Ultimate Guide on How to Use a Bullet Journal

Ultimate Guide on How to Use a Bullet Journal

A bullet journal is a method created by Ryder Carroll. It is a type of journal that includes multiple sections in order to keep track of the multiple aspects of your life.

Instead of having one journal for your finances and career notes, and another journal for household to-do lists and journal entries, everything is in a single journal.

Once that one is filled up, you may then want to switch to a new one.

Another facet of a bullet journal is that you are not typically writing full journal entries when you use it.

Instead, you are summarizing your points with short words and phrases, as well as using bullet journal symbols in various parts of the journal.

This makes it easy for you to understand your intent on the different pages, but you don’t take up a lot of space with the journaling and it also doesn’t take up too much of your time.

If you are new to bullet journal, here is a simple summary of the pages that will follow. In this article here I give you an entire overview of the system for you to start up!

The Backbone Pages of the Bullet Journal

The Index Page

Open to the first spread of blank pages. This is your Index page. If the Bullet Journal is a potato, the Index is fat. You can use whatever kind of fat you want – olive oil, bacon, butter – but it’s hard to grasp the beauty of the simple boiled potato without a little liquid cholesterol.

Fat makes potatoes sing, i.e. your Index makes your Bullet Journal a magical device no matter what form you use. It often takes a little time to realize that, but don’t skip or ignore the Index.

Ultimate Guide on How to Use a Bullet Journal

One of the best qualities of the Bullet Journal is that nothing has to be written consecutively. In fact, it serves its purpose best when you simply write any new information on the next blank page.

There’s no saving pages or having empty sections (like in other planners), so there’s no waste. You simply find things via the Index.

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It doesn’t have to be fancy; it’s what you’d expect – a list of page descriptions and their corresponding page numbers so you can find what you need when you need it. You’ll fill it up over time, but for now, simply title that first page “Index,” write the appropriate page numbers at the bottom (presumably 1 and 2), and add those pages to your actual Index.

The Future Log

The Bullet Journal takes a focused look at one month at a time which is great for the month but tricky when recording things that will happen down the road. That’s why the Future Log is so fly. 

Ultimate Guide on How to Use a Bullet Journal

The versions of set-up are infinite, but trial and error have taught me to keep my Bullet Journal as mind-numbingly simple as possible. If an appointment or lunch date or food truck festival is coming my way, I simply write a box, the date, and the event. Done.

We’ll talk more about the execution later, so just write “Future Log” at the top of the page, number the page, and add it to your Index. You’ll want it near the front of your Bullet Journal, so best to do it now.

The Monthly Log 

I love that you don’t have to start your Bullet Journal in January for it to be effective. Simply begin where you are. If you’re reading this in May, your first Monthly Log will be May.

Write the month at the top of the next blank page, and write the days of the month down the side. It’s also helpful to write the first letter of the corresponding day of the week so you know when the actual date falls. You can do this on the left or right of the number; the creator of the Bullet Journal puts his on the right, and I put mine on the left. You choose.

Ultimate Guide on How to Use a Bullet Journal

Now take your current calendar system (your phone, your cute Target planner, etc.) and transfer this month’s appointments and events into your Monthly Log. Keep it simple, and limit your words. Brevity is a great habit to get into.

If you feel like this Bullet Journal thing might just be your jam, go ahead and flip through the rest of your old calendar and add any upcoming dates to your Future Log. Might as well while the book is open and your pen is poised.

The Monthly Task List

The original way people set up their month is to have the calendar page you just made on the left and a giant task list on the right. Frankly, I don’t live a life that needs a monthly task list, at least most of the time. In December, it was different.

There were gifts to purchase and wrap, desserts to make for gatherings, kids’ Christmas parties that needed red plates, i.e. it was natural for me to list out any number of things I needed to get done that month. But for me, most months aren’t like that.

The beautiful thing? Make each month what you need it to be. If you sometimes need a monthly task list, make one. If not, skip it. Isn’t the freedom awesome?

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The Daily Log

Here’s where I stumbled during my first months with my Bullet Journal. I approached the daily log purely in task mode. I’d write down that day’s date and then list out what I wanted to get accomplished. It was very robotic and had no soul.

Plus, we all know how we feel at the end of the day when tasks don’t get marked off – crappy. Then there would be some days (like lazy weekends) when I didn’t feel the need to write down any tasks at all. 

