This story has been updated to clarify when the writer tried bullet journaling.

If you’re like me, the one thing you’ve constantly searched for since you were a kid is the perfect journal. For me, that journal consists of sand-colored pages bound compactly to a ballet pink leather notebook with an envelope-like magnetic enclosure. Each page consists of dozens of lines for me to rehash my days, the conversations I had and the details that impacted me the most. It is, above all, a space for me to overanalyze my every interaction, explicate my every thought and record my life experiences in detail. That journal does not consist of aesthetic Pinterest photos, scrapbook like spreads, mood trackers or washi tape. 

What does consist of all those visual elements, you ask? The bullet journal. 

A bullet journal can be described as the culmination of a scrapbook, sketchbook and a traditional journal. It is where all three elements meet in the middle. It seems to value precision more than anything — the less words utilized, the better. While I’m not fond of the bullet journaling trend, back in March, I decided to try bullet journaling for a week and see for myself whether the trend lived up to the hype. 

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Sunday: March cover page

This is an example of a monthly cover spread.

I began the week by drawing a visual out of March. I went through my Pinterest boards and collected the photos that most aligned with what I had in mind. 

The March visual was simple and modeled after a picture of a book and a coffee shop-style latte. It was easy enough to draw, and I found it therapeutic to color. It was as if there was nostalgia hidden within that made bullet journaling all the more alluring to the 20-somethings when the trend initially began around 2015. While it wasn’t something I could see myself incorporating in my own traditional journal, the monthly visual was a unique item that made me appreciate the inventiveness that is essential to the bullet journaling experience. 

I added this quote by one of my favorite authors, Sylvia Plath, that fully encapsulated how I felt about the month of March, goal wise: “In March I’ll be rested, caught up and human.” Spoiler alert: it didn’t end up being like that.

Monday: Planner spread

This is an example of a weekly spread within a planner.

On Monday, I set out to convert the traditional to-do list that I write in my planner each week into a bullet journal-friendly style. I consulted multiple images on Pinterest to see which weekly setup would serve me best before settling on a sticky note styled spread similar to this one. 

I found drawing the weekly boxes to be a meticulous process even though the bullet journal offers dotted lines that supposedly make the drawing process easier. Aesthetics aside, there simply wasn’t enough space in my bullet journal spread for me to adequately plan my week. I had to consult my planner throughout the week in order to ensure I was truly completing all of my assignments, contacting people as needed and getting everything done. 

While beauty is an important life component for me, I decided sacrificing the usability and functional use of my planner in favor of aesthetics wasn’t worth it. In the future, I will stick to planning out my week by using my planner. 

Tuesday: March at a glance

This is an example of a monthly introduction spread.

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In line with the monthly introduction spread, I decided to make a mini calendar within my bullet journal. The calendar itself was sparse, so I added some quotes and relaxing images of someone pouring tea and of a melancholy sunset to embellish the page. I also added a border to detract some of the white space. 

While I’m content with how the page turned out, I acknowledge that this spread is yet another reason why bullet journaling is mutually exclusive to traditional journaling; its layouts do not translate over to lined pages within bound books. 

Wednesday: Bucket list

This is an example of a bucket list spread.

I opted for something craftier on Wednesday and put together a bucket list, once again consulting Pinterest for a template. I’m used to listing things off in my journal in a traditional format without the addition of creativity. One thing I liked about the bullet journal in this instance was that it allowed for artistry outside of the template. 

While the substance of the bucket list piece is translatable to my everyday diary, the individuality and liveliness of the images and colored paper aren’t things I would be able to have in my journal. The scrapbook element of the bullet journal is one of the things I like and wish I could easily incorporate in my journal. 

Thursday: Playlist

This is an example of a playlist spread.

