In a bid to make better use of my time in 2017, one of the things I’ve started recently is a bullet journal. Bullet journaling is something I only discovered a few months ago (thanks Instagram!) and already I’m finding it really useful in helping me feel more organised and productive. If, like me, you’ve struggled to find a good system for keeping track of everything, and find yourself dotting about between calendars, mobile phone reminders and diaries that never seem to have quite the right amount of space for your requirements – then bullet journaling might be just the thing for you. In this post I’m going to give a quick overview of what a bullet journal is, let you see how I’ve been using mine, and hopefully give you some ideas on how you could use a bullet journal to help enhance your daily life.
WHAT IS BULLET JOURNALING?
If, like late-2016 me, you’ve never heard of a bullet journal, you might be wondering what on earth I’m going on about. Well, bullet journaling is a free-form diary, to do list and planning system that allows you to manage future, monthly and daily to do lists through a process of logging and migration. And if that sounds like utter gobbledegook, then put simply, it’s an empty notebook you design into a diary/to do list/planning system all by yourself. The best way to introduce yourself to the bullet journal is to watch the 4 minute video by the creator of the system (and believe me, if I can get the hang of this system anyone can). You may have to watch the video a couple of times, but if you view this alongside the setting up of your first journal, then don’t worry, you’ll have the basics of the system grasped in no time.
The main elements of the bullet journal are an index page, where you keep track of where everything is in your bullet journal, a future log, where you set out priorities for say the next six months at a time, a monthly log, where you list all your reminders for the month calendar-style alongside dates, and a monthly task list where you record everything you need to get done within that month. This is then followed by daily logs (I do mine in a week-to-view format), where you record everything that’s happening or needs to get done that day. Tasks are illustrated by a ● symbol, notes by a -, events by an o, and priorities by a *. Once the week is over, the system suggests using the x symbol over task bullets to note that tasks have been completed and the > and < symbols to indicate that tasks should be migrated on into the next set of daily logs, or back into the future log for a later date (that's assuming you've decided the task is still actually required).
WHAT YOU NEED
All you really need to start a bullet journal is an empty notebook, a pen/pencil and a ruler. However, if you want to get a little fancy or artistic, then I'd recommend going for a notebook designed for bullet journaling (mine is a Leuchtturm 1917), a good quality pen (mine is a Faber-Castell artist pen), some washi tape (patterned tape you can use to secure photos and for decoration), and some nice felt tip pens or coloured pencils (I steal my son's Prismacolor pencils as I find they show through less on the other side of the page I'm working on). You can see my little kit in the photograph below. I used a photo from my Instagram feed to stick on the front of my journal to make it feel more personal – the beauty of a bullet journal is that you can adapt it to suit you.
WAYS TO USE A BULLET JOURNAL
The possibilities for using your bullet journal are endless and I’ve found since using mine that I’ve become much more productive and aware of what I’m achieving – and that’s allowing for the extra time and effort involved in the setting up and maintenance. I’ve also found that I have less need for the various other journals/calendars/diaries I have lying about the house as so many of the things I like to keep track of can be popped into my bullet journal – all I have to do is make up an extra spread and then add it to my index page. If something doesn’t work or I don’t like it, I just turn the page and change it next time. Here are some ways in which I’ve used the journal so far:
1. As a Diary/To Do List
The most obvious way to use the journal is as a diary, and in the photo below you can see how I’ve used my daily log system to keep track of everything from my kids’ school lunch arrangements to my Next courier returns. I enjoy sitting down on a Sunday evening and setting up my daily log spread for the week – it helps me focus on my priorities for the days ahead and find blocks of time where I can fit in blogging and writing projects. Once complete, I keep my journal open on the relevant weekly spread on the countertop in my kitchen – a quick glance over it every morning and I feel ready for the day ahead. (You’ll notice I’ve been using ticks and crosses in the traditional way in my journal. I haven’t quite got the hang of the migration system yet and keep forgetting about using the symbols. It’s not something I’m getting too hung up about. The important thing with a bullet journal is to use it in a way that works best for you).
2. As a Planner
Since the start of the year, I’ve also been using my journal to record weekly meal plans. Every Sunday I make a note of the meals we’re going to have for the week ahead and then plan a shopping list accordingly. As simple as it sounds, this has made a massive difference to my productivity – both from the point of view of not running to the supermarket every day, and also in allowing me to prepare things in advance wherever possible. See the photo below for some spread ideas (I’ve also managed to shave a bit of time off in recent weeks by just adding the meal plans to my daily logs – see second photo).
3. To Keep Track of Things
A bullet journal can be used to keep track of all sorts of things, from the number of steps you take every day to whether you feel happy, sad or emotional across any given time period. As a blogger, I’ve been using the spread below to keep track of how my little blog is growing, and also to record how many words I’ve written for a book I’ve been faffing around with for the last few months (not many as you can see). I’ve already identified that I could improve this spread for the future by monitoring my blog spreadsheet-style with the months spread out horizontally across two pages. As I said before the best thing about bullet journaling is you can keep changing things as you go along.
I’ve also been using my journal to keep a note of books that have been recommended to me and to keep track of books I’ve already read (essential for someone with as poor a memory as mine) – see second photo. And please don’t worry if you’re put off by the ‘arty’ side of bullet journaling (my artistic skills are very limited compared to some of the bullet journal advocates out there). It’s not essential to set your bullet journal up with nice lettering and pictures – it can be as simple or as artistic as you please. I find doodling in my bullet journal relaxing and its something I enjoy doing with my sons while they are drawing. If this element of it doesn’t appeal to you, then please don’t let it put you off.
4. As a Gratitude Log
Many people, myself included, find the process of writing gratitude lists beneficial, and I recently used my journal to set up the ‘winter gratitude’ spread below. In the future I could adapt this into a weekly or a daily gratitude record, as I said earlier, the possibilities are endless depending on what you want.
5. For Inspiration
I have an ‘inspiration’ spread in my bullet journal, where I’ve recorded quotes which make me feel uplifted. Again I tend to doodle away at things like this while my boys are drawing, and so it’s become something of a family activity which I also find enjoyable and relaxing. If you like drawing, colouring in or general scrapbooking, you’re likely to enjoy this aspect of bullet journaling too.
For lots more tips and ideas on bullet journals, search ‘bullet journal’ on Pinterest or #bulletjournal or #bujo on Instagram. And do let me know in the comments if you use a bullet journal already or think bullet journaling might benefit you aswell!