Welcome to my life told fantasy-style! In this post: I discuss how I got into bullet journaling and ten ways that I have used it to bring my life into balance. (Also: Lots of pictures!)
I once opened a fortune cookie to reveal this nugget of wisdom: “Failing to plan is planning to fail.”
But what is the best way to plan?
It was a few days before Christmas and, in a discussion of New Year's resolutions and goal-setting, a friend of mine asked: “Have you ever heard of bullet journaling?”
“No. Educate me!”
So he pulled out a plain, dark-covered tome in which he had written many spells and recipes for a productive and meaningful year, with notes and observations along the way. He explained the process and I thought to myself, “This is flippin’ awesome!”
I have now been bullet journaling for a fortnight and here are ten thoughts on it:
1. It's great to get away from the Enchanted Screen.
Several studies underscore the benefits of writing things out by hand, as opposed to typing them out on the Enchanted Screen. The feel of parchment, the physical process of writing, the removal from the stimulating lighting of the Screen, the connection of thought with doing… One study suggests that, in comparison to typing, you can actually increase your word count, write faster, and have a broader expression of ideas when writing by hand.
2. I can express myself however I want.
Look on Pinterest and all these online groups dedicated to bullet journaling and you’ll see absolutely gorgeous books, with incredible art on every page.
But you don’t have to do it that way. In fact, I can’t. If I watercolored or doodled on every page (like Shelby from Little Coffee Fox), I would tire really quickly. But I do use my calligraphy pens—ahem, Scholarly Quills—for the headers, which helps to inspire me and add that little pop of interest. Some people use stickers. Some trace art that they have printed from the Enchanted Screen. In short, it’s easy to express YOU.
3. The format is super customizable.
Plan out your monthly, weekly, and daily schedule. Track habits. Write down affirmations and encouragement. Record expenses, or conversations with friends that you think are hilarious. Jot down random ideas. Whatever you need, it’s possible. My bullet journal has become my “brain on paper.”
One of the best parts, for me, is my color code. I record thoughts on writing and books in purple, on social activities in green, on my health in blue, and “life in general” in black. And red? That’s for suggested improvements, for when I identify an area that I’ve failed to plan and suggest a possible solution. It’s so easy to flip through my journal and find that Super Inspiring Flash of Brilliance from weeks ago.
4. It's portable.
I could keep it all on my Pocket Oracle (Muggle translation: the diminutive version of the Enchanted Screen) but, frankly, I just get tired of screens. My Magic Book and its colored pens can easily fit inside a purse, for use when I’m waiting at the Office of the Healing Wizard or going to a friend’s house or consorting with other Wordbenders. And, let’s face it, it is infinitely cooler to pull out a dragon-themed book and write with quills in public than it is to pull out the ever-ubiquitous Pocket Oracle.
5. I am far more focused.
My Magic Book isn’t just a fun new time-waster. It actually saves me time by helping me to focus on the important things. Every single week, I complete a weekly evaluation. I ask specific questions like:
There are things you don’t discover about yourself and your habits until you ask questions like this regularly. For example, I discovered that I feel most confident when others affirm me. (No surprise. My love language is Words of Affirmation.) I have always felt awkward talking about my writing with my friends, but in the last year I’ve been a lot more open about my projects and even about the business side of being an author. The result? My friends are not only more educated on the writing process, but they have great ideas to share, which in turn inspires me with confidence.
6. My life is more balanced.
Periodically, though not weekly, I use my Magic Book to evaluate the ten parts of my life that Michael Hyatt identifies in his Lifescore Assessment and course 5 Days to Your Best Year Ever:
If you’re like me, there are certain parts of your life that you evaluate often and others that you ignore and hope they don’t turn into disasters. Evaluating all ten areas periodically forces me to recognize weak areas and plan for improvement, while celebrating those areas where I’m doing well. It pulls my life into balance.
7. I am far more productive.
What is the main benefit of identifying needs and planning for improvement? Productivity. I now know where I’m wasting time. I know what specific, measurable steps I can take toward improving weak areas. And I’m getting SO MUCH more done.
8. I'm okay with imperfection.
I’ve always written my journals in full sentences, with proper grammar and punctuation. I hate it when I mess up a word and have to cross it out. I get upset when the ink smudges.
Why can’t my record of my life be PERFECT?
My Magic Book has all kinds of mistakes in it. Fragments instead of sentences. Smudged ink. Awkward formatting. Places where I forgot to use my color-code system and then tried to add it in later.
Things like this used to put me into conniptions and make me want to abandon the project completely. But I’m learning not to ask “Is it perfect?” but “Is it effective?” And it is. Imperfect but so, so effective.
Check out my header below. I messed up the P. I smudged the J. I even put a square instead of a circle on one of my lines. It's a beautiful mess. And nobody cares but me! (And now you. But you don't care, right?)
9. The system changes with my needs.
Did I institute a particular format or “rule” for myself that no longer works well? I can change it.
I have lived most of my life by a set of unspoken rules that, I’m beginning to realize, are extremely inhibiting. If I started a book, I had to finish it, even if I disliked it. If I wrote “Dear Diary” at the top of my very first journal entry, I had to write “Dear Diary” for every single entry until the end of the journal, even if I decided half-way through that “Dear Diary” was so eighth-grade.
Look, life is too short to do things that don’t work or that don’t inspire me. I’m not obligated to keep doing something simply because I started doing it at one time. So if, for example, weekly evaluations in their current form become too much at some point, I can switch it up.
And I’m allowed to do it.
10. The system comes with a community.
I was so excited about my new Magic Book that I told my sister Martian Kitty about it.
“Wait, you’re bullet journaling?” She gasped. “Me too!”
Then we sent each other pictures of our books and discussed how we planned out our schedules and what we found most inspiring. We weren’t just people journaling. We were people delighted by life and possibility.
There are whole communities online that do the same thing. If Format X doesn’t work for you, chances are, someone else invented Format Y that matches your style. But you’re as likely to find someone among your friends who has tried it too.
What is your biggest goal for the coming year? Which of my ten points most resonates with you?
Share in the comments below!
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I write YA/adult fantasy & sci-fi that explores fantastic and interconnected worlds, with stories that burn through the darkest realities with hope and redemption.
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