One thing I love about the bullet journal is that it holds the space for a visible collage encapsulating the ins and outs of how my life was during one specific month. The playlist spread was perfect for tracking all the different songs I loved in March. None of the songs listed were songs I discovered during the month, but several of them fit inside my personal theme of March: melancholy. If I were to continuously bullet journal, this is one spread I’d certainly redo each month.

Friday: Mood tracker

This is an example of a mood tracker spread.

The drawing process for March’s mood tracker was difficult, and I eventually asked one of my friends if she’d be willing to redraw all of the leaves. I ended up numbering the leaves wrong, so I wrote “March” on one of the top leaves as an attempt to rectify my mistake. 

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The perfectionist in me fervently dislikes bullet journaling because the system seems to intensify each mistake. With each passing day that I colored in one of the leaves, I was reminded of how I’d accidentally miscounted. I found myself writing my mood down within my planner throughout the week and coloring in the corresponding days with their respective colors on Friday rather than each day as it happened. 

There were a few days I had forgotten to write how I felt overall and couldn’t remember based on the notes I’d jotted in my actual planner. On these days, I had to consult my actual journal or Snapchat memories in an effort to accurately depict how I was feeling in my mood tracker. If I didn’t chronicle how I felt in an entry or in a snap, I colored the leaf auburn to signal my ambivalence. 

Saturday: Collage

This is an example of a collage spread.

On Saturday, I decided to piece together a collage. I mostly free-ranged this spread instead of modeling it after a specific one on Pinterest. I included one of my favorite quotes: “If we wait to be ‘ready,’ we could be waiting for the rest of our lives.” In addition to this quote, I included a cute graphic of a coffee pot that says, “Your worth is not measured by your productivity.” This is something I personally have to remind myself of on a daily basis, as I find it easy to get so caught up in tracking and checking things off my to-do list that I equate my self-worth with how productive I am each day. 

I included another quote that speaks to the notion of not feeling guilty about the past or having anxiety about the future. The last two images featured in my collage are an aesthetic picture of someone looking off into a sunset and Somali supermodel and Miss Africa winner Khadija Adam Ismail posing on a runway. 

Over the years, I’ve added collages in my personal journal. It’s an easy way to develop my aesthetic, but I believe the bullet journal serves as a more appropriate place to house collages given its pivotal art journal component. I prefer to line my pictures up in a way that takes into account lines and spacing, so I find collaging in a bullet journal does not suit me well as I don’t have room to be as meticulous as I’d like to be. 

Sunday: Journal entry 

This is an example of a traditional journal entry.

The last thing I wanted to try while completing my bullet journal experiment was writing a journal entry and pairing it with photos. I modeled my bullet journal edition journal entry after images I collected on Pinterest. What I enjoyed most about writing a journal entry in this format was that I found a way to visually express what I was feeling. 

While simple, the pictures of roses strewn across a book and a pink toned tea with macarons are calming, which I liked. Similarly, I included the picture of a girl on a horse because of the dynamic colors and also because by looking toward the clouds, it seemed as if she was also looking towards her future and the changes life may bring, which is how I feel writing this. 

I don’t think the bullet journal is equipped for housing written journal entries. I found myself more focused on the aesthetic of my writing rather than actual content, and I didn’t have enough room to truly divulge what I was feeling at the moment. 

I write my journal entries in a painstaking fashion; in addition to including a quote of the day, I write my entries across multiple pages consisting of two 10-lined paragraphs and one with only nine lines. This wasn’t something I was able to duplicate in my bullet journal, as I barely had enough lines to write more than two sentences in each paragraph. 

This is an example of a journal entry written in a bullet journal.

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Final thoughts

Like everything in life, the journaling world is changing. As there is nothing new under the sun, it is to be expected that people would try reinventing the wheel in creating a new medium to both record life and intertwine radiant images and illustrations reminiscent of childhood scrapbooks and the nostalgia with it. However, in this effort to reinvent the wheel, I would hope the importance of traditional journaling and the lives journals have portrayed with honesty and detail over time stays in the minds of all who participate in this trend.

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