With Great Power
If you use a bullet journal, then you know the joy of picking your own path. It’s like a real life choose your own adventure book! With traditional planners, everything is set in stone beforehand. But with a bullet journal, every possible layout, decoration, notebook, system, etc… is at your fingertips. But with such autonomy comes greater stakes. If a spread doesn’t work for you, it can be really frustrating. If you misspell or mislabel something, it’s so much more obvious. Lots of bullet journalists, both new and experienced, feel the pressure of getting everything just right. It often feels like a small screw up can ruin your whole day, weekly spread, or journal. This fear of failure can be an obstacle to progress and planning. But these bullet journal mistakes don’t have to be damning. In fact, they can be a huge benefit.
There are a million little ways that you can mess up in your bullet journal. They can be extremely annoying and frustrating when they happen, too. Here are some mistakes that I make all the time:
- Writing the wrong day or date
- Screwing up a calendar
- Forgetting to add something
- Forgetting to omit something
- Creating a spread and never looking at it again
- Forgetting to fill out a tracker
- Forgetting to fill out a log
- Ruining a page by getting it wet
- Being inconsistent with a theme
- It just looks terrible
Every time I make one of these bullet journal mistakes, I heave a great sigh and resist the urge to slap my forehead. I stare at the page for a few seconds, contemplating whether I should start over. But every time I do the same thing. I hitch up my big girl pants, draw an X through my mistake and write the correct date or spelling, and I move on. Because in the end, it’s not a big deal. I can laugh about it after a few minutes. But more importantly, I learn from it.
How Bullet Journal Mistakes Are a Blessing
It might be hard to think of a mistake as anything more than a failure in the moment, but they truly are a blessing. You can learn so much about the way your brain works by looking at the screw ups. Using that knowledge, you can adapt and make your planning system better.
Failing to Use a Spread
If you put time into drawing out a spread – whether for a collection, month, week, or day – it feels so crappy if you realize you forgot to actually use it. It’s easy to think all kinds of unkind things about yourself for forgetting. But try to reframe this problem into an insight into your planning method. Clearly something isn’t working, so instead of trying the same thing over and over, try something new.
For example, I tried drawing out a monthly goals list next to my calendars until very recently. I never looked at those goals until the end of the month when I migrated. It was demoralizing. So instead of putting myself through that frustration again and again, I simply cut the goal list altogether.
Another example of this was my failure to follow through on Instagram challenges. I drew out the prompts each month, and each month I had a page like the one below. Again, I decided to cut my losses and try again later. I stopped adding the prompts to my bullet journal and I’ve been perfectly fine about it! I realized that I was trying to do too much each month and I needed to pare down a bit. At some point, I think I’ll be ready to add on a few extras, but I’m not quite there yet.
Misspelling and Mislabeling
These little errors aren’t a huge deal, but they are annoying as hell when you realize the mistake. They happen to everyone at some point, and there’s no fully getting rid of them forever. But they are good indicators of how well you were paying attention to your hands as you wrote them out. Perhaps the mistake happened when you were stressed and worrying about the future or dwelling on the past. Either way, these hiccups could point out a desperate need for a hot bath or some meditation.
If you ever want to get ahead of these silly little mistakes, grab some stickers from my Coffee Fox Creations shop! There’s all kinds of stickers that can help you plan out whatever you could need. And best of all – no worries about spelling!
Messing Up a Page
This was a funny little mistake that had a simple lesson: don’t use liquid glue in my Leuchtturm! It makes the page impossibly warped and wrinkly. Never again! Now if I want to stick something in, I just use stickers. Much easier, cleaner, and quite a lot prettier too. Check out my sticker shop and see for yourself!
Failure to Fill out a Log or Tracker
This is one of the more frustrating bullet journal mistakes I make on a regular basis. I go for days without filling out my habit tracker or gratitude log. These can teach a few things. First, I learn that I need some kind of reminder. The fix was simple. I just added “fill habit tracker” and “fill gratitude log” to my list of habits. It’s not a perfect fix, but it’s been quite helpful as a reminder. The second lesson is about grace. About not beating myself up for making a mistake, and accepting this as a bump in the road. I have learned to tell myself that I’ll try harder next time and get closer to my goals. After all, I’m not perfect, so I can’t possibly hold myself to a perfect standard.
Common Setbacks to Success
There are plenty of bullet journal mistakes you can make, but these setbacks are far more damaging than a simple misspelling. If you can overcome these obstacles, then your organization success is within grasp.
Comparing to Others
One thing that everyone does (including myself!) is compare to others.
My bullet journal isn’t nearly that pretty!
Her set up is so much better than mine!
I can never make my headers look so cool!
This is a horrible habit that can lead to low self-worth, negative self talk, and a mounting fear of starting anything. After all, what’s the point of starting if your bullet journal won’t look as good as that one you saw on Instagram? Why even try if you’re just going to fail miserably?
