My love-hate relationship with my bullet journal

Bullet journaling used to be a source of stress for me, but I just kept going back

“Okay, I guess we’re really doing this thing,” I say to no one in a dark empty room at 1 a.m. as I press the order button on Amazon. Finally — I will evolve into my best, most organized self: bullet journal girl. 

I have always heard rave reviews about bullet journals. Everyone I know who has one loves it, and it seems so easy. Planning out my life on dotted pages with pastel markers leaves so much room for creativity. It’s a journal with more aesthetic — but when my bullet journal arrived, I was scared to start using it. 

Bullet journals are completely blank besides very light dots. Sometimes they come pre-numbered or with a few index pages, but other than that, you have to design every feature and function.

Pinterest boards that once captured me with beautiful layouts and incredible hand-lettering now intimidated me. 

What would I do if I messed up a page? I’ll have to look at that sad, smeared smudge of a flower for the rest of the month. 

Planning what goes on the page is just as daunting. In my experience, I don’t really know what works for me until it doesn’t. When I first started, I did a sleep log on a page to track how many hours I got a night and how energized I felt that day. It’s a great idea in theory (and one of my cutest pages, might I add), but I never remembered to actually fill it in. This meant massive gaps in the chart and massive amounts of stress from looking at an incomplete page. 

The most stressful part was perfecting the layout. In fear of a catastrophic calligraphy mishap, I’d have a ruler, pencil, eraser, ink pens and markers with me at all times. Sketching a monthly calendar took me hours because there was so much to consider in terms of spacing and decorating. 

Once I knew roughly how big I wanted a spread to be, I sketched it with a ruler and pencil. If I liked how it looked, which usually took a few tries, I traced it with a pen, erased the pencil and colored it in with marker. 

Hours ticked by and I still remained unsatisfied with what I had just created.

Pinterest posts and Buzzfeed videos about bullet journaling had me believing that my journal had to look perfect. Getting organized is already a stressful task on its own, but now I was worried about the aesthetic of it all too.

Through trial and error, I realized something. It’s not about how it looks, it’s about making it useful. Drawing, erasing and coloring in the moon phases for an hour is completely unproductive.

I was so caught up in the visual aspects of journaling that I forgot to make it something functional. I found that for it to work for me, I had to keep things simple. 

That’s when I started getting good at this whole thing.

Instead of focusing on beauty, I focused on practicality. Now my journal only has a few templates to it, a weekly, monthly and future log. I log everything — goals, work hours, homework due dates, meetings, date nights, concerts, parties and time with friends. My journal knows me better than I do.

Putting my life in ink changed everything. Past agendas and planners failed me, I usually left them torn up and messy. Weeks passed by and I’d forget to check it, I solely relied on my brain to remember every detail of my life. That obviously didn’t work. 

When I noticed myself canceling plans last minute and missing homework assignments often, I realized something needed to change. 

Getting my life in order felt therapeutic. Before, I would feel hopeless and upset with myself for forgetting something. Now, every time I pull out my bullet journal, I feel like I’m finally doing something right. 

Reach the reporter at and follow @SaraWindom on Twitter. 

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