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After seeing how much Bullet Journaling has completely transformed my life for the better, I thought it was high time that someone wrote a Bullet Journal guide for Muslim women.
That’s not to say that this guide won’t help you if you’re not Muslim, but I found so many ways that the Bullet Journal method can be adapted for the specific needs of Muslims (particularly women who are running Muslim homes) and it felt like nobody was really talking about them.
So I decided to talk about them…and I found it really hard to stop. 😂
Before I even go into all of the nitty gritties about setting up a new journal for the year, I want to give a brief intro to Bullet Journaling for those that are completely new to this concept.
Firstly, do not be intimidated by the images you see when you type “Bullet Journal” into Instagram or Pinterest.
I remember the first time I’d heard of this Bullet Journal (also known as “BuJo”) phenomenon, I did a quick search, saw the images that came up in Google and I was just like “Yeah, that’s gonna be a no from me, dawg.” It was just WAY too complicated, and I had enough going on as it is.
I was a homeschooling mom of two at the time, my older son (Saad, aka “Beau”) had leukemia and so I had lots of doctor’s appointments and medicines to keep track of, my husband traveled a lot for work ,so I often had to manage my home as a single parent. We live in a joint family system, so I was taking care of two senior citizens with varying degrees of physical dependence and had very specific dietary needs as well as a strict mealtime schedule that I needed to follow. And on top of all of that, I had this blog that I really wanted to work on in whatever spare time I could squeeze in.
And, did I mention that I live in Pakistan, where it’s totally normal for people to drop in unexpectedly and you are called upon to produce a three-course meal on the fly?
Yeah, I ain’t got no time for some fancy shmancy journaling trend.
But then I actually saw the explanation of bullet journaling by the man that invented the idea, Ryder Carroll. It’s a super short video (a little over 4 minutes long) and it breaks down the concept in the simplest way possible. Check it out here.
I was intrigued, so I also read his book, The Bullet Journal Method. First of all, I was pleasantly surprised by how well written it was. I was expecting a book about organization and planning to be very cut and dry, but Carroll’s book is a pleasure to read. He draws beautiful and humorous examples from his own life as well as bringing in stories of people who have changed their lives with BuJo. I highly recommend you read it, because it will leave you with a ton of ideas for how you can customize your Bullet Journal to suit your own unique lifestyle and goals.
I started implementing the ideas from the book in my regular day planner, and in 2020, I made a full transition to the Bullet Journal method for ordering my day.
Alhamdulillah, things are SO much easier to manage now.
One of the biggest ways this has helped me is that I feel a lot less overwhelmed with everything I need to do. My brain feels less burdened, I’m a lot more organized, and I find myself more motivated to complete my tasks. I’m surprised at how much I’ve been able to accomplish this year, and having a record of my progress AND my mistakes helps me to see how I can continue to improve, Inshallah.
I’d love to bring that kind of peace and clarity of mind to you.
Don’t get caught up in the fancy stuff — unless you want to
The actual practice of bullet journaling requires nothing special, no drawing or fancy lettering skills needed. You don’t even need a ton of supplies, just a notebook (ANY NOTEBOOK) and something to write with. Preferably, a pen, and it’d be great if it wrote well and was visible. (I am personally obsessed with this pen and use it exclusively for my journal. Is it weird that I have a favorite pen or are there other stationery enthusiasts out there? Let me know in the comments.)
Anyway, as I was saying before my ode to office supplies, the point of a bullet journal is to SIMPLIFY and ORGANIZE your life, not overly complicate it.
The trend of making bullet journals all fancy emerged because, well, journals are personal, and some people want their journal to reflect their artistic personality. Plus, if you’re going to be look at something every day, sometimes it helps if that thing is pretty to look at and fun to work in.
Personally, I love decorating my Bullet Journal. Art became a therapeutic outlet for me after Beau passed away. Drawing and painting in my journal makes the organizing process a lot more fun and it keeps me motivated to continue using it every day.
However, sometimes I don’t have the time or the energy to do much to the page, and on those days, my spreads look pretty bare. Whatever you choose, make sure it’s something that keeps you motivated to work in your BuJo and doesn’t hold you back from using it productively.
Bullet Journal Guide Step 1: Buy the Best Notebook for YOUR Needs
The dot grid style is the most popular format for bullet journals because it gives you some structure for making grids and calendars or just writing in a straight line, but they are open enough that, if you want to do something more artistic or vary the layout a bit, you have the flexibility to do so.
If you want more structure and to keep it super simple, go ahead and get a lined notebook. If you want no structure at all, a completely blank notebook (or sketchbook) might be best for you.
For size, I personally prefer A5 size (roughly 5.8” x 8.3”, although sizes vary slightly from notebook brands) it’s large enough to give me space to plan things out, but compact enough to throw in my purse if I need to take it on the go. It’s a pretty popular size for Bullet Journals, so if you’re a beginner, it’s a safe size to start with. If you’re an artist and you need lots of room to draw fancy things and you don’t mind a bigger notebook, you can try the slightly bigger B5 (roughly 6.9” x 9.8” ) size.