The result was inconsistent interaction with my Bullet Journal, relegating it to being an elaborate to-do list I could’ve just written on a napkin. 

Then the light bulb went off, and the Daily Log changed. It’s a log. The actual definition of log is “an official record of events during the voyage of a ship or aircraft.” No, life isn’t a boat, but it’s totally a voyage.

We move through life, change, make memories, forget most of them, and wonder why we feel so listless on a regular basis. 

The Daily Log is the knife and fork to your Bullet Journal potato. It’s the tool you use to take out the important bits of your day and give them permanence. Those bits will be practical, like tasks and appointments, but also personal, like things you want to remember, books you finished reading, conversations you had with an old friend. 

Once I treated my Daily Log like a log, the process came alive, and I opened my Bullet Journal every day. The best thing though? It’s not like those personal logs need to be long. In fact, it’s better if they’re not.

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When you’re writing entries for the day, write them as they come to mind. You might write “go to post office” and immediately follow it with “Sam rode his bike for the first time.” It all gets logged in unbiased order, just as our brains naturally bend.

My brain doesn’t automatically categorize things within itself; that’s why we make lists! That’s why we crave order. Our brains are amazing, but we have to sift through the information and find out what matters.

The Daily Log lets those thoughts out in a stream of consciousness way without feeling jumbled and crazy. 

How are you feeling so far? Intrigued I hope? If you are, let’s keep going.

The Bullet Journal doesn’t have to dress for the Oscars.

I encourage you to not look for other examples of Bullet Journaling, not just yet. Why? Because there are people who doll their pages up beautifully with washi tape, calligraphy, stamps, intricate doodles, and everything else that makes your heart beat fast at the craft store.

They’re color-coordinated with tabs and labels, and there are so many pages to choose from, it’s like a scary organizational buffet. 

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Those journals are beautiful without question. But remember when I said trial and error taught me to keep my Bullet Journal simple? That’s because I went through three – yeah, THREE – different journals because I kept getting frustrated and starting over. I couldn’t keep up with all the beauty I wanted to see on every page.

My handwriting is boring sometimes, the only thing I can doodle is a wobbly spiral, and while I do have an impressive collection of washi tape, it just took too long to make every page pretty. I was dressing my journal for the Oscars when I live a Modern Family reruns life.

Elaborate Bullet Journals are appealing, but they’re full of red flags. Here are some:

Signifiers

Signifiers are symbols for your entries. They allow you to quickly glance at any page of your Bullet Journal and find what you’re looking for. Since you’ll get in the habit of essentially brain dumping onto the page, giving those entries visual categorization is super helpful.

Here’s the problem. If you do an image search of “bullet journal signifiers,” you’ll have a nervous breakdown. There are SO. MANY. People create the signifiers they want and need, so there are no limits and no rules. It’s beautiful but overwhelming. My advice? Limit your signifiers to as few as possible.

Ultimate Guide on How to Use a Bullet Journal

An example of a Daily Log with various signifiers.

I use five main signifiers and an occasional sixth.

  1. A box is for tasks and things I need to do; when the task is done, I fill in the box.
  2. A triangle is for appointments and places to go; when it’s done, I fill in the triangle.
  3. A dot is for things to remember or log. It could be anything from the name of that ultrasound tech who made me laugh to the book I just finished.
  4. A heart is for memories and things that mean something I don’t want to forget.
  5. A star goes next to a box or dot for things that need an extra visual clue, i.e. urgent, important things.

Some people use different signifiers for emails, phone calls, things to research, ideas to flesh out, etc., but I could never remember what signifier I made for each purpose.

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Even when I made a special signifier bookmark to keep in my Bullet Journal as a reference, I never took the time to actually draw a lightbulb when I had an idea. It stressed me out and cramped my hand. Too much work, not enough lazy genius. 

Keep. signifiers. simple.

Collections

Collections are topical pages in your Bullet Journal, i.e. anything that’s not a log. In the past, I’ve had collection pages for books to read, shows to watch, recipes to try, favorite restaurants, party plans, cleaning lists, meal plans, blog post ideas, words I love, and that’s just scratching the surface. 

I would open a new Bullet Journal and make a collection for everything I could think of. Most of it I didn’t need to think hard about; it was already in my head. 

The delight of having a Bullet Journal is not having to keep stuff in your head that wants to get out, but there are certain things you know without having to write them down.

