Intersections of Creativity and Productivity: Bullet Journaling

I’ve written about productivity before on this blog and all three links in this sentence will open up new tabs to past posts. As someone with attention and focus issues, I’m always looking for ways to stay organized and on task. If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram, you probably noticed that I’ve been bulletjournaling since May. I’ve been meaning to do a post on that, but then I had a lot of thoughts, and so many feelings, so here we are.

This is going to be a four-part productivity and creativity series of posts. I’ll post once a day over four business days. Don’t look for a particular strategy there: I’m away at a book festival this weekend and I want to be around to talk about these things with you all. It’s purely selfish. I typed that “shellfish” at first. Do you see what I mean about attention and focus issues?

The first post was about productivity loops, how to watch for them, and how to get out of them without denying yourself the truest pleasure of diving into productivity blackholes (while reading about productivity…this blog series *might* be exactly what I’m warning against). The second post was about routines, and how I set a routine as a writer with a demanding full-time dayjob and mental health issues. The third post shared some other resources for whom these posts aren’t working. And the fourth post is about bullet journaling and how I use it as a Person and as a Writer.

Because we all know Writers aren’t People. We are Cylons, sitting amongst you, eavesdropping and stealing bits of your life and dialogue. Now you know.

Just kidding.

Welcome to Part Four, the final part in this blog series.

The internet is full of blogs and posts dedicated to bullet journaling and how it works for various people. I started it (thanks to Megan Erickson and Brighton Walsh and a few other romance writers) last May, after a lifetime of trying planners and failing out of them within a few weeks, if not days. But I also felt in desperate need of something to keep me on track, to keep my brain more organized, and for something that appealed to the kinesthetic learner in me. Bullet journaling seemed like it would be worth the try.

This post is long, but I hope it’s worth it.

What is bullet journaling?

Bullet journaling is essentially a self-designed planner, an analog method of to-do list/rapid logging that helps you externalize events and tasks in a format that is easy to follow, track, and record.

The thing about bullet journaling is it’s more like guidelines. There are no hard and fast rules. Don’t let anyone tell you there are. It took me several months to figure out what I liked and didn’t like about the original system and I jettisoned what didn’t work for me, and added what did work for me. I still always play with layout and formats each month, but that’s because I like that process, not because I’m still experimenting.

The original bullet journal system calls for a key, an index, a future log, a monthly overview, and then weekly or daily logs using the key. For more information about these and the original system, please visit the site of the bullet journal inventor/founder.

I do not use the key, the index, or the future log. Right now. I think my April bujo might bring back the future log solely because travel and expenses are now getting a little complicated.

But that’s the beauty of the bullet journal system: you use what works for you, and you allow that flux to happen. Last month I used dailies. For the first two weeks. Then I stopped. So this month I didn’t use dailies. But I’m missing them in some ways so I’m going to play with a layout for those.

I Googled, And Now I’m Overwhelmed

Welcome. I know. It’s really easy to get overwhelmed because a lot of people have more time and artistic ability than you or I do. Instagram and Pinterest are full of elaborate layouts and pages, templates and spreads with fancy lettering and coloring, doodles and lines. I love looking at those. I find it inspiring and soothing to see beautiful planner pages.

At the same time, that’s not for me. I don’t have the time, quite frankly, and I don’t have the artistic ability. I do like making my planner a little bit artistic so I’ll usually write nicer than I do in other places, sometimes I add washi tape (decorative tape), and sometimes I doodle. And other times, I don’t. Sometimes, it just is what it is.

A sample of a doodle from last summer. I always have a doodle section of the journal to let me have outlets like this.
Washi tape!

I need my bujo to be functional above everything else. I need it to keep track of meetings, tasks, deadlines, books I’ve read, etc. But I don’t need it to be pretty. So as much as I love other people’s gorgeous bujos, I’ve let go of that desire for myself. If a beautiful bujo is for you, that’s AWESOME. If you’re a minimalist, great. If you’re somewhere in between, awesome.

A sample of a page where it was pretty simple, but let me have some fun.

A bullet journal is for you. Unless you’re monetizing a blog about it, it’s for you. What you do with it, how you decorate it, what you write in it, how you use it…that’s you. You do not have to do anything for any other person. It doesn’t have to live up to any standards set by people on the internet. I promise.

What Do You Do?

Good question! Here are pictures of my bullet journal (with my thumb covering the tab on my journal that has my dayjob named, sorry!). You’ll see I make mistakes and I cross them out and I’ve let that exist. Past!Me would have hated the imperfection on the page but letting imperfections exist where other people can see them is something I’m working on. 

