6 Common Mistakes New Bullet Journal Users Experience that Lead to Frustration and Abandonment of the System…and How to Get Past Them

So….you jumped into Bullet Journal

And you found it a bit difficult to maintain. You downloaded my Free 26-page Quick Start Guide. Maybe you read through it quickly and thought to yourself,

"Who does this guy think he is? I can figure this out on my own."

Still, you’re having problems

  • “I thought this was supposed to be easy.”
  • “It’s so much work.”
  • “My iPhone is more convenient.”

I found that there are at least six mistakes that most new Bullet Journal users make that lead to frustration and abandonment of the system. Bullet Journal, like anything new you bring into your life, takes a bit of perseverance to master.

And it's not that hard to master at all...if you keep at it.

Reason 1: You Didn’t Read the Quick Start Guide at Least Three Times

When I wrote the guide I wrote it to be used alongside your Bullet Journal. If you didn’t print it out (I know that can be a hassle, but it’s worth doing), chances are you encountered a good deal of frustration in trying use the system.

Solution: Print the Guide and read it at least three times. Place it next to or even inside the Bullet Journal as you go through it. Keep it handy. If you use a small notebook, just fold the Guide in half and place it inside. If you use a large notebook (I use the Moleskine Cahier soft notebook), just staple it and place inside the back cover. Then take it out when you’re ready to make some entries.

Reason 2: You Use a Notebook That’s Too Small

These days we’re all about portability. That sometimes leads to using a small notebook. That’s fine until the portability becomes a barrier to use. You’d think that a large notebook would be less handy, but I’ve found the slim Moleskine soft notebooks (sold in three packs) are every bit as portable as the smaller 5″ x 8″ hardbound notebooks. In fact, I find that the large soft Moleskine fits into almost anything: my slim briefcase that I can place inside my motorcycle top box, a backpack, and most likely a purse (though I have absolutely no experience with this storage method).

Solution: Use a larger notebook than you think is necessary. What you’ll find is that the larger the notebook, the most space you’ll have to make it work. A larger writing space means more lines available to write, journal, sketch, plan, whatever you need for that day.

Reason 3: You Preallocate Pages for Specific Dates

This is the main problem with standard planners; they preallocate pages based on what the designer feels is necessary. By preallocating pages (I’m not including calendar spreads, collections, or quarterly planning grids), you will run into a limitation sooner or later.

Solution: Don’t preallocate any pages for dates outside of collections, calendar spreads, or quarterly planning. To do this using Bullet Journal is to automatically negate the freedom the system promises. The beauty of Bullet Journal is its flexibility. If you need half a page for Monday, fine — three pages for Tuesday, great. At times, I’ve used 10 pages for a single day’s entries. That’s because I use it for both personal and business and as my journal for writing, exploring ideas, literally everything that has to do with my life.

Reason 4: You Resist Using a Pen

Yes, it’s much quicker for those of you in the Nintendo Generation with amazingly ambidextrous thumbs to enter your to-do list into your iPhone or phablet, but again, that negates the purpose and beauty of the system.

Using a pen and paper isn't a weakness, it's actually a sign of strength.

Solution: Slow down and take this seriously. It takes resolve to resist the rapid-fire iPhone data entry method and deliberately embrace a slower process. In his book, In Praise of Slowness, Carl Honore says this:

“[It’s about] Balance: Do things fast when it makes sense to be fast, and be slow when it makes sense to be slow.”

With Bullet Journal, you have an opportunity to be slow, methodical, careful, and deliberate. The system isn’t so much about speed as it’s about eliminating fluff from our lives and in our planning. By taking the time required to curate your life via Bullet Journal, you’ll come to enjoy the process of slowing down.

Think about it, the best things in life are much better when taken at a slower pace: better health, better work, better relationships, better business, and uh..better sex. So, slow down. Take it easy when it comes to using your Bullet Journal. You’ll have a much better experience if you do.

Reason 5: You Gave Up

Hey, it happens. You, after all, are completely human. So am I. I started and stopped using Bullet Journal a dozen times before I slowed down and implemented what later became the Quick Start Guide. It’s not a crime to start over where you left off.

Solution: Don’t be so hard on yourself. No one’s perfect…OK, maybe my youngest granddaughter, but that bound to change. Simply resolve to start over again and move forward. If you want the Bullet Journal system to work for you, you have to stick with it and work through the times when you want to throw it in the trash heap and light it on fire. 👿

Reason 6: You Use More Than One Bullet Journal

I’m in the minority among Bullet Journal bloggers on this point, but I know that if you’re just starting out, trying to maintain one notebook for work and one notebook for your personal pursuits, and yet another for school becomes cumbersome and aggravating. Resistance to only using one notebook results in what I call the split-brain syndrome.

I wrote a bog post about his and you should read it. Click here to read How Using One Bullet Journal Will Help You Avoid Split-Brain Syndrome.

In the post I just linked to above, I state:

“Two data sets…lead to errors and redundant psychological traps.
  • “Do I write about this in my personal BuJo or in my Business BuJo?”
  • “Where do I record an appointment if the it affects both business and my personal life?”
  • “If I have a great insight while writing in one notebook, will the other suffer because of its absence?”

Here’s my reasoning: You only have one life. Your life contains your personal pursuits, your education, as your work experience. Separating each of these into separate notebooks is asking for trouble.

Alternatives to Consider

The popular phrase, YOLO, reminds us that we only live once. You have only one life — so give it the chance it deserves to be the one you really want to live. Mastering your Bullet Journal can make it better.

Originally published by Barry W. Morris on Boost Your Productivity With Bullet Journal on barrymorris.net on July 20, 2015.