At the end of every quarter, I review my organization system’s effectiveness in an attempt to always keep improving. During Fall Quarter, I adopted Bullet Journaling, a DIY Planning System. This is how it worked.
Just before the beginning of this school year, I implemented an organizational system called Bullet Journaling. It is a DIY organization system that in its most simple form only requires a pen and a notebook. It combines to-do lists with future planning, in a format that allows complete personalization. This system can work for everyone, but this how I used it to track my school work, exercise, social commitments, and activities.
I used a notebook that my friend Becca (http://www.thiscutelittleblog.com/) sent me. It is 8in x 6in, which is smaller than the typical A5 size (5.8in x 8.3in) that most Bullet Journalers use. It also only has 80 pages, which comfortably fit my needs for Fall Quarter. I use a Pilot G2 07 Gel Ink Rollerball Pen in black to write entries, and for decoration sometimes I use colored pencils.
In addition to my Bullet Journal, I also maintain my Google Calendar which keeps track of all my events. Generally, I add events into Google Calendar first and then copy them into my Bullet Journal when I fill out the week during which the event occurs.
Every Bullet Journal is meant to begin with an index that allows for an overview of the contents. I chose to include pages that had important information on them (Collections such as my Fall Quarter Class Information), and the beginning of each month. When I was just starting, I included one of my weeks. However, I found that it didn’t have a purpose as it is pretty easy to find dated entries from the monthly logs.
Overall, the Index was not useful for me, although this may have been due to my heavy reliance of the bullet journal as a means of tracking assignments and commitments, rather than for extracurricular projects.
For next quarter, I think I will stick to just including the month and any important pages.
2. Future Log
This sections provides an overview of dates for each month throughout the year. I filled out the dates for Fall that were important, but did not continue to update it during the quarter. I referred back to it in the process of creating my individual month spreads.
In addition to the traditional Future Log, I also made a Year-at-a-Glance page, which I felt turned out really well, although I did not refer to it or update it with my academic events. This was partially because the dates for exams can vary up until the week of the exam so I did not want to commit the date for that and then have to change it.
These pages were effective at communicating important personal events (birthdays, travel) and so for next quarter I will continue to fill it out.
3. Monthly Spreads
The Monthly Spreads for the official Bullet Journal System lists out every day with events next to them. On the following page, it includes a list of tasks that should be accomplished for the month. Below is an example from Kara at BohoBerry.com’s monthly spread from her Bullet Journal 101 Series.
I used a different format because my journal didn’t have enough lines to fit all 31 days. Instead of tasks, I used projects (a label taken from David Allen’s Gettting Things Done) to remind myself of the important overarching goals for each month. I find I become too specific in completing next steps that I lose sight of the larger goals, so this was the way I used to remember to think big every month.
I also list important dates. Here is where my academic life begins to take over my Bullet Journal. Every essay and test was included in the important dates intermixed with social events.
Finally, I include a section called Currently Reading. Here I track the books that I read during the month, both for fun and for school, since I think it will be interesting to see what I was reading that month. It also makes it easier for me to know which section of my class notebook to look for my notes on the book we were reading if it isn’t clear from the Syllabus or classwork.
Every month, I also keep a Gratitude Log, where I try to write down one thing every day that I am grateful for. At the beginning, I would write the entry for the day the next morning. As school got more busy, however, I found myself filling out a weeks worth at once. It still gave me a few moments of reflection every week that I felt were useful, although it wasn’t as valuable as it was when it was a part of every morning. For next quarter, I will try to recommit 30 seconds every morning to maintaining the log.
4. Weekly Spreads
For each week, I include an overview of all the events and assignments I have coming up that serves as an overview. This is, by far, the most useful page for me.
On the left side, beginning on a Monday, I divide the page into two parts (Time Specific and Day Specific), where Time Specific logs events and Day Specific has assignments, exams, and birthdays. In the Time Specific section, I only include events that are not regularly a part of my schedule (classes) because I only have three lines allotted for each day. My schedule rarely has three unusual events per day, so I have not found the size to be an issue.
At the bottom of the page, I include a section for events and assignments to look out for in the next week.
On the right, I have a mishmash of information that I track. From top to bottom, it begins with my Daily Log, that serves as a habit tracker for things I try to do every day. Truthfully it has not motivated me to exercise more, nor have I really been using it frequently enough. However, with a lined journal (rather than dot-grid or a graph paper), creating a daily log has been difficult. I am rethinking it for the next quarter. I also list my projects for the week at the top so that I can include larger tasks as projects themselves.
Below the trackers, I have two sections that are for mental health, including a Feelings Log, that help me manage my stress and remind me to take care of myself. I also include a section for Wins of the Week, as often I find myself overlooking good outcomes in the rush of exams. To the right of this section is Waiting On, which helps me track the individuals that I have yet to hear from that may affect my schedule (another idea from David Allen). At the very bottom I have a tracker for my weight that week, as it reminds me to take care of my body.
For next quarter, I will keep most parts of this the same. The two page format did at times become annoying to deal with when it didn’t fall on convenient spreads. It was fun to create every week, using different decorations (or none if I was too busy).
My daily logs include the events that happen that day including classes, as well as the tasks that need to be completed. I include signifiers for events and tasks, but generally will manually migrate tasks. I use arrows to spice up my dates, but that is the extent of the decoration in this part.
I will keep this section the same through the next quarter. It went through several incarnations throughout the quarter, including individual pages for each day, but I have found that creating them for Monday through Friday is sufficient to hold the events and stuff to look out for. Every weekend, I leave a page for a summary of the assignments for the coming week, which provides a basis for the work for the coming week.
Overall, the bullet journal makes me think more about my classes and activities. In high school, I had many activities that I was involved in from soccer and cross-country to voice lessons. When I went to college, I couldn’t handle that many activities while also staying in control of my schoolwork, so I withdrew from almost all of them. This year, I got more involved in student organizations, and having to write the meetings in my bullet journal made it easier for me to see which ones I was excited about. Flipping through my daily pages makes it easy to see which commitments I frequently had to reschedule or cancel.
Creating my weekly spreads every weekend makes me think more about the events coming up during the week. Previously, relying on my Google Calendar to remind me of events half an hour before they occurred made it easy for me to justify skipping them to do homework. Now, I plan my studying around the events. Also, this year I am living off-campus, so I need to keep track of apartment stuff like groceries, maintenance, and cleaning. The Bullet Journal makes it easy for me to include errands like trips to the hardware store, which never would have fit in my academic planner.
It also made it easy to see which days would be the heaviest with assignments. This quarter I had three classes on Tuesday and Thursday, and only one on Monday, Wednesday, Friday. Often, I would have three assignments due Thursday. I could change my Wednesday afternoon commitments at the beginning of the week, so that I would have more time to complete the assignments. The change is easy to make since I see the issue while filling out the weekly spread the weekend before.
I would (and do!) recommend this system to everyone, since it is so easy to adapt to any lifestyle. For the college student, it provides a flexible way to track assignments, exercise, social events, and work so that you really can do it all. All you need to start is a notebook and a pen!