It’s the last week of July which means almost the end of One Book July! Along with that, I continued my Bullet Journal Experiment throughout the month of July, a process where I gave up all my trusty calendar pages that I’ve been relying on for the past two decades in lieu of an adhoc, ‘create as you go’, rapid logging system. It’s been an eye opening experience for this traditional, calendar-dependent, functional planner so this week I’d like share with you some of my ‘lessons learned’.
One Book July
If you’re not familiar with One Book July, check out this earlier blogpost which contains information on what it is. In a nutshell, the goal is to trim down your planning system to ‘one book and one pen’ so you can focus on the fundamentals of your system. Many plannernerds, like myself, see this as a huge challenge especially if you typically use multiple planners and supplies—it’s enough to make you ‘throw in the towel’ long before July comes to a close! That said, the rules of One Book July do allow for a few exceptions so as not to drastically disrupt your life and negatively impact your productivity. I was one of those folks who trimmed down my setup with a few exceptions.
Generally, I use multiple planners—anywhere from 6 to 8 (one for each major life area, read more about it here, here, here, and here)—so for One Book July, I reduced my system to one travelers notebook (read more about it here). It’s not the first time I’ve used a travelers notebook but I usually stuff it to the max—with up to 8 booklets—so for One Book July I reduced it to 3 small booklets which is what I determined was the bare minimum needed to remain productive—read more about my setup here. Two out of the three booklets are used for planning—one, that can be taken on-the-go and the second, for my weekly pages which get archived once the booklet is full. The last book is just for lists and notes. As a notorious list-maker and note-taker, I constantly have ideas swirling around in my head, things I’m keeping track of, and things I’m trying to learn that I need to write down before I forget so I keep all this information in the third book so as not to clutter up my planner pages. Some folks wouldn’t consider carrying 3 booklets as ‘one book’ but since I’m only working out of one organizer instead of 6 or 8, using one travelers notebook with 3 booklets is the equivalent of carrying one ring binder with 3 divider sections.
So what have I learned from One Book July? The first thing I learned is that just because life is complicated and diverse, my planner setup doesn’t have to be. One of the things I’ve been thinking a lot about since the beginning of the year is whether I need to dedicate a planner to each major life area: personal/family, home, blog, creative projects, work, etc.. While compartmentalizing each area does help me ‘divide and conquer’ so I can focus on one thing at a time, I sometimes lose sight of the overall picture and miss the overlaps between them. This made it difficult to quickly identify any conflicts and truly get a sense of how busy my week was. As a result, One Book July really made me think about and identify what information I needed to keep in this one organizer versus what was okay to put temporarily aside.
On that note, another thing I learned is that my system had become a bit over-complicated. As a plannernerd, you see all the pretty layouts on Instagram, read great time management tips on blogs, see what others are doing on YouTube, and feel the need to try the ‘latest and greatest’ planner and/or system. Preparing for One Book July made me ask myself, “What do I really NEED every week for planning?” I realized it was simpler than I thought. Since I’m a ‘big picture’ person, my starting point for planning is ‘the big picture’ then I work my way down, in a top-down fashion, to break things down into smaller, manageable pieces that could then be scheduled in my weekly pages. I didn’t need all the nitty, gritty details, all the time, with me, until the day it was due. As a result, I trimmed my setup down significantly to include all the ‘high level’ layouts with the lowest level only going down to the current week. Below is a list of those layouts.
- a yearly calendar for the current year (for forward planning)
- monthly calendars for the current year (for advanced scheduling)
- my monthly index logs (for reference throughout the year—read more about it here)
- yearly calendar for next year with a few lines per month (to capture any future events/appointments beyond this year)
- weekly pages with a Monday start (gives me a complete overview of my workload for the week so I can reschedule and move things around as needed)
- a condensed blog/YouTube editorial calendar for the current year
- a blog/YouTube/social media stats tracker for the current year
*Note: The first 5 bullets are for personal/family, home, continuing education, blog/YouTube, and creative projects; the last 2 bullets are the only high-level layouts I need to have with me for oversight and future planning. If I need to flesh out any details, I’ll do it in my book dedicated to lists/notes mentioned above.
Lastly, the other component of One Book July is the ‘one pen’. One critical element of my planning system is color coding—read more about it here. This method allows me to scan a page and locate important information quickly. For many of the early years in my planning journey, I only used one pen and later when I discovered color coding, it significantly enhanced my planning system by leaps and bounds. As a visual person and analytical thinker, color coding has expedited my ability to process information and identify patterns. So much so, I now also color code at work (my regular day job as an IT Professional) and for blogging. I use 5 colors in all three life areas but they represent different things in each area. That said, I am using 5 fountain pens (my writing tool of choice and another passion of mine!), each inked with the colors of my coding system for One Book July. I could have used one multi-color pen but I prefer fountain pens and there is no such thing as a multi-color fountain pen—I wish! 😉
Below is a recap of my ‘lessons learned’ from One Book July:
- I can manage all major life areas in one planner; the key is to identify what subset of information from each area I need for daily/weekly planning and to reference on-the-go
- I don’t need a complicated layout to track and note everything; a simpler layout keeps me focused on what’s most important
- my planning needs can be adequately managed using high-level layouts; the lowest level I need, is a weekly layout to have an overview of my entire week so I can see how busy I am and identify any potential conflicts
- I don’t need to have all the details for every major life area with me, all the time
Bullet Journal Experiment
My Bullet Journal Experiment actually began in mid-June and I combined it with One Book July because the requirements were the same: one book, one pen. I’ve already explained my setup above—one travelers notebook with 3 booklets and 5 fountain pens for color coding—so in this section I’ll cover the lessons learned from my Bullet Journal Experiment.
