When I started my very first bullet journal in December 2015, it seemed like the natural next step after five and a half years of preprinted school planners. (I got my first one in fourth grade, at nine years old.) Pen-and-paper planning definitely worked for me, but I had my own ideas for customized page layouts and lists.
Three and a half years — and three filled notebooks — later, I’ve decided to switch it up yet again. My parents got me a lovely traveler’s notebook cover last Christmas; since I’d have to set up a new planning notebook / system anyway, and in September I start a new phase of my life (professional pharmacy classes), the timing seemed perfect.
BuJo vs. TN
Before I jump into it, I wanted to provide some context in case anyone reading this is unfamiliar with either or both planning systems.
The bullet journal (BuJo or bujo) in its original, simplest incarnation was created by Ryder Carroll for quick and easy “logging” of daily tasks, events, and memos; the system was designed to be adaptable for each user’s needs. Now the Internet is full of elaborate, colorful bujo spreads, and most people seem to see it as an art notebook. But I certainly don’t consider myself artistic; aside from a few doodles to commemorate mock trial competitions or high school graduation, I stick to colorful pens, stickers, and photos.
I haven’t been able to find the originator of the traveler’s notebook (TN), but as I understand it, TN can refer to either the cover which holds all the inserts (the notebooks inside), or to the cover and inserts together. Where the bullet journal is a single-notebook aggregation of everything the user wants to track, the traveler’s notebook is a collection of notebooks that each have a distinct purpose. Some people include an art journal or a small folder for stickers, or split work and personal planning into separate notebooks.
In short, these are different but overlapping concepts — in fact, you can have a bujo within your TN, as I do!
In the images above you can see the progression of physical notebooks I’ve gone through.
Although that first generic brand grid notebook was bulkier and much cheaper than anything I’ve used since, and I mostly used black ballpoint pens and cheap Daiso highlighters, it gave me a lot of space — literally and metaphorically — to get used to the system and experiment with setting up spreads. It was a homework planner and a calendar and a scrapbook all in one. To this day, I refer back to some of my past layouts when I’m planning new spreads or am just feeling nostalgic. (When I finish a bujo, I take and store photos of all the pages for easy later access.)
My second and third bullet journals fluctuate between decorative and minimalist based on how much time and energy I had while setting up each month. Both are dot grid, which is nice for spacing different elements in each layout, but the pages are pretty thin so there’s ghosting: you can see the “ghost” of the ink on the backside of each page. (Which is different from bleeding, where the ink seeps all the way through the page.) A lot of these spreads are variations on each other since I had gotten a pretty good idea of what kind of setups worked for me, and I kept up my habit of posting in movie tickets and Polaroids to commemorate fun times.
And that brings us to the present day!
All things considered, my planning system hasn’t changed all that much in the switch to a TN; the spreads are still very similar to my bujo spreads, and my daily pages still use my version of the bullet journal key:
🕒 a simple clock for events (I just draw a circle and the clock hands at 3 o’clock; there isn’t a matching keyboard symbol so I put the clock emoji here instead)
☐ empty checkbox for priority tasks (drawn with a stencil because I’m extra like that)
🗹 checked box for completed priority tasks
• dot for all other tasks
✔ check for completed tasks
> arrow for tasks “migrated” (moved) to another day
\ slash for tasks in progress
My traveler’s notebook cover is from Webster’s Pages; it’s made of PU leather (artificial) and already proving itself much more durable than my past notebooks. Which is definitely important to me since I took my bujo just about everywhere and pulled it out multiple times per day!
Currently I only have two notebooks (“inserts”) in my traveler’s notebook; I’ve abandoned both my analog blog planners in favor of exclusively using the spreadsheet, and I don’t really have anything else I need to keep track of. As for why I’ve split monthly and weekly/daily spreads into two notebooks: a) for me it’s easier to mark one page in each notebook to refer to, rather than flipping back and forth in a single notebook; and b) I have different preferences for the two different kinds of spreads.
My dot grid insert is from ElrohirLeather on Etsy; I ordered a 3-pack of the Cahier / wide size in cream parchment. The color and texture of the pages is lovely, and the paper is thick enough to minimize ghosting. Since I’m trying a new layout I’ve only set up the cover page and my July overview. I’ve gone back to the original monthly setup — listing the dates down the page instead of drawing out boxes for each day — since it gives me more space to write and plan, and it doubles as date labels for the habit tracker on the facing page; both of these follow layouts that appear repeatedly in my bullet journals.
Although my grid notebook annoyed me when creating more visual spreads because I needed my lines to be perfectly aligned with the guide lines, those same lines were helpful in keeping my writing neat. (Once my mom described my handwriting as “so neat that every imperfection [such as when my letters don’t sit neatly on the line, whether said line is visible or not] stands out.”) So I’m using a softcover XL Moleskine for weekly and daily spreads, since I don’t need horizontal spacing guides for these simple layouts. My weekly spreads are for tracking events and deadlines, as well as meal planning (Breakfast / Lunch / Dinner); the daily spreads are literally just to-do lists. #EveryDayIsGYSTDay
As with all planning systems, of course, the TN only works if I actually use it. So I haven’t bothered with much embellishment, going back to basics to get comfortable with the system and make using it a habit. That said, I’m sure as my needs and preferences change over time, it will too.
(For those who noticed that I’m posting for the second day in a row, don’t get too excited / annoyed, I’m not switching to posting daily! My July blog schedule is a little wonky due to a couple of blog tours and my BE Summer host dates, but for the most part I’ll still be posting every other day.)
Do you use any kind of planner, whether pre-printed, bullet journal, traveler’s notebook, Filofax, discbound, or something else? Does embellishment / decoration encourage or discourage you from sticking with it? What’s worked best for you?