My First Year of Bullet Journaling: Structure & Lessons

Bullet Journaling, or BuJo for short, is something I didn’t even hear of until the end of 2020! However, since I was already quite anxious about the future in the middle of a global pandemic, I decided to try it out in the then-upcoming year. And, thankfully, I am very glad I tried out bullet journaling in 2021 because it was a very important year for me and it helped me to reach some of my goals this year.

Here is how I did it and what I learned from it, in brief.

Kinds of Pages

1. The Essentials

The essential pages for a bullet journal vary from person to person depending on their lifestyle, preferences and other factors. In my case, these essentials include cover pages, goals, calendar, sleep log, expense tracker and weekly planner. No matter what month, I need to make these pages before it begins.

My February Cover Page

When I first started bullet journaling at the beginning of this year, I would pick a theme for each month and then try to create something artistic based on that for the cover page. As time went on and life took over, I now only try to write the name of the month in a pleasant font and then write the goals underneath it. This keeps the overall journal minimal and much more efficient, which is exactly what I want.

My Minimalist Cover Page for October

Then the most indispensable part of my bullet journal is the monthly calendar. Here I lay down all the important events for the month before it begins, especially the workshops, birthdays and deadlines. As the month goes on, I also write a few words on each date to summarize that day. This helps me, in the long run, to figure out useful data like if something has been pending for too long or how frequently I have been getting sick in a month. It also gives me a quick look at how close or far I am from meeting my monthly goals.

My Monthly Calendar for February

Personally, I struggle very frequently with sleeping schedules. For the life of me, my body can’t seem to maintain its circadian rhythm! So I find it incredibly useful to track my sleeping hours every day, as shown in the photo below.

My Sleep Log for February

However, I now find it more efficient to just note down the exact time of waking up or going to bed, instead of highlighting the cells (those took SO LONG to draw!). I basically draw two tables – 15 days each – with the columns “Start” (went to bed), “End” (woke up), “Total” (total hours of sleep), “Note” (nightmares or something to note down) and of course, “Date”.

Some days I sleep twice because someone interrupted me in the day or a bad nightmare didn’t let me sleep again. So I don’t draw all the rows of the table beforehand. I just draw the columns when the month begins and draw the rows as the days go on.

My Weekly Planner for November

A weekly planner is an absolute necessity for me because it keeps my anxiety at bay. This is where I plan the entire week by listing all the tasks I need to do under “Master To-Do List” and then distributing them among the seven days. This helps me to check if I am on track, if a deadline falls on this week, if there is an upcoming event, and other crucial reminders.

2. Month-Specific

To many cultures, a specific month often means more tasks and therefore, more planning. Since I am a Muslim, the Arabic month of Ramadan falls on different months each year and I have to plan for it accordingly. It’s even more stressful for me since I am the only one in my house who attempts at fasting. Thankfully, because of the bullet journal, now I can kind of keep all that stress at bay and be more strategic about it, instead of overwhelmed.

Likewise, you can also make pages for your exam preparation, spring cleaning or similar recurring events on that particular month’s BuJo. I made a cooking page in June, a study tracker for my brother in April and a passport application progress tracker in March.

3. Personal Preferences

This category of pages includes all the stuff you will log just because you want to! It can be for your creative practices, mental health checkups, meal logs or something you have been wanting to focus on for a long time but never could.

For me, I began making reading logs in January and kept it up until March when it started to be an obstacle rather than a delight. This November, I have started tracking my mood in a graphical setup so that I can see how often my mental health suffers in a month and if there is a pattern to it.

My Mood Tracker Graph for October

A fun and useful idea I want to implement next year for my BuJo is to craft an “Ideal Day”. It will basically be either a perfect routine where I achieve everything I want to do in a day, or a checklist of those things with no restriction on time.

What I Learned

1. Minimalism Over Aesthetics

Even though I started bullet journalling in January with a lot of excitement to let my artistic soul run wild, it actually didn’t last longer than two months or so. BuJo is something I want to do even when I am not in a good mood. It provides me insights and helps me to stay on track or catch myself if I’m slipping away too far.

That is why I have geared towards minimalism and efficiency later this year. It has proven to be more motivational for me to jot down the most useful data from the day, week or month, instead of spending a lot of time on just preparing its canvas.

2. Notion for Flexible Weekly Plans

After watching a few inspiring productive YouTubers like Ruby Granger, I started using Notion this year. It was very confusing initially since I am used to doing all that on Trello. However, it turned out to be a lot more lightweight and flexible later to use for planning or noting down ideas.

I now use it for listing down my yearly, monthly and weekly goals, as well as distributing the weekly tasks before the new week begins. I do this on Notion instead of on the journal since erasing pencil marks over and over again is much more tiresome than dragging a few boxes here and there.

After I have completed my weekly distribution on Notion, I transfer it to my bullet journal with a pencil. Currently, I’m in the middle of 2021’s last week and, as you can see, getting quite impatient to reach the new year!

My Notion Page for Weekly Plans

3. No More Than 3 Main Tasks A Day

I have learned the hard way to not take too much on my plate just because it seems possible. Doing that causes me to suffer from even more anxiety than I already do and I end up not completing even a single task! That’s why I have made a rule for myself to not assign more than three main tasks a day. In fact, I am thinking of cutting it down to two or even one now since my mental health is going through a crisis nowadays.

Even if you are not doing bullet journals, there are many other ways to track your daily success and be more productive. So, here is to a happy new year and I hope you get to achieve all the goals you set for yourself in 2022!


1 Comment

  1. Notion is a wonderful tool, isn’t it? I store everything there. And yes to minimalism over aesthetics! Drawing stuff can take so much time sometimes. In fact, I’ve stopped bullet journalling and just do normal journalling, which is freewriting for me. Anyway, thanks for this post!

    Liked by 1 person

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