A long, long time ago, I asked on Twitter if there was any advantage to using bullet journals rather than calendars or todo lists:
Is there any real advantage to bullet journaling compared to using calendar and todo apps except for showing off your drawing skills (which I think is worthwhile and brightens the day of people who see nice bullet journal photos)?
— EPF Ghost (@aadisht) May 31, 2018
For a long time after that, the question went unanswered, until white-streak-rocking tasteful item-number connoisseur and writer extraordinaire Amulya Shruthi used Instagram, and then her blog, to walk the general public through how she uses a Bullet Journal to track her habits. Having read her blogpost, I am now writing my own response to it; in order to express my awe and appreciation for:
- How comprehensive her habit tracking is
- Her discipline in sticking with it day after day
- How good she makes her bullet journal look
- Her willingness to share this with us all so that we can learn from it
Now for the bad news, or if not bad news, the step back from wholehearted enthusiasm. I’ve been reading and rereading her post for two months, and I’ve now realised that I cannot do this kind of journal-driven tracking myself, for multiple reasons.
The first reason is that for the past year and a half, I’ve been living a nomadic life, rotating between three cities. And to do this sort of multi-colour pen driven tracking, I would have to carry not only the journal everywhere; but all the pens too. Replacing the pens as they ran out of ink or got lost would be exasperating.
The second reason is that at the time I asked about Bullet Journaling on Twitter, I had already been journaling for a couple of months1, in a notebook where I would handwrite both the things I was feeling proud about and grateful for; and the ones which made me feel anxious or ashamed. This journal2 has been helpful to me in dealing with my mental health, and I kept on at it. By October, I had also started a separate, (online) journal where I would write about every movie, TV episode, podcast episode, or book that I watched, heard, or read3. The point is, even without a habit tracking bullet journal, my existing journalling would take almost an hour a day; and I don’t know if I want to add another journal on top of that. Time apart, it would add another journal or notebook to my backpack, which has at least three notebooks already. The notebooks weigh more than my electronic devices as it is.
The third reason is that Amulya’s journal looks so intimidatingly good that I feel that I’ll be unable to match its radiant splendour. I realise that her post addresses this:
But overall, there seems to be a super-creative, artsy and craftsy, expensive, heavily key/legend-ed *look* to BuJos that could come across as intimidating.
- It will take some of your time and attention – but ONLY at first, it gets almost reflexive if you let it. I’m venturing a guess that it’s a bit like growing a beard.
- It is going to be MESSY at first, so start in a notebook you aren’t too attached to (you know, Canara Bank type diary, or that glittery flowery notebook someone gifted you three years ago), or start on loose sheets of paper that you can stick into a more favoured diary
Even with this foresight and reassurance, I’ve not been able to overcome my insecurity about achieving some sort of standard when it comes to journals, and so, I decided that rather than agonise for a few months over how to make a bullet journal look good, I would start immediately with a functional, if not especially pretty, online solution. So I turned to Google Forms.
(Where digital solutions are concerned, Dibyo had recommended the Loop App, a habit tracking app which he uses himself, but I didn’t like that all answers on that have to be Yes / No; or that all questions have to be framed as developing good habits.)
I created a Google Form for myself to fill in every night. I make myself answer questions about:
- Remembering to take my medication
- How much I exercised
- Whether I wrote in my other journals that day and if I updated my work calendar and todos
- Practicing the flute or foreign languages
- Writing for leisure (not including journals)
- Which bad habits I’ve indulged
- What I’ve done for my wife that day
(And I’ll probably add more questions and areas as I go along.)
Note: in the process of building this form, I realised to my horror that Google Forms does let you ask conditional questions (that is, you get different follow up questions depending on whether your answer to an early question is Yes or No), but that it achieves this with the equivalent of GOTO statements. What the hell, Google?
The Google Form will record each day’s answers as a row in a Google Sheet. That sheet looks horrifically ugly compared to the Bullet Journal; but on the bright side, I can download the sheet and then make graphs and pivot tables for whatever I want to look closer at, for the specific period I want to look at. At least, I hope so. It’s only been two days of tracking with this form so far, so I can’t say for sure how much insight the tables and graphs will provide. But it’s a start; and if it goes well, I’ll probably share that on the blog as well.
- 2018 has really made me appreciate not just journalling as a beneficial habit, but the difference between a blog and a journal. This blog, I feel, is where I put out thoughts that others might appreciate, once I’ve developed them to a shareable level; while journals are for myself. I’m not comfortable with making my journal public, as old friend Sacha Chua does, but I now appreciate the value of a journal, which I hadn’t for all the years she ran it.
- The first journal I used was a gift my darling wife had received, wasn’t using, and allowed me to whack. Then, for my birthday, she got me the magnificent Leuchtturm notebook.
- Conditions apply. The Bugle is light comic relief and does not offer any major insights worth journalling.