In Defense of Ugly Bullet Journaling

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Rebecca Renner

Staff Writer

Rebecca Renner is a writer and editor out of South Florida. Her essays have been featured in the Washington Post, New York Magazine, and Glamour. A seventh-generation Floridian, Rebecca's main area of study has been the ecology, culture, and downright weirdness of her home. When not reading, hiking, blogging, traveling, exploring, or playing with her dog Daisy Buchanan (and never sleeping!), Rebecca binge watches TV shows like The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and plots world domination via Twitter. Twitter: @RebeccaRennerFL Blog: https://beckyrenner.com/

I’m trying to get my life together this year. One way I’m doing that is to tackle my ever-growing to-do list. But I’m not just trying to get stuff done (which, according to my friend Nikki, is the slogan for my astrological sign—holla at me, Aries!). I’m wrangling my list itself, which at this point is composed of dates on the calendar on my fridge, reminders stuck to my front door, digital lists, paper lists, and a flurry of stray sticky notes with cryptic messages I don’t always understand when I finally round them all up.

I have tried using all-digital calendars. For my work as a freelance writer, I keep tabs on my due dates in Asana. My personal life resides in iCloud, and my cousin, knowing how forgetful I am, creates a Google appointment the very moment we agree on future plans.

In other words, my life is a hot mess. I have read all kinds of self-help and productivity books, but nothing seems to help. No matter how many times I read Eat That Frog! by Brian Tracy, I still manage to do the easy tasks first, saving the hard stuff for last. You Are a Badass by Jen Sincero got me to start meditating. I’m still disorganized as hell, but at least I’m not sweating it.

All this time, I’ve been avoiding bullet journaling. Why? It looked exactly like the kind of Pinterest-y perfectionism that would give me a daily panic attack. That’s the opposite of what I want, you know? The point of being organized, at least for me, is to reduce the stress, not create more.

I kept trying other things. I made lists on el cheapo Steno pads from Walgreens. I have bought $60 premium datebooks, thinking the price would scare me into actually using them. (Spoiler alert: No.) I have even taken to emailing myself pressing tasks. Word to the wiser than me: don’t do this. With 1,184 unread emails judging me from their little red ellipse at the corner of the app on my phone, I can safely say that this ain’t working either.

So after years of avoidance, I have finally given into the inevitable. I have joined the cult of bullet journaling. And I have to say: it isn’t so bad. That’s because I’m letting my bullet journal be ugly.

In Praise of Ugly Bullet Journaling

Yes, ugly. Ugly bullet journals are a wonderful thing. They exist. It’s just that a lot of them are hiding, ashamed to show their pages amongst their more Insagrammable peers.

But that’s ridiculous, because it seems to me that, contrary to the perfectly measured and color-coded reputation bullet journals have garnered, this style of organization lends itself well to the messiness of life.

While fancy journals purchased online have pre-drawn dates and boxes, your bullet journal is unique to you. Need a whole page for each day? Go for it. Want a place to write down your thoughts? It’s there. Decide to have a spot for a daily doodle? You do you.

If you want your bullet journal to sparkle, that’s cool. You can and you should if that’s what makes you happy. But if your handwriting is messy, and you don’t know calligraphy, and all you have is a 99 cent notebook from Target…that’s fine, too, and you shouldn’t be ashamed of doing what you need to do to stay organized. Every part of your life doesn’t need to be fit for social media. Your wonderful, imperfect bullet journal can be something fulfilling you do just for yourself.

Though my bullet journal resides in a cute, teal (my favorite color!) grid notebook that I found on Amazon, my scribbly handwriting and complicated, messy life make composing a beautiful daily log a little ludicrous. The mere idea of it having to be perfect stresses me out, so every time I do a new page, I remind myself that screw-ups are okay. To quote my man Bob Ross, “We don’t make mistakes, just happy little accidents.”

bullet journal grid paper that says "stop trying to be perfect"

Learning this lesson was exactly what I needed to get my life together. Bullet journaling hasn’t worked miracles with my organization yet. I’m still at the beginning of my bullet journaling life. But it has helped me remember that seeking perfection shuts down my efforts. The fear of being imperfect has stopped me from trying too many things. An imperfect effort is better than not trying at all.

If you’ve been wanting to try bullet journaling, but you don’t have magic calligraphic handwriting, don’t let that stop you. Don’t let your imperfections prevent you from doing the things you want to do. Do them anyway. Revel in your messiness.

If you, like me, are still at the beginning of your bullet journal journey, take some advice from these experienced Rioters. Check out: