College students are busy people.
We have a lot of homework, extracurriculars, and fun events to remember. In the past, I’ve played around with a series of techniques using planners and spreadsheets to try to stay organized, but the system I like best is bullet journaling.
Bullet journaling isn’t really journaling in the traditional sense, although it could be. (It could really be a lot of things.) I use mine mainly as a planner, but it has multiple uses.
As bulletjournal.com says, “The Bullet Journal is a customizable and forgiving organization system. It can be your to-do list, sketchbook, notebook, and diary, but most likely, it will be all of the above.”
All you really need to get started is a journal or notebook, preferably with graph paper, and a writing utensil. The journal I use is a formatted like a graph, but the lines aren’t all connected. You’ll see what I mean. I also use pens that (mostly) don’t bleed through the pages and occasionally colored pencils when I want a solid block of color.
The easiest way to explain the process is to show you some pages from my own journal, starting with this “Fall 2017” page. Here, I’ve laid out my classes and other important times that I want to remember, such as office hours, next to a calendar that I drew of my typical week.
As you can see, I like my pages to have different colors and accents, but some people prefer a more minimal style. I’m not great at keeping my schedule in my head, so I like being able to tell at a glance when I’m free and when I have plans.
I use an “important assignments” page to keep track of the major dates I need to know for my classes.
Here, I record events like tests and paper due dates. I reference this page each week to see if there’s anything here that I should be thinking about, and I often pull it out in class when something new comes up.
This is an example of a monthly spread. I use this primarily to plan ahead by writing down events I want to remember when I create weekly spreads or by tracking things for the next month in my future log. I also have a list on the opposite page where I fill in more information, such as locations and times.
Speaking of weekly spreads, this is the first week that I did. Weekly spreads are my focus when it comes to bullet journaling. On these pages, I write in classes and other events I want to remember in addition to tasks I want to complete for the day. I also leave space for tasks I want to finish at some point in the week, such as doing my laundry; tasks for the following week; and homework assignments. And because I like to doodle, I filled in some blank space with a colorful flower.
I haven’t been super consistent with my mode of checking off tasks. Usually, I fill in the bubbles of tasks I have completed and cross off those that have been moved or canceled. Some bullet journalers recommend creating a key at the beginning of the journal so you can use the same marks to indicate whether a task is started, completed, postponed, or whatever else you may want to note.
Here is my spread for this week.
In the last couple of weeks, I’ve moved away from the box format that I had before. That said, my spreads are never identical, so I may end up going back to it. I didn’t like having my scheduled events mixed in with my to-do list, so I started separating those (for the most part- sometimes things come up later that have to I add in) from my tasks. Also, I realized I was giving myself more space than necessary, so I shortened up each day’s spot. I’ll fill some of the white space with doodles over the week as inspiration strikes.
The extra space allowed me to start a habit tracker with my weekly spreads. The idea of a habit tracker was what first attracted me to bullet journaling. I’m very list-oriented and there are some things that I will forget to do (like flossing) unless I have a checklist reminding me to do them. I initially had my habit tracker on the opposite page of my monthly spread, but I almost never looked at it. Now, I’ve moved it onto the pages I refer to all throughout the day with the hope that I will start consistently implementing these habits. Even though I haven’t written this down, I have an idea of which of these things I want to do every day (like flossing) and which I want to do several days a week (like practice playing guitar). I’m optimistic that the thrill of filling in those little boxes will provide sufficient motivation.
These are the pages I use most frequently, but I also have pages for tracking:
- Books I want to read
- Prayer requests
- Collegian assignments
- Notes from my fraternity meetings
I have a page dedicated to fun lists, such as my favorite songs and places I want to visit. This gives me a chance to practice new doodles and fonts, and years from now, I can look back, see what places I’ve checked off the list, and either criticize or admire my former taste in music.
Other lists and pages that I may try someday- and that you could try- include:
- Favorite quotes
- Dream journal
- Sleep log
- Grade tracker
- Gratitude log
- Meal planner
I get most of my ideas from social media networks such as Pinterest, tumblr, and Instagram, which are filled with even more inspiration for beautiful formats, page ideas, and systems for to-do lists that are a lot more complicated than mine.
You don’t have to be artistic to try bullet journaling, and while my pages are frequently somewhat girly, this isn’t just a feminine thing. It can be as simple or complex as you like. If you’re as motivated by lists as I am and like the idea of customizing your own planner, this may be the organization technique for you.