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The beginning of the year and a new semester is a great time to start fresh and get organized. Many of you have probably been using traditional planners for years and those can get the job done just fine. However, I personally switched over from a planner to a bullet journal (a.k.a. bujo) a couple years ago, and I’ve found that it’s significantly improved my organization. Bullet journals offer much more flexibility in their formatting and content. They allow you to create your own calendars and a structure that fits your personal style. Another important difference I’ve noticed is planners typically are focused on academics, but bullet journals give you space to incorporate all aspects of your life. For high school students, a regular planner would be fine for keeping track of school work, but I think for college students living on their own, there are a lot more obligations outside of homework and studying that a bullet journal would be much better at recording.

What exactly is a bullet journal and how do you get started? Well, a bullet journal starts off as just a notebook. Dotted notebooks are popular options for bullet journaling, but I have used a lined and a completely blank notebook as well. It really depends on your personal preference and how artistic or structured you want it to be. The one notebook specification that I do strongly recommend is to get a hardcover. Hardcover notebooks are pricier, but a bullet journal goes through a lot with daily use. They can start to get pretty beat up after just a few months, so I think a hardcover is necessary if you want to use the name notebook for the whole year.

Once you get your notebook, you are free to do just about anything with it, content and format wise. I do recommend creating an index page and a key at the start of your bujo. The index is essentially a table of contents for all your spreads (make sure you number your pages as you go so you can include the page numbers in your index!). The key lists all the symbols you will use to list your tasks in your planner spreads. These symbols can include bullet points for notes, check boxes for tasks, arrows to show which tasks you’re pushing off to the next day, and pretty much anything that suits your style of creating to-do lists. I also like to include different symbols to differentiate between normal tasks and events, as well as an exclamation mark or star to indicate a priority.

After the index and key is set up, you’re ready to start with your spreads. Unlike how we usually start a new lecture’s worth of notes in class on the page to the right of the inner-spine, a spread starts at the page on the left side of the spine and extends across to the page on the right. You can think of a spread as one extra wide page, with the inner spine of the notebook marking the middle of it. You can have lists or any other content in your bujo that may not take up more than a page. It is totally fine to have singular pages for different notes, but for everything that would be more than a page long (for example, your planner spread for the week with all your daily tasks), make sure you start on a new open spread. This allows you to see the whole spread at once, rather than having to keep turning the page and having everything be disjointed.    Typically, bullet journals start off with a long-term “Future Log.” I normally set mine up to be a view of the next 6 months, so I block off each side of my spread into three wide rectangles stacked on top of each other, giving me a total of 6 across the spread. The future log is good for any long-term plans or dates you may have. I also make sure to include any midterm or final exam dates.

The next step is your monthly view. There are many ways to set this up that you can find online. I like to make somewhat of a grid with each week of the month as a column, and then list all my tasks and events as rows. I mark the box where the task and its corresponding week intersect, or just leave it blank if it’s more of a general note without a set week. Transfer over any dates you have written in your future log and add any short-term tasks for the month. Usually this section of my monthly spread only takes up one page, so I use the other side of the spread as a monthly recap to come back to at the end of the month. The recap can include highlights, favorite books/movies/music, gratitudes for the month, and a tracking section. A cool use for bullet journals is habit tracking. You can track pretty much anything you’d like, but I like to track things like which days I work out, read, water my plants, etc. Mood tracking is also popular, allowing you to record how you feel each day. Many people do their tracking directly in their monthly spread. I have a hard time remembering to do it unless it’s in my weekly spread, so I like to track it in my weekly spreads, but then compile all the data and totals to put in my monthly recap at the end of the month. 

Your weekly spreads come next. Similarly to how you zoomed in on a single month from your future log, your weekly spread is a closer look at each week from your monthly spread. This is where you put your typical daily to-do list tasks. These are the most frequently used pages because they are updated every day and have the most detailed view of your tasks. Formatting again depends on personal preference, but I like to dedicate larger chunks of my page to the weekdays and then a smaller section for weekends, tracking, and any general notes I have for the week.

Now that the planning is all taken care of, my favorite thing about bullet journals is their versatility in allowing you to put just about anything else you want in them. Since you’re working with a blank notebook rather than a pre-formatted planner, you can include all kinds of pages and spreads that don’t have anything to do with planning. You can make lists of shows you want to watch, books you’ve read, groceries you need, or just a random page of doodles. Pretty much anything you want to write down that wouldn’t warrant a whole different notebook, you can jot down on a page of your bullet journal. A bujo can also be a great place to write down self-reflections from time to time, quotes to live by, or goals for the future. You can glue or tape in photos, cards, letters, ticket stubs, and all kinds of memories. It really allows you all the freedom to write down anything you want and to store a piece of yourself in the same way a typical journal would.  

Katherine Raykova is a junior at Purdue University, majoring in Mechanical Engineering and English Literature. She is originally from the suburbs of Detroit, MI. In her free time, Katherine enjoys gardening, reading, and studying astrology & tarot.
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