Posted in Bullet journal

Bullet Journal 101

Today I want to talk about my bullet journal:

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If you’re unfamiliar with bullet journals, here’s a handy video from bulletjournal.com that shows exactly what this is all about.

Essentially, a bullet journal is an analog way of combining a planner, a journal, a notebook, and – if you’re artistically inclined – a sketch pad. It’s designed to be as straightforward or as elaborate as your time and personal taste allows: for some people, it’s a very basic collection of task lists and calendar entries; for others, it’s an outlet to blend together form and function by writing task lists and decorating the pages with beautiful lettering and illustrations. You can make the pages themselves as fancy or as plain as you like: the only ‘equipment’ you need is a notebook, a pen, and a ruler (and that isn’t really essential if you’re not as obsessive about ruled lines as me) – plus, some coloured pens or pencils if you want to embellish your pages. Some people also use washi tape to make things look pretty.

The concept was dreamt up by a digital product designer called Ryder Carroll. The system of journal-keeping that he devised includes the following main elements:

Rapid Logging: using topics, page numbers, short sentences, and bullets as key features to organise information. Topics are the headings on a page. Page numbers enable you to list pages in an index and find them easily in the future. Short sentences stop you from waffling on, increasing the chances that you’ll actually use your journal to organise yourself. Bullets are a specific way of writing information, in order to see at a glance what is a task, for example, and what is a reminder of an event. A task is a dot, an event is a circle, and a note is a dash. And then you put a big X through the bullet when you’ve completed the task or attended the event. This Daily Log of mine shows the bullets:

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You can choose whatever information you need to track. On this Daily Log, I was tracking some habits by using a colour-coded system (the flowers each represented a habit, and I’d colour them in if I’d followed it that day). And I wrote my packing list for a trip I took at the end of this particular week, as you can see.

Modules: a framework for information. The main modules are the Index, the Future Log, the Monthly Log, and the Daily Log. The Future Log is like an annual plan or a six month plan – the place where you’d note planned holidays, for example. The Monthly Log organises your tasks on a monthly basis. And the Daily Log is a daily to-do list.

Here’s my current Index, which is very plain:

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Here’s my Future Log:

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I’ve used a different colour for each month, and then use that colour for the headings on the corresponding Monthly Logs and Weekly Logs. Here’s a Monthly Log:

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I’ve chosen to also record the books I’ve read each month on the relevant Monthly Log page – and this is one of the reasons why I love my bullet journal: how much more fun to actually draw books, rather than just write a list!

Another great feature of making a bullet journal is the freedom to redesign features whenever you like. Here’s another version of a Monthly Log:

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And here’s another Weekly Log, which differs slightly to the one at the start of this post:

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I don’t do Daily Logs anymore because I got sick of migrating tasks: instead, I do a Weekly Log with a section for each day, so I can see the whole week’s worth of tasks on one two-page spread.

Migration: moving uncompleted tasks forward to new Monthly Logs or Daily Logs as required. On the Daily Log and Weekly Log pages I’ve shared above you can see migrated tasks – they’re the ones with the ‘>’ symbol.

Additional pages: for whatever you want to track, note, or remember. This is the beauty of a bullet journal, and where it beats a traditional diary when it comes to flexibility: if you need to include a page to plan your children’s birthday party, for example, you just add it in, and then note it in the Index so you can easily find it later:

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I use pages like this a lot. Here’s a two-page spread to record the books I own and intend to read (on the left-hand page), and books that I don’t currently own, but want to buy or borrow (on the right-hand page):

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Again, I could just write a list of books I’ve read, but drawing them on bookshelves makes the whole thing more fun. Occasionally I get really carried away, like when I did this page to keep track of the writing exercises I was tackling from a book I was reading:

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My drawing skills are minimal, so that level of detail is unusual in my bullet journal, but I have found that making things look pretty enables me to derive some enjoyment from what would otherwise be very dull grown-up tasks – like sorting out a household budget:

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Or writing a task list for a huge and scary uni assignment:

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Adding a decorative element makes me more likely to plan things, refer back to lists, and generally organise myself. And while I can appreciate that this looks like a lot of work, it really isn’t: I do most of it while watching TV in the evening. This is also the great benefit of a bullet journal: your pages are undated, so you can put stuff wherever it suits you, rather than being forced to fit it into a pre-ordained space – or being confronted with the sight of lots of depressingly blank pages if you decide not to use your journal for a couple of weeks. So, I drew up my NaNoWriMo tracking page when I signed up, in September, and then did other stuff around it:

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(Each square represented 500 words written: 50,000 words in total, written during November.)

And sometimes I find that my bullet journal provides me with a great opportunity to really investigate what I’m doing – like when I read this great book I Know How She Does It (all about how busy women manage to fit in everything), and was encouraged to track how I used my time over a week-long period. I colour-coded it, and was given a stark reminder of how out of kilter my life was that week:

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The golden rule of bullet journals is this: you do whatever you want – so, you can ignore as much of the preceding ‘rules’ as you like.

Here’s the first journal I’ve used:

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I’ve learned not to over-invest in new hobbies and habits, so this A5 notebook was from Whitcoulls and cost less than NZ$20. It’s got lined, unnumbered pages (so I numbered them by hand, which was a tedious task). However, now that I’m a bullet journal devotee I’ve decided to up the ante a bit and buy what are regarded as the gold standard of bullet journal hardware: the Leuchtturm 1917 notebooks, which are also A5, have dotted pages that lend themselves well to writing and illustration, and feature very useful pre-numbered pages:

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I’m also planning to go mad with a bit of washi tape, and maybe dabble with more drawings and attempts at fancier headings. Pinterest and Instagram are both full of brilliant bullet journal examples and inspiration, so if you’re keen to give this a go, I suggest browsing for ideas.

I love keeping a bullet journal because it gives me a chance to be somewhat creative, but in a productive context – plus, it’s as relaxing as adult colouring-in and similar activities, but you’re actually making your life easier through producing your pages! Win-win!