While there are plenty of pretty planners on the market to inspire you and help you to organise your life right now, perhaps a book of blank pages is what you’re actually looking for.
Learning how to bullet journal is a great way to be more mindful and productive. Reviving the art of journal-keeping to meet the demands of modern living, a bullet journal is a beautifully impressive way to store useful information, scribble down inspiration and track and plan your time.
What is bullet journalling?
The bullet journalling method was created by New York designer Ryder Carroll, to overcome the hurdles he faced when it came to focussing on tasks. A bullet journal is a visual planning method you can implement immediately in any blank notebook. The system offers a creative outlet that perfectly solves the problem of how to keep your to-dos, thoughts, dreams and creativity all in the one place. It can be totally personalised, and is an offline system. You can also start it any month of the year!
Journals are used to plan and track everything in daily life, from healthy habits, to TV shows, to birthday parties and bucket lists. Each bullet journal follows an established yet totally adaptable framework. There are a few simple steps to setting up your journal, but once you’re up and running then you can enjoy the freedom of filling the blank pages that follow any way you like. When you combine the organisational and the creative aspects of bullet journalling, you have a place where mindfulness, productivity and wellbeing meet.
“My sister introduced me to bullet journalling. Before that, I always had trouble finding a planner that had everything I needed to stay organised,” says bullet journaller Emily Dong from Montreal, Canada, who posts on Insta as @alosthue_. “I find planning and creating bullet journal spreads extremely therapeutic and relaxing. Before I started bullet journalling, I never found time for a creative hobby, so it’s been such a great creative outlet!”
Planning your week and month ahead of time can also give you a great deal of clarity on what you want to accomplish, both big and small. “I am definitely more organised and aware of the events that are coming up,” says Dutch bullet journaller Josephiene Feenstra (@bu.joos). “It helps me reduce my stress when I write down everything I have to do and want to do.”
Ticking each task off as you go will also give you a sense of achievement and a boost to your happiness at the same time. Eline Bredesen (@journalbeanie) from Norway agrees. “I have always loved writing lists and I’m very creative, so when I saw a friend bullet journalling I was intrigued,” she says. “It is much more fun to do boring stuff like wash clothes when you know you get to cross it off a list when it’s done. But I also like to include things like a must-watch movie list, just to make it more fun!”
The other appeal of bullet journals is that anyone can pick up a pen and get started. It’s a completely customisable experience that can be as simple – or as stylish – as you like. “I mainly use my bullet journal to stay organised for school,” says Emily. “I also use it to document my other lifestyle habits, such as health and fitness or my reading progress, which helps me to keep on track.”
For Josephiene, the bullet journal is more of a creative outlet. “I keep my bullet journal at home and use it as a diary, painting/sketchbook and planner,” she explains. “I’ve always loved crafting and writing, so this seemed like the best mix of the two for me.” Whatever role your bullet journal will take, the main focus is to ensure that it works well for you and does everything you need in order to empower you. The beauty is that over time, each journal will take on a life of its own – becoming as unique as you, the owner. The flexibility and total freedom of this approach to planning will rival any online system you may already be using. In a digital world, it’s interesting to see that there’s still space for a slower paced, physical way of planning and pursuing the life you desire.
However, bullet journals are not exempt from social media – with their pages being a blank canvas for creative layouts, Instagram is overflowing with flatlays full of ideas for making your perfect bullet journal. If you need inspiration for fonts, or want to include a new organisational page, hashtags will be your friend for finding a myriad of suggestions. #bujobeauty is the perfect starting point for all things related to layout; #studygram might have your next key productivity page; or #bujojunkies is addictive if you simply want to admire the work of fellow bullet journallers. Wherever it may take you, enjoy your bullet journalling journey – it’ll harness your creativity to organise your life in ways you never would have imagined. Read on to learn how to start your bullet journal with our beginner’s guide and what you need in your bullet journalling kit.
Looking for a bullet journal to begin your new hobby? Check out our best bullet journal guide. If you’d prefer a more mindful journalling practice then take a look at our best mindfulness journals. You could also try making your own journal from scratch with our how to make a journal tutorial.
How to bullet journal for beginners
Follow our beginner’s guide to help you get started. You can then blend your creativity and curiosity each month as your journal evolves.
Get the basics
“Don’t be intimidated,” Emily says. “You just need a blank notebook and a fine pen.” Many bullet journallers like to use a dotted notebook for layouts, and look for 003 to 005mm fineliners.
Before you start, have a think about how you want your journal to look – there’s plenty of inspo available online.
“Try out different ways of journalling,” Eline suggests. “You will figure out what works well for you over time.” Get colour-coded. Assign a colour to birthdays, appointments, workouts etc. Get customising. Use stickers, stencils, stamps and washi tape for unique pages.
Create an index
To begin, flip open your notebook and set up an index page. This will live at the start of your notebook on the first double page spread and it’s where you’ll keep a running list of all journal content and page numbers to make it easily accessible. Note: your index relies on you keeping your pages numbered as you go, so get into the habit of that from the start!
Choose a key
Create a simple key to suit your lifestyle and journalling needs. Use a small number of symbols to create a consistent visual categorisation for your entries. For example: □ = task, ■ = completed task, ○ = event, ● = completed event, ▬ = note, ♥ = want, ▵ = appointment, * = priority, ! = inspiration, $ = purchase, > = migrated, X = cancelled.
Plan your future
Your journal will be created month by month, so you need a place to list all future events and dates in one place, before you reach that corresponding month. Creating your future log behind the index page makes it easily accessible as you’ll be coming back to it each time you start a new monthly spread.
Keep a weekly log
Set up a spread to see your week at a glance. Start with a simple set-up by ruling six even spaces and a half-sized section for the days of the weekend. Add in the tasks to be completed each day, using your key.
Start a monthly log
Write the month at the top of the next blank page and list the days of the month (e.g. 1 – 31) vertically down the page. Add the first letter of the corresponding day of the week next to each number. Start adding your appointments and events to this list.
Migrate uncompleted tasks
Move uncompleted tasks from this month forward into the next month by finding all the empty squares and circles and adding ‘>’, then adding it into the future. Ensure each task has been actioned or accounted for each month. If you’re constantly migrating the same task, reflect on its importance and whether it’s worth keeping or cancelling altogether.
Track your habits
Track habits, finances, health, progress over the month/week/day by ticking, charting or colouring in your progress along the way.
Bullet journalling kit to help you get started
Get started with all of the tools of the trade…
This classic notebook is available in a variety of vibrant colours and we particularly like the nordic blue shade available in Waterstones. The notebook is dotted inside with a durable cover, making it perfect for bullet journalling.
Is there anything more satisfying than a nicely organised journal? Keep everything organised in your bullet journal with this set of colourful highlighters.
Sharpies are extremely versatile – use them for shading, colour coding or simply adding some pretty decorations to your journal. Let your imagination run wild!
These high-quality fineliners are brilliant for adding detail to your bullet journal and taking your colour coding to the next level.
More journalling inspiration
If you’re feeling creative, then learn how to make your own stitched journal with Anna Alicia’s tutorial.
Alternatively, if you’re hoping to make a fresh start in the new year then learn how to begin a new mindfulness practice by writing a January journal.
This article was first published in In The Moment Magazine issue 9.