How I Use a Bullet Journal

Every time I share a picture of my bullet journal I get comments and messages asking about it so I thought it was about time I shared a post about it. Especially with the new year coming it always feels like a good tome to start a new planner so I'm sharing now for those who want a little time to get ready as they look ahead.

A little background: I tried bullet journaling a couple of years ago but I didn't really get it so I didn't last more than a week. Then I talked to my brother about it over the summer and started looking into it again. I did a lot more reading about it this time and realized it wasn't as rigid as I first thought so I decided to give it another shot and now, in my own style, I love it!

I will also preface this by saying I've been a planner for decades. I started using a Franklin Planner when I was about 12 and only gave it up when I became a stay-at-home-mom. It included a lot of great stuff I used as a student but most of it went unused as a mom. I had plenty of stuff to do but my schedule wasn't rigid and a lot of stuff could be done whenever so I started keeping lists in a notebook and using Google Calendar. I ended up with a thousand running lists and while most things got done when they were supposed to, a few things still fell through the cracks because they got lost between all my notes. Using a Bullet Journal has helped me keep things better organized. I still use my phone for scheduled things because it's shared with Dan so he can see what's happening but everything I write there is also written in my bullet journal along with everything else I don't/can't write in the google calendar.

There are a frillion posts about how a bullet journal works (see my list of links at the end of this post) so I'll mostly just gloss over the basics, share the tools I like, and show how and why I like to use mine.

Tools I use:

Notebook: I use Leuchtturm1917 dotted A5 notebook. It comes in a lot of great colors and has 2 ribbon bookmarks and an elastic closure. While trying this method out the first few weeks I used a gridded Moleskine I had on hand and it worked well but I like my Leuchtturm better. I like that the dots give me a guide without being distracting the way a grid can. I like that the pages are already numbered and it already has several index pages. It's a good, sturdy book and a great size (approx. 5x8") to toss in my bag when I head out of the house. It isn't the end all, be all, though. If a spiral, college ruled notebook works for you or a 3 ring binder, big or small, by all means, use it! I've used an orange one but have a lemon yellow one waiting to be started in January!

 

Pens: There are a number of pens I like to use but my current go-to is the Uniball Signo Micro 207 in black. I prefer the fine point of the micro 207 to the regular 207 but I do sometimes use the 207 if it's all I have around. I also like the Papermate Flair, Le Pen, and Pilot G2 07. I buy my pens in a big pack (at least 12) and always have a few handy. These are just a few suggestions I found through trial and error so feel free to try them but over all, just find something that writes well consistently and feels good in your hand.

Washi Tape: I prefer to keep my BuJo uncomplicated so I chose two rolls of washi tape and use only them. One I use for tabs on my weekly spreads and the other I use along the edge of my habits tracker and for a tab on my wardrobe pages.

Ruler: I have a 6 inch metal ruler that fits in the little folder in the back of the notebook so it's always handy when I need it. The dots are fine to use on their own but I like how quick and perfectly straight my lines are when I use the ruler.

Other: Those four things (notebook, pen, tape, and ruler) are literally the only things I use in my bullet journal but some people love to get all artsy and use it as a creative outlet. A quick search of the #bulletjournal hashtag on Instagram will show you how beautiful some people make them. If that's your thing, by all means! Some are amazing works of art. If it's not your thing, don't sweat it. To me, the most important rule about this system is that it can be whatever you want it to be. I already have a few other things pushing me creatively and at the end of the day I'd rather not feel like I need to be all crafty when all I want to do is lie down and sleep so mine is rather on the boring side and I'm happy with that.

Pages I use:

Index: I use an index for easy referencing and because I'm a nerd and like to see how many pages I use each month. I keep my index rather general with titles like "November weekly and daily pages" rather than specifically naming the dates each week.

Key: It can be hard to remember a lot of the symbols people suggest so choose just a few and use them a lot. Once I got going I could see if there was anything I needed to add to the list but for the most part I've kept it pretty basic.

Future Log: A high-tech name for a spread that shows several months at once with a general overview of what's happening then. I chose to do 6 months at a time. I write down birthdays (I don't keep track of very many so it isn't overwhelming), when quarterly taxes need to be paid, when oil changes are due, any upcoming events or trips, etc. When I write my weekly pages I refer to this page for the major stuff.

Weekly Pages: It took a little trial and error to figure out how I like to lay mine out and even then it has been tweaked over time. I have some space for each day for specific to-dos or scheduled appointments but then I also keep a large space open for unscheduled to-dos. In this area I keep things like commissions and projects I'm working on and things that just need to be done sometime that week but don't have a scheduled date or time. On this spread I have a small monthly calendar and an area to write something I'm grateful for each day.

I also have a place for notes about what I coming up next week so when I'm ready to make that spread it doesn't get forgotten. One last thing I include in this spread is a place to write what we had for dinner. This helps me easily see what we've eaten recently so we don't eat the same things too often (unless we intentionally want to) and when I'm ready to clean out the fridge it helps me see how old leftovers are so I know what can stay and what needs to go.

As a side note, I've discovered I prefer the European way of starting my week with Monday rather than the North American standard of starting on Sunday. I like this because the bulk of my scheduled stuff falls on Mon-Thurs which I can fit all on one page of my spread and my mind naturally divides Fri-Sun into the weekend, which I fit on the second page of my spread, usually with smaller spaces.

