Academic Bullet Journaling

Near the end of last summer I was beginning to feel that I was losing a battle with organization. There were too many projects to manage, constant updates to the courses I needed to teach, and increasing anxieties due to the state of our world. And then a friend introduced me to Bullet Journals.

While I have always created lists to help manage the chaos of my life, things quickly devolved last year with the introduction of the pandemic. I kept lists, but these ended up on scraps of paper in my office or in random files on my computer, which were easily lost or forgotten. And even though I kept meeting notes, I never felt that I had them under control – often finding myself searching for notes or trying to remember what deliverables I had promised. More than once I found myself behind on due dates because things simply slipped my mind.

So it was a welcome relief when my friend and colleague, Dr. Judi McCuaig, asked me if I had heard about Bullet Journaling. I hadn’t. In a nutshell, the idea is to create a structured analog journal for helping to manage everything that needs to be managed. I began by watching the following video.

How To Bullet Journal, by Ryder (creator of the Bullet Journal)

Shortly after watching this, I found myself spending probably far too long viewing other videos for ideas of how best to create a journal that made sense to me. And if you do the same, you will see how fancy these journals can become – fully embellished with decorations, photos, charts, and more.

As I continued to watch more and more videos, I realized the power of the bullet journal was found in the table of contents. For whatever reason, I have never thought to include a table of contents in a journal despite how obvious it seems. And when I finally realized this, I knew that a bullet journal was the right thing for me. Beyond this, I also loved the flexibility that the journal provided.

My first bullet journal began with a table of contents and a few pages to outline an overview of the fall semester. This included a line for each day of the semester and any special information I might need to know on quick glance (e.g. birthdays, presentation dates, submission due dates). I set aside four pages for each of the courses I was teaching to document student questions or to list reminders that I wanted to give the students. I similarly set aside two to four pages to track my service commitments and research projects. There was a single page to document to-dos for each week of the semester. Each of the students in my lab had their own pages where I tracked expected deliverables, meetings, and progress through their respective degrees. And I included pages for making notes on things to read, write, blog, edit, watch, and listen to, as well as to document random research and teaching ideas.

Given the success of this, I decided I would continue the practice this year. And with a semester of bullet journaling under my belt, I updated my 2020 bullet journal to something that I think will work even better for me this year. I’ve added new pages, and created sections devoted to tracking both academic and personal things that I want to track this year. It’s still a work in progress because I haven’t, for example, created a to-do list yet, nor have I transferred over information from my previous journal. But it’s a start, and there are plenty of pages at the back of the journal to allow me to adapt to the year as it unfolds.

So what does this year’s bullet journal contain?

  • A primary table of contents which contains the main headings for different things. For example, the primary table of contents indicates students on page 71 of my journal. If you flip to page 71, you will find a secondary table of contents that includes each student’s name and the pages in the journal associated with each of them.
  • An overview of the year with one page per month. Each line is annotated with birthdays, due dates, weekends, pay days, and holidays.
  • A page for to-dos for each week of the year. Any items that aren’t completed in a given week are either dropped (if they are no longer important) or moved to the following list.
  • A page for things to read, to write, to edit, to blog, to watch, and to hear. Because if I don’t write these down when I think of them, they are essentially lost forever.
  • A page for each student in the lab so that I can track their degree progress, their deliverables, and anything of importance that arises during our meetings.
  • A page of trackers – such as time tracker, social media tracker, blog tracker, exercise tracker, alcohol tracker, and distance tracker. The time tracker will be used to keep track of time spent each week in meetings, doing research, etc. The social media and blog trackers are to help me keep up with certain goals around posting to my various blogs. I aim to use the exercise, distance, and alcohol trackers to provide motivations to get out of my chair and move while also cutting back on some of the empty calories I’ve been consuming in response to the pandemic.
  • There are 6 pages set aside for each course. I set aside 4 in the fall semester and this wasn’t quite enough.
  • There are 2 to 6 pages set aside for each of my service commitments – based on how much or how little I used for each of these projects in the fall.
  • There are 2 pages set aside so that I can document random research or course development ideas that pop into my head (or come from conversations with various colleagues).
  • A page per month to track Three Things. The goal here is to identify 3 things each day for which I am grateful. Last year was dark and I want to do everything in my power to make this year brighter. Identifying things for which I am grateful is a step in the right direction.
  • A page dedicated to staying in touch with friends and family. This is essentially a reminder to reach out daily to people to make sure they are doing okay, especially given how lonely and isolating the pandemic has been.

After the success this offered me last semester, I thought I would share it here because it might be just the thing you are looking for to help you keep yourself organized this year. Of course, I might be very late to the game and this is something you’ve been doing for ages. If so, I’d love to hear what you’ve been tracking or recording in your journal.

Happy journaling folks. And here’s to a more organized 2021.

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