Bullet journaling saves me a lot of time, keeps me organised and gives me a mini creative outlet. I’m a massive fan and very much doubt I will ever go back. In a nutshell, it is a way to plan your life and keep all of your important information in one notebook.
I first heard of the concept four years ago and was immediately hooked. I love lists and I love stationery, so this sort of thing was made for me. Technology is all well and good but there is nothing like writing something down, using different colours and really nice felt tip pens. I treat myself to a lovely new notebook at the start of each year and find it really suits my personality to start afresh, even though I’ve never actually got to the end of one. New year, new notebook (and always in a new colour)!
A couple of weeks ago I did an Instagram live to talk about how I use my notebook and since then, I’ve had so many questions and requests to add it to my highlights (I can’t because it was live) that I thought it was well worth taking the time to do a blog post.
There are hundreds of websites, articles, blogs and videos out there to show you how to bullet journal and I am certainly no expert. However, I think perhaps the amount of information and the rigid way in which some people bullet journal can be daunting. I suspect to many people, it seems far too much like hard work. I am definitely not a purist, I have taken the bits that suit me and over the years have found my own way of doing it, to suit my needs and lack of time/artistic talent!! If you google bullet journal, you will see that some of them are works of art. Just stunning. Mine, not so much …
So, with no further ado, here is my quick and easy guide to starting a bullet journal:
1.Find a suitable notebook
There are specific “bullet journal” notebooks out there. You do not need one of these. They are often more expensive that a notebook of the same brand that isn’t called a bullet journal and I don’t think they offer much extra.
The key to bullet journaling using an index and pagination, so that is really all that you need. If you decide to use a notebook that doesn’t have this feature already, you will just need to leave a couple of pages free for an index and then number the rest of the pages before you start.
I love the Leuchtturm 1917 notebooks as they come in gorgeous colours (so far I’ve had turquoise, orange, pink and yellow) and they are already paginated with an index section in the front, so it saves me a task. They are around £15, so not the cheapest but so far I have only ever needed one per year.
Having tried a few, my preference is the A5 dotted version. I find the dotted version allows me to be neat, without making me feel constrained. Lined somehow feels too limiting and although I have tried plain, it just wasn’t as neat, which I found far less pleasing.
A5 is the perfect size as it fits easily into my backpack or handbag but has sufficient space for me not to feel like I am squeezing things onto the page.
2. Input your recurring lists
Think about what important information you have written down somewhere, either in a diary, a notebook, on a scrap of paper or maybe online, which you will likely want to refer to during the year. Examples might be: emergency telephone numbers; insurance renewal dates; your Christmas card list; log in details for online accounts; or the names of your childrens’ teachers and teaching assistants. Basically the sort of list that you will have year in, year out, albeit the information on the list might change.
Carefully copy out these lists into your bullet journal, using a new page for each separate list and giving them a clear heading.
As an example, I always create a page of “Important Numbers”. It includes my insurance policy numbers and renewal dates, my mortgage account number, my internet banking log in numbers (obviously not the passwords!!), my passport number and expiry date and my driving licence number. This is all information that I need to find from time to time and don’t have committed to memory. I could of course find it in other places, by digging out my insurance paperwork or finding my passport, for example, but I find it much easier to know that if I need it I can just flick to the relevant page in my notebook.
You can have as many or as few lists of this type as you like, it is all about making your life easier and having everything (within reason) in one place.
3. Create your index
Once you have started some lists, add these to your index. This means that you will be able to find them again very quickly and you don’t need to worry about where you put them in the notebook. It is very freeing to be able to simply use the next available page without having to worry if you need to leave extra space/pages for future entries. If, in the future, you add to the list and it goes to the end of the page, you can just continue on the next available page and add that page number to that list in index as well, so that you know where to look.
As you fill the pages of your notebook, keep updating your index. I add everything to my index except for my daily task lists (step 7 below). The daily task lists are not something I will need to go back to after that day and so there is no need to clog up my index with those.
4. Set out your year ahead calendar
The purpose of this is not to include every appointment and event that you have, in the way you might if you use a diary, it is more big picture. A place to see your year ahead at a glance. It should include the things that are important to you, special events, periods of time that you have blocked out for a holiday or exams.
There are various ways to set this out but I like to use 4 pages and set out the month/day/date in a box format, so that I can see at a glance when the weekends are and I can also highlight when the school holidays are. I then leave space next to the box where I will add key events throughout the year as I plan them.
