I love a good planner. There’s just something about the physical act of writing that helps me remember things more clearly, whether it’s something I have to do, someone’s birthday, or just the name of that book that I wanted to buy. I’ve owned dozens of planners throughout my life, always started with good intentions, only to find myself abandoning them a few weeks later in favor of to-do lists on post-it notes instead.
That’s a problem, though, because I tend to lose my to-do lists. A lot. I started searching for a good planner system that really fit my needs. I wanted one that wouldn’t be expensive in case I ended up abandoning it yet again but was versatile enough to work for both my work tasks and my class schedule.
Eventually, I found an article about the bullet journal. It’s extremely customizable, because you just buy a notebook (or, like I did at first, just use some loose-leaf paper for a while) and fill it in the way you want it to look. After testing it out, I bought a hardback Moleskine notebook with graph paper and quickly found myself benefitting from my new system.
1. It’s customizable to your needs and budget
I needed a unique planner since I planned to use it for a full-time job and full-time graduate school. All of the other planners I had used were good for one or the other, but not both. Using the bullet journal meant that I could divide up the weeks, days, or hours exactly how I needed to, even if that changed week to week.
It also helped me stick to my budget. I didn’t have to spend $100 on a planner with custom-designed pages. I just added a $1 ruler to my shopping cart and now I can draw in my own pages. Some people use washi tape to decorate their bullet journals or to help them color code things, but it’s just as easy to use inexpensive highlighters or colorful gel pens instead. For a first-timer, you didn’t even need to buy anything. You can use the system with paper and pencils that you already have around your house.
2. It’s easy to learn and set up
It can seem intimidating to look at a blank notebook and realize that it’s up to you to fill in the design and the content, but the bullet journal is actually very easy. You don’t have to make it pretty, even though a lot of the online inspiration is overwhelmingly gorgeous. The official website has a very simple design, with just a few different icons to keep tasks, personal, and notes visually separated.
The first page of my journal is dedicated to the key. It has each symbol drawn with the definition beside it, plus I have what my different ink colors mean (I have one for each class, so I can quickly see what homework is due). You can include whatever you want in your key – if you don’t like the official icons, make up your own!
3. It keeps everything organized
I love how simple the planner is visually because it makes the important part – my to-do list – stand out very clearly. It’s easy to see at a glance what you need to do that day, and you can create monthly pages so you can see more long-term what you need to be doing.
It also keeps everything in the same place, so you won’t lose your to-do list between days. At the end of each work day, I make a short list for the following day about what I need to do. That way I don’t have to spend time first thing in the morning trying to remember what I need to be doing, or trying to remember where I left the list – it’s right there in my notebook, exactly where it’s supposed to be.
4. It lays everything out where you can see it
This is especially good for people who are visual learners. Everything is always within sight – something that you can’t get with a digital planning method.
I also like being able to track my productivity across time. Since everything is kept inside one notebook, I can see what I struggle with and what patterns I’ve fallen into. This was a great insight for me, and one that I would never have been able to get if I’d stuck with my haphazard post-it note method.
5. It inspires productivity
I hate seeing undone tasks in my planner. If I can see that I still have to email a professor because that box isn’t filled in, then I’m going to get it done that day so I can mark the task as complete.
It’s also nice to get to the end of the day or the end of the week and see that everything has been completed. It’s a nice sense of accomplishment that can help me relax over a weekend.
6. It’s great for keeping lists
I find myself constantly adding lists to my journal. I just turn to an empty page and start making a list: a packing list, a list of books that I’ve bought but haven’t had time to read yet, a list of movies that I want to see, a list of article ideas that I want to write…anything that comes into my head has a place in the planner, so it won’t be forgotten or lost.
7. It’s great for tracking long-term goals
The third page in my planner is a calendar for 2016 with “write every day” written across the top. Each day that I get some writing done, I mark off on this page, and try to keep the chain going each day. This was one of my new year’s resolutions, and once December 31 rolls around this year I’ll know for sure how well I kept that resolution. I won’t have to guess, it’s plainly written out in my planner.
I also have a page of all of the birthdays and anniversaries in my large family so that I can try to get cards sent out in time. Each time I do, I can put a little check mark next to the date, so I know whether or not I’ve succeeded.
I’ve used this planner every day for four months now, and I already don’t know how I lived without it. It’s such a versatile little book that I can’t help but reach for it whenever I have an idea or can’t remember something important – and without fail, whatever I need is right there on the pages.
Featured photo credit: taz + belly via flic.kr