How To Make and Maintain a Digital Bullet Journal

How To Make and Maintain a Digital Bullet Journal

About midway through 2017 I realized I had let my life get out of control. I worked too hard. I neglected my physical and mental health. And realizing I needed to change was only the start of the battle. Because I had no idea how to manage all the things I felt I needed to do in a day, week or month.

At the end of 2015, I encountered the same problem. In an attempt to solve it, I put together a day planner. I used it to track my monthly and weekly goals so I could see how much I actually accomplished as opposed to how much I wanted to accomplish. I also tracked how much time I spent on each task, so I could see just where my effort was going.

It was really helpful, for awhile. I could see when something unimportant was taking up too much time. I could see where the lulls in my day were, and I used various tactics to work smarter instead of harder. The trouble was, maintaining the day planner became just another thing on the list of stuff I had to do. Because I had to print all the pages, then label all the months and days. I had to punch all the holes and put things in order. It was too much effort for a tool that was supposed to relieve my stress and anxiety.

The Quest to Discover Organization

Then I discovered the bullet journal. For anyone unfamiliar, bullet journals are a cross between a to-do list and a day planner. The idea is to list all the things you need to do in a day, then use symbols to denote whether something was finished or rescheduled and so on. People ran away with the idea and came up with tons of ways to track various things, such as daily exercise, keeping hydrated and eating healthy. In fact, you can do just about anything with a bullet journal, that’s the beauty of it.

Since you can make a bullet journal in any notebook, I headed to the store and grabbed a few spiral notebooks. I have a tendency to flit from idea to idea when I’m trying to get organized and I didn’t want to invest in an expensive dot notebook just in case the experiment didn’t pan out. I use spiral notebooks for pretty much everything, so I knew these would get used no matter what.

For the first few weeks, I was excited. The bullet journal helped me keep track of my thoughts and, therefore, stay on track. I loved using my rainbow pens to color code my various projects and later come back to mark them off. But much like my day planner, it didn’t last. It became too time consuming to sit down every night and write out the next day’s tasks. Especially since I got frustrated that I could never make anything look quite the way I wanted to. I tried to embrace the idea that imperfections are part of what make something wonderful, but I just couldn’t accept it. Like my day planner before it, my bullet journal sat unused.

Digital Has Always Worked Better For Me

I liked a lot of the concepts from my bullet journal and day planner. I just didn’t like the effort they required to maintain. There had to be a way I could make use of both without having to put hours each week into the project. If you can use ANY notebook to make a bullet journal, why not a digital one?

I decided to use Excel for two reasons. The first is that I LOVE making spreadsheets in Excel. I consider this a form of relaxation. (I know, I’m a weirdo.) But the biggest reason to use Excel is that tons of people already make downloadable templates for the program. So if there’s ever something I don’t feel like tackling, or can’t figure out, chances are someone, somewhere, has already done it.

I scoured the Internet for ideas for handwritten bullet journals in order to determine what to incorporate into my digital version. I realized quickly that I wanted two things; a monthly calendar that I could easily fill out and change, and a series of trackers for daily and weekly tasks that I want to turn into good habits.

The difference between my digital journal and my notebooks is, once I determined the template that worked best for me, I can make an infinite number of them with a simple copy and paste command. If I make a mistake or change my mind about a goal or plan, it’s easy to move without leaving behind unseemly lines or blots. I don’t have to completely re-make a list or deal with hating how it looks for a month. Plus, I figured out how to insert check boxes into Excel, which left me pleased as punch.

The Sections I Chose

I started with a cover. Because everyone needs an inspirational cover to keep them motivated. The quote featured on mine is by Karen Ravn and is my all time favorite.

Next came my static goals page. These are my goals for the year, and there are many of them. They include both writing projects and personal goals, such as exercising more and devoting fewer hours every week to work. But unlike previous goals pages I have made, I included an action plan with suggestions about how I can achieve those goals. And finally, I included some benchmarks I can use to upgrade those goals, in case I reach them early.

I use the next page to track my releases for the year. (Projects I release under my penname have been hidden.)

The next few pages relate to tracking my writing goals. They’re carry-overs from a file I was already using previously. The first is my overall goals for the year:

The next is the tracker for my current project (so close to finished!):

The most important pages are my monthly goal pages. I use them to list my goals for the week, then check them off as they’re completed. I cross off those I don’t get through so I can see the difference between my plan and my achievements. But it’s also easy to adjust the future plan to compensate .

My habit trackers are on the side. Here I mark off tasks I’ve completed for the day. Not only is it supremely satisfying to click on one of those check boxes, I can see at a glance exactly what I finish and what I skip consistently.

(My schedule for the week I wrote this)

In the end, this makes it easier to make a plan and stay on top of it. It also makes it clear when I need to adjust how I’m handling the workload (or just plain adjust the workload). I’m still honing in on the right schedule for me, but I think I’ve at least found something that helps me keep on top of getting and staying organized.

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