A Primer on Bullet Journaling

5 minute read

Bullet journaling
Photo by Jessica Lewis from Pexels

If you’re anything like me, you probably have a different notebook for different tasks:

  • A notebook for daily planning
  • A notebook for drawing/doodling
  • A notebook for creative writing
  • A notebook for lists
  • A notebook for project-specific notes
  • A notebook that you haven’t quite decided what to use for
  • A notebook that’s too pretty to actually write inside

Some people (definitely not me) can’t even walk into a stationery store without buying a new notebook. This notebook chaos can often be remedied by simply having an all-purpose notebook. At the end of the day, who cares if your daily planner is also full of doodles or a “movies to watch” list?

Bullet journaling, or BuJo as it’s also known, is essentially a structured, methodical, and mindful approach to journaling created by designer Ryder Carrol. There are a ton of resources online that explain the technique, including the official “Bullet Journal website”.

What’s particularly great about the technique is that it can be as simple or as complex as you make it. If you’re a creative person, you can adorn your pages with as much ornamentation, colour, and washi tape as you want. Pinterest is full of amazing BuJo designs that you could use as inspiration. But if you’re more minimalistic like me, your journal can be very plain and straightforward.

Feeling inspired? Good! Let’s talk about what you need to get started.

Supplies

Don’t let Pinterest or Reddit discourage you from giving it a try. Some people might say that you need a specific kind of notebook or stationery, but you can technically get all of the supplies you need at the dollar store. All you really need is a notebook and pen.

That being said, it can be fun making BuJo a hobby, so you might choose to put a bit more money into it. Here’s what I use:

  • Notebook: Leuchtturm 1917 hardcover dotted journal
  • Pens: Staedtler Triplus Fineliner (black, red, blue, and green)
  • Ruler: Midori 15 cm aluminum ruler
  • Washi tape: assorted
Bullet journaling stationery
Assorted washi tape, Staedtler Triplus Fineliners, Midori ruler
Leuchtturm bullet journal
Leuchtturm 1917 journal

Once you’ve gotten all the supplies, you’re almost ready to get started. Bullet journaling is designed to be fast and efficient, and it achieves this through its use of bullets—hence the name.

Bullets

  • Tasks: designated with a point (•) and refer to your typical to-do items (e.g. walk the dog, call mom, look at pictures of dogs)
    • Once a task is complete, you mark the bullet with an X
    • If a task is no longer relevant, you can cross the entire task out with a strikethrough
    • If you want to mark a task for the near-future, you can mark the bullet with a > and copy it over to a new day/month
    • If you want to mark a task for a day/month farther in the future, you can mark the bullet icon with a < and move it over to a new month
  • Notes: designated with a dash (-) and include reminders and other…notes (e.g. office closed on Nov. 30, Thomas doesn’t like being barked at)
  • Events: designated with an empty bullet (o) (e.g. Charlie’s birthday, last day at work)

After getting used to the bullet system, you can start putting everything together. With bullet journals, related information is organized into collections.

Collections

Index

Your Index is essentially the table of contents of your journal. When you first open your blank notebook, you can write “Index” on the first page and start numbering each page thereafter. As you populate your notebook with other collections, write them in the Index with their associated page number.

Future Log

Think of your Future Log as your “year at a glance” page. In this collection, the idea is to section off your pages into months and fill each month in with tasks and events. As things come up throughout the year (e.g. you’re invited to a wedding in six months), you can write that down in your Future Log.

Monthly Log

Like the Future Log, which is a snapshot of your year, the Monthly Log gives you an overview of the upcoming month. There are a number of ways to create your Monthly Log. Ryder suggests writing down the dates of the month on the left side of a page and writing in important tasks and events for each day. I tend to make this collection a general to-do list and reminder section for the month. When writing a Monthly Log, be sure to flip back to your Future Log to see if there are any important tasks.

Daily Log

As the name suggests, the Daily Log is your daily planner. The idea is that you fill it in every night for the next day. Since my weekends are a bit more relaxed than my weekdays, I often combine Saturday and Sunday into one log. Be sure to regularly check your Monthly Log to see if you have any events or tasks to add.

Custom Log

This is where the “all purpose” nature of bullet journaling comes in. A Custom Log can be literally anything you want it to be:

  • Recipes
  • Diary entries
  • Budget sheet
  • Sketches
  • Shopping lists
  • Meeting notes

You get the idea. I’ll often blend Custom Logs and Daily Logs a bit. For example, if I have any random passing thoughts or ideas throughout the day that I want to put on paper, I won’t create a separate collection for that. I’ll just put it as a note in my daily log. I also try to write diary entries when I can within the daily log.

Some takeaways

  • Bullet journaling is meant to be a mindful experience. It encourages you to reflect on your year, month, and day. If at the end of every day you find that there are still tasks left unchecked, you have to ask yourself if it’s still worth doing. If not, get rid of it. If it is, migrate it to your Monthly Log.
  • Make your journal your own. If you like to colour, throw some colour in. If you like to scrapbook, why not add photos into it? Breathe some life into it.
  • The “rules” of bullet journaling are just guidelines. If you don’t want to use a monthly log, no one will force you to.
  • Your bullet journal can change and evolve. Experiment with different styles and techniques. I tried adding a border to my pages but quickly decided that was way too much work. You don’t have to commit to anything.
  • Try to be consistent with it and make it a routine; you’ll get way more value out of it if you use it on a regular basis.
  • Yes, there are a ton of to-do and calendar apps where you can add tasks with the click of a button, but there’s just something about putting pen to paper. Don’t let your penmanship get too messy!