5. Set out your month ahead calendar
I use this more like a diary. I list the day and date down the left hand side of a page, then fill in any upcoming birthdays (in pink) and my commitments next to that. I tend to start this on a left hand page and leave the next page blank, in case I have a particularly full day.
I still use an online calendar with appointment reminders, so I don’t personally include times or add every single small appointment. For me, it is a way to glance at my month ahead and see what I have coming up, where I am looking busy and where I might want to try to keep some time free.
I do this one month at a time. So at the start of January, I will set up my January month ahead calendar. I will then either set up February at the start of February or perhaps earlier if I find that I have a lot of February appointments coming up mid-month and February is filling up fast in my year ahead calendar.
6. Create a task list for the month
This list should be aspirational but realistic. Include all of the small and big things that you would ideally like to achieve that month. As the month goes on, you can add to it and anything that isn’t ticked off can be added to your next monthly task list if you decide at that point that it is still something that you want to do.
When creating a task list, give each item a small dot. That small dot will signify that it is a task yet to be done. If you start the task, put a half cross in it, to signify that it is started but not finished. Once you finish a task, complete the cross, so that you know it is done.
When you get to the end of the month, review your list. You will see lots of tasks with a cross, which is satisfying. If there are tasks that you have started but haven’t finished, think about whether you want to finish them. If so, add them to the top of your list for next month but perhaps with a different description, to take account of the progress you have already made with that task. If there are tasks that you haven’t started, think about if you still want to do them. If yes, change the dot to a forward arrow and include in the next month. If no, cross out the entry.
7. Start a daily task list
Don’t feel that you need to do this every day. I often skip weekends if I’m just hanging out with the kids or weekdays when I have one big work meeting and I know that I won’t have time to do anything else. However, on days where I have a list of things that I would like to get done or a few different appointments, I will start my day by plotting out my daily to do list in my journal. I use exactly the same process as above; listing each item with a small dot, adding new tasks throughout the day. I also add any appointments I have during the day to this list. I usually put these at the top but you can also differentiate by using a small circle rather than a dot next to them.
Throughout the day I put a cross next to tasks as I complete them. I also like to add things to my daily list as I do them. It is surprising how many unplanned tasks we complete in a day and it helps to remind me that I have been productive even if I haven’t managed to do the tasks I had hoped to do that day.
At end of the day (or the start of the following day) I then run through my uncompleted tasks and either schedule them elsewhere, using a forward or backward arrow or I cancel them if events have been overtaken or I have changed my mind.
If I use a forward arrow, I will then add this task to my task list for the following day or I may even create a couple of task lists for the new few days ahead if I know that there is a reason I need to plan it in further forward. I use a backward arrow if it is a task that I still want to complete but realistically it isn’t going to be in the next day or two. I then add this to my monthly task list instead. This means that I won’t forget about it but I also don’t have that sinking feeling of looking at it on my list every day without ever getting it done.
8. Create more lists as you go
As the days, weeks and months pass, there will be various things that you think about recording on a scrap of paper or in your online notebook. Before you do, think about whether they would be more useful in your bullet journal. As a rule of thumb, I include any lists or notes that I am likely to want to refer back to at some point, either because I want to add to them or because I will want the information at a later date. So, for example, I wouldn’t use my bullet journal for a shopping list (although there is no reason why you shouldn’t, it is your notebook to do with as you wish) but I would use it to record recipe ideas, food the kids have loved or my thoughts on a new cookbook that I’ve been trying out.
9. Enjoy it!
It’s your notebook to use as you wish. Take up pages to doodle, write down inspiring quotes or affirmations, track your habits or jot down some poetry. Whatever takes your fancy. The trick is not to feel limited by the notebook. It should be the opposite. If you get out of the habit of doing daily to do lists for a few weeks, who cares? There won’t be any empty diary pages looking disapprovingly at you and making you feel bad. You can just pick it back up when you are back in the mood and start on the next page. Similarly, if you fill it up before the end of the year, great! You can start a new one 😁
10. Take it everywhere you go
As far as possible I would recommend always having your notebook with you. It means you can check your diary, add to lists, note down important things to remember and create new lists at any time. I use mine for work and home and without wishing to sound dramatic, it has been life changing. Not only do I get pleasure from writing in it but it has meant that I can always find information when I am after it, which saves me so much time.
So there you have it, ten steps to get you bullet journaling. Let me know what you think. I would love to hear if you decide to start one, if you use yours differently or if you have any questions.