The Bullet Journal method has completely changed my life for the better. It forces you to prioritize what you really need to do. My BuJo (as it’s lovingly called in the Bullet Journal community) is a repository of all my eclectic thoughts and to-do lists. It’s also a central location for book logs, finance tracking, and habit tracking.
The amazing fact about Bullet Journaling is that it can be used by anyone because it is infinitely customizable. Developed by Ryder Carroll, it was originally a way for him to keep track of things with his ADHD. If you search for “Bullet Journal spread,” you may see a lot of colorful and flowery artwork. It’s ok if you can’t or don’t want to make your journal artful.
My Bullet Journal style is minimalist and industrial. It works well for my engineer’s logic-minded brain. It took some time to get to where it is now, but it works perfectly for me. I’ll give some examples of my spreads below.
Why a Bullet Journal?
As a prolific note-taker, I was never far from my Moleskine planner at work or home. However, there was always something that didn’t quite work the way I wanted it to. I would feel anxious when I would have to skip a blank page in an unproductive week. In my last program manager job, I had so many notes and tasks that they were overflowing into the calendar portion.
It got to the point where I would copy tasks from one week to the next, and I quickly ran out of space. I simply just started writing, “see previous week.”
This was completely counterproductive in every sense of the word. I would get to work, open my planner, and get burned out just from looking at my task list. There was no order, no way to see what needed to be done first. It added immense stress to the difficult work I was already doing.
In desperation, I suddenly remembered a YouTube video I had seen. It described a way of note-taking that took everything in your life into consideration. At the time it seemed like a lot of work, but now I was willing to try anything. I bought a dotted grid notebook and watched all of Ryder’s videos.
I started my first BuJo in November 2018. It is now June 2020 and I am on my 4th Bullet Journal. It has been amazing for my productivity and keeping track of dates. There is no more forgetting of tasks or appointments. As an important benefit, I can also track my mental health and notice when I need more self-care than usual.
How to Bullet Journal
Here is what you need at minimum to start Bullet Journaling:
- A dotted grid notebook (they are commonly A5 size)
- A pen
- That’s it!
Ryder Carroll designed a notebook in collaboration with Leuchtturm, which I used for the first three notebooks that I used. You can check it out on Amazon here. It contains an 8-page reference guide for when you get stuck. I currently use a notebook from Vivid Scribbles. It has a thicker and whiter paper that I like very much.
Here is what every Bullet Journal starts with:
- A Key
- Future Log
After that, the content is completely up to you. Your dates are tracked in monthly and daily logs. When I worked in an office, I also made a weekly log. Collections are other spreads containing other information.
At the end of every month, you perform a migration. That is when you set up your new month and move over any tasks that weren’t marked off. By forcing yourself to write everything over again, you teach yourself to figure out which tasks are worth keeping and which tasks you can let go.
At the end of every year, you set up a new Bullet Journal, even if it isn’t completely full. A new year is a fresh new start, or as Ryder put it, “it’s about leveling up.”*1The Bullet Journal Method by Ryder Carroll, page 111
Key, Index, and Future Log
A Key is used to unify the symbols you use while you rapid log, which is the method of writing down all of your tasks, notes, and events as they come into your mind every day. Most notebooks made for Bullet Journaling usually have a page for it already.
The Index is like any index of a book. Every time you create a new Collection, you keep track of the page number in the index. It’s useful if you go back to reference a lot of your previously written notes. I don’t use or need this as much, but I keep it updated for future reference.
The Future Log is a place for you to keep track of notes, tasks, and events happening in the future. This is where I diverged from what Ryder does in his method, as I’m a very calendar-oriented person. In my annual planners, the calendar section was my favorite part. It’s tedious work writing out all the months of the year and making month-views for each month, but I enjoy having it in my notebook.
Monthly and Daily Logs
This is where the true content lives. At the end of every month, I prepare the next month’s spread. I list every day of the month and I add columns for tracking my mood and the weather. These are things I care about.
The page on the right has everything I want to track during the month and any tasks for the month. I also include a shopping list to avoid writing the same things out in my daily logs.
My Daily Log is even simpler. I used to try different formats but in the end, the easiest method was also the most consistent. I write out today’s date, the day of the week, and just go from there. Tasks get migrated when I start a new page. My new daily addition is journaling. It’s different from the usual rapid logging where you try to keep emotions out of your notes, tasks, and events. Journaling lets me write down my feelings and emotions, or anything else on my mind.
The key is to sit down with your BuJo at least twice a day. By having time for a morning reflection, you can keep up with your events and tasks for the day. The evening reflection allows you to think back on your day and set up your next day. This ties in well with a daily routine and mindfulness.
Ryder Carroll’s Book on Bullet Journaling
Ryder Carroll, the founder of the Bullet Journaling, wrote a book on the method and the philosophy. It’s called The Bullet Journal Method: Track the Past, Order the Present, Design the Future. I read it in my second month of Bullet Journaling, expecting a simple how-to, but it had more content than I expected. He talks about the method and how to use it for self-reflection, goal-setting, and planning for your future. It completely changed the way I approached my Bullet Journal.
You can’t make time, you can only take time.Ryder Carroll, the bullet journal method
Wondering how I was able to find my favorite quote from a book I read two years ago and no longer have in my possession? That’s right, I made a note about it in my reading log in my Bullet Journal.
Start Bullet Journaling
This is what the Bullet Journal is for me. For you, it may look completely different. However, the underlying purpose is the same: to help you stay organized, follow through on your tasks, and track habits. It’s also a place for self-reflection and a safe place to reset yourself. It shows you your true self and where you excel, and where you might want to work on more.
I realize this is a lot of information to take in if you’re seeing the Bullet Journal for the first time. I can share more of my knowledge in a future eBook explaining each section of the Bullet Journal in more detail. Please sign up in the form below if you would be interested in this.
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