I finally bit the bullet, if you’ll pardon the pun, and sank myself into bullet journaling.
Never heard of it? Well, back in 2015 a digital product designer named Ryder Carroll came up with a simplified system of journaling to help himself stay organized. “The real goal,” he says in the Leuchtturm1917 journal he developed with the Leuchtturm publishing company, “is to develop a mindful practice that helps you identify and focus on the things that are truly worth your time.” His system, in its purest form, utilizes a notebook whose pages consist of dot grids. All you need is a notebook—any kind of notebook that works for you—and a pen.
Four concepts form the foundation of his system: Rapid Logging, Collections, Migration and Indexing. Rapid Logging uses a system of customizable symbols called bullets to jot down tasks, events and notes in your journal. Collections are the way you group related entries. They can be anything you wish, but the core collections include a future, monthly and daily log. Migration is the system you use to handle an incomplete task. You can move that task to another time frame or cross it off your list because it’s not important enough to be taking up your time. Indexing is how you keep track of your collections with titles and page numbers. Ryder’s short video below explains these concepts much better than I can.
What makes bullet journaling unique
What’s unique about the bullet journal versus other planners is that you can make the journal whatever you want it to be. There are no pre-printed templates you must complete, but instead blank pages you’ll design yourself, using a system that combines substance with minimalism.
Ryder’s goal is for you to save time for what’s really important to you. You won’t throw your hands up into the air in frustration because the system you didn’t design is too complicated to maintain, or because you have to follow rules that make you itch like a sweater whose fibers give you hives.
Expensive supplies are a thing of the past because all you need are a notebook and pen. Skip, if you like, stickers and washi tape, color markers, charms, fancy paper clips, colored staples, adhesive notes, page tabs or other embellishments. Of course, you can include these items, too—your choice. In other words, you can design your journal to look however you wish. Need a traditional calendar? Grab your ruler and draw it. Need a weight tracker? Design or borrow a design from Pinterest. Are you an avid quote collector? Pick a page and start a list. You can purchase designs you can paste into your notebook, too—why not?
The official bullet journal
I debated using one of the many blank journals I already own, but in the end decided to purchase the official Leuchtturm1917 A5 notebook to see how it works. Thus far I have discovered that it meets my needs.
As advertised, most of the pages in the notebook are filled with a dot grid. What makes the official bullet journal different from other planners or journals on the market are the following elements.
- The inside front page contains a symbol key for different types of bullets, with space for you to create your own symbols. A task, for example, is represented by a dot; a completed task is an X, and a migrated task (a task moved to a different time frame) is a “greater than” sign.
- An index of four pages starts off the notebook with space for you to enter the title and page numbers of the collections inside the journal.
- All 240 writable pages in the journal, beginning with the future log, are numbered so that you can refer to them in the index.
- The future log is pre-labeled to encourage you to use it. The intent of these pages is to remind you of items scheduled far in advance. Most people organize their future log into months as shown below.
- There are three ribbon bookmarks you can use however you wish.
- The back pages of the journal contain handy instructions for using the bullet journal system.
- The outside back cover contains an envelope for you to store anything you wish. I store stencils and the spine-and-cover labels included with the Leuchtturm1917 notebook.
The bullet journaling community
There are active bullet journalists on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and blogs. Take the time to explore what page spreads, tools and ideas might fit your needs. A few bullet journal enthusiasts I follow include:
- Bullet Journal (Ryder Carroll). YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/bulletjournal. Website: http://bulletjournal.com/
- A Tiny Ray of Sunshine (Kim Alvarez). Website: https://www.tinyrayofsunshine.com/
- Planning with Kay (Kayla Mason). YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCvAiAY4gFc9_z5lhMuwGtSw
- Page Flutter (Megan Rutell). YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCC6GWaZAuXs88zgYkA8B7fQ. Website: https://pageflutter.com/
- Sunshine & Stationery (Caitlin). YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCbnBf_i5px8DxwoK-xNzriQ. Website: http://sunshineandstationery.com/
- Caitlin’s Corner (Caitlin Da Silva). YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCSm9WJDmpZDM_m6YvkACuxg. Website: http://www.caitlinscorner.com/
- My Life in a Bullet (Cristina Tamas). YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCDbfjlTzm8GJSOafKZgz7ig. Website: http://mylifeinabullet.com
- AmandaRachLee (Amanda Lee). YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/amandarachlee. Website: https://www.amandarachlee.com/
- Jenny Journals (Jennifer Hinojos). Website: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCUREFBtzbwioFQiTireg_Aw
- Carrie Crista. YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCPdxtK6kEyJGV1zlCoG2ejw. Website: http://www.carriecrista.com/
- Between the Steps (Michaela Siroka). YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC8e486wMtJ0lIo_g52VrXrQ. Website: https://betweenthesteps.com/
- Boho Berry (Kara Benz). YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCPTjjS_Cqrde9bR9Gz4PqdA. Website: https://www.bohoberry.com/
Tips for bullet journaling
If you’re just getting started or are thinking about delving into bullet journaling, below are some lessons I have learned.
