How I Use Bullet Journaling



Every year in January, I head to Target and buy a new, crisp planner.

And every year I use said planner for approximately 2.3 weeks before my motivation to get organized peters out and I forget about it.

I am one of those people who likes the idea of a planner, especially the ones with monthly goal sheets and weekly layouts - but when it comes to actually using the planner, I usually find that all my organizational hopes are disappointed.  I stare at the blank lines and want so much to fill them in, but I usually end up writing stuff in those spaces just so the blank space won't be staring at me, or not using it at all and feeling like I failed somehow.  I've never been able to find a planner that is structured enough to help me stay organized and motivated without being too restrictive for my actual life.  

So despite dropping a twenty on a pretty planner, I usually still end up with random pieces of paper in a pile on my counter with scribbled to-do lists, book lists, quotes, and reminders.

However, I'm happy to report that all that changed last fall when I finally figured out what people meant by "bullet journaling".  

A few days before Georgiana was born, I was walking through our newly remodeled library and saw a new wall with displays of DIY books.  I stopped to skim, and found a book called Dot Journaling: A Practical Guide by Rachel Wilkerson Miller.  The subtitle said How To Start and Keep The Planner, To-Do List, and Diary That'll Actually Help You Get Your Life Together.  Honestly it just kind of looked pretty, so I picked it up for fun and started flipping through it in the car.  



I realized almost immediately that this was the planning and organization system I have been looking for!

Basically a bullet journal is a self-made planner and diary that can be anything you want it to be because you are the one who organizes it.  There are really no rules to it except the ones you make for your own journal.

I told Derek that I needed to give this a try, and we spent an afternoon driving around in search of a dot-grid journal.  On Sunday I finally got one, and I sat down to start getting my journal set up just as my labor contractions started.  I ended up bringing my bullet journal to the hospital with me, and one of my first pages is a timeline of my labor and delivery with Georgie!

To get a solid grasp on the system, you can check out the official bullet journaling website for free, but I highly recommend checking out Dot Journaling, because to me, it made the whole things seem more doable.  But that said, here is a little tour of my bullet journal to give you an idea of what it is.

Key

A page with a code for any of the symbols you choose to use in your journal (see "Daily Entries").

Index

Most bullet journals have an index, where you record what is on each page of your journal.  This makes it easier to find something later.  I guess some people write down the page numbers each time they mention different topics, but I think that sounds like too much work, so my index is pretty straight-forward.



Yearly Calendar

This is a calendar of the year, just for reference.  I have mine set up so I can write in dates of holidays, birthdays, etc. under each month.



Collections

In my journal, these are ongoing lists that I know I'll be adding to frequently.  I have:

1. Books To Read page
2. Books To Buy page, 
3. Products To Try page
4. New Words page (an idea I got from the Dot Journaling book that has proved really useful).

Trackers

I have a few pages dedicated to trackers for habits I want to nurture every day of the year.  In my journal these are:

1. Bible/Prayer Time Tracker
2. Exercise Tracker
3. Read-Aloud Tracker

The tracking pages are something I would like to be more consistent in using.  I have found that I haven't been updating my trackers that well, which kind of defeats the purpose.  I'll see how it goes over the next few months and evaluate if I think I'm using these enough to include them in my next journal.



Monthly Pages

In my journal, these pages are a calendar for the month where I write in events, doctor's appointments, etc (this was really useful to have in December).  It's nice to have my calendar all laid out and organized in a book I can carry in my purse, instead of just on the wall at home.  And I know they make pocket calendars, but I never use those.  For some reason I do use the calendars in my bullet journal.



For my monthly view I also have been including a habit/mood/health tracker, with categories like:

1. Drank 2 glasses of water.
2. Drank coffee.
3. Took a nap.
4. Had a migraine.
5. Feeling sad, irritable, anxious, happy, etc.

Once again, I feel like I haven't been as consistent as I would like with tracking my habits.  I would like to get better at this because if I could keep track, I think it would help me figure out some triggers for different health and mood related things (like migraines, being irritable, etc).  But the great thing about bullet journaling is that if I don't feel like I get the hang of it over the next couple months, if it's not working for me, I'll just drop it.


Daily Entries

In my journal I don't have any weekly planning pages since I don't find them particularly useful - I just skip right to my daily entries, which I organize with a to-do list at the top and notes about my day underneath that.

The night before I write the date and to-do list for the next day (with little dots next to each task).  I always have an idea of what I want to accomplish the next day, but in the past this list has just resided in my head or on random scraps of paper around my house.  I frequently forgot things.  It's been great to have all my to-do's in a central location - they don't get lost this way!

In the evening I cross out the things on my list that I finished (with an "x"), migrate things forward (with the > symbol) to the next day if I didn't get them done, or cancel them (with a slash mark).  

After that I write little dashes underneath with my notes about the day.  This is the "diary" part of my bullet journal.  I just write down whatever I did that day, and I can (briefly) include my feelings about it or not.  It's just a record of my day.  There have been a couple times so far when something was bothering me and I spent more time writing about it in this section too, but usually this note-taking only takes me a few minutes at night.  

Not everyone necessarily uses their journals this way, but I really like the idea of being able to look back on my daily entries years down the road.  I've often said the same thing about my blog - it's nice to look back on old blog posts, and this to me is like a mini version of that, filled with the things that no one will find interesting but me, or things that I might not find time to blog about (not everything can make it onto the blog).  

Now, I don't do a daily entry every single day.  Some days I'm just too tired, some days I forget, but once again, the beauty of a bullet journal is that whenever you miss a day, there is no blank paper staring at you, making you feel guilty (or is that just me?).  One entry just goes right after another, even if a week has passed.

