So, you need to get organized, huh?
Thankfully, you don’t have to pay a life coach or carry around a three-ring binder like a wedding planner to do it.
There’s this amazing thing called a bullet journal. Even the laziest and most disorganized of us can learn how to use one fast.
The BuJo — yep, it’s even got a cute nickname — is about to become your new best friend. It’ll make you feel like you’ve got it together, even if that’s hardly the case.
So what is a Bullet Journal anyway?
It is a magical, organizational notebook that helps get your life in order.
A bullet journal is a way to plan your day. It’s a planner for the un-planners. It’s a companion for those who sometimes forget to feed their cat (or themselves). It’s a way to make sense of your day-to-day tasks, your monthly agenda, your loftiest life goals; plus, plenty of opportunity for doodling in the margins.
It encourages adulting, but on your own terms. And, if you actually enjoy organization, it might turn into a hobby.
Have you ever bought a planner (yay for New Years resolutions) and found yourself abandoning it after 12 hours? Yeah, that’s not the BuJo way. What makes BuJo so doable is that it focuses all your planning into short, thoughtful little lists.
And what makes it great is the opportunity for personalization. Save for a few general guidelines to keep things easy and productive, there are really no rules for bullet journaling.
Who should use a bullet journal?
- Doodlers and daydreamers
- Textbook Overachievers
- Anyone who loves pretty notebooks
- Avid writers and artists
- Those who constantly abandon to-do lists
Now is the time to bust out that collection of notebooks and half-written diaries you’ve been hoarding since high school. Put those blank pages to good use.
How to Start a Bullet Journal
If you have a slight addiction to lists, but you don’t follow through on anything (like ever), a bullet journal might be the motivation you need. It’s storage for your random thoughts, creative ideas, to-do lists, and artistic scribbles, all in one spot.
And it’s easy like Sunday morning.
1. Choose a bullet journal.
You can choose a notebook or journal of any shape or size. Because you’re probably going to be carrying it around, you might want something that is small enough to fit in a bag or a pocket (but big enough to legibly write in). Consider where you might be taking it – a softer cover like leather will fit easier in a suitcase whereas a harder cover can take a beating.
If you don’t want to get too committed, find a half-used notebook and start. Grab a pen. A pencil. A crayon. Even a ruler if you really want to get into it. Make it as plain or fancy as you want.
Popular options include dotted grid journals, which allow you to easily connect the dots to draw various calendars, charts, and boxes. If you plan to use watercolors, washi tape, or stickers, then blank notebook pages offer a more open canvas to get creative.
Even if you hate the notebook you start with, you can always switch once you fill it up. Or learn the art of “migration” halfway through. There are so many options (paper quality, binding type, etc.), so don’t get hung up on finding the perfect one.
You can get picky once you get in a real journaling groove.
2. Determine what you want to track.
Starting with your own key, decide on what really matters in your daily life. To further break down your collections, you can also color code it. What makes up these collections looks different for everyone. If basket weaving is a top priority, write it down!
Some ideas for tracking:
This allows you to pause for a moment and reflect on all that’s good in your life. Even if it was getting an extra 15 minutes of sleep in the morning or finding a forgotten 5 dollar bill in your pocket. It’s the little things that count.
Good or bad, we all have habits that stick. If you want to spend less time on social media, start by writing that goal down and tracking how many hours you spend on devices per day.
If you’re planning on getting really serious about this habit, try having a separate log for this. Add in reminders about that new hot yoga class you wanted to try, or if you need to set an alarm to take a 30-minute walk around lunch time. Color code each type of physical activity and track them on a monthly calendar as a visual reminder of how active you were!
You can still use your cool mood ring to track how you’re feeling. Just record it. Your neighbor blaring Mariah Carey’s greatest hits at 2 a.m. could be why you’re cranky. Which leads us to…
Recording your sleep habits can help you make sure you’re getting enough time to recover from a hard day of being super awesome. Getting too little rest? Try to power down a little earlier to catch a few more ZZZs. Or have a friendly chat with your neighbor about the early morning karaoke sessions.
There’s power in writing down your biggest aspirations. Want to “Eat, Pray, Love” your way through Europe? Start dreaming with this list. Dream big or go home, right?
Water consumption & food log
When you feel sluggish around 2 pm, check your water intake. If Starbucks is your three-course meal a few times a week, it’s time to start really paying attention to your diet. Frappuccinos can only take you so far.
