Starting a Bullet Journal

Are you someone who loves making different to-do lists? 

Do you like planning, setting goals, and tracking your habits?

Are you low-key obsessed with stationary, journaling, scrapbooking, pretty looking pens, and collecting too many notebooks that you don’t know what to do with? 

Are you a fan of monthly planners and organization?

Do you WANT to be a fan of planners and organization?

Do you really want to be organized, but have no time to dedicate to organization?

If you answered yes to any one of these questions (or even if you didn’t), bullet journaling might be just what you need!

Um… What is a Bullet Journal?

First of all, what the heck is a bullet journal? You’ve heard about this crazy organizational trend being talked about all over the internet, but despite all of your Pinterest searching you realize that you don’t even know how it works!

Bullet Journaling: A method of note-taking and journaling that uses a fast bullet point based structure to create prioritized lists for better organization of your chaotic life (basically a journal where you take quick notes instead of wasting time writing long sentences).

Typically Bullet Journals feature 5 key elements:

Index: basically, the table of contents.

Daily Log: Assignments/tasks/chores you did or need to do today. Often people will include other more reflective journal-y pieces here too, including ideas or observations about their day

Monthly Log: similar to a traditional monthly calendar, you can use this section to plan for the month ahead, or plan for the stuff you forgot to do last month.

Rapid Logging: “The language in which the Bullet Journal is written” or in simpler terms, the symbols you use to make sure you get stuff done

Future Log: A look at the year as a whole. This is where more long-term goals and events get written down.

The Basic

What are bullets?

When you are writing down your quick notes or “rapid logging”, you use a variety of symbols to visually categorize them.

  • = Task: fast, clean and easy to read. Bullet Journals use a solid dot to represent to-dos.
  • = Event: Bullet journals use an open circle to represent date related events.
  • = Notes: Bullet journals use a dash to log facts, ideas, thoughts and observations or just other items you don’t want to forget.
  • = Nesting: dashes can also be used as little indented subheadings beneath the Task or Event bullets in order to break them down into manageable steps.

How do you use the bullets?

Signifiers are the marks used over top of your bullet point to show what you did with them.

*  = Priority: used to mark the most important thing on your to do list. When selecting which item on your list gets this indication, ask yourself: “if this is the only thing I got done today, would I feel productive?”.

! = Inspiration:  The exclamation point indicates great ideas, quotes, insights, and thoughts.

X = Completed: Mark your to-dos as complete by writing an “x” over the bullet point.

<  = Scheduled: The “less than” symbol indicates a task is scheduled in the future log.

> = Procrastinated: The “greater than” symbol indicates you didn’t finish a task today or during this week/month. Technically this symbol is to show a task has been “migrated” to another day but we all know what that really means.

The Pages / Modules

THE KEY: Keep in mind you do not have to use the symbols outlined above! You can 100% make up your own or use whatever symbols make the most sense to you. Many people like to include a page for a key or legend that keeps track of what all your symbols mean so you can use them consistently and not get confused.

The Key is usually included at the front or back page of the bullet journal.

INDEX: Just like your text books, bullet journals typically start with their table of contents. This section outlines important topics and their corresponding page numbers. This section can be as broad or specific as you like; the main idea is that you will keep coming back to this page to add the topics and page numbers as you go. Every page in your bullet journal should be numbered! You can number your pages all at once, or as you go along, but this will make it really easy to reference them later.

I generally like to leave 1-2 pages for this section.

FUTURE LOG: This definitely sounds scarier than it is. Literally, this is just a year-long calendar for the big stuff like exams, birthdays, and scheduled vacations. Some people like to include long-term goals in this section too. Don’t forget to use your symbols in this section to write down these things. 

4 pages (3 months per page) is generally the standard for future logs.

CREATIVE PAGES: The next few pages can be used to track any big items you want to remember. For example, in my bullet journal I used my creative pages to track books, TV series, Movies, and future goals. You can check out Pinterest for more ideas. If you decide you want more of these sections, you can always add them later – just add in their page number to the index.

Number of pages may vary.

MONTHLY LOG: Typically the monthly log is separated into two sections: The Calendar Page and the Task Page in order to tackle a “big-picture” view of the upcoming month. There are so many ways one can organize this section however, the one I think is easiest is using the left side of the page to list all the days of the month with space beside it to write the biggest task or event of that day (I know you may have loads of stuff you are doing in one day, and many assignments due too, but this spot is for the “big idea” – try to keep that in mind). The right side of the page should be used as a to-do page, listing out your biggest “to-dos” this month using your wonderful rapid logging symbols. The monthly log can also include other trackers such as a monthly workout tracker, water drinking tracker, or list of daily gratitude’s. You can surf the internet for inspiration on what pages to include or for layout inspiration.

Generally the Monthly log is a 2 page spread.

DAILY LOG: The daily log typically features the date at the top and your listed activity of that day using rapid logging.

The layout of this section varies depending on what you want to include on this page.

Other Thoughts

“What sort of book should I use?”

Don’t feel limited to using one of those dotted grid journals or feel as though you need to go out and purchase a new one. You can use any notebook or journal you like! For example, personally I was happy using a lined notebook from Chapters that had been in my desk drawer for years.

“Ain’t nobody got time for that!”

Come on, I know you were thinking it. But Bullet Journaling is perfect for university students because it is not time consuming (unless you make it that way). My initial set up for the journal was only about an hour, but it can be less or more depending on how you decide you want your journal to look.

However, make sure you condense your notes. University has taught us to write long and detailed your notes, but in bullet journaling it’s important to keep them super short and concise. In my experience, only 10-15 minutes were spent on my journal each night. I mainly used journaling as a way to unwind after a long day of sitting in lecture.

… I’m intimidated.”

Remember, it is just your average planner/diary/notebook/to-do list – all rolled up into one big happy collection. DO NOT STRESS! As a perfectionist myself, I can relate to wanting every spread to look beautiful. If you get too caught up in colour-coding and making every page Instagram-worthy, you may never get started. Consider taking a minimalist approach or copying layouts off the internet that are still interesting but match your artistic skill level. Even if you have lousy handwriting and cannot draw to save your life (like me), you can still have fun with bullet journaling.