A Beginner’s Guide to the Bullet Journal
So, you promised yourself that you’re going to be more organized this year. You ditched the scattered sticky notes and five mobile apps that just weren’t working for you and began your search for a good ol’ planner. With hundreds of options in the market, there’s bound to be one made just for you – or so you thought.
It’s way too bulky.
There’s not enough space for everything.
I’m never going to use these sections.
The design isn’t for me.
What do you mean that planner is $60?!
No matter where you looked, there wasn’t a single planner that met all of your needs. But I wouldn’t throw in the towel just yet, especially not without giving the bullet journal system a try.
WHAT IS A BULLET JOURNAL?
The bullet journal, developed by Brooklyn-based product designer Ryder Caroll, is more than just an analog planning system. Its flexibility enables you to utilize any notebook as a planner, diary, to-do list, habit tracker – whatever you need to keep yourself organized and at the top of your game.
One of the main concepts of the bullet journal is rapid logging, which involves designating bullets and other symbols to tasks, events, and notes. The aim is to keep your entries short and simple while still organizing them in a way that’s easy to find, prioritize, and accomplish.
There are many reasons why people turn to the bullet journal. For me, I needed a place to keep all of my lists sorted and my important tasks highlighted (as well as an excuse to buy more stationery). Many picked up the bullet journal system to track their finances, life goals, and even mental health. Some just wanted a simple, budget-friendly way to get shit done without all the bells and whistles.
A bullet journal can be like your personal assistant, a confidante, or that annoying friend who constantly holds you accountable for the things you should and shouldn’t be doing. All you need to do is set it up.
WHAT SUPPLIES DO I ACTUALLY NEED?
A pen and a notebook of choice. Yeah – that’s literally it.
HOW DO I SET IT UP?
I wouldn’t browse Pinterest or Instagram for inspiration just yet. Since no two bullet journals are alike, it’s easy to get confused or overwhelmed. The best place to start is the original “How to Bullet Journal” video, which lays out the sturdy backbone of the bullet journal system.
From there, you can customize it to your liking. Or not – it’s totally up to you! But first, let’s start with the basics.
Disclaimer: I realized that my bullet journal spreads aren’t the best references since there are add-ons. However, they still adhere to the original system and that’s what I’ll focus on for now.
BULLETS AND SIGNIFIERS
The first order of business is assigning different bullets and symbols to your tasks, events, and notes. The original method uses a bullet (•) for tasks, a circle (O) for events, and a dash (―) for notes, but you can replace those with symbols of your choice. I highly recommend keeping your bullets and signifiers simple.
Signifiers are added next to bullets to indicate their importance, urgency, or both. Based on the status of your tasks, you can either check them off (best feeling ever), cross them out, or migrate them – but I’ll get to that when we talk about the daily logs.
INDEX AND PAGE NUMBERS
One of the main purposes of a bullet journal is to keep your tasks, lists, and notes organized so that they're easy to flip to later on. That’s why the first couple of pages are allocated for your index, or table of contents, where you’ll list your many logs and collection pages. And you can’t have a table of contents without page numbers to refer to.
If numbering each page sounds too tedious, you can always invest in a Leuctturm1917 notebook, which also includes three index pages. Alternatively, you can number the pages as you go along, which should only take a few seconds of your time.
The future log provides a glimpse into the next few months, along with space to jot down any important events and tasks that will take place in the near future.
Since I’m a visual person, I like writing out a calendar for each month. However, it can be as simple as dividing up the pages into sections and writing the names of the months, as you saw in the video. The important thing is leaving a good amount of space for anything you might add in the future.
The monthly log gives you a slightly more detailed overview of the month. No need to draw out an entire calendar here (unless you want to). Simply write the name of the month at the top of a new page and list the number of days in that month below. Next to each number, write the first letter of the day that corresponds to that number. Then, fill it up with events, appointments, and other important dates. This would be a great time to flip back to that future log of yours!