Does it seem like your money burns a hole in your pocket? Then it’s time to start tracking where your dollars go. Consider having an expenses and bills category within this log to see where exactly your spending is highest. This can be especially helpful when planning savings for big-ticket items like trips and cars.
If you’re constantly scrambling to figure out what to make for dinner, this is a must-have for your journal. Keep a recipes tab for your quick, go-to meals to make dinner prep a snap when you’re hangry.
On days when you feel like a rain cloud is hovering over you, writing positive affirmations can put some pep in your step. Write about your best superpowers and how you can do those with or without a cape. What you repeat to yourself has the power to become your daily thought pattern and inward belief. Add a little mindset work for full Zen mode.
Creative muses hardly announce when they’ll be stopping by to share infinite wisdom. Have your log ready to record anything from your next business idea to that pirate-themed party you’ve been wanting to host.
All the cool people have goals. Write ‘em down. Whether it’s to try and break the world record for biggest rubber band ball or be the next Bill Gates, writing it down daily can make it happen.
Once you’ve hit your goal, reward yourself. If you lose that last 20 pounds, buy a new pair of jeans. Or if you stopped biting your nails, go get a nice manicure. Treat yourself. It’ll make you more likely to hit your goals if you know positive reinforcement is ahead.
While this is just a basic list of ideas, there are plenty of other things you can track. Document and track whatever you want, whenever you need. If you want to be an adult and have a super strict cleaning schedule, by all means, have at it. We all know the laundry doesn’t fold itself.
No one is entering this into a creative non-fiction writing contest, and only you will see your chicken-scratch handwriting. Write freely.
For the artsy/creative/fancy folks
Whenever inspiration hits, jot the note down with a huge exclamation point. You’ll likely want a journal stuffed with unlined pages for all those moments. Because, who knows? One of those ideas might become the next big thing.
Do a doodle a day. Draw small boxes for each day of the month. Create a sketch within each daily box. Use whatever artistic utensils your heart desires. Need drawing ideas? Cat ladies, flowers, unicorns… the possibilities are endless.
Plein air paint. Take a picnic to your local park and catch up on your journaling. Paint whatever inspires you, even if it’s that squirrel angrily eyeing you while crunching on its acorn.
Use the colors of the rainbow. Whether you love highlighters, gel pens, or colored pencils, use them all to create a colorful calendar you’ll adore looking at every day.
Create a theme. If you love cupcakes, make that your journal’s theme. Cut out magazine clippings, draw, paint, or sketch all things cupcake. Try not to get frosting on the pages!
3. Build your framework.
BuJo’s have an index and various logs to keep you straight even when you feel like you’re going cross-eyed from all this organizational business. Each log serves as its own little filing cabinet within your journal that would otherwise take up memory on your phone or valuable brain space.
Building the framework of your BuJo can take just a few hours. It may take more time, though, if you get too excited. Below is a sample of how to keep things nice and uncomplicated.
Framework = modules
It sounds like a math calculation, we know. It’s simply a method to organize your entries.
There are 4 basic modules:
Similar to a table of contents for a book, the index shows what’s on each journal page. It makes it easier to turn to your weekly or monthly logs when you’ve got lots of pages. If you need multiple pages for a particular log, you can easily designate several pages right in the index.
As you may have guessed, this lists future tasks and plans. It can be laid out like a calendar-at-a-glance with all 12 months.
This helps you map out deadlines, appointments, and events. It makes it easier to
see upcoming plans at a quick glance.
Going over your daily tasks and listing them out will ensure you get everything
you need to do, done on time for the day. By using a BuJo, you’ll track your best and
worst habits. (Not that you have any bad habits, right?)
4. Start journaling.
Just get started. It’s only hard if you make it hard. #dontgetcrazy
- Keep it short and sweet.
- Write in pencil first. Pen second.
- Adjust your logs as you go.
- Use colored pencils or watercolors to add a pop of cheer.
- Rulers and stencils keep things straighter and cleaner.
- Use it daily for best results. Rinse and repeat.
If you break out into a sweat just thinking about planning out past today, you’re thinking too hard about it. We’re literally talking about using a pen and a paper, not taking a trip to the dentist.
Using Your Bullet Journal
Consider a bullet journal your book for life. There are several ways to stay organized, and you can do them all or just a few. Trial and error will prove what’s most effective for your style.
