If you’re on Pinterest, you’ve probably seen pins pop up every now and then about bullet journaling. If you’re not on Pinterest, or only look at food on Pinterest, then you probably don’t know why I’ve put these two words together! Whether you’ve heard of it or not, I firmly believe that after having used one for just under one year, everyone can benefit in some way from starting one.
If you talk to my college roommate or my husband, they would probably tell you that I’m… a bit of a mess. I don’t do well at the whole “a place for everything…” rule, and I generally have about 5-6 unfinished projects going at any given time. Whether it’s stopping in the middle of paying bills, cutting fabric to be sewn (later, of course!), or getting distracted while making a snack, I’ve probably got a little something in every room at any given time. I’m also not that great at keeping things organized, and used to have about 100 “super important” random pieces of paper with notes on them (that my tidy husband sometimes threw away). I’ll get great ideas for organization and go all in, but I usually slip back into old habits in a short time. (I’m not making myself sound too great right now, but I do have redeeming qualities!) That’s why to my husband it is completely shocking that I’ve stuck with this for a year now. My bullet journal has changed over time, but it is one of my most handy tools. And I have a feeling it is about to get to a whole new level of helpful now that my big boy is starting school. Cue the tears.
What Is A Bullet Journal?
A bullet journal is a journal that you use as a calendar, organizer, to-do list keeper, doodle pad, or whatever else you would maybe be doing on post-it notes or in several other organizers. I use mine for my weekly menu, grocery list, calendar/to-do lists, and a host of other lists and functions including a “restaurants to visit” page and a page with current orders and their necessary materials. It is a minimalist system that allows for ultimate customization and creativity (if you’re into that – but if you’re not, that’s fine too!). You literally buy an empty journal, and fill the pages how you see fit – with some guidance to get started! How many times have you bought the “it” planner and spent like $50 to find out that you don’t actually want to record about half of the things on the pre-designed pages? I’ve only done it once – because I’m no fool. If you do end up searching Pinterest for bullet journal uses, you’ll see some pretty intricate page designs that most of us cannot replicate. But it’s important to note that the creator of the bullet journaling system uses a very simplistic system of lists and notes – no fancy doodles, drawings, and colors. So no matter your skill level in the doodle zone, you’ll be great at bullet journaling. There are no rules about how fancy you have to look. I’ve played around with different styles and levels of prettying up, and I feel like my journal is a reflection of my style. My husband just started one too, and his is a reflection of his style – straight to the point without any fluff.
Where To Start
Step 1: Pick your journal. I searched through many posts about what the best choice would be, and I landed on this one. It’s the Moleskine large dotted soft cover notebook.
I was not sure about how I would do with dots instead of lines, but it turns out this was a good call. There are times that I do want to sketch something (like when we were working in our kitchen and needed to constantly reference how many cabinets/drawers we had – a super simple sketch on my “home improvements” page was added). I would not want lines going all through my (not so) beautiful drawing! And I also think it just kind of makes the pages look neater to have your writing straight because of the dot guides, but the areas without writing more or less looking blank. You can also use them to make boxes and vertical lines, which I do often, and that would be harder with traditional lines. But that’s personal preference! I like that it’s a soft cover because it makes looking through it comfortable. The size is perfect – fits in my purse, big enough to write what I need. And they come in a few cute colors. I’m about to finish journal #1 and start on #2, and it’ll be a nice but weird change to switch colors! (And now that there are two of us keeping them we know whose is whose!)
Step 2: Pick some pens. You’ll want some that have little to no bleed through. I chose these. I love these pens. I have bought different packs to get more colors (a pack without purple was no pack for me!), so this 10 pack is actually a mix of two. These pens are wonderful. The best. Ask anybody. They’re great pens.
Step 3: Get going! You can go to the official bullet journal website for the suggested guidelines straight from the creator, but I’d suggest starting by setting aside a few pages for an index – yes, it’s really necessary.
