What is a Bullet Journal?
Bullet Journal is a method of personal organization developed by designer Ryder Carroll. The system organizes scheduling, reminders, to-do lists, brainstorming, and other organizational tasks into a single notebook. Although it is only recently taking social media by storm, the method has been around since 2013.
Bullet Journals are usually handwritten and kept in a single notebook.
Who can Benefit Most from a Bullet Journal?
Anybody can benefit from using a journal, however people who already create lots of to-do lists, are into goal-setting and like to keep a journal/diary will find benefit in the system. For those who want to be more organized, this is a valuable tool to help accomplish your goals.
What Do You Need to Start a Bullet Journal?
All you need to start a bullet journal is a notebook and a pen. Any notebook and pen will do but it needs to ideally be a size, shape and design that you can carry around with you. Too big and you'll never take it with you. If it's too small it will be impractical. It should be rugged enough to withstand daily use.
You can, of course, start with a cheap notebook and pen and if you decide that you like the system, you can grab a different notebook and pen later on.
On the subject of pens, there is a lot of debate around which pen you should use, the type, colours, features etc. The advice I'd give is to use a pen that is comfortable to write with and that you like. You don't need anything more than that.
Key Components of a Bullet Journal
The bullet journal is composed of four key modules with scary names. Don't worry, we'll explain each one in turn. The modules are Indexing, Collections, Rapid-Logging, and Migration.
Your bullet journal will start with an index. Every page in your journal has a page number, and the index is where you list all the important topics and the corresponding page numbers. When you first start the bullet journal there won't be much on it but you'll add topics and page numbers as you fill in your journal. Entries in the Bullet Journal are called Collections.
You don't have to put everything in your index, but it's a good place for the important stuff that you look at frequently.
Every page in the Bullet Journal is given a topic and these topics are referred to as Collections.
Anything else you create in your Bullet Journal is also a Collection. A food log, mindmaps, a shopping list, sketches, meeting notes and so on are all considered Collections.
You can make a sketch on a page and add that page number to the Index by writing "Sketches: 2, 10-11, 17, ..."
There are 3 main types of Collections that make up the Bullet Journal, the Future Log, Monthly Log, and Daily Log, and these form the core of your journal.
Future Log is where you make note of upcoming events, such as birthdays, anniversaries, holidays and so on. This is normally split three months to a page. On these pages note down any important events, goals you want to hit in that month or birthdays. You can use this as a high-level overview of the year ahead.
You can create a layout that makes the most sense to you. This is what I use for my future log.
You can leave a blank page after your future log where you can note down events that have no particular date yet, such as a wedding where no date has been set but you still need to be aware of it.
After the Future log is the monthly log. This is a more detailed set of pages where each month has two facing pages. The first page is called the Calendar Page and allows you to note down events, notes of what happened that day and reminders. Each day should take one line so it is a summary. The opposite page is the Task Page. This list consists of Tasks you want to get done this month and tasks from last month.
Here is a sample Monthly log for January.
Some people like to get creative and add in things like a monthly day chart, mottos, horoscopes for the month, an inspirational quote and such.
The Daily Log is the core of the Bullet Journal and you should be in this section on a daily basis. Each page represents a day with the date as the subject. Throughout the course of the day, you will rapid-log Tasks, Events, and Notes as they occur. These are often migrated from your future log each month.
You may find you miss a few days logging into your daily log, but don't worry, you can always go back and add things in later.
There are many different layouts, or spreads, for your daily log. I won't go into them here but if you Google "Bullet journal daily spread" you can get hundreds of ideas of things to include, layouts and so on.
You can also type in the hashtags #bulletjournal or #bujo on Instagram and you'll now see seven million photos spreads for inspiration. I know my bullet journal is rather messy and undecorated, but that's just my style, it works for me.
Rapid logging is core to the bullet journal and is where it gets its name from. Rapid logging is the process of creating collections consisting of Bullets and Signifiers.
Bullets are bullet points and different symbols are used to identify tasks, lists, goals, events and notes. They have a sub-set of bullets to indicate their status, for example, a task can be to do, completed, moved to another list and so on.
Signifiers add extra context and help you to see what the Bullets represent. You do not need to add a Signifier to each bullet, only the ones you'd like to have stand out.
It's worth creating a page at the front of your journal to note down all the Bullets and Signifiers together with their meanings. We'll look at this in a few sections.