Like, you guys, in one of my Bullet Journals, I made a list of all our friends. Our friends. What purpose does that serve? I think I reasoned that it would be a good visual reminder of who we could invite over for dinner when the mood struck, but are you serious? A written list of friends?! 

I took collections too far. It’s easy to do.

Ultimate Guide on How to Use a Bullet Journal

One of my few collections. I add to it whenever I hear about a book I want to try.

As you get started with your own Bullet Journal, I encourage you to not make many, if any, collections until you’re a couple of weeks in. I’ve been using this method for almost two years, and in my current journal, I have three collections. Just three.

And one I just added a few days ago. I keep a list of books I want to read (the only collection I’ll allow you at the start because obviously you need this), important website details to quickly reference (fonts, colors, blog post tags, etc.), and I recently added a list of drugstore makeup products to try and log if they worked or not. The result? My breathing stays steady as I flip through my Bullet Journal. No yoga or stress exercises required.

Collections will make themselves obvious to you. You’ll know when you need one. When you spend a few days flipping among several different pages to get the information you need, you’ll think, “This would work a lot better if everything was on one page.” Boom. You just discovered a collection. 

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Don’t create collections simply to fill pages. Let them happen naturally.

Embellishment

Part of me wants my Bullet Journal to look like it belongs on a line of Martha Stewart packaging. For awhile, I forced it to. I bordered each page with a different color of washi tape. I’d try and make adorable block letters to title every page.

I’d assign different colored pens to different categories. I’d practice doodling just so my journal could look doodle-cute.  

Do you want to guess how long I kept that up? Exactly. 

Some of you are super artistic and can make the word January resemble a snow flurry in the amount of time it takes me to find a pen. I’m not telling you to not make pretty letters.

But whatever you choose, here’s the trick: how you add entries has to be just as easy to execute on a Saturday evening when you’re cozy on the couch surrounded by all your supplies as it is on a Monday at 4pm when someone poops on the floor just as your in-laws are walking in unannounced. (Not that that’s ever happened to any of us.)

Yes, it’s fun to flip through your Bullet Journal and see beautiful designs and calming colors, but if that only happens every 15 pages while the others look like a ransom note, you’ll get frustrated. At least I did. 

All you need to embellish your Bullet Journal is whatever comes easiest. Be okay with a black pen and nothing else.

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You will never learn all there is to know about the Bullet Journal.

And that’s okay. Sometimes being aware of every possibility is crippling instead of inviting. Still, there are a few more strategies and tips that might be helpful as you get started.

Migration

Migration is your filtering system. It’s how you decide what to keep, what to discard, and what strategies to revamp. 

At the end of every month when you’re setting up the next, you’ll migrate stuff. You’ll flip through the previous month (and even further back if things are still floating), look at undone tasks and events, i.e. empty squares and triangles, as well as read through your notes.

It’s best to get in the habit of closing up every month once it’s come to an end, kind of like packing up Christmas decorations. If you leave a random undone task floating in December but don’t move it to January, it’ll keep floating for all eternity. 

One glance at the signifiers tells me that everything has been resolved. I don't need to read the words unless I want to. Super quick process.

One glance at the signifiers tells me that everything has been resolved. I don’t need to read the words unless I want to. Super quick process.

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To migrate a task, make a visual cue. Draw an arrow through the empty box, triangle or dot to indicate that it’s been relocated to a more appropriate spot in your Bullet Journal. But that means you actually need to rewrite it somewhere else, whether that’s in the next month or on a collection page. Either way, try and reconcile every entry. 

If you come upon an undone task and you don’t feel like writing it again, chances are it’s not important enough to keep in your life. That’s the failsafe built into the Bullet Journal; if it’s not worth writing, it’s not worth doing. If that’s the case, cross it out. Again, give yourself visual cues so you’re not rereading the same entries over and over again. That’s when signifiers become your friend; they tell you what’s still open at the quickest glance.

P.S. If you find yourself migrating the same thing for several months, it might be time to reevaluate that thing. 

Threading

Threadingis an awesome page numbering trick. Let’s say you have similar information spread across several nonconsecutive pages. You can certainly look at your Index to see what pages you need, for example “12-14, 22, 35.” It’s a lot of flipping but not impossible. But once threading comes into play, it’s simpler.

