2021 planning tools (gasp! bujo drama!)


DISCLAIMER: Any links I provide aren’t sponsored links — I just want those who are interested to be able to find exactly what I’m talking about. 🙂

If you’ve been here for a while, you might know that I’m something of a bullet journal fanatic. You also might know that I recently started college. Naturally, as I expected, my planning habits needed to change to accomodate the sudden lifestyle change. A college student’s agenda is often filled to the brim with countless tasks, but those tasks are established months before they actually happen. It should be a comforting thing, but the sheer weight of daily to-dos felt so overwhelming at first that I didn’t know how to even start. Eventually, I had no choice but to just figure it out. (That’s kinda how college works.)

I needed some way to transfer my syllabus materials into my planning system at the beginning of the year so there were no surprises in the middle. I thought my bullet journal was completely out, and I was already mourning the loss of my favorite notebook because I had no use for it. But wait, there’s more!

At my college bookstore, I found countless planners. None of them seemed right. I couldn’t see myself using a traditional planner like I did in middle school. It just didn’t ever work for me, it felt clunky, and I didn’t like how it was already decorated. I’m the kind of person who covers my notebooks and laptop and water bottle and… everything… with stickers and other stuff. What’s a gal to do?

Then, I saw it. The Moleskine Weekly Notebook. It was a slim, black number with the personality of wet cardboard and the comfortable features of my bullet journal. The pages felt nice and homey, and it had — not one, but two — timetables for my semester schedules! It wasn’t quite a planner because on the opposite side of the weekly page, it had a lined page for notes. This was perfect, and I snatched it up.

Here are all the features I loved: year at a glance, monthly pages with spaces for notes at the bottom, 2 timetables, dated weekly pages that start on mondays (I like to see my work week and my weekend separately), weekly notes section, extra notes space in the back, a built-in pocket, bookmark, sturdy elastic band, and a 13 cm width (for reference, my typical notebooks are 14 1/2 cm).

So, I had that planning part squared away. But what about days when everything felt way to overwhelming? What about days when I had no direction and could see all of the directions I could go? Enter the Bloom Daily Planner. (Note, they don’t sell the version I have anymore, but the linked version has almost the same features and is the same size.) Desk pads are almost always too clunky to use, but this one doesn’t feel that way at all. It’s pretty, and it fulfills a big task: get my life together on days where everything feels like a mess!

It has a lot of goodies: top three to-dos, important times (great for Zoom meetings) a massive to-do section, random notes area, gratitude section, meals tracker, water tracker, and exercise/self care slot.

Alright, so that’s good. Got that done. But does this mean I don’t need *sniffs* my precious bullet journal baby anymore? Nope. I still need my bujo. It carries my hopes and dreams. It holds all my lists, poems, song lyrics, calligraphy practice, collages, journaling exercises, brain dumps, doodles, musings, and literally everything I could possibly need to write down. Lately, my “bullet journal” hasn’t been much of a planning system. I had to let go of the original system I fought so hard to keep. It served my needs for a while, but now, it’s not anything but an idea catch-all, which is what Ryder Carroll intended it to be.

I always heard people say that getting a journal is the most important thing a creative person can do, but I never understood it because I was trying to adhere to what the internet told me to do. I didn’t like habit trackers or massive monthly calendars or anything like that. I realized that I hate structure. Me! Crazy, right? My whole school life has been nothing but structure. But it took a massive lifestyle change to realize that I love freedom, and a no-rules notebook allows me that.

So what am I using? Well, in the past, I’ve had two Leuchtturm1917 journals and a Rhodia Webnotebook. Leuchtturms were a great starting point, just to figure out the baseline and to get used to that kind of notebook. I loved my Rhodia Webbie, and I’ll definitely keep using it until the pages fill up (which won’t be long at the rate I’ve been journaling). But I complain a lot about the dots. I wanted my pages to feel more structured for calendars, maybe some trackers, and other more bullet journal-y things.

I won’t sugarcoat it — I bought a hardcover Moleskine with squared pages. I know! The bullet journal community is quaking! For reasons I cannot comprehend, the bujo community has shunned Moleskines. I don’t get it. I feel no difference in paper quality from the Leuchtturm, and in fact, I think Moleskines hold up better from wear than Leuchtturms do! My last Leuchtturm, Charlie, looks so awful and beat up from a year of use. My Moleskine planner still looks like new, and I bought it 6 months ago.

The paper does ghost, but so does Leuchtturm paper. Frankly, so does the Rhodia paper I’m using now. I’m stepping out into the shunned world of Moleskine with no regrets.

