Why Bullet Journaling didn’t work for me (and what I do instead)

Ahh Bullet Journaling. For those not familiar with it, it’s a paper-based diary-cum-journal-cum-ultra organizational and get your crap together tool with the promise of letting you fuel your stationery addiction by giving you a legit reason to buy lots of pretty pens and Leuchturm1917 notebooks***. You get that exciting, going back to school feeling as you stock up on brand new, shiny things waiting to be used and filled.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve always enjoyed writing and used to have a daily diary habit as a teenager, which later turned into a LiveJournal habit that lasted for years, you know, back when it was actually used for dear diarying.

If you’re interested in learning more about Bullet Journaling, it’s worth having a mosey over to Boho Berry (serious stationery porn here guys) and checking our her Bullet Journal 101 series. I read and re-read those posts to make sure I got a good idea of the foundations and basics before I even went out and bought stuff to get started.

What initially piqued my interest about starting a Bullet Journal was the flexibility. I have never really been much of a keep-a-diary/planner-in-my-purse/handbag kind of a gal, although I saw the appeal of not having to whip my phone out to do something or write something down. Because sometimes it’s just plain rude, practical or forbidden, especially in the whole teaching gig. But I could have my Bullet Journal out on my desk and jot stuff down if needed and I wouldn’t get in trouble, score!

I started mine in May 2017 in the few weeks prior to me finishing my maternity leave so I could get the hang of it before going back to work. I didn’t want to invest a ton of money, so I started with my fountain pen that I’ve had for eons and a cheapo £4 journal that I picked up at The Works in town one day.

I wrote tons of reminders at the tops of the pages of what the various symbols meant, tracked habits using grids and graphs, wrote notes and task lists, kept on top of various groups I’m part of, created lists of self-care ideas so I could find ways of incorporating them if I felt overwhelmed or if I needed me-time. My waiting on list was useful and I made notes on things our builder and supplier told me regarding our kitchen/diner remodel (I’m the absolute worst at remembering ANYTHING if I don’t write it down, especially when it comes to detail-oriented things like this). Gratitude journaling was a habit. I enjoyed the fact that I was using it for work and play, having one place of taking dedicated notes from meetings and training as well as a place to reflect and plan. I tracked my spending and set goals.

All seemed well. Until June. I kept up with it all the way through June, but from there the ball was well and firmly dropped. Now, I am a person who does what she says (unless I forget to write it down, then all bets are off) and will be there on time unless something catastrophic and unavoidable has happened, especially for work stuff. In June I was starting a new job and I had essential First Aid training. AND I COMPLETELY FORGOT ABOUT IT. Yep. That. Except, I did manage to remember it about an hour and a half into the training that evening. Cue a litany of swear words on my end. All the swear words. All the negative self-talk was had. I felt like such an idiot. What a terrible first impression to make before I even started this new job! The problem? I wasn’t checking my monthly spread and didn’t write it down in my weekly spread. I had no reminder and just kept going forward in the pages. It was bad, it was really, really bad.

With bad situations comes an epiphany, and that evening after all of that stress, when things got quieter, I had one. Bullet Journaling was not for me as an organizational tool, like, at all. I need those calendar reminders on my phone to keep me in check. While the Bullet Journal was fantastic for me for having a vessel to contain lots of useful thoughts, ideas, notes and tracking my habits, it was personally, for me, not fit for purpose when I already had a very good system in place for things like appointments, events, training and birthdays. Especially when Google Calendar was working well for me. The classic “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, right?

So where did I go from there?

I abandoned the monthly/weekly spreads, the future log, the dailies and the symbols. So, you may be saying to yourself “you essentially stopped doing most of the stuff that makes a Bullet Journal a Bullet Journal then?” Uhh… yes. You are correct. I just have a journal now. No capital letters or fancy names.

What I do instead.

Now, I know tons of people who Bullet Journaling works really well for, and that’s great. To each their own, that’s what’s beautiful about us all being different. There is a danger with the BJ (cue lots of immature laughter from me here) system of wanting to do everything perfect. The perfect lettering. The perfect penmanship. The perfect coloring and use of different scripts and calligraphy. While perfect looks shiny to me, I am sooo not a person who seeks that and I tend to go for what works for me, penmanship and scribbles be damned. But I can see how the more gifted artists who appreciate that sort of thing can get sucked in. Like most things, I like to know the rules of something and then after adhering to them for a while, I ditch the stuff that doesn’t make sense or serve me. Classic Questioner.

I have kept a few things:

  • The index and page numbering has been invaluable to me. Case in point. I had some figures written down for my most recent visa application in my journal. I forgot to bring my journal with me, though the day of my meeting with the solicitor where we were finishing up the application, dotting the Is and crossing the Ts. I called The Brit and said to him that I needed those figures, that they were in my journal on the “Visa checklist” page and that page was in the high 90s. He found it in seconds. It was a revelation. I have continued with this and will always, always do this in future journals.


  • Habit tracking. This helps me put my money where my mouth is. And I like the fact that you don’t have to be perfect or live up to a certain quota, like 3x/week. You just notice what you’re doing and it gives you a chance to reflect. And it is motivating to be able to shade in the squares each day, I’m not gonna lie.


  • Gratitude journal. This has helped me change any negative mindset an awful lot, just giving myself the time and space to pause and think about the blessings that have come my way during the day. Even if I’ve had the worst day, I can always find at least one thing that I can be grateful for. There’s always a smile on my face while I’m doing it and once I’m done, remembering the good things that have come my way.


  • Noting things to look up later. I’ve mentioned that part of my intentions this year are to strive to get off my phone by 9pm. But things often occur to me that I want to look up and don’t want to forget! I write it down in my journal and I check it out in the morning. Super simple and I don’t have to become a tiny screen zombie.


  • The journaling habit itself. I hadn’t written in a journal for years before I started this. It was been probably the best tool to improve my wellbeing in several years. I am an analytical creature by nature with millions of random thoughts and ideas floating around in my head. Having the capacity to capture these and get them onto paper so they’re not flittering around in the old noggin is extremely powerful for me and quiets all the noise going on in there. It has helped me figure out my priorities in life and let the bs and noise fade away. I have had amazing epiphanies while stream of consciousness journaling. I love taking notes in it on things I’ve learned in the ether of the internets as well.


So, while the system didn’t particularly work for me, there were plenty of positive outcomes and habits that came from it that have served me well. It’s such a great habit to get into if it’s your thing, and remember, you totally don’t have to spend a lot to get started. And try not to worry about the making it look pretty. We all have beautiful days and days when we feel a bit disheveled, and that’s life. Let your journal operate in both of those ends of the spectrum and the spaces in between.






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