- Even if you’re not sure what you’re doing when you begin your journal, dig in. You’ll figure out quickly what works for you and what does not.
- Resist the temptation to tear out pages that aren’t perfect. Everything you write is a lesson learned. Create a collection of pages where you reflect on your bullet journaling experiences.
- Color is nice, but absolutely not necessary. Choose a smooth writing pen that won’t bleed through the paper. I use a set of Staedtler Pigment Liners that have different tip widths: 0.1 mm, 0.3 mm, 0.5 mm and 0.7 mm. I bought mine for $14.99 at Office Depot in a plastic case that stands up for convenience; you can probably find these pens on Amazon.com as well, so I have included that link in this paragraph.
- Aim for simplicity—if your page designs or methods are too complex, you’re unlikely to use your journal.
- Migrate tasks weekly and monthly unless they are time-sensitive. Give yourself time to reflect on what tasks unduly occupy your time when something else would be a better use of that resource.
- In a perfect world, all you need to bullet journal is a notebook and pen. There are, however, some additional tools that are nice to have. For me, these include:
- A pencil for drafting lines and headers, as well as a ruler
- Stencils for repetitive shapes (you can find a package of these for under $10 on Amazon)
- Correction tools: a Staedtler Mars Plastic Eraser for pencils, a Tombow Mono Sand Eraser for ink pens, and PaperMate Liquid Paper Dryline Grip Correction Tape (believe me, you’ll make errors—and these tools comfort the Perfectionist hiding inside your head)
- Pens (black or color) in different tip widths that don’t bleed through your paper or smear
- A zipper pouch to keep everything together
- Create a collection of sample spreads so you can experiment with different designs. When I entered “minimalist bullet journal” in my Web browser, all sorts of options popped up for me to explore.
- It doesn’t matter what notebook you use, as long as it meets your needs. Do look for good quality paper. Smooth paper of a good weight will encourage you to open that journal and fill the pages.
- Don’t be daunted by the 240 pages inside a Leuchtturm1917 bullet journal. At first I feared I’d never fill them; now I fear I won’t have enough pages. As you learn more about bullet journaling, you’ll come up with more ideas than you might imagine for those blank pages.
- Nothing is set in stone. If what works for you today doesn’t work tomorrow, try something else. I’ll repeat what I said previously: resist the temptation to tear our imperfect pages. I started off with a daily log that was just a list, separated by dates. I didn’t like how it looked, so I switched to a two-page spread with defined spaces for each day, so I can see the entire week at a glance. I didn’t toss the other pages, however.
For me, what makes a bullet journal special is how easily you can customize it to reflect who you are. Whether you like to doodle, sketch, write long journal entries, organize or collect lists, you can use your bullet journal for any or all of these purposes. I like to collect quotes, so I include one at the top of the second page of my weekly spread. I have another collection for blog post ideas that includes a working title, a final title and a post date.
A parking lot for your ideas
Some people like to call their bullet journal their brain dump space, but I like to think of it as a parking lot for all of my stray ideas, sticky notes and even my digital notes. At my daytime job, I use Microsoft OneNote as my main organizing tool, but an analog bullet journal appeals to me because it feels more creative. Below are some of the ways I have begun to use my bullet journal. Watch for a future post that includes some other ideas.
Have you ever used a bullet journal? If so, what made you choose this type of journaling? If not, describe how it might or might not meet your needs.
© 2018 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.