Before we dive in, you need to know that this is a doozy of a blog post. It’s not a quick read. I go into a lot of detail describing what a bullet journal is and how I use it. So if you’re in the pickup line at school, I recommend you scroll to the pictures and then bookmark this page for later when you can really focus on the content. My hope is that by understanding how I use a bullet journal you’ll know how to start your own!
If you’ve been around social media lately, you’ve probably seen people using the hashtag #bulletjournal, #bulletjournaling or even #BuJo. Some are posting pictures of beautifully scripted quotes and elaborate calendar arrangements. You are probably wondering what a bullet journal even is. I had never heard of it until one of my cousins told me about it. Lest you think bullet journaling is just a girly thing, the cousin that told me about bullet journaling is a dude, a body builder, and an ex-marine. So yeah . . . it’s not just some girly thing.
So what IS it?
Don’t want to read a long blog post? Watch me explain on Facebook how I use my bullet journal.
Ryder Carroll is the creater of the bullet journal and he describes it as “an analog system designed to track the past, organize the present and plan for the future.” I tell people that basically, it’s a planner.
But not just any planner. It’s one you create yourself, making it work for you rather than trying to fit the way your mind works into someone else’s planner layout. Yet it’s also more than a planner. It’s a place where you can plan out what you want your life to look like. For example, I put my personal hopes, dreams and long term plans in my bullet journal so that I can strategically work towards those goals. They live in the same space as my weekly/daily to-do list so that I can be reminded of what those larger goals are that I’m working towards. I truly love it. Now let me tell you why.
How I Use a Bullet Journal
I’ve always been a digital, techy person. I like gadgets. I have several Mac products including an Apple Watch. My husband knows I’d rather have something techy than a piece of jewelry. My parents bought me a Google Home for Christmas and I love it even though I didn’t ask for it. So you may be surprised that I like something so . . . non-digital.
The reason I love it so much is that when it comes to task management, nothing beats paper. There is something about writing a task down that makes me remember it more, focus on it more, and see it as a priority. There is also something extremely gratifying about crossing a task off a to-do list. I’ve always liked tasks written down on actual paper.
With the bullet journal, I can write things down within a system that makes sense for me. And if I find something that isn’t working, I can tweak it as I go which also makes it awesome. I also love that I can easily track how I’m progressing towards various goals I’ve set for myself. It’s one thing to have goals. It’s another to actually write them down, figure out a plan for how you’re going to reach them, and then track your progress. I don’t know about you but I’m way more motivated to work towards change when I can look back and see incremental improvement, even if it’s just a little bit.
In short, I use my bullet journal to keep on top of daily/weekly tasks and keep an eye on long-term goals.
How a Ton of Other People Use the Bullet Journal
Now, if you were to head to Pinterest and search for bullet journal ideas you would find loads of blog posts that showcase gorgeous and elaborate drawings on every single page of their journal. Take a look on Instagram by searching the hashtag #bulletjournal.(Go here, here, and here to see the pics above). Do you see what I mean? I swear some people spend an hour a day making their bullet journal look like a piece of artwork. That’s fine for them. But if you’re a busy mom with a job and . . . you know. . . STUFF to do, you’re probably thinking . . .
. . .”Ain’t nobody got time for that.”
That’s right. I DON’T have time for that. So let’s dive into MY bullet journal. You’ll see that you don’t have to do all those artistic drawings. My daily/weekly log is really quite plain. I add a few flourishes on my other spreads, but overall . . . it’s just meh.
How to Start a Bullet Journal the Simple Way
Ok. Now that we have the foundations for a bullet journal laid out, let me show you my actual bullet journal. Obviously, some parts are blurred out. But I hope you get the gist of how I use it so you can decide if it’s the right system for you.
I use a Leuchtturm1917 (pronounced loy-strum) dotted notebook. You can find them on Amazon for around $20. Please note that you don’t have to buy a special notebook to start bullet journaling. In fact, when you first start, I almost don’t recommend you buy anything because it takes a bit to figure out how exactly you’ll use your own bullet journal. I started out with a $5 Wal-Mart notebook that was lined. I switched to the Leuchtturm notebook because I wanted a dotted notebook and it made sense to start a new one in January. Truly. Any notebook will do. Any notebook.
