How To Use Bullet Journaling To Get Your Sh*t Together
A year and a half ago, I opened up the first page of my brand new Leuchtturm1917 dot grid notebook and began my very first bullet journal. What I didn’t know at the time what a huge impact this simple system would have on my life.
I worked in the bar and restaurant industry for as long as I can remember, and early 2015 I started to get antsy. I was looking for a creative outlet and started an Etsy shop for handmade, bohemian style jewelry called Boho Berry. Of course, like all good shop owners, I wrote a blog to go with it. The writing quickly evolved from being about jewelry and style to deeper concepts like mindfulness, meditation, goal-setting, and living a better life. Lo and behold, it was resonating with readers and the blog took on a life of its own.
I’ve always loved planners but often found myself sticking with them for one or two months and then reverting to my unorganized ways. This was a real problem, because I had so many goals I wanted to achieve with the success of the Boho Berry blog. The Bullet Journal system became the first “planner” I've been able to stick with, and the first system to really “click” with my needs and my mindful way of life. Now I don't adhere strictly to the bullet journal style—yes, there's an "official" method—I've developed my own system that combines productivity and creativity. (And as you start journaling, I encourage you to do the same!)
In addition to changing the way I planned my life, sticking to this practice has also given me some pretty amazing life lessons that have helped me achieve more than I ever would have without it. Here's what I've learned.
1. Constant review is key.
Look up "goal setting" online, and you're sure to find loads of experts recommending that the first step to achieving your goals is to write them down. While I completely agree that writing your goals down should be your first step, I believe that the most important step is to review them continuously.
I've always been a goal-setter, but not necessarily a goal-getter. It wasn't until I started bullet journaling that I began to review those big goals on a regular basis. Having all of my goals front and center right there in my bullet journal caused me to reflect upon them often. I often find myself flipping back through the pages of my journal to evaluate and assess where I stand on those big goals. I've accomplished more in the past year and a half than I ever did in the 32 years before I started bullet journaling.
2. Overcoming perfectionism.
Oh, the dreaded mistakes! I’ll be the first to admit that I suffer from perfectionism from time to time. One thing that the bullet journal has taught me is how to let go of the reigns a little bit and accept that mistakes are a part of everyday life. We are all human here, after all.
“Old” Kara would have freaked out over the tiniest mistake, ripped out the page, and started to cry because her pretty new notebook was ruined!
“New” Kara? She’s totally chill about it. Messing up a word, drawing a line a little wonky, not spacing things out correctly… those are everyday occurrences. Messing up an entire page? Yeah, that happens too. Guess what I do? I put a giant “X” through that sucker and turn the page.
Kara creates the mood mandala pictured above by adding a new colored line each day that corresponds to a specific mood. For example, the yellow rings indicate mostly happy days.
I often post pictures of my mistakes on Instagram because I think there is too much “perfectionism” in the Bullet Journal community sometimes. I want you to know that even though I create some pretty spreads, there is a lot of trial and error that goes into my pages. For every beautiful photo, there is inevitably a mistake to go right along with it.
3. Never be afraid to try new things.
Let’s face it. When you dive into the world of the bullet journal, all of the inspiration out there can be quite overwhelming. There are SO many talented bullet journalists out there doing amazing things in their journals.
This can all seem incredibly daunting at first, but I like to look at it as a positive. The best thing about a bullet journal is that each new page is a blank canvas. You can turn it into anything you want. If you mess up or it doesn’t work for you, just turn the page and move on.
Trying new things is the name of the game. Feel free to explore and express yourself in any way that you see fit. There are no rules. Just the magic that happens when you put pen to paper.
Bullet Journal Supplies
So you want to start a bullet journal? Here's your shopping list. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but rather some of my go-to supplies when setting up maintaining my bullet journal.
In 2017, one of Kara's goals is to explore how the phases of the moon affect her mood and productivity. Here she's creatd a moon calendar for the year.
Leuchtturm1917 A5 Dot Grid Notebook: This notebook is the perfect size for carrying around with you on a daily basis. The dot grid helps to keep all of your tasks and to-do’s organized.
Sharpie Art Pens: These have quickly become my go-to felt-tip pen for all of my daily logs and writing in my Bullet Journal. They dry quickly, do not smear, and last longer than many other felt-tip pens that I’ve tried.
Paper Mate Flair Pens: My favorite for adding colorful headers and divider lines in my bullet journal. I use these as markers, and love that they don’t bleed through my pages!
Paper Mate InkJoy Gel Pens: These are great for those who prefer a traditional “ball-point” feel. The InkJoy Gels are super-smooth writers and dry within seconds—again, without any smear or bleed through.
Bullet Journal System: A Review
The video above goes through exactly what you need to know about bullet journaling. These are techniques used in the "official" bullet journaling system* but I encourage you to try them out and modify them as you need! I adhere to some of these now, but not all of them. Over time, you'll start to develop your own style.
Rapid logging comes into play when you're planning out your dailies (more on this in the modules section, below).
- Topics – a brief, descriptive title
- Page Numbers – to index later
- Short Sentences – concise and to the point
- Bullets – to organize your entries
Tasks are signified by a dot or bullet point (•) for actionable items and to-do’s.
- X Task completed
- > Task migrated
- < Task scheduled
- Events – signified by an open circle (ο) for date-specific items
- Notes – signified by a dash (-) for great ideas worth keeping
Signifiers are symbols that help to categorize your entries.
- An asterisk (*) denotes priority or important tasks
- An exclamation point (!) is for inspiration items
- An eye is for items that need more research or information
Each module is covered in the video, including an overview of the purpose of each and how to set it up. Here's a comprehensive guide on what's needed, what's flexible, and what to customize by section.
The index is where all of your entries and collections get organized. I often get asked what types of things I usually index. Do I index every single page? Every week? Every day?
The short answer is that you should index whatever you feel is important. Personally, I like to index each month and each new collection that I add to my bullet journal.
The future log in it’s simplest form as laid out at bulletjournal.com is how you will be logging your future events and appointments. Since nothing is set up ahead of time in the bullet journal, it’s necessary to keep a future log of some sort to log future events as they come up.
The monthly log is where you’ll be keeping track of all your current month’s events, appointments, and tasks. The monthly log can be set up in a matter of minutes, and I highly recommend waiting until the day before the month begins since you never know how much space the rest of the current month will need.
Once you have your dates and days of the week written down the left-hand side, just fill in any upcoming events and appointments that you know about at the beginning of the month. Then, as the month unfolds, you can log any little tidbits of things that happened each day, as well as add additional appointments as they come up.
The right-hand side of the spread is for your monthly tasks and goals. I like to write these out in no particular order, but you’re welcome to organize them by category or even put little signifiers next to each one to indicate what type of task it is.
The daily logs or “dailies” are where the bullet journal system comes alive! The daily log is where that method of rapid logging and using signifiers enters into play.
Simply write the date on the next available line, and then list out your tasks for the day using the bullets and signifiers covered above.
As you go through your day, you can mark off tasks as they are complete, or cross them out if they become irrelevant.
Migration is the act of re-writing unfinished tasks from previous days into your current daily log. This can be done on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis (whatever suits you best) and it helps you to get clear on your next steps.
Collections can be lists, projects, or anything else that you want or need to insert into your bullet journal. This is an example of a "mood board" collection.
That’s the beauty of the bullet journal system! Whenever you need to write something down, you can go to the next available page or space and get to writing. To organize your collections, it’s as simple as writing them into your index so that you can easily find them later.
I hope this system is helpful! I encourage you to check out the OG site if you're interested in starting your own. Happy journaling!