Migration is the cornerstone of the Bullet Journal. It is a regular type of review process whereby you move over undone Tasks over to another Collection. You can also Schedule Events and Tasks to the Future Log is they will be occurring at another time.
Migration is done at the end of the month when preparing the next Month Log.
Spend some time looking over the undone Tasks from your Collections and assess each one. Migrate the ones you still want to do over to the new Month Log. If there are Tasks you no longer want to do, cross them out. If there are Tasks and Events you want to Schedule to another month, add those to the Future Log.
How to Make Your Bullet Journal
Step 1 - The Right Notebook
First, you need to pick the right notebook. As I said above, any notebook and pen will do but it needs to ideally be a size, shape and design that you can carry around with you. Too big and you'll never take it with you. If it's too small it will be impractical. It should be rugged enough to withstand daily use.
If you're just starting out and not sure if bullet journal is for you then you can use a basic notepad, you can always upgrade if you feel you need to. My first bullet journal cost just £1 from the stationers. I have since upgraded to a Filofax style ring binder.
You don't have to stick to lined notebooks. You can work with dotted notebooks, grid notebooks, and blank notebooks. It's all up to you. Personally I find dotted easier to work with. I found lines too restrictive for creating my spreads.
Step 2 - Creating the Index
You will be writing numbers on each page of your journal. The index will help you track which sections fall on which pages. The first blank spread, meaning the first two blank pages that fall side by side, will be your index. To start, all you have to do is write "Index" on the top of both pages. At first, it may seem like it's not worth having, but as you add collections (pages) to your journal and write them down in the index it will make finding collections much easier in the future. This is especially true when a collection spans multiple pages spread out through the journal.
Step 3 - First Collection
If you are starting out then I would suggest creating your first collection after your index and call it something like the reference. You can use these two blank pages side by side to note down the symbols, bullets and signifiers that you will be using in your journal. You don't have to use the ones shown below, those are ming. Use signifiers that work for you. As you track your goals on your daily calendar, use your signifiers.
Write page numbers in the bottom corners and add this reference collection to the Index, for example, "Reference ........ 1-2"
Step 4 - Future Log
The next few pages should contain your future log. Your future log is a way of getting a bird's eye view of tasks you need to complete. Some people like to make a future log with 6 months, but I prefer to have space for 12 months as it avoids breaking it up. Each page is split into three equal sections. For a 6 month future log, you will use two pages, for a 12-month log use 4 pages.
Use a ruler to draw lines across the page. Write the name of the next six months in each section, then add the Future log to the index, for example, "Future Log ........ 3-6"
Step 5 - Optional References
After your future log, you can create a few optional pages if you wish. You can create a list of birthdays, anniversaries, events, contacts. It's up to you if you want to include these, or if you want to include them in the front, back or somewhere else. I prefer to have them towards the beginning just because I find it easier to locate. Don't forget to add page numbers and add them to the index.
Step 6 - Monthly Spread
On the next blank spread in your journal, we will start the monthly log. The monthly log gives you an overview of a given month. Start with the current month and write the name of this month on the top of both pages.
On the left page, write down every date of the month followed by the abbreviation of the day of the week next to the number.
On the right page, Using bullet points jot down your task list for the month. Make a list of all the tasks you need to complete, goals you hope to achieve, any bills you have to pay, and any deadlines you need to meet.
Add page numbers and add them to the Index. Repeat for the next 6 or 12 months depending on how long you are planning for.
Step 7 - Weekly Spread
The weekly spread maps out the week ahead and allows you to schedule accordingly if you know there are certain things you need to do on specific days. It's like a week in advance so you know that Monday will be working on an article for the website, Tuesdays and Thursdays are workout training.
Step 8 - Daily Spread
Flip to the next blank spread and write today's date on the top of the page. Use small bullet points to write down things you need to do that day, tasks you completed, and anything else of interest that occurred that day, any special ideas you had, reminders. Use as many lines as you need to log your daily activities. When the day ends, make a new entry the line below for the next day.
Fill out daily events that matter to you. As you track your daily log, fill out events according to your preference. This depends heavily on why you're keeping the bullet journal.
Each time you complete a task, flip back to your monthly log. Cross off the task on your broad to-do lists. This can help you track what you have accomplished and what you still need to accomplish for a given month.
