Because of my terrible organisational skills and reliance on lists and planners, and my annoyance with digital planners, I recently decided to try out keeping a Bullet Journal. For those unfamiliar with the concept, I urge you to check out the original Bullet Journal website.
My first bullet journal, though a beautiful and fun notebook I bought in Tiger (where else?!), and with its geeky cover being perfect for me, turned out to be too big and cumbersome due to its A4 size. I hadn’t realised that A5 is specified for a reason. Here’s a picture of its cover:
[picture of the cover of a hard backed A4 notebook, with a colourful Periodic Table of the Elenents as its cover design.]
So, last week, again in Tiger, I bought this A5 notebook, with a lovely soft cover, and a page marker ribbon. I decorated it with black foam letters (again, Tiger!). The inside is also dotted rather than lined, which means you can be more flexible in how you use it. In fact, it looks very similar to the most popular notebooks used for Bullet Journals, but at a fraction of the price. My only regret is that I didn’t buy a load more, as they now seem to be out of stock.
[image is the cover of a black A5 notebook, with the words ‘Bullet Journal’ written in black foam letters, written diagonally so they fit. Some coloured page markers are visible poking out the right hand side.]
Lots of people use pens, often fountain pens, to write in their Bullet Journals. I hate writing in pen, and find pencils and colouring pencils, much easier to write with. They are also useful because I usually make so many mistakes or need to straighten out my writing. But because I can’t sharpen pencils without causing wrist pain, I like to use mechanical pencils. The one I use comes with interchangeable, coloured leads. These are stored in a handy case, the side of which I use as a ruler when drawing lines. Again I bought it in Tiger and they don’t seem to stock them anymore so I’ll have to find something else when all the lead runs out.
[image of a pink mechanical pencil, next to a case with many coloured leads.]
As with all Bullet Journals, I start with an Index page, which states what’s in the journal, plus a page number. I’ve divided the page into two, with my monthly and daily entries on the right and everything else on the left.
[image of an index page of a Bullet Journal, with entries plus page numbers, written in pencil]
The index is the main idea behind the Bullet Journal. It means that you can find the things you need to find, quickly and efficiently. After that, what you put in the journal is very much up to you, though there are one or two recommended sections.
I read someone claiming the Bullet Journal is ableist. In my opinion, the basic bullet journal is quite the opposite. The person’s complaint seemed to stem from the incredibly ornate and “beautiful” bullet journals they saw online on places like Instagram. Often these have amazing calligraphy and artwork, and do look like they’d be difficult for disabled people to emulate. But there really is no need to copy these! The basics are the basics and don’t need to be fancy. Mine certainly aren’t. In fact, my first Bullet Journal contained no colours at all. Also, because you have to write it out by hand, and my hand gets tired and hurts if I write too much, I keep my entries etc very short and try to limit how much I write.
Other ‘core’ parts of the Bullet Journal include the Future Log and the Monthly log. The Future log allows you to note down appointments etc far into the future. Mine actually covers 13 months, I’ve no idea why I did it like that. The monthly log allows you to plan out the month your in, with appointments on one side and a to-do list on the other.
[image of two pages inside my Bullet Journal. On the left hand side page is my Furure Log, with the months Sept 2016 -Oct 2017 marked out and a few appointments pencilled in. The right hand side page contains my log for September, with appointments and events on the left and a to-do list on the right. ]
Then you have your daily lists. Here I write the date, day of week, plus any appointments. I then look at my monthly to-do list and see if I can do any of these that day. I may also write notes about that day, or thoughts I’ve had. My daily log is on the right hand page of the photo, with the words “Bad headache today” circled in red.
As you can see, on the left hand page, I’ve added a Weekly Food and Drink log. This is another area where there are Pros and Cons when it comes to Bullet Journalling with disabilities. I found a lot of people using Food logs, but also logging items such as Diets, No Sugar days and Calories Burned (or exercise logs), as well as tracking weight loss. These can obviously be very triggering for those with Eating Disorders and/or Exercise Addiction. So, I wouldn’t recommend looking at those Instagrams etc if you feel you might be triggered. My Food log, on the other hand, helps me keep on track with my eating. The aim is to eat a certain amount every hour for twelve hours a day. I also need to keep hydrated, so I track my liquid intake. And I’ve added a Milkshake chart, as these really help me stay on track calorie-wise and also lift my mood.
Two other trackers common for those with disabilities are Symptom charts and Medication trackers. I’ve incorporated these into my Bullet Journal, and hopefully I’ll remember to use them. I think they may also be useful for bringing in to show my doctor.
My symptom tracker uses a simple ‘traffic light’ colour coding. On the opposing page, I’ve started to note meals, so I don’t end up cooking the same dish too many times a week.
My medication tracker is a bit sparse as I’m not currently taking much meds, but will be discussing options with my doctor soon. So I may start taking some of them again. On the opposite page are some random doodles!
These various trackers are marked with page markers. To remember what the various colours are for, I’ve written them down just inside the cover.
I also have two other trackers, one for Weekly habits, one for Daily habits. Hopefully they’ll help me keep my chores on track. They seem to be working so far, but it’s early days!
I think these Daily and Weekly trackers, and the Monthly and Daily logs, may be the key to improving my executive function. They seem like the right tools for my neurodivergent mind. It seems many other people find Bullet Journals help their executive function. For example, many people with ADHD find them very valuable. You can read some accounts here, here and here. But the best explanation I’ve found for how Bullet Journals are helpful for ADHD is this YouTube video by the very talented Jessica McCabe.
ETA: when I wrote this post, I hadn’t been able to find many blog posts by autistics that use Bullet Journals. I’ve since found a few, such as this and this. I also found this, created by a parent who has an autistic child as well as two other disabled children, and it has lots of good tips that I’ll have to try eg a page for each medical appointment including questions to ask plus how it went. If anyone has any other blog posts they’d recommend, p,ease write them in the comments and I’ll check them out.
I’m sure I could write a lot more on this topic but I think that’s enough for now!
*I’m also aware that I’ve only added image descriptions to the first few photos, but I’m tired and couldn’t do any more. I’ll add more when I have the energy. And put that into my Bullet Journal so I won’t forget!