Journal Journeys: A Quick Guide to the World of Bullet Journaling

Here's a secret: I haven't used a planner ever since I was a junior in high school. As we start getting into the thick of the semester, time management is key. Especially when you're juggling multiple obligations to different organizations and people. And although I no longer use a planner as most students do, I have found another planning system that is more effective for me: Bullet Journaling.

What is Bullet Journaling? Bullet journaling is an analog system flexible enough to handle whatever you throw at it. "It tracks the past, organizes the present, and plan for the future". In my own words, it's a planner you curate for yourself and your needs. Bullet journaling also has a devoted following you can find if you search '#bulletjournaling', '#bujo', and '#studygram' (a side of Instagram that focuses on the art of studying). It's a devoted following and an interactive community -- all encouraging each other to better manage their time.

But Nyle, you may be asking me, why make a planner when you buy one instead? Well, it's customizable. I can use layouts that are most productive to me and add miscellaneous fun pages as well that help me keep track of books I've read in a year.

Here's a quick a rundown on how you might get started on a bullet journal. (Again, it's all up to your preference and style. There are thousands of videos in the bullet journaling community other variations of starting).


STEP 1: CREATE A KEY. This is simple. Just assign symbols that will help you easily identify what kind of task you have on your to-do list. In my journal, I have a square for a task, a circle for an event, and a triangle for a deadline I need to meet. I shade in the shape depending on the status of its completion.

         Other things I like to make keys for are priority tasks and tasks that I can take my sweet time with


STEP 2: CREATE A FUTURE LOG. A future log helps you keep track of longer-term plans -- like a final in December or a camping trip in February. Depending on how many months you want to cover, you're going to divide your page into sections for that month. If you want to focus on just the Fall semester like me, use 2 pages and divide each one into 2 sections. Once the semester is over, I will create a new future log as the start of a new chapter in the year.

                            Drawing a small calendar isn't necessary, but it's my preferred option


STEP 3: CREATE A MONTHLY SPREAD. Now we're zooming in into each month. List down all the dates of the current month -- simple as that. Go back to your future log and migrate or move all the events and tasks you need to accomplish by the end of the month to these dates.

                   I also like to create themes for each month. This one was 'Blooming' even though it was winter!


STEP 4: CREATE A WEEKLY/DAILY SPREAD. This is the part that is most like a planner and the one varies from journaler to journaler. Think of a weekly or daily spread as your copying the layout of the best planner you can dream of. For me, the best planner has a section called 'weekly tasks' that tell me all the overarching things I have to get done as well as an 'upcoming' section that warns me ahead of time what I have to do next week. Like what we did in the monthly spread, we will migrate all specific events and tasks to this spread.

                  I've changed my weekly spread since then. This one, while pretty, wasn't working for me. 


STEP 5: MISCELLANEOUS PAGES. Add anything -- any type of page you would ever want or ever need. I have a page dedicated to my classes' information (professors, their offices, office hours, emails, etc) in case I ever need that on hand. I also have a page that tracks all the books I've read, movies I've watched, and creative works I've written. 

                           This was the semester I learned that I wasn't a 'motivational quotes' kind of girl. 


Flexibility: You are given the freedom to choose different spread styles and layouts to see what helps you better manage your time. And if it doesn't? Scrap it and start over!  When I'm particularly free in the Summer or Winter break, I don't even make a spread until the week before classes! Once next year hits, you might not have much use for your planner anymore. However, as long as your bullet journal has pages, you're still good to go!

(I also have creative control of how my planner looks. So yes, while I may never find a Young Avengers-themed planner, I can definitely make one myself! And that's a big and fun bonus.)

Promoting Awareness: If there's any benefit I've gained from bullet journaling, it's becoming more aware of all my responsibilities. Because I'm constantly migrating my tasks and events from future log to monthly log to weekly log, I'm always reminded of my due dates. Repetition is key. And writing and moving it over and over again will definitely help you remember your final paper or a big exam.



Knowing What You Need: The thing about bullet journals is that it is an excellent tool for creating to-do lists and jotting down quick notes, but it isn't as effective in planning events for the far future. Since you're making a new spread week by week, you can't really jot down an event for next year. Before you start a journal, you have to know what you need and how you decide to use it.

It Takes Time:   Yes, you're going to have to allot a few minutes every week to sit down, create a new spread, and place all the necessary events on the page. If you want to design your journal and make it 'aesthetically pleasing' like the ones you'll see on Instagram, then you'll take even more time straightening each line and perfecting your letters. Unlike a preset planner, a bullet journal isn't a one and done deal. It takes time and effort, but all for the goal of creating a planning system that works for you and you alone. 



As a bullet journaler for about 5 years now, I can say that yes, this system of time management is great. However, everything does boil down to bullet journaling's motto of doing what you need to do for you. For some that's buying a planner -- for someone else, it's using reminders on their phone. I've definitely experienced both the benefits and pitfalls of this system as well as have fallen in and out of love with it. However, at the end of the day, for a majority of the year, bullet journaling is my way of staying on top of things.

If there's one thing you should take away from the bullet journal system, whether you decide to try it or not, is learning to experiment and know what makes you function better-- more productive. Do what you need to do for you, and don't let other people define what 'good for you' means.

All photos courtesy of the author