Last year, I used a fairly simple and inexpensive A5 dot grid notebook that I purchased from AliExpress (I’d link it here, but I can’t find it on the site anymore). Here’s what I liked about it so that you can look for the same features: it lays flat, has two bookmark strings, the pages are already numbered and there’s a pocket in the back for storing things (like the takeout menu from my favorite Chinese restaurant 😂 ).
The only thing I didn’t like about it was that I wished the paper was a bit thicker. The pages were 100 gsm which is sufficiently thick enough that I could do a light bit of watercoloring or working with marker and it won’t bleed through. However, I had some minor issues with markers or stamps ghosting through, and if I was a bit heavy handed with my art, I’d even get color bleeding through to the other side.
If you’re a beginner, I still highly recommend starting with a notebook like this. Unless you know for SURE that you’re going to be taking paint and heavy markers to the paper, you really don’t need something that thick.
This year, I upgraded to an Archer & Olive A5 dot grid notebook. With the exception of pre-numbered pages, it has all of the features of the previous one, with the bonus of thicker pages (160 gsm) which makes it a bit pricier. The main reason for the switch is that I’ve heard that the Archer & Olive pages can handle more mediums (I’ve even seen people take gouache and inks to the paper without any issues). I’ll update you guys on whether it worked better for me or not.
So now that we’ve got our basic supplies, let’s get into the specifics for set up
Cover Page Ideas
As your Bullet Journal guide, I am obliged to tell you that you don’t NEED a cover page, you can just jump right in and start with setting up your index, but I personally love having something interesting at the front of my BuJo.
For my bullet journal cover page, I like to pick a message that I want to keep in mind as the overall theme for my year. Something inspiring that speaks to me personally on what to work on in the year to come.
Last year was 2020, and I did a play on words with 20/20 being the term used for perfect vision. I designed an eye chart with the words “Focus on the Aakhirah.” (By the way, if you want this to download and print for your own journal, you can get it here). This helped me to really contemplate my life and focus on what really mattered. It helped me let a lot of things go, both emotionally and materially.
This year, I wanted the message to be “Begin Again.” There are things going on in my personal life that speak to this theme, but I also feel like, for a lot of people, life in 2021 is about “beginning again” after COVID. Some people have had to make major changes in their lives and careers and this is a great way to remember that we can always begin again. Like the first leaves that poke through after the harsh winter, we face a long and hard journey to growth, but we can do it.
The Index Pages
Before we go any further, check to make sure your pages are numbered. If they’re not, do that now. Yes, all of them. Yes, now. I’ll wait.
While theoretically, you COULD number your pages as you go along, I’ve found that it’s hard to do so in practice. If you forget to do so, you risk mis-numbering your pages and not being able to find things in your journal, and wasn’t the whole point of this thing to make your life LESS stressful? So do yourself a favor and number everything now.
Unless you plan on making a TON of collections (more on what that is later) and you have a notebook with a LOT of pages, I don’t see you needing more than two pages for your index. If you want to play it safe you can leave 4 pages like Carroll does in the YouTube video, totally up to you.
Your index is where you keep note of everything in your journal so that you can easily find it when you need it. Every time you make a new section or “Collection,” you’ll enter the page numbers for that here.
How to Use Your Future Log
I used these calendar stamps to set up mini-calendars of each month. I use it with this permanent, waterproof ink so that I can highlight it without smudging. If I had an appointment or event coming up, I’d highlight the date on the mini calendar and used the space next to it to write in the date, the time, and what it was. This was a great way for me to see, at a glance, what days I was going to be busy on months that I hadn’t set up yet (because in BuJo, you set up as you go).
You can color-code your appointments if you want to, but I didn’t feel the need. I also recommend you write in any days off such as holidays, and breaks for yourself, your spouse and your kids. This way, if you see that you might get a long weekend due to a holiday, you can plan a family outing, trip or activity well in advance (and potentially save! Double score!).
Make sure you write in the estimated beginning and end of Ramadan (in pencil, of course, because every year that depends on the outcome of the Moon Sighting aka Moon Fighting (if you know what I mean!) This way, Ramadan won’t catch you unawares and you’ll be able to plan for it ahead of time. Do the same for Eid ul Adha so that you can make arrangements for your sacrifice well in advance.
Set Up Your Collections
Right after my Future Log, I like to set up a few of my “collections” and then get into my monthly set up.
Collections are an awesome (and perhaps my favorite) feature of Bullet Journaling. They are specialized sections or pages of your Bullet Journal to group related tasks or information. This is how you can start to customize your journal to help you achieve your individual goals and perform at your personal best.
They are SO important to my productivity that I’ve decided to dedicate an entire post on how to use collections to maximize your productivity as a Muslim woman.
Okay we’re almost to the end of this ginormous post, thanks for sticking with me this long. Don’t go anywhere yet, because this next part is where the rubber hits the road.
Here’s how to set up to get the best day-to-day use out of your Bullet Journal.
In the Bullet Journal Method, Carroll suggests setting up the month in list form with just the numbers of the day and a letter or two indicating the day of the week. This allows you to set up a calendar in seconds and you can instantly get started putting in your appointments and deadlines. Give it a try this way and see if it works for you.