The index is pretty self-explanatory. The Leuttchrum1917 comes with an index and numbered pages all ready to go for you. If you don’t have an index, just designate one of your first pages as your Index, then label each page in your notebook. This goes faster than you think. I had to do this for my first bullet journal.
The purpose of the Index is that you will be adding spreads and logs to your journal throughout the year. It’s useful to have them indexed so that you can easily reference a spread later. For example, I was watching a webinar yesterday and created a spread between my January and February weekly logs so that I could take notes on the webinar. I glanced at the page number I was writing on, then wrote that page number on the index with the appropriate level. Now I can easily reference those notes later by using the index rather than flipping through the entire journal.
After the Index is my calendar. This is kind of my year-at-a-glance spread. I created a far bigger and more detailed calendar in my first bullet journal and found I never used it. I still use the calendar on my iPhone for all of my events, appointments, and meetings. So this time, I only used two 2-page spreads to create my 2017 calendar. It’s nice to see 6 months all in once place with key work events and various birthdays and holidays.
My Various Spreads
Some bullet journalers call these “collections,” or “lists.” For whatever reason, I’ve settled on the term spread. Each spread takes up at least 2 pages while some repeat that same 2-page look over multiple pages. Think of your spreads as the place where you track long-term projects and goals.
For example, you may have a writing project that involves research, writing an outline, writing chapters, book promotion, etc etc. Each aspect of that project has various deadlines and mini-tasks to get the entire project DONE. If you keep them all on one spread, you can use that spread to drive your weekly tasks. Sometimes we know we need to do X, Y, and Z but X doesn’t need to be done until July while Z has some tasks that need to be accomplished next week.
My spreads are a mixture of projects and goals. Most of them are at the beginning of my bullet journal, between the calendar and my weekly logs.
Here are my GOAL spreads:
My Reading List is where I write down books I’m reading or want to read. I color them in on the bookshelf once it’s completed. On the left side of this spread, I have a space to write book recommendations. There are 3 different categories of books I’ll read this year: Business/Marketing, Spiritual/Health, and Fiction. I read fiction before I go to bed each night but want to read various non-fiction books throughout my week. I have a very low goal to read 12 non-fiction books this year. Don’t judge me. It’s a recent discovery of how much I enjoy reading non-fiction.
My Financial Goals spread is what we used to do some fun dreaming for the future. At the beginning of this year, Jesse and I discussed some practical 2017 goals (pay off debt, save for a vacation etc) as well as some life-long/long-term goals we would like to shoot for. I use Google Sheets to manage our monthly budget and an app to manage our monthly spending. So this is really a “dream” page. It was fun to write down our goals and it’s gratifying to color in the goal trackers on the right page. In my last bullet journal, I drew 2 different “cones” like you would see in a fundraising poster. Each of these cones represented 2 different debts we were working on paying off in 2016. I was seriously giddy to color both of them in all the way to the top as we knocked those out last year.
My Fitness Goals spread is where I laid out 2 different fitness goals, and how I was going to get there. I’m tracking both my weight and inches this year. I’ll record those measurements at the beginning of each month. I gave myself 3 different levels of goals: gold, silver, and bronze. If I reach the gold goal that would be amazing (and would mean I would look almost as good as I did on my wedding day 12.5 years ago) If I reach silver, I was even more successful than I thought I could be. If I reach bronze, that means I did what I’d set out to do. I laid out a basic plan for how I’m going to work towards those goals on a daily basis on this spread as well.
My Family spread is a new spread this time around. I haven’t filled it out yet because this one also involves Jesse. We are going to sit down and talk about each child, what their strengths and witnesses are, and some areas we want to really work on with them this year. I’m not talking about their own areas to work on, I’m talking about things we need to work on with each child as it relates to our relationship.
