Since rediscovering paper planning a few years ago, I absolutely fell in love with the bullet journal system. I’ve used it in various notebooks and planners but I always found myself missing certain aspects of digital planning. I’m not one of those anti-digital people who gets all PAPER OR DEATH about planning. I love using technology to increase productivity and decrease stress, but I’m also a total stationery geek so I adore notebooks and pens.
For some reason, I hadn’t really considered combining digital and paper planning before. I’d been fully digital for a few months and found myself missing my bullet journal as a creative outlet a well as a planning system. Since this is a cycle I go through quite often, I decided to figure out how to plan with both a bullet journal and my favourite digital calendar and note apps.
I’m going to take you through my process of setting up my new hybrid system, as well as sharing some of my favourite apps and some photos of my new bullet journal. I’m not saying this will work for everyone and, to be honest, I’ve never seen two people who use a bullet journal in the same way. The whole point of the bullet journal system is that it’s flexible. So this isn’t me telling you how to do the thing. It’s me telling you how I do the thing 🙂
This is the bit where I sat down and had a really honest think about what features I need in a planning system, as well as what’s worked and not worked for me in the past. I realised that I cannot function without a digital calendar and note app, partly because having those things sync between my computer and my phone is essential, and partly because my husband and I share access to things like financial records and work schedules (although since ending my last work contract to focus on writing, my work schedule is a lot more flexible). When it comes to monthly, weekly and daily task management though, paper works so much better for me. I can structure layouts in a way that works for my super visual approach and I don’t end up with a digital pile of lists that feels overwhelming.
Some issues I face
Part of my very honest pre-planning session involved taking a good, hard look at my own quirks and weirdnesses around planning and productivity. I am deeply obsessive. Not like “I quite like things to be tidy and colour-coded obsessive” but like “actually not very healthy and ultimately counter-productive” obsessive. When faced with the option to track endless habits, behaviours, routines and tasks, I will do that to the point of collapse and implosion. This means I have to be very careful to view trackers as just that – ways to track things I have done, not lists of things I must do every single day. I also have to work hard to let go of perfectionism when it isn’t serving me. The bullet journal system is a double-edged sword in that respect because while it’s really flexible and doesn’t require everything to look amazing, part of me will always want to fill a blank page with beautiful things. This all sounds pretty negative so I’d like to state for the record that the flip side to my obsessive nature is that I approach things very systematically, get shit done and never feel intimidated by large or complex projects. So it’s not all bad, as long as I keep it in check, and I think I’ve found a balance – finally.
Digital tools I use
I’m going to start with the digital tools I use for planning and productivity, then get into the different sections of my bullet journal next. These three apps all sync across my phone and laptop, and my husband and I share access to some of them, which is really easy to do.
- Microsoft OneNote. When Evernote started to annoy me (enough of the compulsive up-selling already!), I tried OneNote and promptly fell in love. I can’t believe I’m saying this about a Microsoft product, but it’s genuinely beautiful, wonderfully functional and very intuitive (except you have to ctrl-z to undo stuff because there’s no undo button). I use it for project planning, reference and research, and long notes for my writing, photography, and online work and volunteering. I also use it for my book of shadows (yay technowitches!) and for my brain-dump journal because I often struggle to hand-write longer things when my health is being crappy.
- Google Keep. I use Keep for shopping lists and short notes about time- or date-specific events (things to talk to the vet about when I take the cat for his injections, factors to consider when I’m getting quotes for car insurance, etc) as well as monthly and weekly income and expense trackers that my husband and I both have editing access to. All of these notes either only exist for a short period of time or are completely wiped and renewed frequently, so it isn’t practical (for me) to have them on paper.
- Google Calendar. I don’t use Google Calendar for tasks at all. It’s only for appointments, events and work scheduling. I’ve used it for years and have always found it to be simple and effective, although it’s annoying not having 15 minute time slots as one of the options. Having access to my husband’s work schedule is great because it varies a lot and his work can be anything from 6am until 1am depending on what’s going on. It’s useful for him to be able to see what I’m getting up to as well, so if there’s something we both want to attend or something we want to do together, either of us can make appointments and arrangements easily and with a minimum of hassle.