Okay, that was a little dramatic, but I know that bullet journal users are super particular about their planning choices (coming from me!) and would appreciate a little extra pizzazz. Anyway, if you’d like to read 10 ways you can use a bullet journal that you’ve probably never thought of, you can become a subscriber to my blog. I’d like to know how you plan to, erm, well, plan for 2021. Are you a premade calendar person? Digital? Bullet journal fanatic like me? Do tell!

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starting a bullet journal? read this first.


It’s a new year, and LOTS of people are excited about trying a new bullet journal! That’s so cool, and I love to see everyone doing this planning system for the first time. However, I think there are a few things we need to remember.

  1. It’s not all about how pretty it looks. This is it! I’m starting off this list with the single most important thing! I rant about this all the time. New bullet journal-ers are SO excited to start, but they often start for the wrong reason. Instead of telling you what it is supposed to be, I’m going to tell you what it isn’t. The purpose of a notebook is not to compare your art or handwriting to another person’s notebook. It’s not to be the perfect planner or a gorgeous container of paper that’s supposed to get you thousands of followers on Instagram. It’s not for anybody else to enjoy. It’s not fluffy or stupid, either. It’s not a shallow thing. So what is it? It’s for you. What do you want it to be?
  2. You don’t need special stationery. Look, I love pens and pretty stationery as much as the next fanatic, but a true bullet journal sticks to two basic objects: a black pen and a notebook. That’s it. Not a tombow dual brush pen, not a mildliner, not a crayola supertip marker, not sparkly washi tape… It relies on only a notebook and a pen. Hey, I know someone who uses a binder and notebook paper for easy removal of pages, so I guess you don’t even really need a notebook. For the most part, I just use a black pen and my trusty hardcover dotted notebook. I’m not going to link it because I don’t think you need to copy what works for me to get good use out of your notebook. (However, if you truly want to know, go to my YouTube channel, Rachel Ellynn M.) Just use what you think you need.
  3. Keep it simple at first. So, basically, the original Ryder Carroll format isn’t what I stick to. However, it’s the method that was designed to work for ADHD and he wants it to be universal — until you find something that works better for you. I found a system that I altered, and it worked more and more the more I allowed it to show itself to me. I couldn’t have found that system unless I tried the bare bones and decided other things were going to work better. For example, I started using daily rapid logging like the original method. Then, I switched to weekly spreads (this was a mistake because I saw how pretty the ones on Pinterest were and wanted to make them like this). After that definitely didn’t work, I went back to daily rapid logging and found that it was best for my running mind. I guess my point is, don’t get too excited about all the crazy trackers and collections you can implement until you know for sure what basic pieces work for you.
  4. Do a mental inventory before anything else. This is the most therapeutic part, and I love it so much because it dumps out your mind! Seriously. There are three sections: what I’m working on, what I should be working on, and what I want to work on. Sounds kind of easy, but you really have to sit down and think about it. Some people do it in sections of their lives, like school, work, personal, family, spiritual… I like to dump it all into one. Just make three columns, label them, and start writing. Now, look at the things on all the lists in one. Which items are non-negotiable? Circle them. Which items can you not care less about? Cross them out. If you don’t absolutely need to do something, and you don’t want to do it, then here’s a simple revelation. Only put priority items on your plate. The mental inventory can help you weed those out.
  5. Carry it everywhere. I’m sure people will dispute about this, but I treat my bullet journal much like car keys, a wallet, or a cell phone… I take it everywhere. In 2020, my new one is Pepper, and she is going to get extremely acquainted with the way I live my life. If this sounds silly, I don’t care, but I think my notebook can learn about me and serve me better if I take it along for the ride. Plus, at the end of the notebook’s use, you can smile and notice all the places where you dropped it or the bookmark frayed. You can watch it age. Your journal is a piece of history. Take it and make note of anything and everything.
  6. Claim it as yours. Listen, this journal is only for you. Only you have to see it, use it, keep it up. So make it yours! Much like a blank canvas or empty house, design it the way you see fit. Keep it minimalistic and only add the bare details, or plaster it with artwork and make it crazy colorful. Mine is somewhere in between. I myself enjoy a collage or quote page every once in a while, but then again I also enjoy a quiet page for simple lists. Whatever makes you feel at home in this notebook that you’ll call home for however long it takes to fill it up. (Also, I usually start over for the new year, but I never finish the notebook, so I’m using a shorter one this year.) Let yourself take creative space in the journal that keeps your life together. It’s gonna be in your possession for a while.

So those are just six little reminders before you truly break into that notebook. I wish the best to you and your little companion.

-ellynn