the day and step forward into the next one.

Keeping a journal doesn’t put food on the table. It doesn’t magically restore a lost job or shattered career. But if it helps in any way – helps you fight off bouts of despair or cope with the feeling that your life is horribly unreal – it could be worth a try. In ways you aren’t able to picture clearly or even conceive of at the moment, you may be able to regain at least some of what you’ve lost or discover or create something new.

(It’s also worth mentioning that you can rant on paper if you need to. Some people sit for 10-15 minutes and write down their anxieties, their rage, their grief, and then tear the paper up into tiny bits and throw it away. This exercise could become an outlet for releasing some of what’s in you, removing and destroying it so it possibly has less of a hold on your mind.)