Here are all of my past journals. Especially now that I’m using them for my dayjob, I go through about one a month. Other people can use one of these for several months or a whole year. How you use it is up to you.
Here’s my current journal. I switched to tabs so I could easily find everything. I’m moving the MBB tab into an MBB dedicated journal for travel, expenses, marketing, blog posts, etc related to my The Balloonmakers series. The covered tab is my dayjob’s half of the journal.
Here’s what my month layout looks like. I only write big events and deadlines on this part. And paydays. With stickers. Because stickers.
Here are my goals for the month and my deadlines for the month! That goes opposite the month layout page.
So this is the weekly layout that works best for me. I work on a Monday to Sunday week (it’s helped enormously in terms of how I think about my time, strangely enough) and I lump tasks and events together. It’s not pretty, but it’s very functional for me.
And here’s the page opposite my weekly layout. Goals, quote of the week (smeared on the name), and general to do list.

I’ve started using weekly goals and general to-do lists for things I want to accomplish but aren’t driven by a certain day. It’s allowed me more flexibility but also kept me focused on things other than day by day events and tasks. Bigger picture stuff.

Here’s a sample from my old daily pages, with the tasks crossed out. Also feature: washi tape
I love quotes so under the doodle tab of my bujo, I usually am writing quotes or doodling poorly. I like to have a dedicated brain dump space for that.
Here’s a doodle from last summer.

I use Tombow pens for the color “highlights” you see and I do all of my lines and formats using a Sharpie fine line marker. Most of the writing is using my Pilot MR Retro Pop Collection Fountain pen. I use Leuchtturm1917 journals with the dot grid, A5/Medium size, because I prefer a hardcover journal. They aren’t cheap though, and though most bulletjournalers use a dot grid of some sort, there’s no requirement you have to. Remember, guidelines, not rules. Any notebook works if it makes you want to use it. Any pen works if you like using it. Any layout works if it works for you (though I really did trial-and-error for first few months trying different layouts I saw online and settling on this one.)

How Do You Use It For Writing?

This is still trial and error, to be quite honest. I always write down the project I should be working on on my writing days (most days are writing days these days). That’s what MBB2 is on the photos above. MBB2 = magicballoonbook #2 = The Balloonmakers #2, the book with a secret title. I always write down the weekly word count goal on weekly goals. I do weekly word count goals instead of daily goals (though I have a mental daily word count goal) because of that flexibility/motivation issue I talked about at the beginning of this series. I don’t want to get trapped and paralyzed because one day I fell 100 words short of a daily goal.

In the fall, I was writing down what I loved about what I wrote each week and what I was excited to write, and I think I’ll bring that back in April. I’m not sure what that layout looks like yet, but that particular exercise was really good for my motivation and reminding myself that not everything I wrote was crap.

I also set up a separate notebook for books. This isn’t exactly a bullet journal. It’s more of a book bible or something like that. For each book I want to write over the next year/two years/okay that’s ambitious three years, I made up a front template with pitch/word count goal/deadlines and then trackers for the drafts. Think of it like an analog Scrivener.

That’s a lot of books to write
But this has been super helpful. MBB2 is my current project, and Bea is my next project.
I didn’t write the pitch for MBB2 because it’s under contract/that secretish (I talk about it a lot though…) but this is roughly what the template looks like. The test tube progress bars at the bottom are roughly how many drafts it takes me to go from first full draft to publication. Your progress bars may differ!
Most recently, I added a graph to track my word count progress day by day to a deadline. You’ll see I a) stopped, and restarted this draft from the beginning b) messed up a line (this is driving me crazy but I’m trying to let it go) and c) have many, many words to go in the next 18 days. But it has been a helpful visualization and it’s something I’ll keep for the next WIP.
Each tab of the book bujo/book bible also has room for notes. I write historical fantasy so I do lots of research. I keep track of my timelines here.
I’m also reading a book about the OSS for this book, so I’m taking notes with page numbers here. Also in the book bujo.

I hope this was helpful to people and that you found some ideas to incorporate into your own journaling and planning routine. Or maybe you’re starting a book bujo, or a bullet journal for your everyday life. Or maybe this isn’t something for you! All options are okay. My bullet journal has made me both more productive and more creative. I hope you have a similar outlet in your life.

Questions? Comments? Leave them here or @ me on Twitter and I’ll do my best to answer them!

 

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5 thoughts on “Intersections of Creativity and Productivity: Bullet Journaling

  1. I would get a lot of use out of the pen case you have on a wide strap attached to your journal–care to drop a link for that, or contact info, or did you make it yourself?

    1. Sure! I got it off Etsy. If you search “binder pouch” there, you’ll get a lot of different hits. It was less than 10 dollars with shipping and I’ve had it for almost a year now. The elastic is still good! It holds about three pens comfortably for me. There are bigger ones though and I just saw a cute cat one I might get 🙂

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