You don’t want to flip through hundreds of pages to find your restaurant list! This does require you to number your pages, but it is really truly easy to get into that habit. And if you forget, then it’s very easy to go back and add them in!
Step 4: You might have a great list you’re excited about having in your journal. Maybe it’s a reading list because people are always suggesting books to you and your mind goes blank at Half Price Books. Maybe you hate the tea at one restaurant and the ranch dressing at another and can never remember that until your cup is full and you have gross dressing all over your salad, and you want a place to write that stuff. Whatever your awesome idea is, take a minute first to add a few pages. My husband didn’t put any of these in his bullet journal because he “does all that on the phone.” But I find it very helpful to be able to see a clear overview of my year/month/week and throw in to-do lists too!
- A “future log”/yearly overview. Here’s mine:This is handy especially when I’m looking for something that I’m not sure what month/week it falls on and I don’t want to have to be searching through my phone to find it. One quick glance, and it’s there. I use this for future events – I only write something on this page if it is further out than the current month.
- A monthly overview.
I transfer dates from my yearly view at the start of each month, then only add to this page if something is happening further out than the current week. For the record, ‘Finish painting the kitchen’ wasn’t scratched off until much, much later.
- You guessed it… a weekly spread!I used to take time each morning to write down what I needed to do that day. I’m not that disciplined right now, but I still keep up with my weekly events here. My weekly spread is much more time consuming than the one on the bullet journal website, so if this looks intimidating, don’t sweat it. You do not have to draw boxes every week. I just like doing it. My favorite part of my weekly spread is my menu. This menu was clearly before I was eating Whole 30ish, but the spirit of the spread is there! I write my grocery list as I make my menu, and that green box is for things that come up during the week that I’ll need to put on next week’s list – that I haven’t drawn yet!
Some people take it even further and put in a daily spread, but you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do. Because it’s your custom journal! I have enough room in my weekly spread for anything I need on the daily level.
What about the bullets?
I love the “bullet” part of the bullet journal. The whole idea is that you are quick logging everything – as this is meant to be a tool, not a time consumer. The bullets for lists follow a simple system. You write tasks with a traditional bullet, and then use the following on top of those initial bullets:
- X: Task complete
- >: Task “migrated” or moved to another time
There are other symbols suggested on the website, but these are the ones I use most frequently and consistently.
One of the things that I was most excited about when I started my bullet journal were my daily/weekly/monthly habit trackers.
With a habit tracker, you can add in tasks that you either want to improve upon (like making sure you do your daily chores!) or things you want to track – like how often you are eating out. I now just keep a yearly tracker (the headings are the months of the year) where I store things like ‘clean the fans,’ ‘change toothbrushes,’ and ‘back up pictures on phone.’ That way I can see when it was I last did all of the things that are sporadic and easy to let go.
Ideas for Other Pages
I have mentioned quite a few of my pages that I utilize, but here’s a recap and roundup of some of my favorites.
- Calendars and future planning
- Daily to-do lists
- Habit trackers
- Wish lists – seriously how often does someone ask you what you want for a Christmas gift and your mind is vacant?!
- Books to read
- Restaurants to try
- Instructions you have to look up all the time – for me one of these is an Instant Pot cheat sheet!
- Home improvement wish list
- Cleaning Schedule
- Lawn & plant care record/planner – I keep a chart of when I’m supposed to fertilize, apply weed killer, and trim various plants
- Meal ideas
- Places to visit
Go for it!
If you have any questions about bullet journaling, please feel free to ask! I’m not an authority by any means (are there bullet journal authorities?) but I have been at it a while and have picked up some tips along the way! Don’t get swept up in the beauty and intimidation of the Pinterest journals. Yours can be whatever you want it to be, and it will evolve over time as you see what works (and doesn’t) for you. Are you going to start a journal? Let me know what kind of page you’re most excited to add, or if you’ve got an idea for a different page!