For example, I relate better to our middle child and struggle with our oldest. Jesse is the opposite. (The youngest is pretty easy for both of us to relate to.) So there are certain things we can do to work on that with each kid. This is where I’ll lay those ideas out for reference later and also because once we talk about something and write it down, it’s easy to remember that we have a goal we are working towards with those relationsips.
I have some things I want to work on as a wife too, this year and I’ll fill that last square out soon.
Here are my PROJECT spreads:
I won’t go into a ton of detail on these since they are super specific to me and my job. But I wanted to show them to you so you can get an idea for how to create your own spreads based on what projects you have. I have already added a few more since starting this blog post a few days ago. I simply made sure they didn’t divide up a month of weekly logs by counting out the pages I hadn’t yet made.
After all of the goal spreads and a few project spreads comes the bullet journal’s sweet spot: the weekly log.
The Bullet Journal’s Sweet Spot: The Weekly Log
I begin my weekly logs with a month spread. Below you can see that I have a January spread where I listed a few tasks. I will add to it as the month goes on. Sometimes, I simply need to quickly write down a task from a meeting and I don’t have a specific day in mind yet that it needs to get done so I’ll write it here. It will get moved to a weekly log later. As I add more tasks here, it will help drive my weekly log.
In my last bullet journal, I used this place to write down each day of the month per the recommendation of Ryder Carroll. However, I found I never used it or referenced it so I turned it from a calendar function to a task function. I also added a new feature by including a spot to write down memories and celebrations. I thought it would be fun to be able to look back over the year and see what cool things happened both at work and personally. This may be anything from “Sammy lost a tooth!” to “That one campaign totally bombed and I wanted to crawl into a hole and die.”
Next, comes the actual weekly log:
A few components of my weekly log are unique to me. Before I get into those, let me explain the basic gist of my weekly log.
You can see I have a day for each day of the week (Mon-Fri). The top portion of the page is for work related tasks. The bottom is for personal tasks. In those personal boxes, I also have a place to track 3 things each day: weight, calorie burn and if I’ve done 50 push-ups or not (Again, don’t judge me for my weak arms.) I’ve seen some people track the amount of water drunk, steps taken, etc.
On any given day, I create a task with a bullet point. When the task is done, I make an X through the bullet point. If I don’t get it done, I write a > over the bullet point which means I’m migrating it to another date. I then re-write the task on another day. If I find myself migrating the same task over and over again I have to stop and ask myself, is this really worth my time? Or I ask myself if I’m prioritizing my tasks appropriately. This method is all explained in the original bullet journal video by Ryder Carroll.
I also have a slot for “Memoires.” This is another place to write down something I want to remember from the week. I may migrate these to the monthly memories/celebrations or I may leave them as they are and flip through it occasionally to remember the year’s happenings.
One aspect unique to me in my weekly log is that I track our various social media channel’s growth. That’s what that extra box is on my Monday work column. I also have this info online but I do it here simply because it forces me to pay attention to that each week and helps me focus on where I want to take our social media as we continue to improve.
I build out my weekly logs a month at a time. So I currently have all of January’s weekly logs created AND I went ahead and made the February month spread and the first week of February just because I was feeling ambitious one day. Towards the end of January, I’ll make the rest of February’s weekly logs. This takes me maybe 30 minutes each month.
So that’s my bullet journal.
I told you it would be a doozy of a blog post, didn’t I? If you made it here I congratulate you! Like I’ve said, what makes the bullet journal so great is that every single person can make it work for their unique needs. And . . . you can tweak as you go! In my last bullet journal, I did that often. I found myself changing my weekly log as I realized I didn’t need or want to track certain things.
It really is a great system. However, I will say it’s probably not for everyone. My husband is NOT a planner. So I figured this would be a great system for him. He tried it and couldn’t really get into it. He and I are about as different as they come when it comes to how we get things done. I’m a feeler and a doer. He’s a thinker and a processor (which is why he’s a great a counselor). I think that if you’re goal-driven, task-driven, and like long-term planning, it can be a really useful tool.
So that’s a wrap! I’d love to hear how YOU use a bullet journal. If you have any questions please comment and I’ll try and answer them as best I can. Happy bullet journaling!
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