New Year, New Diary?

New Year, New Diary?

Looking for new ways to keep on top of academic life? In this guest post, Nicola McGuire shares the benefits of using a Bullet Journal, and some ideas on how to get started. 
Nicola McGuire (@nicolamcguire_ ) is a PhD student in the Institute of Health and Wellbeing looking at improving psychosocial recovery from negative symptoms in individuals with experiences of psychosis and enjoys thinking critically about the contextual determinants that impact on our perceptions of mental health.

What’s a better New Year’s resolution than to find some new ways of keeping your academic life organised?

At the start of my PhD, life felt like it was getting on top of me with all the tasks that I had to do, and trying to envisage breaking that down over the course of a year was really overwhelming. My trusty diary in its traditional format became quickly dog-eared as I flicked back and forth through pages to find the dates that I had to recall for training, deadlines and supervisions – never mind time for me! Enter Bullet Journaling.

Bullet Journaling uses an essentially blank notebook to create your own organisational system; putting your day-to-day notes, future plans (both immediate and long-term) and your creative abilities in the one place! This approach has really helped me think about what things are important for me to know on a day-to-day basis and access easily. Given how much PhD life can fluctuate, this can actually be really helpful, as a Bullet Journal gives you the space you need to change sections if they aren’t working out. It can also be used as a creative outlet if you like to take your time drawing, but it doesn’t have to be- you have the freedom to choose. To get started, all you really need is a pen, notebook (I used the one from my PGR induction), a ruler (though not all layouts will require one), and the most rudimentary of drawing abilities.    

The best bit is about Bullet Journaling is that as it’s essentially just lined paper, you can do whatever you want. There are countless ways you can organise your journal, and there are plenty of suggestions for journal sections available online. These include breaking the year down into annual, monthly and daily pages with room for important notes and appointments; habit trackers where you can tick off the resolutions you have stuck to; finance planning; and creative space for reflection and sketching too.

Here's how I arranged my Bullet Journal

Yearly Summary: 

Want a place to write  all  your upcoming events? You got it! Image~ Nicola McGuire

Want a place to write all your upcoming events? You got it!
Image~ Nicola McGuire

Does your personal life blend into your PhD? Do you forget personal events because they aren’t on your mind when you’re working? Organise it all here.
I found having this section also really helped me to keep a record of my days off, as well as how much training I have taken part in. There’s also plenty of space to add things as the year goes on. 

Keeping Track:

I have pages for my supervision dates and training I've attended, and tasks that I try to keep up with regularly, like household chores. When I see them laid out all together as opposed to on separate pages, I’ve found it much easier to keep track of how I’m doing, and it keeps me motivated.

More detailed plans Image ~ Nicola McGuire

More detailed plans
Image ~ Nicola McGuire

They say there is nothing like having small, medium and long-term goals! So, for each month I have written out my own calendar to help keep track of upcoming events and manage them alongside some of the tasks I need to do before my next deadline. It’s a good medium-term option for navigating through multiple tasks at the same time and breaking things down.

Day to day:

In many ways, the infinite space a Bullet Journal affords allows you to put your events, to do list, and daily reflections all in one place. But don’t make it too long – the whole point is to write short bullet points about the tasks you need to do or have done that day. Don’t get it completed? Just re-write it in next day’s slot. This is good for me as I am a procrastinator – I have to keep re-writing those tasks I don’t get around to doing, and it keeps them in my head when I would otherwise forget.

Space for reflection:

One of the things I like most about my Bullet Journal is that if I need space to write about a more complex idea I’ve had, or some reflections on my progress, I can do it – I just take an extra page. This is partly why it’s really good not to go too far ahead in a bullet journal or leave too much or too little space on your daily pages – adjust it as needed once you get a sense of how you use it.

My favourite part of this is I also get to include a “brain dump” at the start of every week, where I get to jot down all the stuff that feels like it will leak out if it doesn’t get written down, and in my case, usually gets found on a scrunched up post-it note weeks later.  

So, there you have it: there are probably far more beautiful, artistic, and organised Bullet Journals out there, but for me, mine is something quick, simple and flexible that fits in with my life perfectly. It’s been this flexibility that probably makes it one New Year’s resolution I will actually keep!

How do you organise your #PhDLife? Let us know your tips and tricks in the comments or via Twitter. Got any favourite Bullet Journal layouts, or feel like showing your Bullet Journal off? Don't forget you can also tag us over on Instagram too- we love finding out more about UofG PGRs!


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