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Just write the next relevant page number next to the current one. So if you’re on page 14, you can look at the bottom of that page, see the number 22, and know that’s the next relevant page to flip to. Page 22 will have 35 at the bottom of it, and the cycle continues. It’s not necessary all the time, but it’s helpful when things are spread out. 

P.S. If you find yourself with info spread across a million pages, it might be time for a collection. Once you migrate all the information, don’t forget to draw arrows through the boxes and dots that now have a new home.

Variations on the Calendar

We all have different brains that see the world in different ways. Some of you see words as colors, others see the months in a circle, and I see just about everything as linear as it can be. That means we all need different perspectives on our calendars. I like for my Monthly Log to be a list of dates rather a traditional calendar with squares; I tried both and totally prefer the list.

But I still like to see the year at a glance, especially when holidays and birthdays fall. So in the front of my Bullet Journal is a simple calendar with just that – holidays and birthdays. 

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I did make it a little extra pretty, but since this page only has to be created once and I had the time, I embellished more than I usually do. 

If you need a yearly look, create one. If you need your month to be boxes, do it.
Set up your calendars the best way your brain sees time.

The Bullet Journal is the Meryl Streep of organization; it can take on any role you need it to. But it doesn’t have to.

Everything can go in your Bullet Journal, but not everything has to. The trick is to take it slow. 

When you begin a Bullet Journal, practice with the most basic signifiers and stick to log pages only. Most of the hacks out there are for folks who have found their Bullet Journal rhythm and have a lot of pages to show for it. But move too soon and it’s like being asked to choose your first car when you’re six and just learning to ride your bike.

Give yourself time to figure out what matters to you. Then you can create mini systems within the larger method to work best for what you need.

Why Anyone Should Start a Bullet Journal

Once you understand the key aspects of a bullet journal getting started is easy! Now we will get a little more insight into why this is such a good journal to try creating and the top benefits of keeping one.

Bullet journaling for beginners has many advantages. Not only can a bullet journal help you become more organized, but you will get all these additional benefits:

It is a planner in an entirely customizable system – designed to suit your needs

Do you like to use a planner? If so, use a bullet journal instead! It provides all of the perks of using a planner, but then it also doubles as a journal.

You can keep track of even more things, have pages for weekly and monthly calendars, and put just about anything inside that you would put in a planner but without having to follow the ready-made templates and setups.

You can even use all those fun stickers and labels right onto the pages of your bullet journal for better organization.

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It is a journal where you can express your creativity

Like many other people have realized, a bullet journal can become a great outlet for creativity.

My journals are full of doodles and it is, in fact, a cross between a bullet journal and an art journal.

It just goes to reinforce the previous statement – your bullet journal is totally customizable.

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Unlike other planners, it is a budget-friendly option

There are many expensive planners and fancy bullet journal supplies out there but purchasing them is totally optional.

Starting a bullet journal, however, doesn’t need to be an expensive thing. A notebook of any kind and a pen is all you need.

It might be easier to have a dot-grid journal but even that is not an exclusive requirement. You could just as well use the system in any notebook.

You improve your productivity

Setting goals is easy but achieving them can be a very different thing.

Your goal can be anything you want, but it should be something that is achievable. How do you know the difference?

Easy. An achievable goal is one where you can list actionable steps that would help you achieve that goal. It is something you can actually see by writing it all out and looking at it step-by-step.

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You can start a personal journal and have a section where you talk all about your goals and what is needed to reach them.

Your Stress and Anxiety is Reduced

Planning can help you reduce stress in your life. Even though stress and anxiety are a normal part of life, mental health is something you should never minimize or push aside.

A bullet journal can be actually very helpful in managing your mental health issues.

Even when the bullet journal is used to organize your life better, this, in turn, starts to reduce your stress because you are far less worried about forgetting something.

You also don’t have as much anxiety brought on by the stress of all the chaos of your everyday life and you can have entire collections to track your feelings.

It helps you organize your entire life

Bullet journaling is going to help you become more organized in nearly every facet of your life.

Perhaps you run a busy household, with each kid participating in a different sport or activity. You need to keep track of sports practice, camp, school.

You need to know when they have doctor’s or dentist’s appointments, but also have a place in the journal for your own purposes, like your job, diet and fitness, hobbies or managing the finances.

All of this and more can be done just with your personal guided journal.

References

https://diaryofajournalplanner.com/starting-a-bullet-journal/

http://www.thelazygeniuscollective.com/blog/how-to-bullet-journal

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