On the next page, create a list of tasks that you’d like to get done that month. You can refer to this page when jotting down tasks for your daily logs.
Your daily logs are for rapidly logging tasks, events, and notes throughout the day. This is where everything starts coming together. When you complete a task, check it off or draw an “X” over the bullet. At the end of the month, reevaluate each unfinished task to see if it’s still worth your time. If it is, either draw a right-facing arrow to move it to the next monthly log or a left-facing arrow to indicate that it’s going into the future log for a later month. Otherwise, simply cross it out.
Your daily logs can take as much or as little space as you want. Some people have organized their daily logs into weekly logs. I’ve had a single day span nearly two pages once, followed by a week that only took up one. For that reason, I don’t recommend planning your daily logs far in advance. You never know what you’ll be adding as you go about your day.
So at the end of the day, you go through your daily logs and find that you have a bunch of notes. What do you do with them? Add these entries to your collection pages! Collections are great for making lists of books you want to read or shows you have yet to binge-watch. And they don’t have to be just lists, either. Collections are also pages where you can plan out projects, doodle, track your habits or expenses, keep a gratitude journal, create meal plans – and many more. Just remember to add them back to your index so that you can easily find them later on.
Have I lost you yet? If so, don’t worry – I was overwhelmed at the very beginning, too. However, it’ll all make sense when you put these words into practice. Start with the basics and, from there, mold it into a system that works best for you.
PROS AND CONS?
I'll start with the cons since I prefer getting the bad news first. It’s like ripping off the Band-Aid, while the good news is the cool air that soothes the temporary sting.
Intimidating at first. There are a lot of terms to take in, and then there’s the matter of tying them all together. On top of that, there are avid bullet journalists who have gone all out with the customization to the point where you question whether or not you’re better off just getting a planner. If you still want to try the bullet journal system, start with the original. Keep it straightforward and simple, while still allowing room for trial and error. With time and patience, it’ll become second nature!
Time-consuming. There are sections that need setting up, layouts to possibly brainstorm, and, if you want to get fancy, pages to decorate. Now, before you go all "ain’t nobody got time for that" on me, I assure you that the process of setting up and maintaining a bullet journal takes as little time and effort as you want it to take. You’re not required to have Pinterest-worthy pages, nor are you expected to track every single aspect of your life. It’s supposed to be practical, not picture-perfect.
There’s no backup. Since it’s an analog system, there’s no backup or Cloud storage in case it gets lost. Unfortunately, I have no solution for this issue. Sorry about that. My only advice is to keep it with you often or in a place where you know it’ll be.
Highly customizable to fit your needs. The system is not meant to hold you back. If anything, it encourages you to take advantage of the rapid logging method and make it your own. If you want to track your habits and expenses, go for it! Need a few pages to plan out your next trip? No one’s stopping you. And if you’re more than happy with the original system, no need to change a thing!
Quick and efficient. It’s not called rapid logging for nothing. By keeping your entries short, simple, and organized, you can quickly find what you need and focus on the important tasks at hand. Everything is in one place instead of on multiple apps, calendars, and scraps of papers. And with the index, you can quickly flip to exactly what you’re looking for.
Uniquely yours. Like I said earlier, no two bullet journals are the same. We all have different needs and preferences so it’s only right that each journal is unique. I mean this both creatively and structurally. It can be as minimalist or as decorated as you want it to be. It can also strictly adhere to the original bullet journal or expand to include any extras you need to, as Ryder Caroll put it, "track the past, organize the present, and plan for the future."
ANY OTHER TIPS?
I’ll go more in-depth with the tips, supplies, and add-ons in the near future. For now, I’ll leave a few short words of advice:
Don’t compare your bullet journal to those of others.
Don’t let your inner-perfectionist get in the way of actually getting things done.
Don’t be afraid to try something new.
The bullet journal can either be a complete waste of your time or the most effective organization and productivity tool in your arsenal. The only way to find out is to give it a go! If you have any questions, feel free to send them my way. Happy journaling!