Daily Pages: This is a place to write the things you have each day. I make some kind of simple divider (I'm not trying to reinvent the wheel here so I use two designs and alternate each month) and write the new date, including the day or the week before writing all my stuff for the day. These entries are something I really love and where it becomes more personal to me. As a teenager, and even into college, I kept a journal in which I wrote almost daily. It was often emotional word-vomit and even though I cringe to re-read my entries, I'm happy I have that part of my life recorded somehow. I feel like my life is fairly well documented these days between business and personal instagram accounts which get I have printed through Chatbooks and my husband's facebook updates but aside from the odd post like this I don't really blog anymore. There are often funny things that happened or emotions I feel that I want to record someplace but they don't really need to be public and I don't want to write a whole journal entry or private blog post about them so this has become a great outlet for those little bits of life. Sometimes I write a small thought, just a line or two, maybe about missing my mom or how I enjoyed a long bath that evening or what book I just finished, and other times I write a whole paragraph about some funny event like the goofy way my baby behaved when he chose his new shoes or something sad/happy like a conversation I had with my sister about how I felt like a horrible mother several days in a row and how we missed our mom or the cool things we did that day while on a family trip.

These are the little gems I look back on and love re-reading. So each night before I go to sleep I add any notes or thoughts about the day, draw my divider for the new day, and write anything I have to do or have scheduled for the next day. It lets me contemplate the day closing and gets my mind thinking forward and helps me plan better for the day ahead.

I should note, I enjoy drawing out these pages each day and week. It's meditative for me. Occasionally I'll get someone who suggests doing it once and making copies and if I didn't like taking the time I'd probably do that. For me, though, the efficiency of this system is not about having pre-made pages. It's about not losing track of my life and using only the space I need in a small book. I like that my book is bound so I don't tear pages out on a whim. I like that my weekly pages and daily pages are intermingled. I like that if I realize something isn't working for me I can change it the next time I draw out a spread. I like that my daily entires don't have to fit in a pre-determined space so I can write as much or little as I choose without a lot of waste While it may not be the case for everyone, and I was certainly skeptical as I began, these have become the things I love about this system.

Trackers: There are a number of ways to do a tracker but this is the spread I like. I make a list of the things I want to keep track of, leave a space for every day of the month, and fill in the box on the days I do whatever I'm tracking. I have one page for cleaning and one page for habits (or things I'd like to become habits).

Personally, I keep this very low pressure. Some of the things I track on my habits list are things I try to do every day (reading the scriptures, for example) while others are more for my observation. I don't stress about them but I do like seeing how often I do them (like painting). Same goes for the cleaning list. I will be the first to admit I am not an amazing housekeeper and I'm okay with that. I do find it helpful, though, to easily see the last time I did laundry (I aim for once a week), or the last time I watered the plants (every few days), or the last time I cleaned all the bathrooms (not as recently as I probably should).

This is not a guilt-inducing thing for me. While I always feel there's room for improvement and this shows where I should work harder, I don't track this so I can criticize myself. For me, it's more on an observational level. If it stressed me out and made me get down on myself I wouldn't track it because that isn't uplifting and motivating and that's what I've chosen to make my bullet journal about.

Collections: These are lists for reference. I'm sure I could fill an entire bullet journal just with lists but that's a lot of keep track of so instead I only use a couple. One is for movies I want to share with my kids and another is for books I want to read aloud with my daughter. I have a box next to each item and when we watch or read one of them I fill in the box and add the date. Down the road I might add another for music I want to buy (am I the only one who like to actually own the music they listen to rather than just stream it?) but mostly I just use these lists as a gathering point for random things I want to remember but can never think of when I finally get a chance to do them.

Wardrobe Planner: I've been paring down my wardrobe bit by bit for 4-5 years now and a couple of years ago I went all KonMari on it and got rid of a lot. Ideally I'd like to pare it down even more but feel I'm kind of in a good place right now and I'm trying to just pay more attention and be more intentional with my wardrobe so I decided to track what I have and what I actually wear. I only add or change what's in my wardrobe every 3 months so I'm still in the process of figuring out how I like to monitor this but for now I have written down every item of clothing by category (this doesn't include undergarments, socks, shoes, or tanks that go under shirts) and I add a tick mark every time I wear it. At the end of each season (Jan-Mar, Apr-June, July-Sept, Oct-Dec) I can look back and see what gets the most wear, consider why, and keep/donate/trash accordingly. Yes, this is something that I know makes me super nerdy but, again, it's something I find helpful to look back at to help me plan for the future. I enjoy wearing nice clothes and like the way I feel when I have easy outfits that still look pulled together so putting a little time and energy into planning it is worth the effort to me.

Other: There are a billion other fun things to add to a bullet journal including an artsy spread illustrating what happened during the month, daily prompts or challenges for doodling or writing, and stickers and markers and craftiness galore. The coolest thing about it is it can be whatever you want it to be. I don't keep my grocery lists or do my meal planning in mine but if you wanted to you totally could! I don't bother with a monthly spread but if you like a month-at-a-glance view, then make one. Just because I use my daily pages as a to-do list/journal hybrid does't mean you have to. It may take a little time to figure out how you like to use it but once you do it can become an invaluable tool.

References:

  • Basics: The Bullet Journal website is a good place to start and this guide and this guide are also really helpful. As many have said, it's easier to do than it is to explain.
  • Getting Creative: A quick Pinterest search will show a load of spreads but these posts have a collection of especially beautiful finds and tips. The #BulletJournal hashtag on Instagram is also a treasure trove of BuJo eye candy.
  • Other Helps: There are a number of how-to posts about bullet journaling out there but I've found these two sites to have some of the best comprehensive info and references.

I hope this was helpful. I'm not a pro but I've figured out what works for me and am happy to share what I've learned. If you've been thinking about giving bullet journaling a try, go for it! It can be a lot of fun and learning what works for you can be an enjoyable part of the process.


While I've linked to a number of products and sites, these are not affiliate links and this is not a sponsored post. My only goal with the links is to make the items mentioned as easy to find as possible.

Annie Preece