Saturday, February 8, 2014

Update: My 2014 DIY Planner / Bullet Journal

Back in November, I wrote about how I was contemplating making drastic changes to my DIY planner for 2014.  This was inspired partly by my discovery of the simple and flexible Bullet Journal system, and my recognition that I was no longer using many of the elements in my planner.  My needs had changed, and my old system no longer fit me as well as it once had.

I promised you an update on my planner situation, and - since I've been using my new DIY planner/journal system for over a month - the time for that update is now.

The Notebook
I'm using an A5 unlined Rhodia Webnotebook as my planner/journal.  I'm comfortable with the A5 page size (it's not too large, not too small) and it's roughly the same size as the binder of my old DIY planner.  Unlined is not ideal (for this, I would prefer dot grid or graph), but I chose this notebook partly because I've been using it as a journal since 2010 (an embarrassingly long time), and I want to fill it up.  I'll live with the unlined pages for now, and I have a dot grid Rhodia Webnotebook (also already partially filled) that I'll use when this one is full.  The great thing about this system is that you don't need to go out and buy a brand new notebook for it; you can just use any old notebook that you have around.

Monthly Planning

Each month starts with my monthly task list (just a summary, for future reference; my detailed monthly to-do list lives on my computer).

Ryder Carroll (creator of the Bullet Journal) starts his month with a calendar page and a task page.  I start with just a task page (see above).  I need to see all of the months together rather than just one at a time.  Because I had already filled out the first 6 months of 2014 in my old DIY planner, for now I'm just keeping those loose pages in the back of my Webnotebook.  It's a bit awkward, but I didn't want to bother copying out all those months again.  In the future, I think I'll dedicate the first several pages of my notebook to an entire yearly calendar.  (And I'll draw proper calendars with boxes rather than just listing the days; the dot grid format will help with this.)

Weekly Planning

A typical page spread in my planner/journal, showing 2 weeks of planning and 3 journal entries.  I've marked out the different areas to make things clearer for you.  If the pages look wrinkled, it's because I accidentally knocked the book off my desk one day.  Oops.

In 2014, I've also switched to planning by the week rather than by the day.  I've pared down my planning system enough so that all I need on a daily basis is my weekly to-do list.  Instead of starting my page with a daily entry, I start with an entry for the entire week.  I also use this space to track habits (such as exercise, meditation, and clearing off my desk at the end of every day) and note significant events (with a sentence or two and the date).  If you're following along with the Bullet Journal system, I use Task and Event bullets.  I also use stars to mark especially important tasks (usually ones from the previous week that I didn't do) and arrows to indicate when a task has been migrated over to the next week (or month, in the case of my monthly task list).  So far, I have been able to fit two weeks on a page.

I also use this notebook as a journal.  I begin each entry with the day's date and a title, and fit the entries in around my planning pages.  Journal entries typically take up more space than weekly planning entries, so they usually occupy more pages in a month.  In January, I used three pages for planning (one page for my monthly task list, and two pages for weekly entries) and four pages for journaling - only seven pages for the entire month.

I've been using this Rhodia Webnotebook for a while, but I think now that I'll be able to fill it before the year is done. 

I mentioned in my earlier post that I was also considering the possibility of using this planner/journal as a sketchbook.  I was thinking that the combination of planning and journaling would leave odd empty spaces on the pages into which I could squeeze small sketches.  It wouldn't be my main sketchbook, but a companion to it.  Well, I guess I simply use space too efficiently, because I haven't encountered any odd empty spaces in my notebook, and so no sketches have appeared in it yet.  But I also haven't been doing very much sketching lately anyway, so maybe as I sketch more (and hopefully that will happen one day!), I'll find a way to make a journal/planner/sketchbook work.

I'm happy with how my 2014 DIY planner / Bullet Journal has worked out.  I love how simple and minimal this system is, and how my planner and my journal now live inside the same notebook.  I feel that this system has helped me to spend less time planning and more time actually doing.  I've also been writing more journal entries, because now my journal is sitting open on my desk beside me all day, rather than being stuffed away on a shelf.

This system is probably not for everyone.  If you have lots of appointments or things that need to happen at specific times on specific days, you might be better off with a more structured planner/calendar format.  That would also be the case if you like to have lots of distinct sections and enjoy adding, removing, and rearranging different inserts.

As you can see from my descriptions, I haven't followed the exact same Bullet Journal system that Ryder Carroll created.  I've modified things to suit the way I plan.  That, I think, is the best part about this system: it is so easily modified.  It's still likely not the perfect planner system, but it's what works for me right now.

