You might have heard of Bullet Journalling before, but the majority of us are stranger to this niche, seemingly over-complicated version of a planner. Regardless of what you’ve heard, Bullet Journalling is a simple, effective way to organize your day-to-day and long-term to-do list. In this article, I’ll be teaching you how easy it is to learn and how it can help organize your daily life, and function as a creative outlet too.
Pick Your Journal!
There is an “official Bullet Journal” that you can buy from the creator of the system, which is essentially a blank notebook with faint dots forming the basic structure of a grid. Perfectly designed specifically for Bullet Journalling, but definitely more expensive than your average journal! If you don’t want to spring for the “official” journal, you can easily pick up any blank, lined or gridded notebook and use that! It’s all up to preference—I personally use a blank Moleskine notebook, but as long as you can write in it, it’ll work just fine.
Some people use the first page to establish a “theme” for that journal. As one journal can last anywhere from a few months to a year, depending on it’s size and your use of the space, this can be set up as a motivational page to inspire you for the time you use the journal. This page often consists of a word or quote that inspires you, and some choose to further embellish by doodling around it or adding colour. Your Bullet Journal can be as artistic or bare bones as you want—it’s completely up to interpretation.
If you choose not to do a motivational page, the best way to start your journal is by creating an Index. By numbering your pages and documenting them in an Index, you can refer back to pages whenever you need to.
After the Index comes the Key, which is the basis for your to-do lists. Traditionally, the symbols found in the key are:
The filled-in dot, designating a task you have to do
The empty dot, designating an event
The X, crossed through tasks and events when they’ve been done
The strikethrough, placed through a task that is no longer relevant
The forward arrow, designating a task that has been “migrated” to one of the next couple days
The backward arrow, designating a task that has been scheduled in the Monthly Log
Note: Many people choose to use one of the arrow symbols for both of these actions, as there is barely a difference. You do you!
The star, designating a priority task
The dash, designating a note
The exclamation, designating a task that requires research or further action
These are the standard symbols you’re going to be using in your Weekly Logs to keep track of the different things you have to do each week; however, you can add, remove or change the symbols however you want to fit your use of the journal. Many people use only the first five symbols I listed, including me!
If you want, you can set up a couple pages for the next few months you’ll be using your Bullet Journal. The simplest way to do this is just to divide your pages in half or thirds, horizontally, and dedicate each section to a month. Then, write down any and all long-term future events or plans you might have! This feature is great for people who have concrete plans early, like trips, but might be a little less useful for students who might not know due dates or exam dates months in advance. You can always try this feature out and discard it later—if the Bullet Journal is known for anything, it’s for it’s flexibility.
Your Monthly Log is basically your calendar, which you can use to see what the month has in store for you at a glance. You set it up by creating two vertical columns, one for the days of the month (1, 2, 3..) and one for the corresponding days of the week (Mon, Tues, Weds..). Then you can write in your events next to the dates; this can include social events, birthdays, due dates, exams, trips, or anything else you might want to note when you’re planning out your month.
Although it isn’t a traditional aspect of the original Bullet Journal, lots of users have opted to include a tracking grid every month that counts the amount of days you do a certain task within the month. The Monthly Tracker takes up a full page and looks like a grid, with the numbered and weekly days of the month up the long side. The short side—the “bottom” of the journal—is where you put the tasks you want to track monthly. These tasks can be anything you’d like to do as often as possible that month; the goal is to fill out the box for each task for every day of the month. Some examples from my journal are “iron pill,” “did something good,” and “read.” You can also track things that you don’t necessarily want every day, but need to see the last time you did them, such as “garbage day” and “watered plants.”
Each day you go into your Monthly Tracker and fill in the boxes of the tasks you did for that day so that by the end of the month you can see how many days you did each task! This one is great for developing healthy habits because you can put things like “8 glasses of water” and “exercise” in there as well.
Weekly Logs are the meat of the Bullet Journal—the pages that are going to fill your pages and take up most of your time. Each week you’ll dedicate a “spread” (two blank pages, separated by the journal’s central binding) to the week, using whatever layout you like to split the space between the days of the week. Here is a link to a fantastic resource on layouts; I use a modified version of #21, because I like to have sections in my spread for groceries and tasks, but I like a lot of space for my day planning.
Weekly Logs are the most customizable section of the bullet journal because you can really format them to fit whatever you want to keep track of. Want to dedicate a single page to each day and use seven pages per week? Go for it! Want to use a single page per week and just track basic tasks? Also great! It’s 100% up to you how you want to track your weeks, and learning is a part of the process—if you decide you don’t like your Log format, you can switch it up for next week.
Your Weekly Logs are also customizable concerning what you want to track in them. Besides the daily to-do lists, using icons from the key above, you can track just about anything. Many people decide to include a list of weekly tasks that aren’t necessarily assigned to a specific day, and others, like me, like to have a weekly grocery list in there as well. Some people also add icons to track the weather on each day or write something good that happened to them that day. I’d recommend doing some research if you want to play with your Dailies, because there are hundreds of ideas you can incorporate, if you don’t want to go bare bones with your Weeklies!
Aside from the main sections of the Bullet Journal, you can fill the rest of the space with anything you want—other lists, quotes, drawings, movies to see, recipes… it’s completely up to you. If you decide you want to keep track of several pages with a common theme, you can make an ongoing Collection for it. Collections are made by starting a blank page with the first occurrence of the theme, and documenting each recurring page in which the topic is mentioned.
For example, if you create a page titled “Books to Read” and run out of room, find any free blank page and continue the list. Then flip back to your Index and write in “Book to Read,” with the page numbers of both pages you used to track this topic, as well as any other page in your journal you may have written a book to read. This way, if you’re looking for this list, you have a complete list of everywhere the theme or topic was mentioned in the journal!
Here is a list of some Collection ideas if you get stuck, but remember to only pick the ones you’re interested in continuing. Remember that your journal is finite, and keep in mind how quickly you’re going through pages to track when you’ll need to buy a new one!
These are the basics of Bullet Journaling, but there are so many other elements you can include if you do some exploring! There is tons of inspiration for new lists, spreads, and layouts, and you can make your journal as simple or as comprehensive as you’d like. The beauty of the Bullet Journal is that you can include as many or as few of these elements to create the system you need. Whether you treat your journal as a purely organizational system or an artistic expression, your Bullet Journal is what you make of it!