Bullet Journaling for the Busy College Student

I struggled throughout high school and the first year of undergrad to find a planner that worked for me. I wanted to be able to see my schedule and have a weekly view, but I always felt like I was sacrificing one feature to gain another. I tried everything from the 10 dollar Target planner to the 50 dollar Erin Condren, and the solutions they offered were only temporary. I was afraid to bullet journal at first because I’m not an artist, and all those Instagram accounts make it look so hard. After some trial and error, I found a simple and clean bullet journaling method that has a splash of color with an efficient and no fuss design. This easy method is keeping me going strong through my toughest semester yet, and I’m here to tell you the tricks and spreads so you can try it out for yourself.

1. Supplies

Having stationary that inspires you to keep up with your journal is a must. Pictured are just some of my supplies, including Muji pens, my go-to ballpoint, the RSVP and my Stabilo fineliners, all available from Amazon. These work pretty well with my Luechtturm 1917 bullet journal, though as you will see that it sometimes shows through the pages. Stickers and tea are optional, but they do make the process a whole lot more fun. Not looking to invest in expensive supplies? The majority of my coloring and highlighting is done with Crayola markers and at the end of the day, any pen will suffice as long as it works for you.

PRO TIP: The Muji pens, while my favorite and the darkest ink pens I’ve ever used, are gel pens. You have to give them plenty of time to dry or they will smear everywhere. I recommend using them for writing on top of the marker and for your daily events, NOT for grids.

2. Future logs and timetables

The best way to keep track of you year is to start with you goals. I put mine on fun little sticky notes, because let’s be honest, I don’t have time to draw fruit on every page. Next up is my timetable, which is blocked out hourly from 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. This is key to remembering when your classes are and what other weekly events you have committed to for the semester or year.

PRO TIP: When making your timetable, be sure to include time to work on assignments for any online classes as well as study time, even if it's just a weekly coffee shop study.

3. Grids and your “Year at a Glance”

The grid is the most important addition that I made to my journal this semester. When you first get a bullet journal, you realize really quickly that you’re tired of counting out the lines over and over to make sure everything is even. By creating this grid and marking where the quarters and thirds are, I saved myself a lot of counting. The “Year at a Glance” takes up the whole page, which doesn’t leave room to add much to it. It does come in handy, though, when you’re making your weekly spreads so you know which days go where!

PRO TIP: Put your grid on the left-hand side. When you’re making a new spread, you’ll work on the left page first. This way, you can just scoot the page back a bit so you can view both the grid and the new spread at the same time. So much less counting.

4. The monthly spread

In my case, this is a three-month spread. With how hectic the semester can get, I like to be able to see farther out than just a month. It helps with keeping up with important deadlines and appointments. Each page contains the full seven-day week, and the change in month is noted with the color changes surrounding the numbers. I use the space on the bottom of the left-hand side to note important tasks that need to be accomplished during that period.

PRO TIP: Do this page in pencil first. If you don’t, you will regret it because you will count wrong. As John Mulaney said, you’ll always start too big and too fast and screw yourself over by the time you get to the end.

5. The weekly spread

Finally, we have come to the pages you’ll use most often as a student: the weekly spread. You’ll notice the large grid I use that isn’t a common feature in store-bought planners. In this grid I keep track of all my assignments and tests for every class, checking them off as I go. Under each of the days I have marked out on the left page, Monday through Sunday, I write my events and to do lists. This keeps my academic and nonacademic commitments separate and helps me not to forget my dentist appointments because I buried them under my reading list for English. I don’t do much decorating aside from adding color, as I’ve found it takes up too much room.

PRO TIP: If you run out of room on your weekly spread, sticky notes are a great option to add more to do lists and notes.

After spending a year going through planner after planner, and sometimes carrying multiple at a time, I found that one journal that worked for everything. Making these spreads can take up quite a bit of time, but the more simple you keep them, the faster it will go (plus, decorations take up all the room that you need to write those assignments that you probably won’t do anyway). The easiest way to keep on top of the spread-making process is to work ahead on breaks so you’re never running out of pages. Hopefully, some of these spreads can inspire you to pick up a bullet journal of your own, organize yourself and have the planner you always dreamed of.