Rocket Journal, Revisited: My New Bullet Journal for 2016

A new year often means looking back at the last year, both the good and the bad. It also means that you’re going to figure out what worked for you last year, and what you might have to change. This year, I’m continuing to use my Rocket Journal system, a fairly modified version of the Bullet Journal, but I’ve made some changes that make the system work even better for me.

One of the great parts of the Bullet Journal system is that it is made with customization in mind. For 2015 I made plenty of changes, some of which helped, while others I abandoned almost immediately. For 2016, I decided to take a step back and really figure out what I’m looking for in my journal, so I knew what to include. In order to do this, I put together a list of what I want out of it.

What I use my Rocket Journal for

The most important part of the Rocket Journal, for me, is being able to keep track of my goals for the year, as well as being able to break down big goals into smaller, manageable pieces. Depending on how complex it is, it could be broken down into tasks on the month, week, or day level.

The other part of the draw in the Rocket Journal is about looking back on events, tasks, habits, and other important things that have happened in the year. I like having a record of things, whether it’s birthdays, a friend’s wedding, or simply the daily habit tracker (Did I exercise enough? Cook? Write?).

The combination of the two makes my journal valuable for me to both look back on what I’ve done and forward to what I will be doing.

Like last year, we’ll start with…

What Stayed the Same

While I give credit to the original Bullet Journal method, at this point I’ve honestly stopped using most of the original ideas. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the original concept, it simply wasn’t working for me.

For the most part, all I kept without modification from the original method were the index, page numbering, and collections. The index and page numbers were easy enough, switching to a different notebook (see more on that below), and collections are simple enough that there’s not much more you need to add to the concept.

From last year’s system, I kept to the dotted grid layout that I had in my work journal. Overall, that made it a lot easier to organize things and draw grids when I needed to. I can give partial credit to the original Bullet Journal for this too, since in the middle of last year they released their official Bullet Journal, which is also a dotted grid.

I also kept the changes I made in my work journal last year when it came to the Yearly/Future Log and Monthly Logs. I now use a grid of each month to put important events in, and I use a calendar grid for each month to keep track of daily events. I never did like the one-line-per-day Monthly Log, and this works much better for me. The only disadvantage is having to draw the grid at the start of the month, but I found a solution to that that I’ll cover in a minute. I kept the week schedule from the work journal, but made a few tweaks there as well.

What Changed

A difficult decision was made as I was preparing for this year. I decided I was retiring my Moleskines in favor of a Leuchtturm1917 dotted notebook. I’ve been a Moleskine loyalist for a long time, so it almost felt like treason to try a new notebook. I’m glad I did, however; the Leuchtturm is definitely more friendly to the Bullet Journal method. It includes an index and page numbers, so that skips some of the most tedious tasks already. The dot grid is also more compact than on the Moleskine (26 squares wide by 38 squares tall), which makes it easier to plan out some of the more complex grids that I have, and also made creating a month habit tracker easier.

By the way, if anyone tells you they know how to pronounce Leuchtturm, they’re probably lying to you.

The biggest change for this year? Letting go of trying to make it perfect. I have seen so many “inspiration” posts of beautiful notebooks that just made me envy their creativity, but when it comes down to it, I simply don’t have the artistic ability or time to do more than a simple notebook. My handwriting isn’t great. I’m not an artist. But I do find what works for me. I borrowed some elements of the more creative journals, but I made sure to only take those that wouldn’t add more complexity than they were worth.

DailyThe second big change this year was moving from two separate journals – one for work, one for home – into one. Last year, trying that ended up adding more complexity without helping anything. It just meant two journals to keep track of. I am still glad I tried it, however, because I was able to experiment with different ways of using the journal at the same time. This helped me narrow down what I wanted for this year.

While I’m leaning a bit on the key system that I used last year, I’ve once again changed the key system to fit my needs. The original Bullet Journal key is, somehow, both too simple and too complex for me, and I just added too many unused things last year. For the most part, the key for Tasks, Events, and Notes is completely different for me (though it is based on the first version of the Bullet Journal key; it has since been drastically changed on their website). I’ve also added a separate symbol for appointments. It’s helpful for me to separate out special events (birthdays, weddings, meetups) from more practical appointments (Doctors, meetings, etc.). I also simplified and even shuffled the signifiers used in the original – I don’t even have the artistic ability to draw the “eye” that’s suggested for “explore”, and it seemed odd to me to have “!” as something other than important or urgent. Instead, I’ve changed the modifiers to those shown in the photo.

At the beginning of the book, I decided to pre-populate with my monthly calendar/log, as well as monthly tasks. While some would argue that it would defeat the purpose of journaling as you go, it helps me out since I tend to plan events out months in advance, and I know I’d fall behind on making monthly logs if I had to do it on the first of every month. With the Leuchtturm journal, there are two bookmarks, so I use those to hold my place in the current month as well as my current page, which so far has proven to make up for any inconvenience related to it. I also have columns for tracking things that I’d like to do daily or a few times a week; I don’t fill those column names in advance since my tracking can change over time. There are blank pages between the calendars (since it’s a two page spread per month, with one monthly task page) that are just earmarked for collections as I need them.

As I go, I do create the weekly schedule and tasks. The weekly schedule helps me keep track of smaller events going on that I’ll want to plan for, as well as meetings at work, that may not make it into the monthly log.

Another addition (that I borrowed from some inspiration posts) was the idea of colored “tabs” made with highlighters. This helps me tell, at a glance, what pages are related to different categories, but I can also be lazy about it, and add the tabs in at a later time when I’m not in a rush. I’ve also thrown in black tabs for each month, again to make it easier to look for what I’m looking for.

In contrast to the colored tabs, I’ve stopped using different colors for text. Doing that meant that I had to keep different colors of pens with me any time I wanted to write, and that grew unwieldy. Instead, I can still use tabs to reference (even more quickly since they’re at the edge of the page, instead of flipping through to see different colored text), and I can always fill those in hours, days, or weeks after writing if I need to.

Overall, I’m still quite happy with the Bullet Journal premise, and even though I’ve made a lot of changes, the spirit remains in something that I happily use every day.

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