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I was the queen of buying beautiful yearly planners until I found bullet journaling. Every year I’d spend $30-$60 on a planner that promised to help me set and achieve my goals and inspire me along the way. Every year I’d make it to about July before I’d stop entering anything into the planner at all and just reverted to Google Calendar; my goals forgotten.
The planners were too big to carry with me, too rote to keep me engaged month after month, and too one size fits all to meet my changing on-the-go needs as a stay at home mom. I also had to have a separate journal for notes and inspirations because there was no spot for that kind of thing in the planner. The planners were pretty but not very functional.
Last year I was all set to buy a new planner with fancy fonts, flowery graphics, and big gold embellishments when I started seeing posts about bullet journaling. The concept is very basic but can be infinitely adjusted to meet your needs, and bedazzled to your heart’s content depending on your time and inclination.
I’ve been bullet journaling for over six months now and I’m hooked. I actually get all of my tasks done, I have a creative outlet, and a home for all of my thoughts and ideas. My life is so much more together now. If you need an effective system to meet these needs, welcome to bullet journaling 101.
Bullet Journaling 101
Ryder Carroll invented the bullet journal because his needs weren’t being met by traditional planners. His site www.bulletjournal.com has great tips and tricks for starting out your bullet journal. He also has a new app that I haven’t tried but is supposed to include bullet journaling 101 basics as well. Here’s what you need to get started.
Get a journal
We’re starting with the basics here, Mama. Any blank journal will do but the journals of choice for “bujos” — as bullet journalers are called — are Moleskins and the Leuchtturm1917 dotted grid. I have the Leachtturm1917 in Emerald and love it. Ryder also sells a branded Leuchtturm1917 that has the index and future log all set up for you.
But I actually started in a temporary bullet journal that I didn’t care about and and already had on hand. This is a great risk-free way to test the concept of bullet journaling to make sure it works for you. You’ll learn a lot about how to organize your journal and what collections to introduce by having the freedom of a trial journal.
Set Up Your Bullet Journal
The key components of bullet journaling 101 are the notation system, the index, the future log, the monthly log, the daily rapid log, and the collections. All of these allow you to track your tasks and ideas easily in one journal.
Bullet Journal Notation
The bullet journal notation system allows you to see at a glance which tasks are done, being postponed (migrated) to another month, or just being given up on, and which notations are notes instead of action items, or events.
This is key. Every task gets either x-ed out because I did it, migrated to the next month >, migrated to the future log to a different month <, or stricken if I’ve decided I’m just not going to ever do that task and I’m tired of migrating it (hello kitchen deep clean!) This way, no task gets left behind. Because I’m referencing these tasks often, I have them front of mind and rarely forget what I need to do that day.
The index is how you’ll find all your brilliant notes and brainstorms – what bujos call “collections” – as well as your monthly logs. The Leuchtturm1917 includes an index for you to fill out as you go. Be judicious about what you put in your index. I include all of my collections and where each monthly log starts. I do not include spreads that repeat monthly like my habit tracker, monthly memories, or gratitude list.
The future log is a spread of 6-12 months over 2-4 pages. Basically you draw three lines bisecting the pages from top to bottom and write the months in each section. If there’s something you need to remember to do, say like taxes in April, or a trip you’re planning like Hawaii in September (dreams remember?), you write it down briefly here. Then when you set up your log for that month, you can reference the future log and make sure you don’t miss any important tasks or appointments.
I did a 12 month future log which has worked well for me but some bujos stop at 6 months because they think that’s all their journal will hold. I’m only about halfway through my journal 6 months in so a 12 month log should work fine.
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There are many ways to set up your monthly log but I start with the most utilitarian and add pretty adornment from there if I have time.
First, I title a “spread” — two pages next to each other — with the month. On the left page, I write the numbered days and initial for each day (M,T,W,T etc) down the left margin. I enter in any special appointments I want to remember on the appropriate line, including things like dentist appointments, parties, and trips. I don’t include repeating appointments like horseback riding or preschool.
On the right page I write down all the tasks I have for that month. First, I check my future log for any month-specific tasks. Then I check the previous month for any unfinished tasks that I want to carry over. As the month goes on, I jot down tasks I want to get done sometime that month but maybe not on a specific day. I reference this list when I’m doing my daily log and feel like I have time to do a monthly task. When setting up my next month, I migrate over any unfinished tasks or strike them through if I don’t feel like they’re worth doing anymore.