For me, personally, it’s hard to visualize the month properly that way. I prefer taking the time to draw up a traditional calendar grid. It might take me ten minutes or so to do it, but it’s worth the time for me in order to comfortably plan my month.
If you plan your meals, this might be a great place to do that. It will allow you to make sure you’ve got enough variety in your meals (so you’re not serving daal chawal every three days) and you can easily look at past months for inspiration if you can’t think of anything. (I actually have a different system for planning my meals, but I’ll discuss that another day, Inshallah.)
I put in little tracking sections on the calendar so that, at the end of that month, I can enter the metrics of how my blog and social media accounts performed. This gave me a way to keep track of my blog’s progress throughout the year. If you’re not a blogger, you might consider putting in a tracker for something else that you’re trying to improve. Maybe you want to record your average running time or record your BMI at the end of the month if you’re looking to get healthy.
I also add in a notes section for tasks that need to be done that month but not on any particular day (e.g. shopping for summer/winter clothes). You could also use that space for setting monthly goals or targets.
Daily Tasks Section
This is a thing that I invented for myself out of necessity, and it’s honestly been a real lifesaver. The way it works is that you think of an ideal day, one in which you get up on time and do everything you’re supposed to do. Now write down everything you need to do that day in the order you need to do it.
For example, my daily tasks section starts with “Tahajjud” (voluntary night prayer). Do I pray tahajjud every day? Unfortunately, no, not yet. But on an ideal day, I woke up on time to pray Tahajjud, so it goes in my “Daily tasks” list. Then I write down every little thing I’d need to do, even scheduling in something that should be obvious like brushing my teeth and the five daily prayers.
Taking the time to plan an ideal day will increase your likelihood of achieving more ideal days, or at least getting you as close to an ideal day as possible. If something throws you off track, you know where to pick up and move on. If you’re running out of time, you can quickly scan the list of what you need to in a day and make decisions about what you can skip and what you can partially complete.
An essential part of this section is that you schedule in any medication that you take or that you are responsible for giving to someone else. When I was taking care of Beau, I scheduled in any medications that I needed to give him based on when they fell in the order of my day.
If there’s a task that you only do on certain days but not others (e.g. a medicine that you take once a week, or something you do on alternate days) write it in the schedule, but put a parenthesis around it so that you can ask yourself if today is a day that you would need to do that or not. If you’re worried you might forget which days you need to do that, make a note of it in the entry.
I don’t put in times for the daily tasks section (unless it’s something that NEEDS to be done at a certain time) because it keeps me from feeling pressured into completing tasks by a certain time or constantly feeling like I’m “running behind.”
I have a love/hate relationship with the habit tracker. I love that it often allows me to see the connection between the amount of time I put into something and the result that I got from it at the end of the month. I love that it motivates me to see where I’m lacking and push myself to do more.
What I hate is the pressure that I sometimes feel to have a perfect tracker at the end of the month. I also hate how tedious it is to record each habit. I think it’s for that reason that I kinda stopped using it during Ramadan last year and then never got back to using it again. But I also fell out of touch with some of the goals associated with those habit trackers, which I’m not happy with.
As tedious as it was to maintain sometimes, keeping the trackers helped me stay focused and move forward on my goals. This year, I’m going to back to doing them again, Inshallah.
Bullet Journal Guide to the Daily Log
A popular trend I’ve seen posted on social media is making very beautifully laid out “Weekly Spreads,” in which the days of the week are laid out on the page and it’s assumed that the space allotted will be enough for everything you need to record for that day.
I have days where there are a thousand things that I need to do or process and others in which not much happens (or there’s one major thing that I’m involved with for most of the day). In other words, some days need whole pages to themselves, and others might only need a couple of lines.
If you watch Carroll’s video or read his book, you’ll see that the whole purpose of the Bullet Journal is for you to log and collect your day. It’s not just about recording tasks, but also recording notes, thoughts, observations, ideas, events. You’ll learn how to rapid log (trust me, it’ll take you less than five minutes to pick up) which will make you more efficient at writing everything down.
If someone came over, I made note of it in my daily log. If I went somewhere, I made note of it. I took note of special activities I did with my son, “Kit,” or any days I felt unusually down. I also recorded what I cooked for dinner every night. You’d be surprised how many times these seemingly inconsequential entries actually came in handy. The Bullet Journal Method also talks about how sometimes small notes made a big impact in people’s lives.
I used a stamp to keep track of how much water I drank each day. This was more helpful to me in the winter months, because I tend to forget hydration when it’s cold. I didn’t bother with it in the summer.
Trust me, summers in Pakistan are so hot that NOBODY forgets to drink water.
Another practice you might like for yourself is that I used little decorative memo pages to write in Quranic verses on each page. I picked the verses at random based on whatever I saw online or was in my own readings. I often found myself reflecting on how that verse applied to my day or what was going on in my life at the time.
If you don’t want to do that, you might want to write inspirational or funny quotes to keep you going.
And that concludes this first part of my Bullet Journal Guide for Muslim women. I appreciate you giving me your valuable time, and I truly hope that this post helps you create a sense of peace and order in your own life.