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How to Get Started with a Bullet Journal

by Jacki Andre June 06, 2018

How to Get Started with a Bullet Journal

According to the fine folks at  theseahawk.org, “The term ‘bullet journal’ may sound familiar. You’ve probably seen it pop up on your Instagram or Tumblr feed.”

Uhm, actually: nope.

I’ve seen doodly squat about bullet journaling in my social media feeds. And although I’ve kept writing journals for most of my life, I had no clue that journaling was trending or that bullet journals were even a thing. I never thought to questionwhy  the aisles of my favorite bookstore had become jam-packed with journals. I just thanked my lucky stars and oohed and ahhed over all the pretty stationery.

If you, my fellow sassy cats, have been living under the same rock as I have (hello, neighbor!), listen up! Bullet journaling is trending. And it has been since 2013.

Bullet Journal? What’s a Bullet Journal?

Ryder Carroll developed the Bullet Journal®  concept as  a way to manage his attention deficit disorder. He chipped away at the concept for over 20 years, honing it for his own personal use. He never intended to share it. But once he explained it to some friends, he realized that the system was highly customizable. And as each person adapted it to their own needs, their productivity soared.

Now while a bullet journal (a.k.a. “bujo”) can be an incredibly helpful tool, it can be a bit of a puzzle to grasp and set up.

Bujos consist of specific types of pages (popularly called “spreads”). A spread can incorporate one or more different elements, such calendars/planners, logs, habit trackers, to-do lists, recipe banks, bucket lists, and traditional diary entries, as well as doodles, art, stickers, post-it notes, washi tape, ephemera, etc.

Uhm, alrighty then. So what exactlyis  a bullet journal and where does one even start to create one?

Read on, sparkly unicorn friends. Read on.

Choosing a Journal

Your bullet journal is yours. Choose a book style that you love and that works well for you. There are so many options and features to ponder: hardcover vs soft; stitched binding vs coil; lined paper vs blank vs dotted vs gridded. Any and all of these work for bullet journaling. It comes down to personal preference.

Need help figuring out which journal would be best for you? I totally got your back. Just check out my blog on “How to Choose the Best Notebook for Journaling.”

Rapid Logging

While a bujo’s components are highly customizable, rapid logging (noting things in bullet points) is a central feature of the system.

As Ryder points out, “Rapid logging relies on the use of short-form notation paired with Bullets. Every bulleted item should be entered as [a] short objective sentence.”

Different types of bullet shapes denote different types of entries. Whether you’re just starting out with bullet journals or are an old hand at it, you may want to place a bullet key at the beginning of your journal for reference.

  • A dot is used to identify tasks (such as: “Mail Kim’s birthday card”).
    • Use an X over the original dot to indicate that the task is complete.
    • Use an < over the original dot to show that the task has been scheduled.
    • Use an > over the original dot for an event that has been migrated (i.e., not completed within the expected timeframe and moved forward to another page in your journal).
  • A dash is used for notes, facts, and observations (such as: “Elotes are Mexican--grilled cobs of corn coated with cheese, mayo, and spices”).
  • An open circle indicates an event (such as: “Vet appt for Archie at 2:20”).
  • An asterisk is intuitive: use it to  indicate priority.
  • An exclamation point denotes a source of inspiration, such as a motivational quote, affirmation, or unique idea.
  • An eye shape is used to indicate that something should be explored further (such as: “What kind of journals are best for me?”).

Index

Yep, I’m for real on this one. It may not be as comprehensive as an encyclopedia set (please tell me that you’re old enough to know what I’m talking about!). But your bujo will be crammed with information. And that info won’t necessarily be in any kind of logical, intuitive, or chronological order.

As  Shelby from littlefoxcoffee.com points out, an index is “one of the super functional elements of the bullet journal that sets it apart.” Is an index necessary? No. Is it helpful? You betcha.

When setting up your bujo, allocate 2-3 pages for the index, either at the beginning or at the back. Then, as you fill in your journal, add page numbers and keep your index updated.

You can thank me later.

Logs

Ryder Carroll suggests incorporating  three types of logs into your personal journal: the Future Log, Monthly Logs, and Daily Logs.

Generally, you create pages as you need them. If you begin a new bujo in January, for instance, you’ll likely only have your January pages ready to use, but not your June or November pages. That’s where the Future Log comes in handy. Note important dates (or even dreams or bucket-list items) in your Future Log and then use it for reference when setting up your other logs.

The Monthly Log is usually set up as a calendar. The Daily Log, of course, is highly detailed with each day’s to-do list, events, notes, and diary-style notations. You may also track habits in a daily spread, such as the amount of water you drank. (Or, you may set up habit trackers as separate spreads.)

Although Ryder doesn’t suggest Weekly Logs, many bujo enthusiasts build those in too. Weeklies provide a nice step between the sparse monthlies and the highly-detailed dailies.

Optional Components (Spreads)

Bullet journaling is all about you doing you. You get to pick and choose which components to include, based on what you want to use your bujo for. In addition to the index and logs mentioned above,  Shelby at littlefoxcoffee.com has a list of possible spreads, including:

  • Gratitude log
  • Master grocery list, if you tend to buy the same staples regularly
  • Recipe bank
  • Habit tracker
  • Brain dump
  • Bucket list
  • Budget tracker
  • Cleaning calendar
  • Goals and rewards

Optional Components (Doodles, Stickers, Washi Tape, and a Cherry on Top Too)

Going back to the idea that you should just keep doing you, you can -- or not -- add any embellishments you want to your bujo. Some people prefer a minimalist approach, with just basic written information. Others go all out to make their bullet journals visually amazing.

Ryder sticks to a minimalist tack himself, preferring to spend as little time as possible working in his bujo. And some people argue that the perfectionism of the spreads posted on social media creates an  “inaccessible aesthetic which discourages people from even trying to bullet journal.

But, for some people, having a place to get their creativity is on is part of the appeal of the bullet journal. So again: you do you. And don’t be afraid to experiment either. You can change up the components in your bullet journal--and its aesthetic--any time you choose. There is no one right way to create a bullet journal.

Photo credit: Estée Janssens on Unsplash

Jacki Andre
Jacki Andre

Jacki Andre has been journaling for over 30 years and still has her jam-packed Judy Blume Diary to prove it. Somewhere along the way, she started writing for reals, and is now a published author and Huffington Post blogger. In her spare time, Jacki supports dog rescue, advocates for disability rights, and educates other drivers via hand gestures about the importance of using turn signals. She keeps in shape by chasing joy (and her ‘80s teen idols) in earnest.


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