Everything You Need to Know About Bullet Journals

A floral bullet journal notebook on a white table next to a white pen.

What is a bullet journal and why do so many fans swear by them?

To put it simply, a bullet journal can be whatever you want it to be. To some people, a bullet journal is a great way to visually keep track of their goals and habits. For others, a bullet journal is a way to record daily tasks. And then for others, a bullet journal is a mix of everything. it’s like having a yearly planner, habit tracker, calendar, and diary all rolled into one notebook. 

In a New Yorker profile, Bullet Journal founder Ryder Caroll explains that when it comes to a bullet journal: 

“Only add what serves you, and be patient with yourself, because it’s a new thing. You’re not doing it right, you’re not doing it wrong, you’re just figuring it out as you go along.” He paused. “It’s another reason why I love the notebook,” he said. “It’s like every day is another chance.”

Whether you want to use your bullet journal to help you achieve your goals or to simply record your daily life, is up to you. That’s why so many fans are dedicated to the bullet journal method. It’s a great option for people who want flexibility in their notebooks, and who find it creatively and emotionally satisfying to personalize their pages. (You may have seen Bullet Journal entries on Pinterest, with their beautifully illustrated entries and colored coded graphs.)

But don’t worry, you don’t have to be artistically inclined to get the most out of a bullet journal. Here are some simple ways that you can use a bullet journal and customize it to serve your goals. 

How to get started

First, let’s go over some of the basic bullet journal concepts and vocabulary.

Rapid logging: This is writing in list-form. So instead of writing in the style of a long-form journal entry, you only record short, key details.

For example, you would write:

  • Buy groceries
  • Go to gym
  • See doctor

In many ways, this style of journaling is similar to the minimalist/Marie Kondo school of thought. Too many words on the page can feel like visual clutter. It’s hard for your brain to hone in on your priorities, when it’s distracted by extraneous info. By removing clutter on the page, you can focus on key details.

Bullets: According to this Bullet Journal tutorial: “Bullets are short-form sentences paired with symbols that visually categorize your entries into: Tasks, Events, or Notes.”  

Signifiers: These are symbols that help you organize your writing. You can use asterisks, circles, exclamation points--anything to help you quickly identify information. These symbols are placed on your lists and can indicate priority levels or identify new ideas. 

Let’s say you want to use an asterisk to denote a high priority task. Here’s how we can add it to our task list:

  • *Buy groceries
  • Go to gym
  • See doctor

According to Bullet Journal, you’ll want to go easy on the asterisks so that you can truly work on your actual priorities instead of giving everything equal weight. 

If all the vocabulary and symbols seem overwhelming, don’t worry. You can make the bullet journal as simple or as extensive as you want. You don’t need to go overboard with all the symbols. Just find one or two that can help you visually identify important details.

Tools you can use

Ideas for your bullet journal

Now that we have the basic formatting down, let’s take a look at the different ways you can use your bullet journal.

Bullet Journal Idea #1: Habit tracker

Here’s a familiar scenario: we set a new year’s fitness goal to start working out more. In the beginning, we’re so excited, we buy all these new workout clothes, and go for a run everyday, But then, in a week or two, we start to lose steam.

That’s why we can’t rely on willpower or intrinsic motivation alone to build new habits. We need external systems and tools to help us stay on track.

Here’s where the bullet journal comes in.

Fans of “bujo” love to use their bullet journal to stay on top of their habits. The gridded layout of the pages lend themselves to easily tracking daily tasks and goals.

Here are some ideas for new habits/goals that you can track with your bullet journal : 

  • Walk for 1 hour a day
  • Writing 3 pages a day
  • Develop a morning routine
  • Write in your journal 
  • Go for a run once a week
  • Call your family once a week
  • Establish a night time routine
  • Avoid screens/devices 2 hours before bed
  • Eat a side of vegetables for lunch and dinner
  • Read a book a month

After you determine the new habit that you’d like to develop, here’s how you can track your habit with a bullet journal:

  • Title your journal page. For example: Meditation Tracker
  • Number your boxes for the amount of days you want to maintain your habit. So if you want to set a goal to meditate for one month, then number your boxes 1-30.
  • Color or shade in a box for every day that you complete your task.

Now you have a visual measurement of your progress. And more than that, it’s an external motivator to help you pursue your goals. It’s similar to getting that gold star when you were in elementary school. We love getting those little gold stars and they give us the little push we need to keep going. 

Bullet journal idea #2: Project Log

Another way you can customize your bullet journal is to use it to manage a project. This can be particularly beneficial if you have a big project with lots of moving parts to coordinate, different tasks to track, and multiple deadlines to schedule. Instead of referring to multiple notebooks and tools to manage your project, you can just store all of your information in one journal. 

Ideas for projects and breaking them down with your bullet journal:

Planning a birthday party or special event

  • Guests
  • Decor
  • Invitations
  • Entertainment

Meal planning 

  • Ingredients
  • Recipes
  • Weekly menu

Spring cleaning

  • List of rooms
  • Items to toss or donate
  • Cleaning supplies needed

After determining your big project, here’s how you can break it down into easy pieces with your bullet journal: 

  • Make a list of different tasks you have to do
  • Create a calendar and use washi tape to identify important weeks or swaths of time
  • Dedicate a page to daily tasks and a monthly tasks
  • Show the progress of a project with a visual timeline
  • Create a color key to help you organize your tasks by color. Maybe green can correspond with financial tasks or blue can correspond with meetings. 

Bullet journal idea #3: Make lists

Your bullet journal doesn’t just have to be about habits and goals, you can use it to keep a record of your hobbies, interests, and wish lists. 

A bullet journal can help you be more thoughtful about what you’re reading and watching. Sometimes it’s just nice to look back in your journal and see what books and movies you were into. It’s almost like curating a list of your favorite things or keeping a time capsule.  With each bullet journal page, you discover and cultivate your identity, taste, and voice.

You can also use your bullet journal to create a Future Log and contemplate the future. Where would you like to be in six months? What are the places you’d like to visit? Careers you’d like to have? It can be as aspirational as you want. 

Here are some more list ideas:

  • The best books you read this year
  • Your favorite movies
  • Favorite scents
  • Favorite meals
  • Travel wishlists
  • Dream jobs
  • Hobbies you’d like to try
  • Gift ideas for loved ones

Like any other journaling or productivity method, you should feel free to adapt these methods and tools to fit your preferences. See if the list form and color coordinating suits your style and modify it as you go along.

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