I first discovered the bullet journal when I was a working student. I was a Resident Assistant in the university dorms, and I had to balance all my RA duties on top of my school work. Unfortunately, I didn’t really find my groove until many years later, so I didn’t get to experience the benefit of a well-oiled bullet journal machine during my college years. Now, it’s my aim to help students discover the magic of the bullet journal and the power of an organized schedule. Thankfully, I’m not alone in this mission! Rachael Smith is a busy student who balances work, studying, and mental health all with the help of her bullet journal. Here she explains how she discovered the system that works for her and how she uses it to succeed. Rachael, take it away!
Welcome to my world of chaos!
There are three things that everyone should know about me.
- I collect literally everything I can get my hands on. I own far too many things because of it.
- At least 90% of the time, I’m anxious for no apparent reason.
- I’m pretty sure I was born disorganized.
The first one is not particularly relevant, but the latter combination has contributed wildly to the fact that I have dropped out of university not once, but twice, in the last seven years. To fifteen year old me, who was all dreams of a career and success, that notion would have been absolutely preposterous. When I turned twenty-five last year, it really started to wear me down. It felt like everyone around me had a degree or a career in their chosen field. Realistically, I know that isn’t true. But apart from owning my own house, I genuinely believed that I’d screwed up my chances of success.
When life gets hectic, pick up a journal
Then, in June of 2016, I discovered journalling. One quick glance at a friend’s journal, and the next thing I knew I was five hours deep into Pinterest. I was completely and utterly convinced that this was what I needed to make my life that little bit more complete. I can’t say I was wrong. At the end of June, I ordered my very first Leuchtturm 1917 (in a beautiful bold Red colour), Staedtler Triplus Fineliners, and some Stabilo pens. I was totally ready for July to come at me!
I quickly learned that journalling was for me in a way that nothing had ever been before. Trackers gave me a new way to look at my daily life and moods. Tasks became clear cut and realistically placed. My productivity soared, and my partner commented that I was more motivated than he had ever seen me. Given that I suffer from mental health conditions, this is nothing short of miraculous. Me? Motivated? Surely not.
After a couple of months with my journal, I started to feel ready for a challenge. The first thing that came to mind was university. But could I tackle such a daunting task? I’d dropped out before, which made it a very nerve-racking choice when I first clicked that button and signed up for my third, and hopefully final time at University.
When I first started the university process, I of course turned to my ever-willing bullet journal to come up with a way to track my progress. If there is a way to plan it, I’ve probably tried it. I’ve tried colour coding, dividing my pages into sections, you name it! But none of them really worked the way I wanted them to. I’ve dabbled in dailies, wrangled with weeklies, and crossed out more sections than I care to admit! I work shifts, so I don’t have any reliable time of day that I can rely on. I can’t go to clubs that require regular attendance, so how on earth can I work studying into what amounts to a pretty hectic life? Good study habits are important, but I needed a system.
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New year, fresh start
My journal has grown with me, and has become far more minimalist than I ever thought. I still love my bright colours, and I have a larger collection of pens than I ever expected, which allows me to add that little bit of personal touch to a functional piece of my life. I was originally all about the colour splashes! I’ll admit to serious bullet journal envy, which led me to believe that my journal had to be super pretty.
Before, when I was focusing on looks, I would write down something fairly arbitrary, such as “Continue studying section 2”. I’ll be honest with you – this gave me absolutely no direction. I would look at that blob of colour sitting in my journal, and if I couldn’t be bothered, I’d just migrate it to the next day. Helpful? No. Productive? Not a chance. Look at how few of these boxes I managed to tick off!
This led to me falling behind. Not far enough that I couldn’t recover my progress, and thankfully, that’s where my new system comes in.
A degree of success
Now I’m planning with more detail. Before I set up my weekly, I take a glance at what I actually need to do for the next week (or four) of my life. I’m drawing directly from our very own Shelby’s Master Plan here. I basically write down a list of things that the University wants me to accomplish in the next four weeks of studying. Easy! That little page is something I can check at any time, and it is my saviour. It means that no matter how I choose to set up my weekly, I know exactly what I need to do in the next seven days.
For January, I started dabbling with the concept of a running list, a marvelous idea that I came across online one day. I’ll be honest and admit it doesn’t always work! But hey, mistakes happen, and we all have bad weeks. But generally, the running list is a super helpful addition to my bullet journal.
The concept is so simple. First, I set up a column of the studying I need to do for the week, and then I set up the days of the week. I color in a box under the day I want to accomplish a task. When I don’t complete those tasks, I simply migrate them to the next day with a colorful box (with the help of my Pentel Touch pens). If I get to the end of the week and tasks remain incomplete, I just reschedule them!
When I’m feeling like changing my overarching bullet journal system, I know I’ll be keeping this running list in some form. With this, I can instantly glance at my shifts for the week and know when it’s unrealistic for me to do a lot of uni work. On days off, I can now plan extra things, or catching-up. Sometimes I get ahead of my school work, and then I can quickly see if I have less to do on certain days, so I can make other plans. It’s the perfect way to plan the hectic life of a working student!
Keeping on top of things
I can’t really express enough how important keeping time is for studying. For that reason, I’m also very diligent with my due dates for assignments. I have the due dates written down on my yearly calendar, then I migrate them to the monthly calendar. Then – you guessed it – into the weeklies. Since I’m so disorganized, this works for me to keep it all fresh in my mind. If you don’t need so many reminders, that’s absolutely fine. The beauty of the bullet journal is that it’s exactly what you need it to be.
Studying, and working full-time, is a daunting challenge. But with the right tools… well. Certainly if I, in all my scatter-brained glory can do it, then you can too! It’s just a matter of finding the right system that works for you.
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