An index, along with daily, monthly, and future logs will give you the most clarity. These sections will help even the most cluttered brains feel more clarity after one writing session.
To claim your true dedication to the BuJo world, add these sections:
Much like your favorite book, the index section makes it easier to find what you’re looking for in any given moment. In an instant, you’ll know where your logs are without getting a papercut thumbing through all the pages.
An index includes your collections (a list, pretty much), and can include just about anything you think of that needs tracking in your life. Collections are perfect for long-term projects, business-building goals, and/or hobby tracking. It also keeps your best habits on track.
Index examples may include: daily logs, weekly logs, monthly logs, future logs, reading lists, and goals. Don’t forget to number your pages. It’ll show you which logs are where.
While it may be tempting, you don’t have to complete your index in one journaling session. For first-timers, it may seem a little overwhelming to think of every section of your life that needs help in the organizational department. Add to the index at any time as your collections grow.
And don’t stress about creating sections in a specific order. If you run out of space in one section, simply flip to the next blank page, update your index, and keep journaling!
For the planner-challenged peeps out there, using a daily log helps you crush goals by turning them into actionable steps. Starting with your key, look over what categories need assigned tasks for the day. Add your key to the front or back for easy reference when you forget what the X or circle symbols mean.
Rapid logging is essentially the language you write your BuJo in — making it easier to pour all your thoughts onto a page so they don’t take up brain space. For those who can’t stand spending more than a few minutes of writing, rapid logging will blow your mind.
To rapid log, just add a page number and topic (a short, descriptive title) to the top outer page corner. Keep your sentences brief and add bullet points to keep yourself from getting too lengthy. Short and to the point is best.
Bullets should organize your entries into tasks, notes, and events. Once you’ve got the basics down, you can spend as little as 10 minutes a day organizing your plans, dreams, and goals.
Because rapid logging quickly gets your list down on paper, you’ll need your bullet points for extra references. Use symbols, AKA signifiers, to make it easy to review where you’re at with any given task.
For example, an exclamation point may signal inspiration, so when your epiphanies hit, you’ll be ready. It may strike at any time, so be sure to carry your BuJo with you. How many times have you lost an amazing idea or creative thought because you didn’t have something to write it down on?
You can use any symbol you want. Below are the most common signifiers that BuJo users love and use.
A quick key for rapid logging might look like this:
• = New task
X = Completed task
– = Note to self
> = Task that carried over from a previous list or month
< = Task that’s been scheduled for a specific time O = An event
Your day’s agenda via your handy-dandy rapid log might look like this:
June 1, 2018
> Sign medical paperwork
X Make vet appointment
• Exercise (I did it 3X last week!)
X Buy more cat food
• Research fun spot for date night
– Call Jessica
X Send wedding invites
O Bachelorette party
It’s basically the biggest brain dump, ever. Write until your hand cramps and your mind is free. Even if only one thing on your list gets done, at least you felt productive writing it out.
Remember, especially if you’re not the biggest planner, a daily log doesn’t just have to be for to-dos! Write down funny or significant moments in your day, like how your cat finally learned to play with that toy you bought her. Record meaningful quotes you found or heard. Log what you’re grateful (or not so grateful for).
There’s no right or wrong way to get your BuJo on — you do you!
Got a busy month? It’s hard to keep all your events straight when you’re in high demand. If you’re feeling a bit like a swamped celebrity (minus the entourage), a monthly log will keep you on track better than a personal assistant. Although, if you want to get one of those, too, we don’t blame you.
On one page, write out the number of days with the month and what day of the week it falls on. On the opposite page, list out specific monthly goals like exercise, healthy eating, meditation, and anything else you want to make happen!
For a preview of what’s to come, write down a “next month” section so you know when important dates like National Best Friends Day is coming up. Because you’re that kind of friend.
Draw boxes for separating topics like: kids, work, home life, personal, etc. Whether you have multiple human beings to care for, or big project deadlines looming at work, checking off tasks will help you balance life better.
Refer back to these throughout the month to make sure you’re staying on track. Sometimes, you may need to give yourself some extra time to complete a certain task. No sweat. Just migrate the task to the next month’s log.
As you do several months of journaling, you’ll realize how awesome it is to get a grip on time management. You’ll also be impressed by how much less brain power you’ll expend trying to recall if your cat’s birthday is this week or next.
