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  • Aine Dougherty

What I've Learned After a Year of Bullet Journaling


a cover of a journal spread for december
My first ever bullet journal cover spread in December 2020.

The end of 2021 marked some very important milestones for me – I got to return home to Philadelphia to see my mom for the first time in two years, and I celebrated my one-year bullet journaling anniversary.


If you had asked little old me in December 2020 if I thought I would still be keeping up with my bullet journal in 2022, I probably would have scoffed. Knowing all of the things that were going to be on my plate (a Masters, a job as a lectrice, a thesis...), I never thought I would have the time to draw little doodles, outline my monthly calendars or fill in habit trackers.

Another one of my first-ever spreads.

And yet, here I am over a year later, still going strong. As I wrote back in March 2021, my bullet journal has been an unexpected godsend for my anxiety. Rather than weighing me down, my journal brightens my days and helps me stay on track. Along with the Pomodoro method, it has done wonders for my productivity, allowing me to focus on my top priorities and cut back on procrastination and noise.


Read on for three lessons I've learned since starting my bullet journaling journey.


1. It doesn't have to be perfect


Perhaps this is a little bit self-evident, but as a perfectionist in all other areas of my life, it's no surprise that I wanted my bullet journal to be perfect, too. I had to change my perspective – this worrying was doing nothing but holding me back from getting started and from turning my bujo from a hobby to a habit.


Sometimes, I wouldn't use my journal for a week or so because I was riddled with anxiety (yes, anxiety!) about making sure the pages turned out exactly the way I wanted them. This is against the whole purpose, people. Eventually, I learned to not be so linear, and to stop waiting for my pens and washi tape to fall in place perfectly, and just to write, to doodle and to plan as the moment struck me, no matter how it turned out. When I look back on some pages and spreads, I hate them, or I wish I had done something differently. And that's normal!


For me, my bullet journal is a way to track my life and my state of mind over the months, not some precious artifact that exists in a vacuum. I think it reflects that, and I'm proud. It's a learning process, after all.



2. Habit trackers really do work


I'm a convert. I've always been motivated by to-do lists and checking off boxes, but the simple act of making little calendars to track certain habits (I track between 9-10 per month!), and having them filled up – or not – by the end of the four or five weeks is so encouraging.

Obviously, some days there is just no way that I'll move my body or spend less than three hours on my phone. But for the days when I'm on the fence, just the knowledge that I will be able to fill in a little circle or square in my bullet journal just by doing this one tiny thing is enough to get me off my ass. I think the habits that this has been most helpful for are reaching out (or responding) to friends and family, cleaning or tidying up, and drinking water. I know that some find habit trackers to be overwhelming or demotivating, but I'm a big fan, even though it's never fun to see one completely empty...


3. Take inspiration from others


Another obvious tip, but something that has kept me going over the past year of bullet journaling is getting inspired by other amazing creators. Amanda Rach Lee and Caitlin's Corner are some of my favorite YouTube channels, and there is plenty of eye candy on Instagram and Pinterest.


Thanks to these inspo pics, I've tried my first Dutch door spread, stepped out of my artistic comfort zone on more than one occasion, gaped in awe at other people's talent, and simply discovered new ways of tracking my life that have really worked for me. But don't just look online – look up and around you, too. Some of my favorite themes have come from my own surroundings. For example, my February spread was inspired by heart decals that I saw in Philadelphia. Looking forward to a fun and creative new theme each month, or getting to use a new sticker or glitter pen, has been key in keeping me consistent over the past year.


And finally, it also helps to have a friend to motivate you. My friend and fellow lectrice Sara, whose blog you can find here (Sara Somewhere), just started bullet journaling and is already inspiring me to step up my game! ;)



Do you have a bullet journal or a planner? How long have you been journaling?

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