Quote Pages

I wanted a place to write quotes that I like, but the problem is that I don't know how many quotes I will find before my journal fills up.  I didn't know how many pages to assign quotes, so I decided to put these pages in the back of my journal.  I've been reading books with a stack of index cards handy, I write down the quotes that I like.  I either transfer the quotes to these back pages or tape the index cards directly onto the pages, starting with the very last page and working backward.  When my daily entries and the quote pages meet, I'll be ready for a new journal.

Other Pages

Scattered in the midst of my daily entries are random pages that I just make whenever the thought strikes me.  Examples are:

1. Sermon Notes pages.  I take my journal to church each Sunday and make a page for my sermon notes.  This way they aren't on a paper that I'll just end up throwing away!
2. Random lists.  For example, I made a page with a list of all the gifts we got for Georgie in the hospital.
3. Grocery lists.  Yep, just sandwiched right in between my daily pages.
4. Budget pages.  I just started including budget pages, so I'm hoping to refine these a bit more, but so far I have stuck a monthly budget page in whenever the monthly bills have get paid off (sometime during the first week of each month).




This is where I can see how a bullet journal wouldn't be useful for some people.  Those with more of a type A, it-has-to-be-perfectly-organized personalities would probably go crazy sticking a random page in their journal like this.  But those type of people also probably do just fine with traditional planners.  For people like me, this is the beauty of bullet journaling!  I can write down whatever I want, anywhere in the journal, enter it in the index so I can find it later, and there are no blank pages!  I also cannot overstate the benefit of the amount of paper clutter this has eliminated from my kitchen counter.

Doesn't It Have To Be Pretty?

No.  Also, stop looking at bullet journals on Pinterest.

My journal is not very pretty.  My handwriting isn't very attractive, and I still have not developed any lettering skills. I have a bunch of mistakes crossed out.  I don't have any doodles.  I try to jazz up some pages with washi tape, but that's about it.  My bullet journal is very functional, and I like it that way, and I don't feel the need to make my pages Pinterest-worthy.  If you want to make your journal all pretty with your artistic skills, definitely do!  But don't let a lack of artistic skills stop you from giving it a try.

What Do You Need To Get Started?

First I'd recommend trying to get Dot Journaling from the library, because she has so many ideas for ways to use your journal.  My ideas here are just a small sampling, and it's quite possible you'd find a bunch of useful things that will work better for you than what I listed here.  You get to make your journal whatever you want it to be!

After you read that book, if bullet journaling is for you, you'll probably be itching to get started (and if not, that's okay).  Technically after that you only need a notebook and a pen to get started, but this is what I actually use:

1. A dot-grid journal.  I like having a dot-grid because it allows me to more easily make calendar pages, and it helps keep my handwriting straight.  I also think the pages look cleaner without lines cluttering it up (at least when you have my handwriting, which looks a little slapdash as it is).
2. My favorite pens.  I like .5 mm pens.
3. A ruler (for making calendar pages).
4. A couple colored markers or highlighters (optional: just to make it prettier).
5. Washi tape (also totally optional, makes the pages prettier since I don't have a level of artistic ability that would be acceptable to me).

Why I Like It

As I said before, I don't think every personality type is conducive to bullet journaling.  People like me, who want to be more organized but don't care if everything is perfectly organized, probably would do better with this system.  This is why I personally like bullet journaling (if you didn't already gather my reasons from the rest of this post):

1. No blank pages.  One of the reasons planners never worked for me is that I get discouraged by the blank pages when I miss a day, or just don't have anything to put in certain sections.  There is none of that with bullet journaling because I only make the pages I think I will use, and I can drop them if I don't.

2. Less paper clutter.  I used to write all my random lists on random pieces of paper that would eventually end up in the trash or stuffed in my junk drawer.  Now I can either add those random notes to an already-existing list, or make a new one, and my to-do lists are organized in my daily entries.

3.  Everything is in one place.  My calendars, to-do lists, grocery lists, budget notes, quotes - they are all in one handy little volume that I can fit into my purse.  Things don't get lost.  I'm less likely to forget things.

4. I feel more organized and productive.  The daily to-do list setup has worked really well to keep me on task and help me not forget things that need to be done.

5. I have a record of daily life.  I know I'm going to find it interesting to look back on my day-to-day life when a few years have passed.  My daily entries have daily events, but they also have little things the kids did (or other things I want to remember) that never would have been recorded if I didn't have a bullet journal.

Will you like it for the same reasons as me?  Maybe, but it's quite possible that you will like bullet journaling for entirely different reasons, because I doubt you will end up using yours in exactly the same way I do!  Bullet journaling, in the end, is whatever you want to make it, and that's what I find fun about it. 

Do you have a bullet journal?  How do you use yours?






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3 comments

  1. I love this so much, Callie! I'm just like you, those blank pages in my planners always taunted me, and I need to keep track of lists and thoughts just as much as events so bullet journalling is perfect for me. My favourite part of this post was when you said bujos don't need to be pretty and stop looking at Pinterest! :) I like looking at inspiration but above everything my bujo is functional so I don't put too much stock in that.

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  2. I have a bullet journal--looks like it might be almost the same one, blue-green cover with dots inside! I love it, but I use it a bit differently--for me, I do have a planner for keeping track of meetings and lessons and day-to-day tasks, but I like the bullet journal for lists and records of things I actually want to remember in the long-term. Mine has pages for goals, a list of updates from doctor's appointments, a list of who gave what as a baby gift to help me out with thank you cards and memories, passwords to a variety of accounts. I like the planner for day-to-day but I typically throw my planners away after the year is out, so I like having the flexibility of a bullet journal for notes I want to keep in the long-term.

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  3. Wow, this looks incredible. I’m a planner and OCD so I think this would be fun. But I have one question...... how do you do all this amazing journaling and organizing with 5 kids????

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