Since I’ve featured so many posts on how I teach and work in higher education, I’ve gotten a lot of requests to feature the other side of the equation – students who bullet journal. Well, lucky for all of us that Jady is keeping it together with the bullet journal system as a busy student. Strap in, because this is a good one! What else would you like to get ideas about in the bullet journal realm?
Time-management and self-care skills are crucial skills for all students — and that’s especially true for graduate students. There’s a lot to juggle in grad school: planning lessons and grading papers for your TAship, balancing your meager budget, keeping your apartment from becoming a health hazard, remembering to keep yourself healthy (physically, mentally, and emotionally), sometimes working a second job, and of course keeping up with your own coursework and research. This last thing ought to be the highest priority, but sometimes all your other responsibilities can result in it becoming almost an afterthought. Before I started bullet journaling, I was an expert procrastinator, and to some extent, I still am — I’ve just made the choice to try to stop using that particular expertise and to be more intentional about how I use my time and energy.
I began bullet journaling this past spring, about two-thirds through the semester. I’d stumbled upon the concept of bullet journaling while desperately searching online for a productivity tool that might actually work for me (instead of grading a huge pile of papers), and I was instantly hooked. For the first month or so, I stuck to the original Bullet Journal™ system described by creator Ryder Carroll to get a feel for how it all worked.
Once summer hit, I had more time to experiment and discover my own planning style. Thanks to the wonderfully inspirational bullet journal community on Instagram, I tried out different bujo spreads and ideas that I saw others using, and some of those became part of my regular routine. I became especially fond of a full-page daily setup (borrowed from @penpapersoul on Instagram) that includes a double time-tracker with my planned schedule on the left and a record of my actual doings on the right. This layout encouraged me to hold myself accountable for how I spend my time, but it also took a bit longer to create every day.
As summer progressed and the start of my fall classes drew closer, I wondered how much I’d need to change my bullet journal routine to fit my soon-to-be drastically reduced free time. It took some trial and error to figure it out, but now I’ve figured out what works best for me — since it’s too tempting for me to use setting up my bullet journal on a daily basis as an excuse to procrastinate, I’ve simplified my weekly and full-page daily spreads together into three layouts: the first page for my health tracking, the second for my task overview, and finally a two-page spread for my weekly schedule and daily planning. I set up these spreads all at once, usually on the weekend, then every night I plan for the next day as part of my winding-down ritual. Now that I’m using consistent, familiar layouts, it takes me about half an hour to do my initial setup for the week, and then about fifteen minutes every night to plan for tomorrow.
I’ve used more traditional pre-printed planners to keep track of my schedule and to-dos in the past, but one of the things I love about bullet journaling is that its flexibility allows me to do extra things like keep track of health-related aspects of my life. I’m fortunate to have generally good health, but there are things I could improve upon, like my water intake and activity levels. I wear a pedometer that tracks my step count and my sleep, making them pretty easy to track in my bullet journal, and sometimes those could also stand some improvement. I use my weekly health page (below left) not to collect data with the intent of analyzing it, but because the act of writing this information down every day calls my attention to it and serves as a reminder to take better care of myself. When life gets overwhelmingly busy or stressful (as students may frequently experience), it can be too easy to take your health for granted, so that’s something I’m trying to be more proactive about.
My weekly task overview page (above right) is where I write down everything I need to do for the whole week. Because I wear many different hats throughout my week (three jobs, my coursework, and the real-life responsibilities I like to call “adulting”), I prefer to break my tasks up into categories. This helps me prevent things from slipping through the cracks, as would almost certainly happen if I were to put everything in one large to-do list. Categorizing my tasks in this way enables me to see everything I need to do all at once, while allowing me to see the trees as well as the forest, as it were.
The layout I depend on the most for school is my two-page daily planning spread. Here I write my scheduled events (classes, work schedule, and any other appointments, which I indicate with circles) as well as the tasks I hope to complete each day (marked by squares). Along with these, I use a vertical timetracker to help me portion out my available time each day — this is color-coded according to the type of activity I plan to do at any given point in the day. Because of space constraints, I only include my waking hours on these timetrackers, and I use horizontal timelines on my health page to track the times that I sleep. Since days rarely go 100% according to plan, I also use the same color-code to fill in the square/circle when I’ve completed something on my list and draw a line to the approximate time when I actually did it. If I was on schedule, the colors at each end of the line will match. If they don’t match, that indicates that I’d gone a bit off course, but I don’t beat myself up about it too much since the important part is that I completed the task in question.
Beyond the day-to-day grind of student life, I also use my bullet journal to take note of various other things — collections such as a monthly gratitude log, books I want to read, places I want to visit in my city, a list of wines/beers/cheeses that my boyfriend and I want to remember, and goals I’d like to accomplish during my winter break. (This last collection includes a lot of bujo-related things, of course!)
But for me, bullet journaling is about more than just what I put in my notebook. Since discovering this infinitely flexible system and its online community, I’ve learned the importance of being aware of the limitations when planning out my time — sometimes the key to getting more stuff done overall is putting fewer things on your plate at once, and sometimes you need to say ‘no’ to things. (And that’s okay!) I’ve also learned to place a higher priority on self-care and on knowing my own unique needs in order to build a strong foundation for everything else in my life because those have a definite impact on my productivity and overall well-being. Most of all, I’ve become more conscious of the simultaneous and continuous need for self-acceptance and for self-assessment and self-improvement, and the bullet journal community is a fantastic resource for ideas and methods on those fronts! I’m grateful to be learning from you all, and I hope I’ve contributed to our collective wisdom.
I’d love to see how other students use bullet journaling to stay sane! If you’d like to share, then let me know in the comments or connect with me on Instagram @greenishplanning. Thanks for reading, and happy studying!
Jady is a graduate student in Madison, Wisconsin. She currently uses a dot-grid A5 Leuchtturm1917 notebook, but is in the process of moving into a Nanami Crossfield. When she’s not busy being a student, teaching assistant, project assistant, or intern, you can find her on Instagram @greenishplanning. She also plans to launch her own blog at greenishplanning.com in the near future, so stay tuned for an announcement about that on her Instagram account!