Bullet Journaling 101: What is Bullet Journaling?
Other posts in this series:
In the next few posts, I want to talk about a type of journaling I’ve recently discovered: bullet journaling. As I talk about in The Ultimate Guide to Journaling, I believe there is no “right” way to journal. Journaling is whatever you want it to be. This is the same with bullet journaling; you have the framework and freedom to make it your own. It’s a way to keep track of your professional and personal lives, ideas, notes, inspiration and much more. So what is bullet journaling? In the next couple of posts, I'm going to give a basic introduction to bullet journaling 101.I’ve been using bullet journaling almost every day since November and it’s helped keep me both sane and semi-organised. With a baby, I rarely have time for my usual morning pages. On days when I have 10 minutes here and there, I need a system that’s built for speed, brevity, and enables me to see what’s on my agenda at a glance. Also, the struggle is real with baby brain! I can’t rely on myself to remember anything (down to the level of “Why did I just come into this room again?”). Having a bullet journal helps me get everything out of my head and onto paper, which is much more reliable, frees up the mental energy I would spend worrying about whether I’ve remembered everything I need to, and generally makes life less stressful.I’ve also been using my bullet journal to experiment with other kinds of journaling. Inspired by Gretchen Rubin’s book The Happiness Project, I’ve started a list of “Secrets of Adulthood”—small truths about life that seem obvious but usually require constant reminders. I’ve also incorporated a log of what I’m reading, watching and listening to each month, a mood journal and a habit tracker.But before I get ahead of myself, let’s return to the basics: what is bullet journaling all about? I’m no bullet journaling expert but I’ve enjoyed using this kind of journaling so much I wanted to create a simple introduction and share it with you today. There’s a lot to talk about so I’m breaking this bullet journaling 101 series into four parts:
- What is bullet journaling? (that’s this post!). A quick overview of what it is, where it came from, why it’s useful and some of the key principles
- Getting started with bullet journaling. A simple guide to starting your first bullet journal, what you need, the best notebook to use, and how to structure your first few pages so you can start using it right now.
- Going beyond the basics. Bullet journaling comes with endless possibilities and in this post I’ll share some of the ways you can customise your journal and a few ideas for more advanced bullet journaling
- 49 ideas for different page spreads. I’ll share some of my favourite ideas for bullet journaling page spreads to get you started (not sure what these are? Keep reading!)
For now, let’s start with a basic question:
What is bullet journaling?
The official bullet journaling website describes bullet journaling as “an analogue system for the digital age.” It’s essentially a personal organisation system that combines several functions into one. Your bullet journal can be your planner, your journal, a place to record notes and ideas, a sketchbook, and more. The idea is to allow you to capture ideas and notes quickly and succinctly. Because you decide on the structure, you can customise it any way you please.The system was created by Ryder Carroll, a designer from New York. It’s now used by thousands (millions?) of people around the world and you can find communities for bullet journaling enthusiasts all over the internet.
What is bullet journaling helpful for?
Your bullet journal becomes one place to capture everything. Rather than doing this in a haphazard way, though, you organise your notes into different “modules.” Bullet journals focus on speed and clarity. A good journal makes it quick to record what you want to record and easy to keep track of to-dos and appointments at a glance.In its most basic form, a bullet journal gives you a quick-reference overview of your day, week and month, plus notes and appointments for the future. It allows you to capture to-dos, notes, observations and those little nagging thoughts that can take up a surprising amount of mental space and energy.
The key elements of bullet journaling
In the next post, I’ll give you a step-by-step guide to setting up your journal for the first time. For now, let’s dive a little deeper into the magic of bullet journaling and look at the key elements.
The key is a set of symbols that enables you to mark entries visually for quick reference. Here are the basic symbols:For each symbol, you can also mark an entry in progress (a diagonal line) or complete (a cross). Here’s what this looks like in action. This is an example of a weekly spread; you can see how I use the symbols from the key as a visual reference: Beyond the basics of appointments, tasks, etc., you can use symbols to represent other information about individual entries too, such as whether they are important, ideas, or need to be resolved. These are called signifiers within the bullet journaling system.
Modules are the different kinds of pages you can add to your bullet journal. In this post, I’ll share the basic modules and you can check out part four in this series for more ideas and inspiration beyond these.1. The index: Your index is a table of contents. Each time you start a new module, you’ll come back here and add it to your index so you can find it quickly.2. The monthly log: You can set up a monthly log in different ways. The bullet journal website suggests creating a calendar and a task list across facing pages like this:This gives you an overview of what’s coming up in the month. It also helps you keep track of how you’re doing with tasks and projects due during the month. If you have any unfinished tasks left over at the end of the month, you shift them to the next month during your monthly migration (this is another element of bullet journaling we’ll look at below).A quick note about entries: the idea is to make them as brief and actionable as possible. So rather than writing “Take letters to the post office” you would write “Post letters.” Short and sweet is hard to beat.3. The daily log: This is what you use on a day-to-day basis. The key enables you to enter and view tasks, events and appointments quickly. The traditional daily log set up involves writing the date then use as much space as you need for that day’s items before moving on to the next day. Personally, I prefer to create week’s worth of daily logs across facing pages so I have a planner-style overview (as shown in the second image above).4. The future log: The future log is where you collect future to-dos, appointments, and potential tasks, projects and ideas. Ryder suggests creating a four-page spread with six months on each page like this:I prefer doing this on a month-by-month basis. At the end of each month’s set-up (I share more about this in the next post), I dedicate a page to the following month. All future-related entries go here. I also include a small box on that month's project page so I can quickly capture any ideas for the next month as I'm creating that month's task list too. When I do my monthly migration, I review everything on these two pages and designate it accordingly. Some items go into next month’s spread, some of the items are relegated to my someday/maybe projects page, etc. It’s a quick way to capture thoughts and ideas that aren’t relevant right now but might be in the future. By writing them in my future log, I can review them at the end of the month and decide where they belong in my life.
If the elements above are the building blocks of bullet journaling, migration is the glue that binds them all together and makes your bullet journal system work.The main migration point is at the end of the month when you review your tasks, ideas and notes from the previous month. You also identify any that are outstanding. For these tasks, you can either delete them with a strikethrough if they’re no longer relevant, schedule them into your monthly calendar or migrate them to the tasks page. Remember those symbols from the key? These will give you quick reference guide to which tasks are moving forward to the next week and those already scheduled.I also like doing this in miniature at the end of each week (or each day, if I’m busy). By reviewing my tasks from the last seven days and migrating or scheduling as necessary, I can make sure nothing slips through the cracks.In summary, the focus is on speed and clarity, both when making notes and when reviewing them. Every task, to-do and idea has a place. At the end of each week or month, it’s either migrated, deleted, scheduled or done.Phew! So there you have it: an introduction to the basics of bullet journaling. If you’re still with me, thank you and I hope this has been helpful!Do you keep a bullet journal? If so, are there any basics you’d add to the above? Leave a comment and let me know!
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