My Bullet Journal Routine

Never one to avoid jumping on a passing bandwagon (especially one that requires new stationery), I started using a bullet journal a few months ago, and have found it a useful, flexible method for keeping track of things. I've used a personal organiser for a number of years as a calendar brain dump, but my to-do lists, time trackers, and mind maps have traditionally been housed on disparate pieces of paper and left in drawers.

Here's the original video that lays out the main ideas:

The basics

There are a few key parts to a traditional bullet journal: the index, daily log, weekly/monthly/yearly logs, and collections.  Some people put in a calendar - I already have a good system, so I haven't added this to mine.


The index is pretty simple: you number the pages as you go along and then write down the topics on a page at the back so you can look things up.

Usually in a bullet journal, you start everything on the next blank page, so the collections and logs are jumbled up together. I've modified this part of the bullet journal methodology, because I found flipping back and forth too hard, so I've separated out the daily logs and monthly logs from the collections in my current journal. The first 80 pages or so are reserved for daily logs, then 20 pages for blog post ideas and 20 pages for crafts, then some more pages for miscellaneous collections. Starting from the back, there's the index page, followed by my monthly spreads.

I don't bother numbering the pages in the daily log, and just start the page numbering in the collections section.

Daily log

The daily log can be a combination of to-do list and diary, but I only use mine as a to-do list, and it is the BEST TO-DO LIST EVER. Previously, at the end of the day, I'd have ticked some things off my list and some things wouldn't have gotten done, so I'd just work off the same to-do list until either all the things are finished or I throw it away and write a new, different list.

In my bullet journal, I write out the to-do list every morning, and tasks that didn't get done yesterday get migrated, scheduled, cancelled or, if they take less than 5 minutes, done right then. It gives a real sense of finality to be able to look back at old to-do lists without being reminded of an undone task!

Re-writing undone tasks is also a good opportunity to ask myself why something hasn't been done - is it the wrong time? Schedule it for the right time. Is there another task that needs to happen first? Put that in the next to-do list. Is the task too big and daunting? Split it up into smaller steps.

Examples of bullet journal bullets.

The reason it's called a "bullet journal" is that you use bullets to indicate the status or type of a task. I have bullet variations for completed, cancelled, migrated and scheduled tasks, as well as for things to buy, things to download, things to research, and notes.

Daily time planner

I don't tend to plan my daily schedule in advance in great detail, but sometimes I feel as though, much like Billy Pilgrim, I have come unstuck in time, and so I jot down my plans for the rest of the day to make sure I know where I am.


Weekly time tracker

I keep my weekly logs in the same place as my daily logs - they're just a big time tracker to see how much time I've got for science, and to make sure I'm scheduling enough self care activities. I don't make a weekly log every week, but sometimes they come in handy.

Monthly logs

For monthly logs, I have a habit tracker, a health log, and an exercise log. The habit tracker is a grid with the days of the month as columns and the habits I'm interested as rows - when I've done the thing, I colour in the square. The other logs are just blank pages that I write a line in every day. The health log has been very useful in combination with the habit tracker - hey, it turns out that when I don't eat properly, I get stomach ache! Who knew?


Apart from that, your bullet journal can be whatever you want it to be. Some of my pages are just doodles - on one page I have the rules of Galaxy Trucker written down, and on another, a list of all the things my cat is good at. If it's in your brain, put it on some paper, then you can either do something about it or turn the page and let it float past you.




Conference travel hacks

Summer is here and with it comes wave after wave of conferences. Here are a few ways to make conference season a little more pleasant and a little less stressful.


Having a master packing list that you consult each time you go away is the only way to make sure you don't forget anything important. Don't forget any medications that you take, earplugs, cables for electronics, pyjamas, and toothpaste.

I know it's old advice, but rolling your clothes is a great way of fitting them into your suitcase. It also means you can pull them out when you need them without having to extract them from layers of other clothes. People say it reduces wrinkling, but my other half summed it up rather succinctly when he said "it's not that you don't get creases - they're just different creases."

Roll clothes to make them fit into your suitcase.

I made a great decision a couple of years ago when I bought a pack of 10 clear plastic pencil cases. I use them for everything - make-up, medication, craft supplies, snacks, cables... If you put all your small items into clear pencil cases, you can see at a glance where they are.

Use clear plastic pencil cases for small items

I put together a little first aid kit to remedy any of the small things that would be annoying - bonjela in case of a mouth ulcer, eye drops and antihistamines in case of the dreaded pollen, antacids for stomach ache, painkillers for headaches, and plasters for small wounds.


