My quest for the perfect planner has been a life long process. Maybe it’s because I’m a perfectionist who schedules her life in 15-minute blocks.
If there’s a planner out there, I probably know about it. I’ve probably researched it. I might have even purchased it.
The pretty covers always lure me in. I convince myself that this time will be different. I will definitely write in this planner. The blank pages are waiting to be filled with goals and tasks, hopes, and dreams. The tasks will be crossed out promptly on the deadline. This will be an eternal record of my little accomplishments.
I’m addicted to starting a planner. And also abandoning it just a few weeks later.
There’s always something wrong with the planners I pick.
Sometimes the weeks start on Sunday.
Other times, there’s not enough space to plan my day.
Where would I write my weekly goals?
Enter: the Bullet Journal.
A few years ago, there were murmurs on the internet about the bullet journal. I was a bit late to the party. I only heard about it once it was celebrated by the talented artists on Instagram and Pinterest.
Those pretty pages on my feeds were the very same reason I shunned the bullet journal promptly.
“Mine will never be pretty enough”, I told myself.
Still, my Type A personality couldn’t let go of a new way to plan. I just had to give it a try.
It was a perfect experiment. I didn’t have to buy a new planner but rather use one of the many notebooks I’d gathered over the years.
I picked out a blank one, with a dotted grid, just like they tell you you should.
Of course, I would need some pretty pens to go along with it! So once those arrived, I was ready!
I jumped right in.
I drew an index, a future log, the monthly spread, and a myriad of trackers — a mood tracker, a reading tracker, and a few habit trackers.
There was something so promising about it all. I spent hours poring over every detail. Every page was colorful. Waiting to be filled with plans and goals. And these pages would soon hold a record of my accomplishments!
“I put so much effort into designing this thing, I will definitely use it!” I told myself, “Then I’ll be my most productive self”.
The first week was great!
Every morning, I would turn to the pages, and fill out my plans for the day.
During the day, I would cross out tasks, and it would promptly guide me to the next task.
Then, right before bedtime, I would color in the trackers: I completed all my work tasks (check), drank my 10 glasses of water (check), went to the gym (check), and colored my mood tracker with my fancy yellow pen! (My mood tracker was themed after the characters of Inside Out. Joy, of course, is signified by the color yellow!)
Then just as always, there were a few busy weeks. Weeks filled with unending meetings, appointments. Unexpected condo repairs. A last-minute deliverable.
So it began.
Of course, this is when a productivity or planning system is put to its true test. That’s exactly when it started to fail. Just like all the other planners, it failed to show me the way.
I could barely remember to drink water until I was parched. Updating a planner was the least of my worries.
I felt all over the place. That was not what all those #bujo posts told me! How are they always so calm! I’m supposed to be feel put together. This bullet journal is supposed to hold it all together for me.
I started to feel judged.
By the 15th of the month, there were too many missed days on my habit tracker to catch up to the goals I had set for the month.
Maybe I could just pretend I did those things and move on? But that’s cheating. I would always know.
Of course, thanks to the algorithm, my Instagram and Pinterest feeds kept reminding me of my abandoned project.
Those posts of pretty weekly spreads kept judging me. A constant reminder that I could barely keep my bullet journal going for a month.
This productivity system making me feel more stressed than productive?
Why can’t I seem to figure out how to keep up with it all!
I couldn’t face my failures.
So I closed my bullet journal and returned it to the pile of half-used notebooks. I went back to my trusty iCal and chaotic post-it notes system.
I realized my perfectionist self had gotten the best of me, yet again.
I stopped using my bullet journal, probably when I needed it most.
It let me believe I was productive when planning and designing, but in reality, I was just procrastinating.
It was supposed to hold me accountable, but all it did was judge me for my failures.
A little while later, life simplified again. And I could dedicate more time to the abandoned bullet journal again.
So I tried again. This time, I let go of perfect.
I went back to my pile of unused and half-used notebooks and picked out a simple one, with a black cover and a dotted grid again.
I had my colorful pens from the previous experiment. But this time I didn't need them.
This time there would be no pretty weekly spread. No mood tracker to complete at the end of the day. No habit tracker that I had to check off when I drank all the water for the day.
I would not be over-ambitious. I would force myself to keep it simple this time.
On one page, on the left, I wrote out the days of the week. And on the page on the right, I added
- Things to Remember,
- Weekly Wins.
I took a deep breath. This felt better. I could commit to opening this planner every day, and not feel overwhelmed.
I could plan my day, the way I wanted to.
I could even add a page for the bridal shower, or birthday I was organizing when the time came.
I didn’t need the pretty designs or colorful pens. I could write in whatever pen was closest to me.
I’ve learned that I had overcomplicated it for myself.
I realized that it was not judging me. I had expected too much from myself.
The bullet journal is actually quite forgiving.
It lets me take a break when I need it. I can skip weeks in my planner when I just feel like I need to be more spontaneous. And I can just come back to a new week, without memory of missed weeks or even months.
I just had to let go of my idea of perfect, and let it guide me.
It’s been five months since I started my bullet journal again.
And I can tell you that from now on:
There will be no more unfinished planners!