What Is Bullet Journaling & How Do I Start
Featured Image: @viacalligraphy
Bullet Journaling has been a hot trend for a little while in the planner and getting organized communities online, but it may not be something that you’ve heard of. If not, you’re in for a treat. If you love to-do lists and check-lists, this is something you don’t want to miss.
Like many of us, you have too many things to remember and think about on a daily basis and you need a simple system to help you keep track, bullet journaling was made for you.
We all have a lot of different daily tasks, appointments, and various things we need to remember. Trying to keep track of everything in your head becomes exhausting. And if you manage a team at work or a family at home, it becomes near impossible.
Just think of how much more productive and less stressed you’ll be if you can stop trying to remember all this “stuff”.
What Is Bullet Journaling?
A bullet journal is a way of keeping track of everything you need to do in one notebook. It usually consists of three different parts.
The first part includes the index and key. They will occupy the first two pages of your journal and help you stay on track with what’s where and how the journal works.
The second part consists of a monthly log or calendar, and then running daily entries. More on how these work in a minute.
The last part of a bullet journal is something called collections or lists. They are just that, lists of related things you want to keep track of. For example, you may have a list of books you want to read, or a list of clients you need to contact this month.
The idea with a bullet journal is that you set aside two pages for your index and then record things as they come up throughout your day, week, or month. At the beginning of the month you set up a monthly page.
This is your space to record appointments, anniversaries and the likes. Some bullet journalers will simply make a list of 1-30 (or 31) and then leave space to note appointments as they come up. Others prefer to draw a more traditional monthly calendar grid over two pages.
Try both and see what works better for you. As you draw each monthly grid or list at the beginning of the month, make a note of what page it is on in your index.
On the next blank page, enter today’s date and start recording things you need to take care of, appointments to keep today, and anything else you need to keep track of including quick notes and ideas. This is where you key comes in handy.
There are two common ways to do your key along with many variations in between.
Any task on your list can be crossed out if it is no longer applicable or needed.
Pick the key system that seems most intuitive for you and start recording the things you need to keep track of and remember in your Bullet Journal. One way to think of it is as the ultimate ongoing to-do list.
At the end of the day, review your list. Things that have not been completed need to either be crossed out because they are no longer relevant and important, or they should be moved to a tomorrow. If you don’t want to, or can’t tackle an item or two the next day, leave it open and make sure you review and work it in at a later date.
Your next two to four pages will be set aside for indexing. This will allow you to quickly find any collection, or get to a particular month. Title each page as an index page and move on to the next section.
The Future Log
With the original bullet journal setup this is a two page spread that records the coming 6 months. Many bullet journalers find it helpful to use a more traditional yearly calendar instead. This is a great place to record birthdays, anniversaries, or block out vacation time. Add or note the page number and record your future log in your index.
Start each month with a monthly log. Here you’ll record appointments and due dates. You can use a grid layout, or use one line for each day of the month. While this isn’t where you’ll track most of your tasks, the monthly log will come in handy for those times when you have a dentist appointment or your daughter is invited to a friend’s birthday party.
The daily log is where you’ll spend most of your time in the journal. Start a new section each day and record anything important for the day.
Make your list of tasks and cross them off as you get them finished. Make notes of anything important you need to remember throughout the day as well as appointments as they pop up. Everything gets logged in the daily log for speed and ease.
From there you can move it as needed to the monthly or future log, or migrate it to a different day.
At the end of your day, or first thing the next morning it’s time to review your tasks and cross out and migrate anything that isn’t checked off.
For example, if you didn’t get around to doing laundry today, draw an arrow through it and add the task to today’s daily task list. If you noted an appointment that came up yesterday, move it to your monthly list and draw an arrow through it in yesterday’s list.
If something no longer applies then cross it out. Your goal is to deal with each entry from your daily list by completing it, migrating it, or crossing it out.
The final part of the puzzle is collections.
These are basically thematically lists you make that aren’t date related. A perfect example is a list of books you want to read. Start the list on the next blank page. Title it and start jotting down the books you want to read.
Make a note of the page you’re on and add this collection to your index page. Now when you want to add a new book title to this list, or reference it to see what you want to read, you can easily find it via the index.
Who Can Benefit from Bullet Journaling
In today’s busy world, where we have to keep track of lots and lots of information, almost anyone can benefit from bullet journaling. T
his particular system of staying organized has some unique properties that make it particularly helpful for people who thrive on lists and appreciate a non-digital system.
Here’s a quick rundown to help you decide if bullet journaling is right for you.
If You Use To-Do Lists Bullet Journaling May Be For You
If you’re a fan of to-do lists and have one sitting at your desk or your kitchen counter, then a bullet journal may work very well for you.
Think of it as a large, ongoing to-do list that also helps you keep track of appointments, grocery lists and the likes.
And since it’s all in one journal, no more frantic searches for that little list that held everything you needed to do today. (That is unless you misplace your journal – but that will be a bit easier to find than a piece of scrap paper).
If You Are Looking For An Analog System Bullet Journaling May Be For You
Our electronic devices are great, but sometimes you want to go back to pen and paper. If you want an organized, easy to deal with system that requires no batteries or Wi-Fi, then this will be a good fit for you.
Even if you think your Google Calendar handles everything for you, I would like to encourage you to give this a try. There’s just something about writing things down by hand that helps us process them differently.
If You’re Looking For a Creative Outlet Bullet Journaling May Be For You
If you are looking for a creative outlet but you just don’t have the time to sit down and sketch, paint, or create, then bullet journaling may be a good fit for you. As you plan your day, you can let out your creative side as you doodle and decorate your daily pages. Of course this is completely optional.