A little folding travel plug like this one can be very useful to slip into your handbag with a USB cable for charging on the go.

When it comes to dressing for travel, comfort is key. I love stretchy clothes like leggings, t-shirts and hoodies. If you've got any sports clothes made out of moisture-wicking fabric, these are great for travelling on a hot day as they stop you feeling sweaty.

Have you ever wanted to watch the scenery rush past out of a train window, but been stopped by a big greasy forehead mark from whoever was sitting there before you? Bring a little packet of wet wipes so you can give the window a wipe and have an unobstructed view.

I don't have many other travel tips apart from - bring a book and don't put your bag on the seat next to you on a busy train like a jerk.

Hotel room hacks

Most hotels that cater for UK or Irish guests will have tea, coffee and a kettle in your room (for hotels without, my mum brings a tiny travel kettle). The tea and coffee supplied might not always be your preferred type, so I like to bring a few tea options with me (chamomile and Earl Grey are my favourites). I'm not a coffee drinker, but I've seen a few people with this AeroPress, which you put on your mug to make filter coffee for one.

If you get a stain on something you'd like to wear again, this travel wash is a great, concentrated solution that you can use in your hotel sink.

When your crumpled clothes emerge from your suitcase, a sensible person might iron them. However, if you, like me, hate ironing enough to never do it unless strictly necessary, an acceptable second choice is to hang up the garment in the bathroom before you have a hot shower. The steam will help some (but definitely not all) of the creases to drop out.

If I'm feeling particularly energetic I find it helpful to do a small workout before bed. Some exercises that you can do without equipment, that don't make weird thumping noises to disturb your neighbours, are salute to the sun, lunges, squats, planks, and most types of crunches. Equally, sometimes an exercise regime has to take a backseat to relaxing.

Poster printing

If you can, try to find a poster printing shop near to your venue so you don't have to lug a poster tube over on the plane. I've done this at my last two conferences, and it gives you a little extra time for putting the finishing touches on your poster as well as preventing problems with posters getting lost or crumpled. In both cases, it was also cheaper than getting it printed by the university!


Apps for academic anxiety

I've dealt with a huge amount of anxiety in my lifetime, mostly around exams and academic work (yes, it has occurred to me that perhaps I am not best suited to higher education, and yet here I am). I had my first panic attack at 16, when, after a statistics lesson, I came home and found that the textbook was using different notation than my teacher and I was suddenly faced with the horrifying concept that perhaps there existed maths that I can't do. After getting into mathematical biology, I have realised that the world is full of maths that I can't yet do, and I've learned to find it exciting rather than terrifying, but other feelings of inadequacy remain.

I was plagued with panic attacks for the first few months of my DPhil project, and last year the combination of anxiety and some outside factors pushed me into a depressive period, and I had to take a lot of time off work. It's mental health awareness week this week, so I thought I'd share some of the things that helped to pull me out of that bad place and back into real life.

Before I get into technological solutions, some IRL ones: talk therapy is super important and if you can push for it you should. It can be provided by the NHS, although the waiting lists are sometimes long, and university counselling services can sometimes be very good (but sometimes have the attitude "we will give you two appointments and then you will have all the skills you need to tackle it yourself" - which, no). If you're searching for something outside of these channels, I found the Oxford counselling centre to be very good and quite reasonably priced.

Make sure your supervisors and/or tutors are on board - you don't need them hassling you on top of everything else, and you will neither be the first or the last student of theirs that has mental health problems. If your anxiety is a serious problem that is preventing you from living a normal life, register with the disability services at your university as they can provide you with help. I've got a mentor who I meet with weekly, who is somewhere between a counsellor and a study skills advisor and has been a huge help in getting me back on track.

After a course on managing anxiety at the university counselling service, I've gotten quite into meditation, and try to grab ten minutes every morning for a quick reminder that I'm a human with a physical body, and the thoughts in my head are just thoughts. I started out using Headspace (Android, iOS), which gives you some short ten minute meditations to start you off and then charges an exorbitant amount for some more. I listened to the free ten over and over again and never bothered with the rest. Right now I just sit in silence and guide myself through (and fend off attacks from my cat, who gets rather playful after breakfast. It helps to have small items to throw for her to play with).

A lot of people find colouring in to be a relaxing and satisfying activity. Frankly, I have always hated colouring in - the act of scrubbing through a whole page with a pencil has bored me to tears since early childhood. However, I do quite like picking colours for things and looking at pretty line drawings. That's where Colorify (AndroidiOS) comes in - it lets you fill in colouring pages by touching each section of the drawing and choosing a colour. This is far more up my alley than the analogue version and is remarkably relaxing.

