About two months ago, I stumbled onto something called a ‘bullet journal’. I was immediately drawn to the concept: a planning system that was both simple and flexible. Plus, it didn’t require some fancy, expensive planner or organiser – I could use one of the many notebooks I had lying around. And it tied into my weird obsession with making lists, except I could keep them all in one place instead of on random bits of paper that I would later lose. So I began my bullet journal journey, which I’ll share with you here. I’m also going to share some tips and ideas I’ve learnt along the way.
The idea behind the bullet journal is simple: just write things down as they come up. When you’re done for the day, simply start the next day directly underneath that. This means no wasting of paper and no limitations if you happen to have a day where lots of things come up. The idea is not to take long, complicated notes, but to use ‘rapid logging’ – short bullet points – for everything, whether it’s a task or an event or a note. I use my bullet journal for tracking my tasks for work and home and blogging, as well as noting down things that happened that day. I use different coloured pens to separate different items in a list, but you can also use different bullets to mean different things.
One of the challenging aspects of the bullet journal is planning ahead. Without pages set aside for each day and month like in a traditional diary/journal, it can be hard to see what’s coming in the next weeks or months. Though the official bullet journal website uses a future log and a monthly page for this purpose, you will see countless other options out there. Personally, I like to draw up a month ahead double-page spread, and I’m currently dabbling in a week ahead spread as well. I use these to summarise my month or week, and then supplement this with daily entries.
In addition to my month- and week-at-a-glance spreads, I also have a blogging calendar, a spending tracker, and a school term plan. This helps me keep up with the different spheres of my life. At the end of each month, I look back over these and consider what worked and what didn’t, and then prepare new versions of the pages that did work for the new month. I’ll also spend some time online, looking for fresh ideas to try. Setting up for a new month can take some time depending on how many spreads you decide to use. I usually watch TV while drawing up new monthly or weekly pages.
Finding things in your bullet journal can be challenging once you’ve filled up a few dozen pages. The standard method is to keep an index at the front of your journal, and number the pages as you go – manually, since most notebooks don’t have numbered pages. I’ve found I don’t really use the index all that much. Instead, I use the page marker that is attached to my notebook to mark my current page. For other important pages, like the current month, week and term plans, I have added page tabs that stick out of the book – these are simply sticky file tabs that I’ve labelled and cut to size. I also use coloured stickers on the edges of pages that I want to be able to find again, colour coded by their topic – just work or not-work at this stage.
Since I was already using my bullet journal to keep track of all the things I had to do, it made sense to extend this to things I wanted to do. So, this month, my first page consisted of a list of goals I wanted to work towards, as well as tracking those habits that were really important to me. Although this tracking can be done in a variety of ways, my current method involves printing out little month blocks onto sticky paper (made by Decade Thirty), as shown in the picture below. As you can see, there’s a box for each day, and I simply highlight the days when I complete the relevant task.
This is one of my favourite parts of the bullet journal. By the end of the month, it’s very easy for me to see just how many times I had takeout or how often I managed to exercise. After doing this for several months, I am starting to get an idea of what is useful to track and what isn’t. I also decided to track my spending on a separate page, to help me get some awareness of just where all my money goes. So far I’ve discovered that I’m going to need more pages for that particular tracker!
If you do a search on Google, Instagram, YouTube or Pinterest, you’ll come across hundreds of beautiful bullet journals. This can be rather intimidating. However, if you head over to the official bullet journal website, you’ll see some examples of simpler bullet journals without all the decoration. The bullet journal is a tool to help you be more organised and get things done. If making yours beautiful helps you towards this goal, then go right ahead and enjoy! If simplicity is more you, then go for that instead.
If you do aspire to the beautifully decorated bullet journals you see online, consider some or all of the following options:
- Coloured pens or pencils – great for sprucing up a page and differentiating entries
- Stickers – an easy way to add interest to a page. You can even buy printable stickers off Etsy and print them onto sticker paper to make your own stickers
- I use stickers to make date headers for my daily entries – you can see these in the image above. I printed these headers on clear sticky paper to make them stand out less.
- Stamps – another easy way to add graphics to a page
- Washi tape – this decorative tape is available in a variety of designs and is my favourite way to brighten up a page
- If you’re in South Africa and struggle to find washi tape, try Cardies, Typo, CNA or the Cotton Candi online store
- Calligraphy or handlettering – this one takes some practice but is a step towards those beautiful pages you’ve seen online
Starting your Bullet Journal Journey
The great thing about the bullet journal is that you can start whenever you want. You don’t need to wait for the 1st of January or some other date. You can start today. All you need is a pen and some kind of notebook. I’ve seen people use lined, unlined, squared or dotted notebooks. The size of the book is up to you. If you want to carry it around with you, A5 is a good size. Watch the video on the official bullet journal website to get a quick overview of how to start. You can also check out the many blogs that cover bullet journalling; they are generally full of great ideas for optimising your use of the bullet journal.
Some of my favourite bullet journal resources include:
- Decade Thirty
- Boho Berry
- Tiny Ray of Sunshine
- Pretty Prints and Paper
- Breee Berry.
- The Lazy Genius Collective has a fantastic getting started post as well.
I also keep a Pinterest board of cool bullet journal ideas.
Do you use a bullet journal? If so, how long have you been doing it? How have you found it so far? If not, is it something you’re interested in trying? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below!