The biggest ‘lesson learned’—or rather epiphany—from trying the bullet journal system has been that I am a forward thinking plannernerd. Bullet journaling generally focuses on one day at a time and offers very little to help you forward plan. As a result, I was going crazy because I’m so used to turning the page to write future tasks, reminders, or events on the appropriate dated page. Also in bullet journaling, pages are created ‘on the fly’ one day or week at a time so I found that I was very hesitant to use the pages for anything else like lists (called collections in bullet journaling) and notes for fear of running out of pages and having my yearly pages spread out among multiple books; I ultimately solved this problem by putting lists and notes in a separate book. While some elements of the traditional bullet journal system didn’t work for me, there are many creative folks in the planner community that have came up with clever tricks and hacks to compensate for some of the things the original bullet journal system lacked to adequately support forward planning. Thanks to them, I learned about a lot of new techniques, hacks, and layouts that I’ve never seen before. In some cases, I even re-purposed some of the layouts to support another technique from my existing planning system. Slowly but surely, I started to find solutions for some of the issues I was facing with the bullet journal system to provide the forward planning oversight I needed to plan effectively.
Another ‘lesson learned’ was that it’s okay to use different layouts to meet the demands of the week. Bullet journaling provides the ability to change and revamp my weekly layouts every week—how liberating! Like many other plannernerds, we’re always seeking ways to refine and improve our system but making changes to pre-printed, dated pages is a lot more time-consuming and resource-intensive. It would involve creating or updating a page layout in a software program—usually Microsoft Excel or Word for me—printing out a few pages to test, punching them for the appropriate organizer (e.g. ring, disc, coil-bound, etc.), replacing any existing pages, and copying over any information already there. With bullet journaling, you create one day/week at a time so it’s much easier to do. Each week offers the opportunity to ‘turn over a new leaf’ and start with a clean slate. As a result I’ve gotten more creative with my layouts which in turn has allowed me to adapt more efficiently to the workload for the upcoming week. I love it so much that I’m seriously considering making this my permanent method for planning since I change my mind so often. Whether I decide to go back to a ring planner or stick with the travelers notebook, my plan is to continue using plain dot grid paper for designing my weekly layouts in a bullet journal fashion from this point forward!
Lastly, I learned that while I love the simplicity of the bullet journal style, I still need some visual elements to spark my creativity, stimulate my visual learning senses, and stay motivated. If you’re familiar with my planning style—check out some of my other planner related posts on the blog—you know that I have a minimal, classic design aesthetic. If there’s too much going on visually on a page, I find it overwhelming. Once again, the bullet journal community came to the rescue! There are so many beautifully designed page layouts available—without being overdone—for planning, tracking, and logging which I’ve taken inspiration from to develop layouts that work for me. It’s become one of my favorite things to do now every Sunday. 🙂
Below is a recap of my ‘lessons learned’ from my Bullet Journal Experiment:
- I’m a forward planner so I definitely need to supplement my bullet journal with layouts, hacks, and tools to support it
- changing my weekly layouts regularly to match my weekly workload is not a bad thing!
- after 2 decades of planning, there are STILL new time management techniques, hacks, methods, systems, and ways to plan—paper planning is here to stay!
- regardless of the system, I still need to incorporate elements that work with my learning style–visual elements for me
One Book July is a once a year challenge intended to help plannernerds strip away the distractions to focus on their planning system. I think this is an excellent way to do a ‘planner detox’ and really focus on what’s important. I highly recommend taking the challenge to anyone struggling with their system, any time of the year; just commit to doing it for at least 30 days to achieve the desired result. I plan to repeat this challenge again next year or, possibly, more often if I feel I need to ‘reboot’ my system.
When I started my Bullet Journal Experiment, I was very skeptical it would work for someone like me: a traditional, calendar-dependent, functional planner. While I had a rough start, I have to say that I’ve become a convert! Bullet journaling definitely has an ideal user in mind: someone with very simple tracking needs that focuses on one day at a time. As a mother, wife, blogger, and IT professional, I have a lot of things to juggle, coordinate, and keep track of so I need a few more tools and the ability to forward plan in my arsenal. While I felt lost and anxious in the beginning of my experiment, I’m starting to fall into a ‘groove’ and have found enough hacks, tools, and layouts to get me back on track and feel in control again. I plan to continue using the bullet journal system thru the end of the year and may even consider using it as my primary system next year if all goes well! 🙂
What about you? Did you do One Book July? What lessons did you learn from the challenge? Are you a new or long time bullet journal user? What lessons have you learned from your experience? Please share in the comments below and don’t forget to like, share, and subscribe!
Until next time,
♥ LilD ♥