A glimpse of a bullet journal. (Photo courtesy Rachel Grob)
I have always struggled with organization. I would make to-do lists on Post-its, update calendars and planners but nothing really stuck…until I tried a Bullet Journal. I first heard about the journals through a Facebook post and was intrigued by the beautiful handwriting and colorful drawings that covered the pages. I love to doodle, paint and scrapbook, and so I knew that the creative aspect of a Bullet Journal would keep me interested. It’s not monotonous like a planner, so each page is something completely different and new.
Unlike a traditional planner, a Bullet Journal doesn’t require you to stick to a pre-designed layout or theme – in fact, it thrives on creativity and sporadic inspiration, allowing you to organize your thoughts in a way that works best for you.
While you could use virtually any notebook to create a Bullet Journal, there are a few rules you need to follow. Every Bullet Journal starts with a Key, an Index and a Future Log. The Key explains what all of the different symbols you’ll use mean, the Index acts as a Table of Contents and uses page numbers so you can access certain pages quicker and easier and the Future Log keeps track of major yearly events, like birthdays and holidays. Then come the pages that break the journal down into a monthly and daily planner. Let’s break down each section:
Quick thoughts and notes are what make a Bullet Journal a Bullet Journal, and you use different symbols to categorize your thoughts. Use the bullet symbol (·) next to things you need to do and write an (x) over the tasks that are complete. The less than symbol (<) shows a scheduled task or appointment and a greater than symbol (>) when you migrate something, AKA move it to another day. You can also use a dash (-) for quick thoughts or notes and an open circle (◦) to mark big events, like holidays or birthdays or something you’re really excited about. Some people take the symbols even further, using a star or asterisk (*) to label things that are important, drawing eyeballs to show something that needs more attention or sketching light bulbs to show ideas.
The Index page follows the Key, listing each topic and the corresponding page numbers. The topics you list can be broad (such as “Recipes”) or specific (like “Paleo Recipes” or “Thanksgiving Recipes”). It’s vital to the Bullet Journal system that you continuously update your Index page to track things you’d like to keep reference of, like a sleeping log or workout goals.
It’s also important to number the pages of your Bullet Journal. You can number them as you go or do it in advance when you receive your notebook.
The Future Log
After the Index, you have a Future Log. “Future Log” is really just a fancy name for a calendar. It’s a space for you to note holidays, birthdays, scheduled appointments and major life events every month.
Collection pages are essentially optional, but they are a huge part of what makes the Bullet Journal so personal. Collection pages allow you to keep track of the BIG things, like books you’d like to read, movies you’d like to watch, places you’d like to travel to and even a yearly bucket list. If you’re trying to be more budget conscious, this is where you can keep track of your spending. If you love inspirational quotes, you can dedicate a few pages to the ones that mean the most to you. Whatever is important to you should be a collection.
Monthly and Weekly Logs
The most useful parts of your Bullet Journal are the monthly and weekly logs. Your monthly log is basically a numbered list with each number corresponding to the particular day of the week it falls on. If you have an appointment or event on that day, this is where you would list it. On the next few pages, you can keep a monthly to-do list, a list of daily gratitude, a habit tracker or anything else you can think of. Then, each month is broken down weekly, highlighting appointments, events, to-dos or other miscellaneous tasks you have scheduled. You can keep a grocery list or meal plan log, note the weather or how many glasses of water you drink each day — again, whatever is important to you.
What makes a Bullet Journal such a unique way to organize your life is how you can personalize it. Go out and buy a notebook with a pretty cover, or decorate one yourself. Buy colored pens or pencils, stickers or rhinestones. Color-code your entries, doodle giant flowers, border your pages with swirls and polka dots and practice your handwriting skills writing quotes that inspire you each week. You can make the journal as elaborate or minimalist as you are. Keep track of your savings with a drawing of a piggy bank, line one of your collection pages with a doodled bookshelf or draw Passport stamps to color in when you arrive at each dream destination — the possibilities are endless.
I was always attached to my planner for scheduling, my phone for making grocery lists, meal plans and budgeting, constantly writing notes and to-do lists on whatever scraps of paper I could find around me. On top of that, I kept my work notes, reminders and messages in a marble notebook. I usually thrived around organized chaos, but I started feeling increasingly overwhelmed, so I made a goal to get organized. I wasn’t exactly sure how I’d do that, though, until I read about the Bullet Journal. It combines everything I need into one book, and I enjoy writing in it every day. It’s a lot of fun to end each Sunday designing my weekly log, getting inspired by Instagram and Pinterest Bullet Journal posts, and I especially love re-reading my list of daily gratitude. It has made me think about my everyday life in a very different way, and I don’t think that is something I would have done without starting a Bullet Journal.