It’s easy to feel frustrated. I totally get it. There are a ton of other bullet journalists for whom I have wicked bullet journal envy. But you have to step back and remember: Why did you start your bullet journal in the first place? Was it to look pretty or was it to get your life organized?
You can have the best of both worlds, but you have to be willing to make a few bullet journal mistakes along the way. In order to organize and plan using your bullet journal, you have to be willing to make it look less than Instagram ready. If you want to make it pretty and decorated, you’re going to have a few screw ups along the way where it just didn’t turn out like you’d hoped. Basically, you have to be willing to get some skin in the game. You won’t succeed unless you are willing to risk a little bit via trial and error. If you’re wanting to find new techniques to getting organized, make sure to subscribe to the Fox Den Newsletter on the right to receive my free week-long email course Fast Paced Productivity!
Using Poor Materials
When you are first starting out, it may be a bit scary to commit to a whole bunch of stationery. I was hesitant when I began, so I only allowed myself one new journal – an Ecosystem. This was a fine notebook, but it wasn’t anything special. It took me two years to get through it because I hardly used it. There were many reasons why, but the main reason was that bullet journaling wasn’t fun. I didn’t really enjoy it back then. It was just a thing I did to keep track of homework.
Then I bought a Leuchtturm1917. This beautiful journal changed the way I used my bullet journal. I was drawn to the pages every day, and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience of writing on those creamy pages. I got one for my Morning Pages, too, because I loved the experience of using it so much. Pretty soon, I bought a handful of nicer pens to use for my planning, like my Staedtler Triplus Fineliners and my very first fountain pen, the Pilot Metropolitan. Then I expanded and got my hands on my first brush pens (Tombows), which sparked a brand new hobby. Brush lettering has opened up creative channels I didn’t even know I had!
My point is that those handful of new supplies changed bullet journaling from a boring experience to a wonderful one, helping elevate my planning. Of course you can use whatever materials you have laying around the house! But for me, the switch in supplies made a world of difference and I’m using my bullet journal so much more than I ever did before. If you want to see the materials that make me excited to crack open my bullet journal ever day, make sure to check out the My Supplies page for all my recommendations.
Sacrificing Usability for Style
I think just about every bullet jouralist has done this at least once. They spend a lot of time making a spread beautiful and it just stinks for planning. Or they make it look great and are afraid to mess it up, so they don’t really use it. This is so silly!
By all means, dress up your bullet journal! I do it and it helps me tremendously in staying engaged and interested with my planning. But don’t feel like you must preserve your beautiful journal and use that as an excuse to not plan! I would rather get things done than have an IG feed full of gorgeous photos any day.
The same works in reverse, by the way. Don’t let efficiency get in the way of style. If you enjoy having a lovely, decorated journal with lots of spunk, then go to town! Just because it’s a planning tool doesn’t mean it has to be a bore. You do have time to doodle and hand letter in your bullet journal if you enjoy it. Find the balance that works for you and you can have your cake and eat it too.
Never Switching it Up
One of the biggest things that can hold people back in their growth is a refusal to change. Some people tend to use the same pens for the same layouts and the same everything. That can get boring and lead to stagnation. My advice is to simply change things here and there. It doesn’t need to be drastic or all at once. But over time, you should be able to look at your bullet journal and see an evolution.
For me, the gradual transition to my style today is rapid and very obvious. I go through phases of obsessing over brush pens, fonts, layouts, styles…. I just recently began a huge watercolor phase that has completely changed my bullet journal! These changes have helped me hone my planning method to a more efficient model. I’ve grown my handwriting abilities and learned new skills. I’ve learned new things about myself along the way, too.
The best way to make the bullet journal work for you in the best way possible is to experiment. Try new methods and tools, even if you aren’t wild about them from the get go. I tried vertical dailies despite my hesitations, and I discovered that I LOVED the new layout! You may surprise yourself and stumble upon a method that makes your whole system work better. You won’t know until you try!
Remember that you are just a person. You have flaws, your life is messy, and you will make mistakes. That’s wonderful, isn’t it? Life would be painfully boring if we were perfect all the time. If there is one thing that I have learned about being an adult, it is that life is hard. Every day is a struggle toward some kind of goal. As a kid, I thought that adults had their lives together and knew what they were doing. Nope! I haven’t met a single person who is totally on top of everything. Anyone who appears that way is faking it.
Knowing that this struggle will always be here is a little bit comforting. This is totally normal, and no one is excluded. If you ever feel like you are alone in your battle, shrug off that weight and realize we are all just figuring stuff out every day. I kept that in mind when writing my eBook Capture Your Creativity. In it, I wrote about my many struggles with organization, acceptance, and shouldering responsibility, as well as the techniques that helped me find balance.
Plans change, mistakes are made, and we just need to go with the flow. Be thankful and laugh at your screw ups and realize that tomorrow is a new day. You can always flip the page to a brand new fresh piece of paper and try again. No mistake is forever – especially in your bullet journal!
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