Jul 032018

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:

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Aim for simplicity—if your page designs or methods are too complex, you’re unlikely to use your journal.
  5. 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.
  6. 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:
    1. A pencil for drafting lines and headers, as well as a ruler
    2. Stencils for repetitive shapes (you can find a package of these for under $10 on Amazon)
    3. 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)
    4. Pens (black or color) in different tip widths that don’t bleed through your paper or smear
    5. A zipper pouch to keep everything together

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

Jul 242012

In my previous post I mentioned that the delivery of a new desk prompted a massive clean-up effort in my paper crafting studio. If you’re like me, you’re using part of your home as your studio space, chuckling a bit as you use the word “studio.” Some of you may have your tools and supplies spread throughout the house simply because there is not dedicated space available for your craft. Because our son moved to the Chicago area after he graduated from college, I am fortunate to have a spare bedroom I can use. It’s not an overly large room at 10 x 13 feet, but it’s adequate for my needs and can still double, in a pinch, as a guest room. And I recognize that it’s still more space than some people have.

When your crafting space is located in your home, it usually needs to be multi-functional. Most of us don’t have the luxury of building a room onto our house (nice to dream about it, though!). Consciously or unconsciously, we all generate a few rules that our work space has to follow in order for it to fit into our everyday lives. Here are my own guidelines, which I hope you’ll find helpful as you design or re-organize your crafting area.

Decide what furniture you will keep

While I admire vertical storage systems with neatly organized cubes, shelves and wire baskets, there is something to be said about re-using what you already have. In my case, that means drawers. I retained two dressers from my son’s old bedroom set, as well as a nightstand. The tall dresser in the corner holds folded fabrics in half-yard increments, while the wide dresser contains binding tools and supplies, specialty papers, and partially completed projects.

The nightstand next to the sleeper sofa serves as an end table and keeps my digital cameras and supplies in one place. One drawer is empty in case I have an overnight guest.

I kept my son’s old bookcase not for books and magazines, but instead for boxes, baskets, tins and tools. My craft book collection is too large for this bookcase, so the books are located elsewhere in the house.

Make sure new items are multi-functional

Paper crafting requires a lot of horizontal space. If I don’t want to take every project to the kitchen table (admittedly, some of them still end up there), I have to make the most of what I have. In addition to my desk surface, I use a coffee table that serves as both work and storage space. The doors open up, allowing me to store awkward-sized tools inside it, such as my Big Shot™ die cutting machine, a tempered glass mat, a  full-sized Fiskars paper cutter, and a Ranger melting pot.


My new desk purchase was prompted by a need for more practical storage space. It is a pedestal-style desk, with the pedestals being interchangeable. The left side features 3 shelves, while the right side has 3 drawers, one of which is for files.

My waste basket is a recycled popcorn can.

The stool standing against the wall holds a basket with items that either need to be photographed or require hand sewing. Obviously, the sleeper sofa is a good place to get that work done! The stool is also great when I have a guest who needs to sit beside me in front of my laptop, since there is not a large amount of floor space for a second swivel chair.

I have a lot of odds-and-ends in my room that are difficult to put away—jars of buttons, plastic tins filled with metal eyelets, stacks of business cards for the items I sell, and of course some knick knacks. I found this cubby organizer for my wall, and it’s perfect for items that would normally clutter my horizontal space.

Re-cycle common items in uncommon ways

I use a spice rack for buttons, and some of my mother’s mini flower pots for pens, pencils and paper crafting tools.

I save the spindle on which CDs are stacked, and slide Creative Options Beader’s Donuts (available at Archiver’s) on them instead, filling them with buttons and charms.

I save empty candle jars and fill them with paper die-cut shapes, buttons, paper clips, and candy (gotta have something to sweeten your day!).

Keep it simple, and keep it organized

No matter how many drawers, shelves and cubbies you fill, you’ll still have items left over that need a home. I collect many different kinds of paper and stack them in 12-inch x 12-inch see-through Creative Options boxes that I buy from Archiver’s. I store stamping pads, rubber block stamps, rubber clings, acrylic stamps, inks, rollers, and many other items in ordinary plastic shoe boxes that I pick up at Target. I am still in the process of labeling them, but find this uncomplicated system easy to keep up, portable and space-saving.


I use plastic fishing tackle boxes for glitter, and ordinary school-style pencil boxes for paintbrushes, binder clips, piercing tools and blades, and many other tools.

Don’t forget about inspiration!

Looks for colors, textures and designs that inspire you without cluttering up your room. You can paint your walls in a favorite color, for example, or add color to cream-colored walls (as I do) through the use of wall accents and decorative items. I asked Edi of Memories for Life Scrapbooks to laser cut some wall words for me, which I tacked above one dresser.

On a knick knack shelf, I gathered a small collection of Smoky Mountain art and other folk crafted items.

I use the back of a closet door as a display board for mind mapping, where I flesh out project ideas using temporary-adhesive note paper.

On the coffee table is a felted needle mat I stitched, highlighted by some corn husk flowers I stuck in a vase. The little touches, I think, make the difference between wanting to spend time in your room, creating, versus choosing something else to do.

In her book, Organizing Your Craft Space, Jo Packham discusses how all of us have different decorating styles that affect the way we organize our craft space. She describes these styles as The Idealist, The Adventurer, The Leader and The Guardian. Of course, there are touches of all of these styles inside us, and that’s what makes a room interesting. According to Packham, my decorating style is The Idealist, or “natural and simple,” with a preference for cotton textiles, comfortable vs. matching furniture, and live plants and fresh flowers. Mostly, I guess that’s pretty accurate, although I have to admit that while I might prefer fresh flowers, I kill them. So, a workaround in the form of artificial flowers is usually necessary! In any event, if you’re looking for a fun read about craft organization, you’ll want to check out Packham’s book. You may also be interested in reading my earlier post called Wanted: more storage space!

What have you done with your own craft space? I encourage you to link to photos of your work area in the comments below.

© 2012 Judy Nolan. All rights reserved.