- Fitbit. I have a Fitbit Charge 2 and use the Fitbit app to track any health-related stuff I want to track. I recently stopped tracking anything to do with food and calories because when I’m not well enough to move around much, it ends up just being a strange form of torture for me and my brain slips back into eating disordered thinking, which is definitely not a good thing. I’m only tracking my sleep, hydration, heart rate and steps at the moment because those are the things that really matter to me and that it’s useful to see patterns in.
On to the bullet journal!
I’ve blurred out some of the text because it relates to personal or work things that I’d rather not post here and, with Yule and a few birthdays coming up, I have some notes about gifts in there too. This post is not a bullet journal how-to, so if the system is unfamiliar to you, I fully recommend visiting the original bullet journal site for the basics. Then head to Pinterest and be prepared to lose at least a week of your life to browsing other people’s spreads.
Notebook and pens
OK, so I know everyone uses Leuchtturm or Moleskine dot grid notebooks for bullet journaling, but I refuse to fork out that much cash for a notebook before knowing that I’m definitely going to stick with my current system for a while. Also, I find dot grid paper a bit awkward. Somewhere between my eyes, my brain and my hands, something goes wonky. I much prefer squared paper and while I’ll probably give dot grid a shot again at some point (I’m thinking of treating myself to a fancy notebook when my current one runs out) I was super excited to find a very cheap A5 squared notebook in WH Smith. It doesn’t have ribbon place markers, but I don’t mind because I have lovely little plastic bookmark arrows. My pen of choice for writing and drawing spreads is a black Stabilo Sensor and I use Pilot Frixion pastel highlighters. It’s great that they can be erased although that isn’t why I bought them. I just really like pastel highlighters and The Range had a pack of 5 for £4.99 (colours not pictured are green and yellow).
Bullet journal index
One of my favourite things about the bullet journal system is the index. Some people don’t include their weekly and daily pages in their index, but I find it really useful because it means I can easily look back to exactly when something happened. It’s also great for finding non-agenda pages, like my NaNoWriMo word count tracker (I have a blog post about November’s bullet journal set-up coming up soon, so there’s more about that on the way).
Bullet journal future log
I’ve only included the next six months in my future log this time around and have given myself plenty of space for each month. I’m going to make a massive effort not to list literally every task ever here, because it’s really easy to simply add recurring tasks to each monthly spread as I set it up. I’m aiming to avoid overwhelm and duplication, but I still like to have a quick and easy way to see what’s happening over the next few months.
If you want to see a monthly spread, keep an eye out for my November bullet journal set-up post, coming soon. Because I’m impatient and I want to get into my new system immediately, I set up a weekly spread for the last week in October. I have some pretty specific goals for this week, so I’ve included them in the spread, but this isn’t something I feel is necessary every week or every month, especially if I have a big project (like NaNoWriMo) going on. Having not been physically able to do much yoga lately, and having gotten out of the way of my morning meditation thanks to a hyperactive kitten demanding my attention and dangling off my feet constantly, I want to focus on reforming those habits again this week to put me in good stead for staying chill during NaNo. I also need to finish my outlining and final NaNo prep this week, so that’s my other big goal.
My online post and habit trackers will be going monthly from November onwards, but I’ve included them in my weekly spread this one time. My housework list definitely works better weekly and instead of seeing it as a list of things I must do immediately, I see it as a way to keep track of things being done. My husband and I decide every week who is going to do what, based on his days off and my health, and even though we’re both more than a little neurotic about keeping our home in order, we’re getting better at accepting that some weeks the kitchen will just get a light clean or the hoovering will only happen once. Also worth mentioning, Rex is our axolotl and he gets fed three time a week. The notes about the litter tray refer to a full empty and wash. We obviously keep the tray clean every day! I have my NaNoWriMo final prep stuff on this page too, including some wishes and hopes for the next month, mostly based around enjoying and learning from the experience and not focusing only on completing a 50k word draft (I have accepted it might not happen, but I’m going to do my best!).
That’s it for now. I’ll be back soon to share my November monthly bullet journal set-up and plan to share more monthly set-ups and chat about planning and productivity from now on. It’s not only important to me in a practical sense, it’s also a source of happiness for me and something I love to chat about.