Step 9 - Collections
Store collections in the back of the journal. Collections can be anything you wish to create, track, log or record. A food log, mindmaps, sleep log, fitness tracker, a shopping list, sketches, meeting notes. Anything. These can span multiple pages or be spread across the journal. Page numbers and an up to date index will help locate entries so make sure that when you add a collection you update the index.
Ideas for Bullet Journal Speads
There are literally hundreds of ideas of what you can add to your bullet journal. That is the beauty of the system. It really is up to you to use it how it works best for you. Record and log anything you want, anything that is interesting, reliant or useful to yourself.
Here are a few more ideas you can incorporate into your spreads:
Objective - Your overall goals for the year. Helps to narrow your bullet journal focus.
Brainstorms - Write down a key subject you wish to explore, then from that note down related subjects, and from those even more related subjects. You can easily get creative ideas and find elusive ideas.
Budget planning - Create a budget or savings goal for the year or month. Knowing you want to go on holiday in September and it will cost £2,000 means that you need to save £250 between January and the end of August so you can track and record your progress through the year.
Fitness Routine - Create a monthly or yearly fitness routine(s). Jot down the exercises, times, reps, sets, goals and so on. You can note down key achievements, for example, ran the first 5k on 15th June or planning to run 10k in September.
Water - Aim to drink 5 glasses of water per day. Some people create little boxes in their daily log and shade them in when they have a glass of water. It's a good way to track how much you've drunk and how much more you need to drink. The same can work for your five pieces of fruit and veg per day.
What Sequence Does a Bullet Journal Follow
There is no hard and fast rule as to the sequence in your bullet journal.
It usually starts with the index, then some references, future log, then your first monthly spread and a weekly spread. Then you'd start adding collections, daily spreads, more weekly spreads, more collections and so on until the end of the month when you'd add another monthly spread. This is why the index is important to find collections, but you can also look back and see what you were doing in February and what was important in March.
How to Effectively Bullet Journal
Here are a few tips to help you get the most from your Bullet Journal. If you have any more tips, please share them in the comments below.
Keep your system simple enough that you'll continue to use it every day. If the system is too complicated to use, you won't use it. Keep it as simple as possible, but no simpler.
Let go of the notion that a bullet journal should be "perfect". It should be USED and that means there will always be mistakes. Embracing them and moving on is the only way.
When you're taking notes, the idea is to keep them short, even if you're dealing with something really major and dramatic.
Some people put a lot of effort into making their bullet journal look beautiful and fancy. You can do this if you wish, but you certainly don't have to do.
Once you get the basics down, it's a lot easier to see what works for you and what doesn't and start getting creative into what works for you.
Make It a Habit. Create a routine out of your bullet journaling practice. Commit to writing in it every day. You can set a reminder for yourself to create a daily plan the night before or to dedicate a few minutes each morning. Ideally, you want to keep your bullet journal handy throughout the day so you can log tasks and to-do items as they happen instead of keeping a mental note of them.
Don't overthink it!
Bullet Journal Mistakes to Avoid
There are several pitfalls which are easy to make when you first start out with a bullet journal. Here are some of the mistakes I make in my first journal so you don't have to repeat them.
I made the mistake of trying to split the journal into half. The front half was to be for my monthly, weekly and daily logs, while the back half was for the collections. However, it didn't take long for my daily spreads to catch up with my collections, then my collections got mixed in with weekly and daily logs anyway and it felt quite unorganised at that point.
I first started using a journal with thin pages and a fountain pen. What happened was that the ink seeped through the thin page and onto the other side, making it either unusable or very messy. I tried several other pens with varying degrees of success. Some ink still went through or the pen made a very heavy imprint and gave the paper and not so nice texture. So when you consider your pen and journal bear this in mind.
Don't let your bullet journal become a high maintenance chore. If it gets too difficult to journal, you need to simplify things else you'll stop writing your journal. Use templates, search Instagram for inspiration. Don't let your journal become a task to dread rather than something to look forward to.
It's quite easy to overthink the layout or organisation and leave blank pages to be filled in later. Maybe a sticky note for "add idea here". Truth is that I never got around to them and the temporary sticky note became the permanent fixture. Stop planning ahead and leaving loads of blank spaces, just fill up the pages as you get to them and use the index.Do you have a bullet journal? Share your experiences with us below. Do you have a question on starting a bullet journal? Leave your question below and we'll get back to you with an answer.