Bullet Journals for the Artistically Challenged

What do you do when you want to get your life in order but you feel too boxed in by traditional means of personal administration? You open up the old Internet search engine and start a new project, that’s what! I’m well aware that I love to start new projects but find it notoriously difficult to see them through until the end – such is my weakness – though I must say that curating a bullet journal has been a lifesaver.

Not to make this too introspective or anything, but my experience with ‘getting sh*t done’ has its wonderful highs and shameful lows. I’ve turned into a gadget-reliant cyborg during my second year of university, having bought a smartwatch for a lark and subsequently fell in love with That Wireless Life: I invested in Bluetooth headphones, a portable keyboard and mouse setup, and a USB OTG (on-the-go) that I attached to my trusty Galaxy Note smartphone. Yes, I was that geek sitting in the back of a lecture theatre pretending her phone was a laptop.

Given my addictive tendencies, however, it’s understandable that I became apprehensive of being so gadget reliant all the time. I had my entire schedule – lectures, seminars, work rota – synced to my smartwatch, and I honestly found it difficult to consider disconnecting. “My entire academic career relied on my being on point,” I kept telling myself. And it has proven useful! There’s no denying the convenience of connecting yourself to smart assistants… I just struggled to transition from a busy-bee-university-student to an I-have-free-time-now graduate.

Which leads me to the wonderful world of bullet journals.

Bullet Journal - April Spread

Bullet journals, to those who have no clue, are personal organizers/planner setup where your only limits are within your imagination. You can have a simple daily to-do list or a comprehensive diary that helps you “track the past, organize the present, and plan for the future.” And for a scatterbrained individual like me, it’s like being offered a lifetime membership to the Greek pantheon with the sheer amount of ‘get your life together’ power it gave me.

(I’m a dramatic sod, so do excuse my occasional hyperbole.)

Regardless, I must establish this one fact: no matter how limitless my creativity can be, it never translates well to the physical world. I’m not an artist. My hand cramps easy because I hold pencils too hard, and I have no skills in space management. Erasers and corrector pens are a godsend. So I’ve decided to create a handy dandy cheat sheet for and easy bullet journal experience… here goes!

How to Keep a Bullet Journal: Five Steps for Dummies

Step One

The first step to bullet journals, before considering fancy things like Future Logs or Weekly Spreads, is to get your hands on a trusted notebook. Quite simple, right? But if you’re a commuter who passes through procrastination station on the regular, this becomes an insurmountable obstacle.

My advice is this: go to a physical store and find the best notebook that suits your needs best.

There’s nothing like physically experiencing the feel of a notebook, and keep in mind that you’ll be working said notebook often. My chosen bullet journal notebook is hardbound with small, dotted pages, a ribbon page marker and no elastic closure. It opens with a simple flick and the cloth cover attracts stains like no other… in other words, it’s perfect (for me!).

Step Two

The second step is research. There’s nothing like barging headfirst into a new project and ruining a perfectly good notebook – imagine the heartbreak! What a wasted opportunity! Don’t forget to save the rainforest, et cetera.

Here’s my advice: familiarise yourself with the bare bones of a bullet journal.

The basic sections of a bullet journal include but are not exclusive to:

  • Index Page
  • Key
  • Future Log
  • Monthlies / Monthly Spread
  • Weeklies / Weekly Spread
  • Dailies / Daily Spread
  • Collections

Don’t be afraid to try everything and change your process as you go – the core aspect of bullet journals are change and variety. You’re not restricted to the same layout every week like with most planners.

May Monthly Focus Collection
a page to list out goals for the month

Step Three

Now here comes the fun part, where we go into the nitty-gritty cheat codes and shortcuts. Things like: stencils are your friend, washi tape makes the mistakes go away, and stickers are a gift from the gods of laziness.

Keep this in mind: not everything in your bullet journal has to be handmade.

If you can create a basic weekly spread using a mix of stencils and an unholy mix of ‘Days of the Week’ stamps, then go for it. The (#bujo) world is your oyster. Your bullet journal is yours to cultivate and no Instagram influencer ought to make you feel bad about it.

Washi tape is a requirement for those artistically challenged like I am. They’re essentially fancy masking tape – easy to tear off, relatively cheap, and patterned to your magpie heart’s content. They can be used to highlight a page corner, frame a header, divide a page, cover up a mistake, add a pop of colour to a spread… the possibilities are endless!

Bullet Journal Week 15 Layout
the wonders of washi tape

As for stickers, there’s a wide variety that can be found in any old stationery store, but my favourite or favourites are those I bought from Etsy. They are an unwarranted splurge, but with the amount of joy they’ve given me (oh look, a Marie Kondo reference!), they are well worth the money spent. Stickers, like washi tape, can over up mistakes and liven up a page. Practical ones like a stack of ‘Monday’s or ‘January’s are super useful if you can’t get our head around the calligraphy that goes hand-in-hand with bullet journals.

Step Four

There’s nothing new under the sun, and there’s nothing wrong with taking a well-loved design and adding your twist to it. A bullet journal, at its core, is for personal use. So what if your daily schedule uses an unoriginal layout… who’s going to arrest you, the bujo police?

A useful reminder: social media is a wonderful crutch to have, so don’t hesitate to follow as many #bujo #bulletjournalinspo tag variations as you want.

Personally, I have a virtual pinboard of inspiration on Pinterest that I constantly update whenever I’m on public transport. I have an Instagram album because my social life revolves around that app and I might as well use it for something beneficial. I also, on occasion, interrupt meme-filled chats with online friends with beautiful bullet journal spreads and vice versa.

Step Five

Finally, have the means to remain accountable. As scatterbrained as I am, it helps a lot if there’s someone (or something) to remind me to update my messy, stain-covered bullet journal. It is also a weight of one’s anxiety-laden shoulders to have one less incomplete project to worry about.

Every month, I try to post an update to my Instagram story – it’s a guilty pleasure that doubles as an illusion of productivity. My friends ask about my journal whenever conversation steers in that direction, and there’s nothing like spending money on art supplies and pretty washi tapes to inspire you to put pen to paper. Or sticker to an empty page, whatever floats your boat.

spooky season is upon us!

Not advice but a helpful nudge: don’t just rely on yourself and your own self-interest in keeping up with your bullet journal. That is to say, extrinsic goals are just as valid as intrinsic ones.

These five steps are hardly the be all end all of keeping a bullet journal, but I hope they’re useful enough tips to keep those artistically disinclined to plodding along. The bottom line of That Bujo Life are these three things:

  1. do what works best with your organizational style
  2. don’t compare yourself to social media influencers, and
  3. washi tape makes the bujo world go ’round

Over to you guys: Do you keep a bullet journal? If so, what other advice can you share and if not, please share your reasons! It’s not for everybody but I would love to hear your alternatives.

Until the next post (whenever that is!).