The future log allows you to plan months in advance. Logging so far ahead of time — combined with daily actionable steps — will make the larger events in life seem a lot less stressful, like wedding planning out-of-state. Or quitting your job.
You know, the anxiety-provoking adult stuff that should have a bit of planning and preparation involved.
It also lets you move forward with better ways of doing things. Maybe you discover you actually need to start planning less work engagements on the weekend and more personal time to unwind. The work will still be on your desk when you get back on Monday, we promise.
What to schedule
Arrange and pre-plan dates and timelines for holidays, vacations, and birthdays in your future log. When you’re planning out your monthly logs, having a year calendar already pre-filled out will make it easier to transfer those standing big-life events into your monthly calendar.
Your dog may forgive you for forgetting his birthday, but your mom won’t. Use the future log to remember and maintain your status as the favorite child.
Future Log Tips
Aside from tracking events important to your loved ones, this particular log keeps your motivation going for bigger personal projects, too.
Add the future log to the front of your journal to keep on top of those big tasks that require multiple baby steps — like that book you keep promising yourself you’ll sit down and write. Or maybe you really want to run a marathon with your sister next year.
It takes a little planning here and there for big events.
It’s easy to let daily life slip by without taking any steps toward achieving that someday goal. With a future log, you can easily remind yourself every week of the goals you set for yourself throughout the year.
It can be helpful to reverse engineer your plans. Look backward and think about what tiny steps or actions need to be taken to get to the larger objective. Plot and plan accordingly.
One way to do this is with SMART goals.
What does SMART mean?
By using this acronym, you can closely examine every goal to see what it takes to get it done. Use your BuJo pages to journal and figure out what and why you want to accomplish a certain goal. How you do it may change as you go, but figuring out the purpose from the start will give you reason to go on if it gets hard — like training for that 5K when you’ve never run a day in your life.
SMART goals help you ask yourself if you’re being realistic with your time, energy, and resources to get it done.
For example, writing “eat healthy” is too vague. Noting that you’ll eat five fruits and veggies a day is more specific. To measure it, try doing it for a day, then a week. Shoot for a month. Once you hit that month mark, you’ll know it’s achievable and relevant to your overall desire to improve your life. Committing to doing it for six months to see if your energy increases makes it time bound.
With a future log, you can plan with greater clarity on a larger scale of what kind of effort your goals will take. Healthy living goals are a great way to do this as there are so many ways to track progress. The weekly and daily logs are the baby steps to get you there, with SMART goals as the backbone of your motivation.
For extra motivation, journal about what it would feel or look like to have completed the goal. Then, once you hit the goal, compare notes – how it actually feels to what you imagined it would feel like.
BuJo Future Log Format
You can break it down by three months at a time on one page, with the opposite page listing any steps or brain dumping activities you need to do.
Or, you can just attach a little sticky note to any given month or week to keep track of future items. Annotate with a due date on the note. Move the sticky note along your notebook as needed to keep your deadline projections in check.
By having a future log, you can easily track out long-term habits you want to incorporate into your daily living. Like flossing your teeth.
Plus, it’ll impress your parents when you actually remember their anniversary. Just don’t forget to buy them a really great gift, too.
The Benefits of Bullet Journaling
If you feel like you’re wandering through life (or your day) without any intentional habits, it’s time to BuJo like a MOFO.
Bullet journaling is the simplest way to schedule your life like a boss.
Some benefits of a cute little BuJo:
Keeps to-do lists organized
Clearly lays out goals
Encourages self-reflection and inspiration
At the very least, it makes you feel put-together. Even if you’re a hot mess express.
Keeping up with a BuJo:
Those productivity apps on your phone have nothing on a BuJo. We promise the BuJo will not only organize your life, but become easier the more you do it.
At the start (or end) of every day, review your day’s agenda. Mark off what got done. Move what didn’t to the next day’s page. When planning a month out, take a peek at your future log to see what important events need to be noted. Regularly reviewing your logs will help you reflect on time management skills, too.
By doing a little bit each day, you’ll feel less overwhelmed and more like an organizational genius.
Perhaps you often wonder, “WTF happened to my day?” If so, it’s time to get your mojo working with a BuJo. No more sticky notes. No more hitting delete repeatedly on your phone’s calendar tasks. No more missing deadlines, like yesterday.
Plus, there’s way too many cute journals to deny yourself of organizational bliss.
Besides, what’s the worst that can happen? You actually get things done?
Do it. We dare you.