If You Feel Like You’re Keeping Track Of Too Much “Stuff” In Your Head Bullet Journaling May Be For You
Do you have a constant running tally in you head of everything you need to do and remember today? That takes up a lot of brain space.
A bullet journal may be the perfect solution because it helps you jot down all those appointments, to-dos, meetings, and ideas you don’t want to forget as they come up.
Writing them down allows you to forget about them and stop running that constant long list of stuff in your head that you need to remember.
Just think of what you can do with all that extra brain capacity and how much less stressed you’ll feel when you stop to worry about forgetting something.
If You Need Something Mobile Bullet Journaling May Be For You
A big advantage of the bullet journal is that it’s nothing more than a notebook and a pen. You can sit down anytime, anywhere to plan, check on your progress through the day, or add a new line item. There’s no need to hunt down a power outlet and it works just fine in bright sunlight.
Frankly it’s nice sometimes to unplug and get some thinking done away from your computer or smartphone.
Even if you don’t count yourself in all or even most of these groups, I encourage you to give it a try. You may not think of yourself as a list or “pen and paper” type person, but may find that this is just what you needed to stay on top of everything that’s thrown at you on a daily basis.
How To Start A Bullet Journal
You’re ready to give bullet journaling a try.
Before you start your first bullet journal, you need to decide on the type of journal you want to use. In this post, I’ll give you a quick overview of the three main styles of bullet journals in use. This should make your decision easier.
Most importantly just start, get your feet wet and if needed switch to a different type of journal until you find the one that’s right for you.
A Plain Notebook
The easiest way to get started is with any notebook that you have lying around. Of course you can also pick up an inexpensive one at the store.
If you just want to give this a try, it doesn’t matter if it’s ruled, lined, or has blank pages. Any type of notebook will work.
The advantage is that it’s easy and inexpensive to find something to play around with. The disadvantage is that inexpensive notebooks tend to fall apart after a lot of use, aren’t very customizable, and you have number the pages yourself.
That being said, I recommend this is where you start. Give it a try and see if bullet journaling will work for you. If so, you can move on to one of the other types of notebooks.
Moleskin Vs. Leuchtturm Vs. Essentials Notebook
When you’re ready to upgrade to a journal you’ll enjoy writing in and are proud to display, consider spending a few dollars on a Moleskin or Leuchtturm notebook. You’ll end up with a nice sturdy book that you can carry around with you or keep by your desk.
In addition to making your bullet journaling a nicer experience, a quality notebook has some added benefits. The paper will be nicer to write on, it usually has quite a few pages, so you may be able to fit an entire year’s worth of notes and journaling in one notebook.
Bullet journaling requires you to use numbered pages in your journal for indexing. There are a few editions available that include numbered pages including the cult-favorite Leuchtturm 1970 journal.
The journal I use is the Essentials one, which doesn’t have numbered pages but is half the price. I just number them manually.
A Travel Journal or Midori
A third option is a travel journal or midori. This consists of a piece of leather used as a cover and a series of replaceable inserts held in place by elastic bands.
The big advantage of using a Midori style journal for your bullet journaling is that it’s highly customizable. Instead of using an index and having your collections or lists randomly spread throughout your journal, you can keep a dedicated insert for collections.
If you’re missing a more traditional calendar layout for your monthly pages, you can use a more traditional monthly and weekly calendar spread in your bullet journal.
Last but not least, by having the essential parts of your bullet journal (monthly spreads, daily sections, and collections) separated, you can replace only the parts you need to replace.
That means when your daily journaling notebook is full, you simply start a new one, and there’s no need to go back and copy over any essential collections in a new journal. You keep your collections until you’re ready to replace it and start a new journal for those.
No matter what format you chose, I hope you give bullet journaling a try.
Make Your Bullet Journal Work For You
One of the best ideas behind the bullet journal is that it’s so deceptively simple, with only a few rules or guidelines to follow to make it work. This gives you a lot of flexibility when it comes to making your bullet journal work for you.
Take It For A Test Drive
Yes, you can read all about using a bullet journal and watch a ton of YouTube videos to get ideas. But you won’t get a feel for what will work for you until you start to give it a try. Start with an inexpensive notebook and just try it out.
Follow the basic bullet journal layout with an index, a key and a monthly spread. Track your daily tasks and see how it feels. Add in a few lists or collections and get a feel for what type of information is useful and what isn’t.
Try trackers and various other “hacks” you come across and determine what works for you.
Start Small and Don’t Track Too Much
When you first start out bullet journaling, you may be tempted to write down and track every single thing. You have lots and lots of ideas for collections.
The enthusiasm is wonderful, and while it’s perfectly fine to try a bunch of different stuff, you may over-commit and start tracking too much.
You don’t want your bullet journal to become a dreaded chore. It’s a tool.
Start small and figure out what works and what’s sustainable for you to write down and track.
Always keep in mind that this is supposed to be helpful, not add to your workload.
Don’t Be Afraid To Rip Things Out And Start Over
If you find that something isn’t working for you, don’t be afraid to rip it out.
Did you think the weekly reading collection was a good idea, but now it is a dreaded task? Rip out that page.
And if your overall layout for your bullet journal isn’t working for you, don’t be afraid to toss it and start over.
This is exactly why you start out with a small and inexpensive notebook. Grab another one and start over. You’ll find the setup and system that’s right for you.
Tweak It And Change It Until It Works For You
Expect some testing and tweaking, and changing stuff around until you come up with something that works well for you. We all lead different lives and our brains work differently.
Our bullet journals should reflect that. Keep working on it until you come up with a system that feels natural. You’ll know it when you get there.
The end goal is to have a bullet journal setup that makes your live easier and helps you stay organized without feeling that writing in it is a chore.