How to Save Time When Using a Bullet Journal

Have you ever looked at a bullet journal spread on Instagram and thought, ain’t nobody got time for that?

Same here.

Just the idea of setting up a planning system from scratch sounds time-consuming and highly unnecessary, especially when there are literally hundreds of planners in the market. So why would something so cumbersome have such a huge following?

Although it may not look it sometimes, the bullet journal does involve a system of prioritizing, organizing and migrating tasks, events, and notes. In a nutshell, it’s a very structured to-do list with the chronology of a planner and the freedom of a blank notebook. When done right, the bullet journal is one of the best productivity tools you can have. What’s “right”, however, all depends on how you address your needs in your journal.  

Ryder Carroll’s original system doesn’t take long to set up at all – it literally takes less than 5 minutes if you have a pen and a blank notebook ready to go. It’s when you expand and customize your bullet journal that you have to put in a bit more time and effort.

 
 

The bullet journal’s flexibility – the option to add all sorts of trackers and make it exactly how you want it to be – is one of its many strengths. However, it can also be a hindrance if you identify yourself as a perfectionist or have an all-or-nothing mentality. It’s good to recognize when your bullet journal is working for you and when it’s not. Ironically, a system that’s meant to be a time-management tool can actually waste your time if you’re not careful.

It’s not uncommon for people to put at least an hour into their bullet journal spreads. Many use their journals as creative outlets and find the process very therapeutic. As long as it works for them, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that!

But not everyone is willing to sit down with a bullet journal for that long. And those who are might find that it’s hurting them more than it’s helping them. If you’re hesitant to start a bullet journal or continue using one because you’re worried about wasting time, here are five tips to help you save time and get the most out of your bullet journal!

1 | Keep things simple.

Just because you can include nearly every aspect of your life in a bullet journal doesn’t mean you should. As tempting as it is to try every tracker you stumble upon on social media, you need to ask yourself (1) if you actually need them and (2) if you’ll actually use them.

 
Moving forward, I will no longer set up a page for recipes since I don't use it at all.

Moving forward, I will no longer set up a page for recipes since I don't use it at all.

 

If you’re just starting out with the bullet journal, I highly recommend following the original system first and adding to it as you go. The great thing about the bullet journal is the fact that you’re not forced to stick with a setup that isn’t working for you. Test new ideas and spreads when the need for them arises, and scrap the ones that aren’t working. The more bells and whistles your bullet journal has, the longer it’ll take to set up. Remember that it doesn’t have to do everything to be effective.

And that 100 percent applies to how your bullet journal looks. Sure, it might get lots of likes on Instagram, but are you getting things done?

2 | If you can help it, avoid setting up the entire month in advance.

 
Time Saving New 2.jpg
 

In the original bullet journal system, you have a monthly spread that includes a list of dates with corresponding events and a list of monthly tasks before jumping right into the daily logs. Not surprisingly, it didn’t take long for people, myself included, to start incorporating a weekly layout. However, I don’t recommend setting up all the weeks at the start of each month. Instead, fill in the days and weeks as you go.

Allocating the space, drawing the lines and writing all the dates ahead of time, much like in a pre-dated planner, can save time in the future and encourage you to use your readily set-up bullet journal. But like a planner, you can also fall out of using it. You know that tinge of guilt you feel when you look at your unused planner? It’s like that, but you actually went through the time and trouble of setting it up yourself.

Some weeks will be more hectic than others, and there will be days where there are no entries. By writing in the dates as you go, you’ll save both time and space in your bullet journal.

3 | See personalizing and decorating your bullet journal as leisure rather than a requirement.

Don’t fret over how your bullet journal looks because everyone’s needs and tastes are different. Most importantly, you should remember that you’re bullet journaling for yourself. Validation from others might motivate you, but it doesn’t get those tasks checked off or reinforce those habits. If anything, the time and effort, not to mention that unnecessary stress, put into getting that picture-perfect spread can take out the enjoyment and effectiveness of your bullet journal.

Instead, look at personalizing your bullet journal as a totally optional and stress-relieving activity. Sure, that can take up an hour or two as well, but at least those hours went towards something fun and relaxing – much like a hobby!

One trick that I found helpful is saving the decorating for the end of the week. I’d start out with a very simple layout that puts the tasks and events at the forefront. Then, over the weekends when I’m less busy, I’d use that time to fill in any empty spaces with paper goods, doodles, or inserts to sum up and reflect on that week.

 
More or less how all my spreads look at the beginning of the week.

More or less how all my spreads look at the beginning of the week.

 

4 | Go back to the basics.

As I’ve mentioned earlier, the original bullet journal system is an excellent starting point for beginners. From there, you can choose to stick with it or change things up. However, you run the risk of changing the system so much that you forget what it was meant for in the first place. It’s happened to me towards the end of last year; I had trackers I didn’t use, pages that were pointless, and tasks that were left unfinished (though, I’m sure there were other things to blame for that last one). It became less effective and more time-consuming.

 
Looking back, I have no idea why I needed TWO calendars.

Looking back, I have no idea why I needed TWO calendars.

 
 
Still a bit extra, but at least the list of dates and list of monthly tasks are clear.

Still a bit extra, but at least the list of dates and list of monthly tasks are clear.

 

Instead of calling it quits right away, however, do a hard reset – so to speak. Revisiting the original method helps you determine if a change made the system inefficient for you along the way or if you’ve outgrown the bullet journal altogether. You can take out the parts you don’t needs, parts that require time to set up. You can also save yourself a lot of time and trouble if you realize that the bullet journal isn’t for you, which takes us to the last point.

5 | Recognize when your bullet journal has become a DIY planner.

If you find yourself drawing out grid calendars, dividing and dating evenly spaced sections for each day, and abandoning most, if not all, basic elements of a bullet journal, you should ask yourself if a planner is more suited for your needs.

 
Now this just looks like a monthly spread in a planner... First and last time I tried this layout.

Now this just looks like a monthly spread in a planner... First and last time I tried this layout.

 

Yes, the bullet journal is supposed to be super flexible but it can quickly and easily become a very elaborate DIY planner. At that point, it’s up to you if you want to continue setting up the planner yourself or save time by purchasing one.

If the design is an issue, I recommend using a very minimalistic planner with lots of blank pages! They’re structured and dated so you don’t have to worry about drawing everything over and over again, but they’re still plenty of space for your trackers, lists, other collection pages, and personal touches.

I love bullet journals, but I can’t deny that they can waste a lot of your time if you’re not careful. Planning too far in advance can be a form of procrastination. And meticulously arranging and rearranging how you want it to look can work against you when you’re using elements you don’t need and ignoring the reasons you started bullet journaling in the first place.

Remember those reasons and put them to practice. And remember that there’s a difference between wasting time and spending time. Some bullet journal spreads will take longer to set up than others, and that’s okay! As long as they serve a purpose for you and improve your quality of life, then that’s time well spent.

I hope these five tips can help you make the most of each minute spent towards using your bullet journal!