I’ve mentioned before that I use a bullet journal. I did try a highly-recommended traditional planner this year, but it just didn’t suit me. So, today I’m sharing how I use my bullet journal to plan.
But first, rid your mind of all those beautiful spreads you’ve seen on Instagram and YouTube videos. My journal looks nothing like that! I have trouble drawing stick figures! However, I do have a ruler, use a pencil frequently to initially lay out spread, and have lots of erasers! Besides, nobody’s going to see it but me and maybe my husband! So, it really doesn’t have to be showcase-worthy.
With that out of the way, I’m going to review some basics about how I use my bullet journal, or bujo, to plan.
Just the Basics
INDEX: Yes, yes, yes!! I use this, the heart of the system, a lot. I make my table of contents as I add new pages, and so can always find what I wrote down later in the year.
KEY: No! I figure if I can’t remember what the symbols I’m using represent, then I need a simpler system! In fact, I use very few symbols, so they’re quite simple to remember.
FUTURE LOG: Yes! This is just a yearly calendar. Some people use a list-type calendar, others draw a grid with a box that represents each month, then randomly list dates to remember in the boxes. I’m a grid-and-boxes girl! I used to draw my future log much larger than I do now, having only three months on a page. Now, my future log covers one page only, with an additional page left for notes in case anything spills over. I also use the notes page to record dates I need to remember as the end of the year, before I transfer to a new bujo.
MONTHY, WEEKLY, DAILY SPREADS: Yes. I’ve settled on a format that I can draw out quickly and that meets my needs. Nothing fancy, just easy to use.
COLOR AND STICKERS: Yes and sometimes. Since I don’t draw, I like to use color to add some life to my bujo. Occasionally, I’ll throw a sticker or two in it as well, but I don’t seem to care enough to do it regularly – or maybe I’m not organized enough? Don’t have the right stickers? Who knows?
The Planning Pieces
My key planning pieces are my FUTURE LOG, my MONTHLY CALENDAR, my WEEKLY GRID, and my DAILY LIST. We’ll look closer at each other these.
First the FUTURE LOG. As I already said, this is critical. There is no way I can remember my six-month dental cleaning, annual physical date, or when my mom’s coming to visit from Florida, without writing it down. When events are planned, they go right into the FUTURE LOG.
Then, when I create the MONTHLY CALENDAR for that month, the item is transferred to that MONTHLY CALENDAR. Finally, each week has its own 2-page spread, with a grid of seven days on the left and a to-do list on the right. When the week rolls around, it gets written on that week’s grid and to-do list. Simple to implement and to follow. It works for me!
However, there is more to planning that just recording health appointments, vacations and holidays, or special events. So, at the beginning of the year, in my new bullet journal, I add several important pages.
The first of these beginning-of-the-year pages is My Level 10 Life Graph. This is for my information only – although I do share with my husband! I evaluate how I’m doing in 10 key areas of life at the beginning and the end of the year, as well as shooting for doing it twice at other times in the year. I simply rank my satisfaction with 10 areas of my life on a graph so I can visually compare throughout the year if I’m improving my life, staying the same, or getting worse.
Next, I have a 2-page spread for my top goals for the year. I go through a goal setting process, trying to decide what to focus my time and energy on, and narrow my focus down to 3 – 5 major goals. These I write on the left facing page. On the right facing page, I have a grid of the months of the year, in which I record steps to take each month toward my goals.
Honest truth: my monthly grid was blank when I started writing this post. I started 2019 sick and didn’t have the energy to plan ahead for what to do. In fact, I started writing this post in early January, but it is now mid-February, and I’m still fighting illness. But I’ve decided I need to act healthy, even if I do have a perpetual cold and other issues! That said, my January block stayed blank all month, but I do have some small steps to take in February. I’m trying!
The last piece of my yearly planning is my blog posting calendar. This is written in PENCIL! I try to stick to the schedule I lay out, but I also have to be realistic. I have a full-time job and grandchildren and life just happens sometimes. So, pencil.
My monthly planning is very basic. I start with a typical calendar layout that has all my commitments for the month written on it. I also record my daily Bible reading on my monthly calendar, so I can see at a glance if I’m being faithful in this area.
Next, each month I have a Level 10 Life focus for each of my 10 life areas. Actually, not every area gets a focus each month, and I’m OK with that. I strive for balance over a year! Anyway, each of the 10 life areas usually has a mini-goal for the month. Something like reading, organizing a closet, or going on a picnic. Low-stress goals, but things that improve my overall sense of satisfaction with my life.
Also, in this focus area, I put the steps I’m planning to accomplish that month to move forward in achieving my top goals for the year. Having a concrete plan of action each month helps me to gain and maintain momentum.
My Secret Weapon
I use my bullet journal for all the planning I do. I brainstorm in it, takes notes from courses in it, record my successes and failures, and generally make it a part of my day. However, I have one critical part of my planning that doesn’t go in my bullet journal – although it might someday.
I have a spreadsheet of the non-working hours of my day where I schedule important tasks. Things like going to the gym, writing, talking to my husband (yes, it’s really on the schedule!), and reading are all scheduled. These things make my life better. But I am so prone to just flop on the couch when I get home and do nothing! Veg in front of the TV until bedtime. Then I feel like I wasted part of my life on nothing important. Don’t get me wrong – I schedule TV time in my week also, just not for hours every day! If I can spend part of my flexible hours with my husband, reading and learning, exercising, and writing or working on the blog, then the day ends on a much better note than if I just waste the afternoon and evening hours doing nothing.
That schedule – flexible, of course! – helps me to spend time wisely. It isn’t in my bullet journal because it’s a work in progress. But, if I ever settle on a fairly predictable schedule, I might just glue it in! For now, it guides me to better choices from its place sitting on my desk. Confession – the schedule went out the window in January! I was sick a lot and just too tired to care.
How Do You Plan?
You don’t have to use a bullet journal to plan your year, month, week, or day. Use a planner, a digital calendar, a notepad, or a combination. Whatever system works for you is great. The take-away from this post, I hope, is that planning is a non-negotiable. You’ve heard it said, “Those who fail to plan, plan to fail.” Don’t be a failure for lack of planning. Start small, maybe planning your devotions and your meals. Then add in planning household chores and errands. Finally, start planning the really important things – family time, date nights, and one-on-one time with your children. Or better yet, start with the really important things. Plan the things that really matter, then work the smaller parts of life around them. Jump into planning now – you won’t regret it!
One more thing – I’ve added a Word document with my flexible schedule to the Resource Library. It is customizable to your needs but gives you a starting point. I’ve removed anything personal and just left the skeleton for you to adapt to your own life.