What system (if any) are you using for your planner this year?


  1. Great blog post. I'm so in love with paper and paper systems, I'm glad I happened upon your site. I'll be back

  2. Heather, your DIY system looks great! It is very close to what I would like to have, but so far, I haven't been able to make it work. I have been trying to modify the bullet system to meet my needs, but so far, my thinking patterns are apparently too freeform. ;-) I don't have a ton of appointments to track, but I do have a few (weekly yoga/Jazzercise classes, dental appointments, occasional client meetings). Even if you don't have a lot, where do you put timed appointments? On your monthly page? I would be afraid they'd get missed there. Or on the weekly to-do list? Also, it looks like your journaling on the page you show fits neatly (3 entries for that week). If you want to write longer one day, do you just continue on to the next blank page, even though it is not adjacent to that week's to-do's anymore? Keep posting changes as your system evolves. . . it's the evolution that keeps a system like this interesting!

    - Tina

    1. I really do have very few appointments! I haven't needed to record any yet this year, but I think that if I did have to record one I'd write it in above my weekly to-do list, labelling it with the date and time, and preferably writing it with a bolder pen to make it stand out more (or maybe even highlighting it if it was especially important). If I didn't know the date/time of the appointment until after I had written in the weekly to-do list, then I'd just write it in after the list (again, with a bolder pen). But if you have several appointments a week, it might be simpler to create daily entries rather than weekly entries as I have done here.

      The final journal entry on the page I showed actually didn't fit. I carried over writing it onto the back of that page. Generally I just let the journal entries fill up as many pages as they need, then start my new weekly planner entry on the next blank page. In January, I ended up with two pages of journaling between planner pages. The dates don't always line up exactly, but they're usually close. I don't write a lot in my journal (usually an entry every few days, or sometimes only once a week or so), but if I wrote more, I'd probably just have more pages of journaling between planner pages.

      I certainly will post updates when I make any important changes to my system. The evolution is the fun part, and it's a topic I always enjoy writing about!

    2. I've seen these used as journals, day planners and address books. The address book had tabs, but no alphabet from A thru Z that we're used to. It's a do it yourself task I've only seen this done with European notebooks of all types. They're much more self-reliant and minimalistic than we Americans. It also allows your creative "self" to come thru... I have one and I can customize to my hearts content. I think it's a great idea. Unfortunately, it's hard to get us "Yanks" to yield to new ways. We're to used to having it all done for us. Thanks for the article. I thought I was alone on this one...Regards, LeRoy

    3. The open-ended nature of this notebook (as compared to a highly structured traditional planner) has been a bit of a challenge - I'm used to seeing weekly and monthly layouts in my planners, not just blank pages - but so far it has mostly felt very freeing. I hope that I'll see more people using these styles of planners/journals in the future!

  3. Very interesting ! Thank you for sharing your system. I'm following your blog for a few months, I really appreciate it !

  4. I just started using the bullet journal system too. It's only supposed to be temporary though. I created my own planner pages for the first time but have been having trouble with printing them. So, I'm using this until I get my printing issues worked out. The part that has been really great for me is that it allows me to keep any information I want in the same space. Before, I had a habit of grabbing the nearest notebook whenever I wanted to write something. So, of course, I ended up with information all over and always had to search for it. Now, I can keep everything in one place and use the index to find it.

    1. Yes, I think that's one of the best parts for me as well. I've been able to combine several notebooks into one, which helps my daily routine to be a bit more minimal. Hope you get your printing issues resolved soon!

  5. So reassuring to find other journal geeks. I flip through my bullet journal as a means to relax. Love paper, love ink, love journals. Have added you to my wordpress reader and will follow faithfully.

  6. Perfect idea, suits me really well so glad I found this post - Love the idea of combining everything into one notebook, thanks for giving me the inspiration to give it a go.

  7. Hi! Happened on your post when reading up on the Bullet Journal method. You might want to check out the Rollbahn notebooks from Japan - have been using them for a few years and LOVE the medium-sized one. They have monthly calendars in the front and dot grid pages behind. Only drawback is perhaps if you're sketching with ink, it might show/leak through. Thanks for writing this post! :)

  8. Love this take on the bullet journal... Do you have any changes since this last post?

    1. Thanks, Jenifer! No, no real changes since this post, though I am thinking of no longer tracking my habits, since that wasn't really working anyway. I'm still hopeless at incorporating new habits into my life! But my bullet journal / planner is still working great :)


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