If you're into cats (and who isn't?) Neko Atsume (Android) is a very chilled out app. The basic concept is that you furnish a yard with food and toys, and check back on the app periodically to see which cats you have attracted. It's such a nice thing to have in the background during your day.

When I'm stressed, I get sick all the time. During my GCSEs I got chicken pox for the second time - that's not supposed to be possible in people with a functioning immune system. In the last year I've had more colds, fevers, and tummy bugs than I can count. I have (very mild) epilepsy, and it first presented itself during my final exams when I was an undergrad. If you're on any medications, having a reminder to take your pills on time can be a lifesaver. I use My Calendar (Android, iOS). Unfortunately people without uteri, it's also a period tracker, so you may want to find an alternative.

I detest mornings. It doesn't matter if I'm waking up at 6am or 3pm, the very act of transitioning from asleep to awake is intensely offensive to me. When you're depressed, sometimes getting out of bed is the hardest thing to do. The main thing that moved me from waking up grudgingly at 3pm and feeling completely miserable, to waking up sometime between 6-8am and getting ready for work (or rowing...) was deciding to watch Frasier on Channel 4 in the mornings. This forced me to wake up at 10am (to catch it on 4+1). I then gently moved it to 9am to watch it at the original time, and then gave up on Frasier all together and started watching half an hour of anything on my laptop at around 8.15. Having a TV show to watch somehow makes the whole thing less traumatic - I'll be out of bed but I don't have to think about anything or do anything in particular. I might make another post about my morning routine because I've got it down pat at the moment and I'm very proud of it. The least offensive way to be woken up is using Sleep Cycle (Android, iOS)  - you give it a half-hour window and it works out when you're sleeping the least deeply during that time to wake you up.

I've noticed that I find it difficult to let thoughts leave my head if I think they might be important. I've taken to keeping a little list next to me on my desk of whatever thought is distracting me from my work. That way, I know I'm not going to lose important reminders and ideas, so I can just acknowledge them and let them pass. Pocket (Android, iOS, browser) helps me do this when I find an interesting article that I want to read - I can just save it for later and re-focus on the task at hand.

Distractions during my work day.
Many of my daily thoughts are stupid questions.

I find to-do lists incredibly satisfying and they really help me to break down monolithic tasks into manageable, non-scary actions. Todoist (AndroidiOS, browser) is one way that I write these (although I admit that I usually prefer pen and paper). Having a to-do list manager popup in my gmail inbox is particularly useful as it lets me record important action points from the emails in my inbox so I can archive them and get down to delicious, delicious inbox zero.

The next app is a particularly personal one. When I'm depressed or stressed, I forget to eat. It just plain goes out of my head that I need to take care of myself and I find myself at 6pm wondering why I'm feeling hangry (fortunately, I usually eat quite a sensible dinner because my other half is amazing and feeds me). This is why, for me, using the food tracker MyFitnessPal (AndroidiOS, web) was really helpful in my recovery as it reminded me to plan ahead and think about the nutrient content of my meals. I've fallen back in love with food and started treating myself more mindfully.

I'm very privileged in this respect because I've never worried much about my weight. I've never been on a diet, I never saw my mum dieting growing up and my body is not an anxiety trigger for me. I cannot emphasise enough that if food restriction is something you have a problem with, if you've ever had a whiff of an eating disorder or if you just hate hate hate tracking calories, this approach is not for you. 

It sounds silly, but Facebook Messenger (Android, iOS, browser, we both know you already use this) was probably one of the most powerful tools in my recovery. The theme for this year's mental health awareness week is 'relationships' and that rings very true for me. Having a little chat window always there is the best thing for pulling me out of a whirl of anxious thoughts. Whether it's sharing tumblr posts with each other, arguing about politics or just talking about our days, my network of friends and family keeps me sane and reminds me that there's a world outside of whatever I'm worrying about.

I'm in quite a good place at the moment - I've slowly eased back into my DPhil this year, I'm exercising lots and lots (yoga was absolutely the best thing for my anxiety, but rowing in the summer is not bad either!) and I'm not feeling so frightened of failure. I have my moments still - a couple of weeks ago I had a panic attack when submitting an abstract for a conference - but they are so few and far between that they just remind me how far I've come.

p.s. For those of you who like your advice evidence-based, Astrid, one of my aforementioned amazing friends, has a great talk about online interventions for student stress.