I started bullet journaling in May 2017. I started on the first day of May. I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t have a special bullet journal. I didn’t have any fun pens. I didn’t have a plan. Actually, that was the whole reason I started doing it — because I didn’t have any plans.
I hadn’t used a planner for about a year and a half. I had planners. I bought a new planner each year. I’d use each for about a week at the beginning of the semester and then just kind of let it go. It was too hard to keep up, and the calendars never really looked the way I wanted them to.
I managed without a planner for a while. I wouldn’t say I thrived under no planner, but I survived. I relied on my memory for appointments and homework and anything else with a timestamp, and I forgot a lot of stuff. I pulled together assignments in the hours before class (not because I procrastinated or didn’t have time earlier, but because I literally forgot I had anything to do). Once, I completely forgot I had signed up for an extra work shift until the person I was supposed to relieve texted me — that’s how I learned I can go from pajamas to Hillel in 20 minutes.
I genuinely don’t remember what it was about May 1 that motivated me to start bullet journaling, but I am eternally grateful to past-Gillian for making that happen. It helped me survive a 20-page paper and make sense of my constant anxiety for the future.
Here’s the thing about bullet journals: While there is an element of future-planning, at its core, it’s about taking it one day at a time. It’s about looking at what you did (or sometimes, what you didn’t do) today and figuring out what you need to do tomorrow. That’s all you need to do, focus on today and tomorrow.
As Hopkins students, I think we can all benefit from a little organized self-reflection. Bullet journaling is the last thing I do before I go to bed every night, and it helps me look back on my day and expel any negativity before I go to sleep. I also feel better prepared when I wake up in the morning, knowing that I’ve written out all my tasks for the day ahead of time.
So what actually goes into a bullet journal? Well, lots of things. Or just a couple things. Your bullet journal is just for you, so it doesn’t need to be pretty unless you want it to be. When I started in May, I had a list of the days of the month with space to write any appointments or meetings, and then I just wrote each day as it came. And that was it.
Now, I have a calendar for the entire year, habit trackers for each month, a place to track movies I’ve seen and books I’ve read, and an overview of my weekly schedule in addition to the month and daily logs I’ve been doing since the beginning. I’ve experimented with stickers, and I’ve embraced colorful pens and Washi tapes, but at the beginning it was just a black pen and a notebook.
I think everyone should do this in some form. If you’ve got a planner that works for you, that’s great, and honestly, I envy you, because I spent hours with a pen and a ruler making my calendars exactly how I wanted them.
But if you’re someone who writes your homework assignments on your arm or if you’re someone who has trouble falling asleep because of your racing thoughts, maybe you should give this a shot. It’s intimidating because most of the time when you see pictures of bullet journals, they look incredible and gorgeous. That’s not the way mine started out, and that’s not how yours needs to be, now or ever, unless you want it to.
Hopkins is really hard and stressful, and we all have a lot to do. It’s important that we all have somewhere we can vent without fear of being judged or having our secrets told to someone else. I sure hope everyone has an outlet for that already, but if you don’t, a journal’s a great place for it. End your day with a solid feelings-share with your journal and then literally turn the page onto tomorrow. You really won’t know how satisfying that simple action is until you experience it.
Gillian Lelchuk is a Writing Seminars and mathematics major from Los Alamitos, Calif. She is The News-Letter’s Magazine Editor.