Bullet journals are a trend slowly gaining steam, and they’re perfect for anyone who often finds themselves marking up a planner or entrenched in to-do lists. In order to keep my life straight, I am an avid user of both. When a friend introduced me to bullet journaling, I immediately became intrigued. There’s a purposeful rhyme and reason to this journaling approach. It’s meant to make you a more productive and organized human being (which we could all really use!). But the process also allows for tons of flexibility, so you can alter the set up and design to fit you. To help you get started, I’ve created a guide for how to bullet journal for beginners!
1. Starting off: The Table of Contents
It’s your journal, so you can do whatever you want with it! However, for it to be a “Bullet Journal” there is a basic set up meant to encourage efficiency. The first page should be a table of contents so you can see what your journal entails. When it starts to get really full, you’ll want a reference so you don’t just have to rifle through. You’ll number each page and then include the section title and page numbers in the table of contents.
2. Logging it up
Next, there are three kinds of log: the future log, monthly log and daily log. While you can definitely create your own way how to bullet journal, the log system is a key feature of any good bullet journal system. The future log is a broader look at your next six months. You can split two pages up into six sections where you can list big events or to-do items for each month. This means that later you can look at the next half a year at a glance. If something big is looming on your horizon, but not for a few months, here is the place for it. This is one of the great features of this style of journaling: the future is nicely organized and planned, without looming over your head.
The monthly log is what it sounds like: a planner for each month. Starting with the left hand side: typically you vertically list out the date and first letter of the day of the week for each day in that month. Next to each date, you can put any important deadlines or events. This way, you know exactly what your schedule looks like when someone says, “hey what are you doing this weekend?” On the right page, you write your monthly to-do list. This should be your general goals of what you would like to get done that month.
Finally, we have the daily log. The daily log is basically a to-do list, with some added features for flavor. Unless you’re a super busy person, you don’t typically use a full page for each day. Instead, you can just divide each page into a few sections. The daily log includes to-do items, scheduled events, and notes–basically anything happening that day that you want to keep on hand. Personally, this was the hardest part to master when I was first learning how to bullet journal. Eventually, you figure out what layout works best for you.
3. Advanced Maneuvers: Collection Pages
Now we arrive at a more complicated level. You can include collection pages in your bullet journal, where you store all of the notes, information or tasks focused on a certain subject. For example, if you’re throwing a party you can list out everything you need to get done, buy or figure out. If you’re taking a class or starting a new job, you can use these pages to keep all the information you need to reference: due dates, log-ins and passwords, names and emails, etc.
4. Keeping it organized monthly
At the end of each month, bullet journals help keep you organized and productive. Here, you write out the log for the next month. You then go back through your past daily logs and to-do lists to look over everything you did and didn’t get done. If you accomplished something, you can cross out. Good work! If you didn’t, you have some thinking to do. Is it still important that you do that thing? If not, cross it out altogether.
If you still need to do it and it’s still important and in the near future, put a right-facing arrow. This means you’ll move the task forward in your monthly log (into your monthly to-do list on the right page) so you can prioritize it in the coming month. If you still need to get it done, but it doesn’t necessarily need to happen in the next month, you can put a left-facing arrow and move the item to your future log, where you can keep an eye on it until the time comes. With this method, you’re making sure to use your time wisely on high-priority tasks. You also eliminate busy work that doesn’t really need your attention. Narrowing down your list to the main items means there will be less to freak out about every time you check your planner.
5. Customizing it and making it your own
So that’s all there is to the basic system! Now you have a good foundation for beginning and learning how to bullet journal. Once you’ve tried the traditional method for a month or two, you may start to realize that there are certain changes that could work better for you. Feel free to play around and make it your own!
While all of this information is certainly helpful, I personally have a hard time keeping up with the formalized process of going back over your previous daily logs to assess what you need to do and what you can get rid of. Rarely do I write something down that I later decide I don’t need to do. But I love the perks of being able to format my own planner and to-do lists all in one place, and I use the collection pages method all the time to gather information about stressors that I can then reference at a moment’s notice.
Different people have different quirks and needs. A great part of the bullet journal is that you’re writing it all out yourself, so it’s customizable. If you find certain parts helpful, but don’t need others, you can keep whatever makes your life better. That’s the whole point of figuring out how to bullet journal (and how to stick with it!).
6. The Details (aka making it cute)
Finally, we get to the fun part. Once you’ve solved the basics of how to bullet journal, you can really get creative. When I say customizable, I don’t just mean how you go about taking your notes and keeping your schedule. Lots of people make their bullet journals into works of art. Maybe they write out beautiful titles or incorporate lovely color and design. You can include a quote you love for each month. You can make your bullets into hearts.
I am super not artistic, but I do like trying to keep my journal neat for a cute, minimalist style. I’ve adapted my monthly logs to be in a handwritten calendar style rather than a list because I like seeing the weeks divided up. I also take great joy in picking out a new journal each time my old one runs out. I always choose one with a cute cover, thin pages, and a binding that allows it to naturally lie flat when open. Whatever your taste, your journal can become a mini representations of your personality, both in style and content.
Bullet journals are a new way to manage your life, but they’re built on all the fundamentals of a planner or to-do list. If you want to stay in control, but you’re getting sick of buying the same old calendar every year and finding yourself drowning in spare lists, this system is worth a try. It can give some structure to your life in a place that can always use it. If things don’t work out you can always adapt your methodology or go back to your old ways. Check out the website and tutorial video to keep exploring if bullet journaling could work for you.