The beautiful thing about a quirky tool called the Bullet Journal is that there is no one right way to do it. Truly. You can’t screw it up. And it’s become a lifeline for me.
I’m unabashedly a writer-downer of things; in fact, the sheer act of writing helps me remember and process. As much as I love digital tools and still use several, old-fashioned paper gives me a lot of bang for my buck. I actually get more done, even online.
First… What’s a bullet journal?
Fair question. It’s best to just go to the site directly, or watch the quick video by creator Ryder Carroll that explains the gist:
(Head here to watch it on AoS if you’re reading this via email.)
Make sense? Basically, it’s a method of keeping track of stuff.
One big tip before you start
As you’ve gathered, you gotta tweak your Bullet Journal to fit your needs, or it won’t really be much use. The main thing I’ve learned six months into bullet journaling:
Don’t let perfection keep you from trying. Give yourself permission to screw up, scribble, tear out pages, and start all over.
This was hugely helpful for me, as I default to perfectionism—if I can’t do it exactly the right way immediately, I won’t even try. Ridiculous, I know.
I actually first tried the method for a few months in a simple, not-special-to-me journal to gauge what I needed and wanted. I discovered pages I didn’t need, methods I preferred, and ideas to make it better. Then I broke out the one you see in this post and still gave myself permission to not be perfect.
An example: When I started this second journal, I thought I’d prefer pen—I even broke out my favorite pens with full intention to fill it up with beautiful black script. This lasted exactly two pages, and I dutifully switched over to pencil. Was I tempted to start all over? Yep. I resisted.
Also, I’ve got a full plate, and if I waited until I could create a Bullet Journal with beautiful drawings and coordinated washi tape, (I mean, seriously—look at the inspiration), I’d never start. It has to be a tool for me and and not a slave. I admire those that can use their journal as an artist’s canvas, but for me, I’ll express my art in other places.
How I do it
1. I ditch a lot of the Bullet Journal’s main, official pages. I don’t use a Future Log or a Monthly Log, which are admittedly staples of the whole system. But I found in my trial round that it just didn’t work for me. It’s not how my brain works, and that’s okay.
2. I brain dump my days with the Daily Log. I do use this feature, and this is my lifeline. Every night before bed, I check my day’s Log, and I note what I didn’t accomplish that day (marked with a right arrow, per the official Bullet Journal method).
If it’s still worth it for me to accomplish, I’ll add it to tomorrow’s list. If it doesn’t need to get done tomorrow either, but it still needs doing soonish, I add it to a simple ongoing master list (more on this below). And if I don’t need to get it done at all, I cross it off.
I use a simple dot for to-do items, an open circle for appointments with set times, and a dash for general thoughts (what’s for dinner tonight, it’s so-and-so’s birthday, etc.). I don’t worry about writing them in order—I brain dump. These symbols are enough to keep it straight.
3. I keep my calendar digital. Our family’s shared calendar of events is on Google Calendar anyway, so it’s easier for me to track (and share with Kyle) my ongoing events on my laptop and on my calendar app.
4. I prefer a small notebook. I didn’t think I would at first (see: my trial-and-error notebook), but it turns out I use it a lot more if it’s more portable for me.
I carry a small purse, and this way I can toss it in and use it all throughout the day. I also keep a sharpened pencil in my purse. Here’s my current notebook style.
5. I use washi tape to mark non-calendar pages. I didn’t think I’d do this, but it turns out it’s easier for me to find these pages than a simple dog-eared corner, which is what I originally tried (begone, perfectionism!).
I still use the Table of Contents (or Index), but the colored tape helps a lot. I keep it fancy-free.
Here are the pages I currently use—and I’ll keep adding more throughout the year as the need arises.
• Books to read: Anytime someone recommends a book to me, I see one in a store but I’m not yet ready to buy, or I read a review that intrigues me, I’ll jot it down here.
• Books read in 2016: I wish I were better at logging at GoodReads, but since I’m not, this is the next best thing. It’s just a simple list of book titles.
• New movies watched in 2016: This includes only new-to-me movies; so, just released, but also an older movie I haven’t yet seen. (There’s a whopping one on this list so far—Star Wars: The Force Awakens.)
• Gift ideas: Because I always think of ideas when it’s least convenient. This way, I quickly jot them down all in one place, whether I’m at the store or browsing online.
• Nightly examen: A condensed version of the Daily Examen, this is a simple list where I jot down one way I recognized God in my life that day. It’s the last thing I do in bed before setting down my journal on the nightstand.
• Post, podcast, and general blog ideas: A mashup list of post topics, future guest ideas, tweaks for the site, and what-not.
• Good family habits: We’re focusing on a few habits per month this year—you know, things like no burping at the table, tossing wrappers in the trash instead of leaving them on the table, and putting dirty dishes directly in the dishwasher instead of on the counter for someone else to do it.
I add more to this list throughout my days (there are many).
• Meeting notes: If I have a phone call or Skype chat with someone work-related, I’ll add a page for my notes here.
• Project notes: And if I’m working on an ongoing project (such as a book), I’ll add space to toss out thoughts as well.
• Master to-do list: This isn’t the daily stuff (fold laundry, write that one email), this is what I use for ongoing projects instead of a Future or Monthly Log. It’s the same idea, just simpler—I add bigger projects and tasks, then cross them off as they’re done.
• Things to research: I’m always thinking of things to look up when I’m not at the computer. Then when I’m in front of it? I can never remember. This is my list of things to research when I can.
Here’s something important:
I don’t sweat leaving enough blank pages to keep the thoughts all in one space in my notebook. For example, right now I have book notes on pages 22-23, but things to research on the next page, page 24. If I need to add more book notes, I simply start a new page wherever—the next one could be on page 47, sandwiched between Daily Logs, another page of meeting notes, or some new collection I haven’t even created yet.
I simply add a comma and another page number to that item on the Table of Contents. Voilá. No need for it to be perfectly organized. In fact, this is key to my bullet journaling method—I keep on adding in the journal, one page at a time. No worries that it’s not all in the same place, because I just check the front.
This is working beautifully for me right now, but I’m still learning. Fellow bullet journalers: What are you doing to make it work for you?