Bullet Journal, bullet journalling with depression, journalling, mental health, bipolar, OCD, church, disability, coffee, fountain pen, travelers journal

Six ways to plan when you’re a mess

The bullet journal community is full of lots of sunshine, glitter, and rainbows.


Don’t get me wrong, I friggin’ love sunshine, glitter, and rainbows. I am also Bipolar II, which means that sometimes I am just getting by. I’ve been bujo-ing in one form or another for about two years now. I’ve adjusted, tweaked, re-adjusted, and re-tweaked. I’ve been on and off the horse, beaten myself up for not being “perfect enough” or for having the most beautiful pages in all of the world of social media and had my journalling (which is supposed to help me manage my mental health) trigger my OCD and send me down a death spiral of throwing out entire 25$ notebooks because I messed up one page. It’s dangerous out here.

So, in those years, here’s what I’ve learned. Bearing in mind that my ish is still a work in progress–and that what works for me won’t work for everybody.

  1. Keep it simple. When I first started, I was a Bullet Journal purist. I watched Ryder Carrol’s excellent video but then I immediately drank the cool-aid of instagram and pinterest. Then I went back for seconds and thirds. Rather than use Carrol’s system as is, I wanted the prettiest, most beautiful, most artsy, most perfectly penmanshipped, best stencilled, straightest lined beautiful beauties out there. What I ended up with was ripped out pages, crying sessions, fear of being less than, and deer in the headlights syndrome. The bullet journal system is EXCELLENT. But, here’s the deal. The system, as Carrol does it is SIMPLE. It’s a list. It’s not dailies, and hexagonal layouts and suitable for framing “Hello August” pages and perfectly colour-coordinated monthly and weekly layouts. That’s complicating matters beyond what you need to do at first and it can be seriously overwhelming and make you feel like a failure if you’re not producing graphic-design quality layouts every single friggin’ week. The original bullet journal is remarkably similar to a Getting Things Done list. Got things to do? Make a list. Find something on this list, do it. Check that thing off, then do the next thing.
  2. It’s okay to buy a planner. I found, when I was using a hybrid journal/planner that I was doing a lot of labour duplicating the same things over and over and over. Days of the week, hours of the day, dates. You know who else can do that? A GIANT FRIGGIN’ PUBLISHING COMPANY. I now rotate through 90-100 day planners. A few I’ve enjoyed are: The Best Self Planner, and The Happiness Planner 100 day version. There are tons of other ones out there, and I’ve already got my eyes on a Hobonichi Techo Weeks (for work, maybe) and  a Jibun Techo Biz planner(s) for next year. I’ve gone back to using a separate planner for work, and find that a larger notebook, laid out with a quick and dirty weekly spread (plus space for note-taking) works perfectly for that. Basically, the lesson here is don’t be afraid to find out what works for you and go with that. Even if it’s (gasp! quelle horror!) August or March or whatever and you want to switch it up.
  3. Maybe one notebook isn’t going to fit all your needs. Right now, I have: a work bujo, a journal (for, you know, journalling thoughts, ideas, the ocassional art page or watercolour or mental health prompt), and a 100 Day Happiness Planner. I enjoy using a guided planner because it helps to keep me in check headwise. Any daily planner keeps me checking in twice a day, mindful of my schedule and energy levels, and thinking about the good stuff that happened today, even if I have to squint hard to FIND it. There’s ALWAYS something good, even when the darkness hits. If nothing else, I can be grateful that I’m hydrated or that I managed to put on pants, or that I had the day off and DIDN’T have to put on pants.
  4. Buy the nicest tools you can afford. THIS DOESN’T MEAN SPEND A LOT OF MONEY. Some of the nicest tools I have are: a pen that cost about 3 dollars from Ali Express, and a lapdesk from Ikea that allows me to rest comfortably on the sofa while I write. Basically, this means buy things that make you feel nice, that you can afford, without guilt. If you can afford to buy a Scribbles That Matter notebook for 25$ and the pages feel like angel’s wings to you (they do!) or you love to splurge on Diamine Blue Lightning Ink (you might!) because it perfectly matches that 3$ pen DO IT. Don’t should yourself into “I should buy the cheap stuff because my hobby is silly” or “I’m not worth this.” DON’T spend money you don’t have– but if you have it, enjoy good tools for your hobby. They will make it more of a pleasure, and even when you’re feeling more down, you’ll be able to journal as a form of self-care.
  5. The standard sized (3″x3″) post-it is your friend when you feel like you can’t do anything. When you have zero spoons, here is some of the best advice I’ve ever received “If it won’t fit on a post-it, it won’t fit in your day.” Here’s some actual science: especially in a workplace if you are management, about 60-75% of your day is made up of “emergent tasks” AKA shit that’s ON FIRE, unexpected and you have to take care of NOW. Emails that require responses, phone calls that you have to return, visitors with questions, employees to check in with, the every-glamorous clogged toilet, or sometimes things that are actually on fire. So, when you are depressed or overwhelmed, write your daily to-do list on a post-it. This also works on days off when you are flaring, depressed AF, have the anxiety overwhelms, or anything similar. No fair writing super tiny, or buying bigger post-its. You will get another post-it tomorrow. Life is short and you are just a body.
  6. Indulge in your version of sunshine, glitter, and rainbows. My planner and journals are decorated and yes, there is glitter. I’ve invested in stickers and washi, and things that are shiny. Letting this aspect of my life (which helps me kick ass at adulting) indulge the part of me that was WAY too serious from the age of 6-okay about 40 is fun. It makes my journals and planners a place of retreat and insures that I use them. Switching from digital to analog was a mental-health decision for me. Having reminders on my phone constantly binging and dinging and bonging and ringing was literally killing me slowly. Having everything I need to know written down in a book I look at three scheduled times a day has relieved a sizeable percentage of my stress levels. It doesn’t hurt AT ALL that they continue all of the super ultra femme stuff I denied myself in my very. serious. childhood.

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