The dailies are real meat of the bullet journal. Every night before bed I write out what I’ve got going on the next day. I include the weather forecast, my meal plan from Paprika, any unfinished tasks from the previous day, unique calendar items, and any tasks I have to get done that day.
Sometimes I do a little “rapid logging” (i.e. quick note-taking) about what I did that day before I set up the following day. I’ve gotten away from that rapid logging recently because I felt like it was cluttering up my dailies. I prefer to have my memories and gratitude for the month in collections. But feel free to adjust the bullet journal to your needs. That’s the beauty of it!
Some bujos do weekly logs because they feel more comfortable with a week-at-a-glance type of set up. I have not found that necessary but my husband does it and loves it so again, do what works for you.
If the daily logs are the meat, collections are the fruit cobbler of the bullet journal. Collections can go anywhere in the journal and be about anything you want. They are basically just notes on a topic that you “collect” in a spread of pages or a few pages linked together via your index.
For example, I have collections I repeat every month, like a gratitude list, habit tracker, and monthly memories. I do not index these because I know they are right after my monthly log every month. I have other collections, like when I did Lisa Jacob’s Year in Review, or made notes about my Whole30 journey, that are one-offs and so I include them in my index.
Collections really make bullet journaling the one-stop-shopping destination of planners. This way I have my calendar items, tasks, and blogging and parenting inspiration all in the same slim book. The index makes it all super easy to find and use when I need it.
Collections are also where artistic bujos can really shine. Boho Berry, the queen of all things bujo, has beautiful collections like a monthly mood mandala and tons of hand-lettering spreads. I am not artistic but I enjoy drawing visual representations of monthly memories, like our trip to the pumpkin patch in October or skiing in January. It’s a nice decompression activity at the end of the month and feels more relaxing to me than adult coloring books.
If I start a collection on one page and run out of room before I’m done making notes, I just write the next page of the collection at the bottom of the page. This is called linking and it lets you easily move from one page of related notes to the next, even if you have a bunch of dailies in between.
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Reference Your Bullet Journal Often to Get Everything Done
So how does building my own planner help me get things done, you ask? Here’s the thing. By referencing your tasks over and over again when you do your dailies and monthly spreads, you will actually remember them. If you remember them, you will schedule time to do them. If you schedule it, and remember that you’ve scheduled it, it will be done.
Referencing Your Bullet Journal Helps You Prioritize Tasks
How often have you made a long list of tasks that absolutely have to happen that week or month, only to immediately forget them? Or, been so intimidated and overwhelmed by your task list that you procrastinated as long as possible, leaving you scrambling at the last minute? Hand raise over here!
Making a list is only half of the battle, or maybe only a quarter of the battle. Prioritizing which tasks absolutely have to be done that day, and remembering to do them, is the real challenge.
With the bullet journal, I can see if I’m loading too much up on my day. I see my events right there, know what blocks of time I’ll have to do tasks, and have a rough idea how many tasks can realistically be accomplished.
Having to Migrate Tasks Motivates You To Do Them
Putting more tasks than that on my day doesn’t serve me because I’ll just have to migrate the unfinished ones to the next day. So now, I put my top three to five tasks down, and I actually do them. Shocker.
Migration is also motivating because the more I write down a task, the more important it becomes for me to get it done. I get tired of having that task hang over me and finally I’ll just do it. Even if it’s highly distasteful like yard work or, I’ll say it again, taxes.
The key to making all of this work is referencing my bullet journal often. I write out my next day’s tasks every evening. My bullet journal holds tons of content that I want to have access to so I carry it with me everywhere. I check my bullet journal at least twice a day, if not more. Every time I do, I’m reoriented with my priorities for the day. It keeps me on track which makes me far more productive.The key to making this work is referencing my bullet journal often. I remember & prioritize tasks.Click To Tweet
If you want more bullet journal inspiration or information I highly suggest checking out Boho Berry and Tiny Ray of Sunshine. Just entering the hashtag #bujo into Instagram will pull up amazing drool-worthy collections using fountain pens, washi tape and beautiful drawings.
But don’t be intimidated by artistic prowess! Your bujo doesn’t have to be pretty, just useful. If you follow these instructions I promise it will be. You will get more accomplished, remember more appointments, and even be able to take the long view on life, getting goals set and progress made. And if you want, only if you want, you can do some doodling along the way.
Have you tried bullet journaling or are you a Google Calendar die-hard? Let me know what planning system works for you in the comments!
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