Ever since I was in middle school, I have always been a “lists” person. You know what that is?
It is a person who has lists for what they need to do for the day. It is a person who never goes to the grocery store without a list. It is a person who writes out their weekly, monthly, and yearly goals. It is a person who even has lists for her lists.
How else would I keep track of my lists?
Again, the problem is with making so many lists on so many scraps of paper is that you lose them. As January approached, I was also frustrated because I could not find a planner that I liked. I feel like planners never have the exact layout that you want. They either have boxes that have lines you don’t need, too little room to write everything out you want to, or have a lot of wasted space (I love writing my goals, but I don’t need three lines to do it every day).
That is around when I discovered bullet journaling. A bullet journal is a combination of a diary, a planner, and a collection of to-do lists all in one. The main idea of a bullet journal is, instead of writing long sentences, you write quick notes with categorical symbols to track what you are doing. Honestly, the official bullet journal website can do a better job of explaining all of the main basics of bullet journaling than I can. It is what I used when I first started, so I am sure it will be helpful for you too!
I just made this sound WAY more complicated than it is, but it has honestly made my life so much simpler! I can keep everything I need for the day in one place. it’s a great way to track my day-to-day activities and experiences, as well as my long-term goals. Planners/to-do lists typically only focus on what you’re doing in the future, and diaries typically focus on what you did that day. Before I started bullet journaling, the idea of keeping my diary and my personal to-do list in the same place seemed absurd. But now I understand both how to organize that, and also why it makes sense to do it that way. It is fun to look back and see what patterns have arisen based on your working habits. Bullet journaling allows you to keep track of all of the things going on in your life, yet makes it easy to keep track of things you want to do in the future.
The first part of starting your bullet journal is the JOURNAL! The website says, “The two main things to keep in mind are size and quality. If it’s too big you’ll never take it with you. If it’s too small it will be impractical. Be sure to get something that’s rugged enough to keep up with you.” Honestly, any journal will work. However, the journal I like to use is the Leuchtturm dot grid journal. It comes with the page numbers already on it and has a blank index ready for you (more on what the hell that is in a moment). I really like this journal. The dotted pages allow my lines and writing to be straight, but give me the freedom to customize my journal however I want. I’ve seen others use gridded paper or lined paper. Whatever you want is up to you!
You will also need pens to write with. Again, ANY pens will do. But, like every person who could not WAIT for back to school shopping season (I know we have some takers here!) I have my very favorite pens. Sharpie pens are my favorite for writing down my day to day tasks in my bullet journal. I love the way they write on the paper and have been my go-to black pens for some time now. To “color” in my journal, I love the Staedtler Triplus Fineliner pens. They come in this cute little carrying case and never dry out. My counselor brought them to camp one year when I was 11 and, since then, they’ve been my go tos. And yes, that is a true story.
The first thing you will find in a bullet journal is an index. The index is basically like a book index, where you list all the important topics and their corresponding page numbers. As you write, you’ll go back to the index and add in the topics and the page numbers it as you go. My bullet journal came with an index already. If yours does not, I suggest you give yourself two pages for the index, just to be on the safe side.
The next four pages of your bullet journal are called the “Future Log”. I know that this name makes it sound very dystopian, but don’t worry! A future log is essentially a year long calendar that you fill in information for the big stuff. For me, I put in dates of weddings, vacations, graduations, or anything else that has been planned far in advance. I had some extra space at the bottom here, so I threw my yearly goals here at the bottom. That is the beauty of bullet journaling: you can customize your pages however you want!
After the future log, I have a list of my friend’s birthdays (it helps me to keep track if they are all in the same place). I also have the key to my bullet journal. We’ll go through this but, essentially, the key contains the symbols you need to indicate what something is. When you are jotting down lists in future pages, it makes it easier to know if something you’ve written is a note or a task.
The symbols I use are the ones that work for me. At this point, I can just jot them down with thinking about it. However, if there are symbols that work better for you, then by all means us them! Just make sure you us the same symbols across all of your pages. It makes it a lot easier to identify tasks from events from other things.
My next page is my monthly log. Before the beginning of each new month, I set up a monthly log page to scribble down what I am expecting for the coming month. This can be anything from birthday reminders (from the birthdays page), any graduations or weddings (from the future log! Remember?) or upcoming appointments that I’ve scheduled. By keeping everything in one place, I am able to keep my life on track.
Once I complete the monthly log, I start the next pages for the daily logs. Now, the daily logs are for your day-to-day tasks, what I used to have as my “to-do” lists. What is nice about having this running to-do list is you can see what you did not get a chance to accomplish the previous day. I then write it on the next day’s to-do list. I find I am more motivated to get tasks done when thy are written this way. I also find it easier not to “forget” about certain things I need to get done. Everything is in one place! Plus, who does not like to fill in the little bubble after accomplishing something?
I see you racing to the comments to yell “Ain’t nobody got time for that!” at me, and I’m going to stop you right here.
The initial setup takes less than an hour, and I spend about an hour doing my new spreads for each month. Beyond that, I tend to write in mine for 10–20 minutes, either before I go to bed or after I wake up in the morning. It’s a nice way to unplug and unwind before bed. Like most things, I’ve found that once I get started on it, I end up doing more than I expected to. But how much time you spend on it is really up to you. At this point, it is ingrained in my daily routine. I feel so much more organized when I get to work when I have my to-do list for the day in front of me.
The next couple of pages I am showing you are things called modules. Now, modules are optional pages that can help you keep track of habits you want to see trends on. There are many good resources to find ideas for module pages that can work for you. The Boho Berry blog and Boss Girl Bujo are great resources for ideas about what to include. These are some of the layouts that I find work best for me!
I have tried to make reading more of a priority this month. I like this “book shelf” layout as a way to motivate me to read more! As I start a book, I fill in the title. Once I finish it, I color the book in. I like to doodle so, for me, it is fun to see all of the books I’ve read while, at the same time, getting to doodle a bit.
This month, I have experimented with keeping a gratitude log. Each day, I write something I am grateful for. I find that, by reminding myself of one thing I am grateful for everyday, I am so much happier and positive about my outlook. It is such a good exercise that I hope to continue with this module for future months.
When I meal prep for the week, I love to use this layout! I bought these cute post it notes, in which five totally fit on one page. Each week, I write down what I am thinking of having every day. As someone who holds 10-15 recipes in tabs at one time on my internet browser or spontaneously thinks of a new recipe idea, this helps me to keep myself organized. When I am done with the Post-Its, I also keep them so I can remember what meals I liked in case I want to repeat them.
I love this idea for a module to help keep track of my mood. By looking at my to-do lists, it makes it easier to see what might have triggered why I felt a certain way (Was it stress over money? Anxiety due to a project?)
I found that many of my blog post ideas were ones that I had when I was out and about and away from my computer. This chart allows me to jot down ideas so I can come back to them later. Of course, most of them have not been written or posted yet, so those, I will keep a secret.
Have you ever gone to the grocery store and not known what to buy? I always am overwhelmed the minute I step foot into a grocery store (cough… Trader Joe’s… cough). That’s why I have this list written into my bullet journal. It is so nice to have a list of fruits and vegetables I like on hand to inspire me what to buy (and cook!) for the week. It also helps when I am taking tally of what is in my fridge to see what I might need to restock on. Most of my thought process goes something like, “Wow, I haven’t had cauliflower in a while. Time to stock up!”
So there you have it! Of course, there are so many resources online to keeping a bullet journal, but this is a good starting point! Do you have a bullet journal? Are you looking to start one? What do you hope to use it for? Feel free to let me know in the comments!