So you just learned about the bullet journal method, or maybe you have been doing some journal writing but want to brush up on your skills? Don’t worry, you’ve come to the right place to learn about bullet journaling and the associated writing instruments and methods.
Before You Start
This article will largely be based on the Bullet Journal Method as described by Ryder Carroll (the creator of the Bullet Journal), which is sort of the definitive source on the matter. It’s a fine book, and while it’s more extensive (over 300 pages!) than most people need, it’s a good read. While I enjoyed the book, I think most people will be better off actually journaling than reading a book about the subject. The book will be combined (or possibly offset) by my experience with the BuJo method, which is a good deal more lax than the book.
The Bullet Journal (sometimes called “BuJo”) method is designed to, as the book goes, “Track the past, order the present, and design the future.” It’s a catchy slogan, but it will amount to nothing if you don’t actually keep up your journal. This doesn’t meant religious adherence to someone else’s method of course, but as with any skill you need to learn the basics before you can branch out and build on your own!
Tools Of The Trade
This article is about the method, not the gear, so we’ll keep this brief. You’ll need:
- a notebook (almost any one will do)
- a few different colored pens compatible with that notebook
- a ruler
That’s it! My recommendation is don’t go crazy with your setup before you even start because it won’t make things simpler or more effective.
If you want a more extensive article about the best pens for bullet journals, we’ve got you covered.
Bullet Journal Components
- Index: A journal’s table of contents (usually the first 2-4 pages)
- Future Log: Where you store future tasks, major things happening each month
- Monthly Log: Zoomed out view of the month with entries for each day. Basically a calendar on the left and tasks on the right
- Daily Log: Where your Rapid Logs go
- Rapid Log: Short form notes and symbols about priorities, events, etc.
The first four items above are the core building blocks of the Bullet Journal method. The Bullet Journal is designed to be modular, so that all needs can be met with some combination of the core components, all of which are rounded up to become “Collections,” which is the official term for a component.
The point of Rapid Logging is to store your thoughts and ideas close to when they happen. Sounds important to master? It is! Ryder Carroll describes Rapid Logging as the “language in which the Bullet Journal is written.”
Normal journaling is long-form, with complete thoughts. It’s enjoyable and therapeutic, but wordy, slow, and difficult to revisit in the future except as narrative. Worst of all, journals are loosely or completely unstructured, so finding specific pieces of information can be difficult.
Traditional Bulleted Notes
- Email Thomas about dinner on July 19th.
- Holiday on Monday! Should be make some fun plans? Who should come? Send emails!
- Schedule vacation days for August trip
- Today I finally tried the new restaurant behind work. Richard, Sarah, and I scheduled a meeting there during lunch, so we were able to work and eat. While lunch time is normally best used for a walk it was actually quite refreshing. I’m constantly surprised by what a nice set of people I work with, despite the tension we all feel at quarter end…
Rapid Logging Explained
Rapid Logging is a system of shorthand, not a thing! The thing is the Daily Log, which you’ll get really good at as you fill our your journal.
See the difference versus a normal journal entry? Sure, some of the story is lost and the result is much less artful, but it’s also much more efficient. And there should be space made for thoughts and stories. For these use “Notes” or maybe use the lower half of the page for a section of “What’s On My Mind” or whatever you feel like that day.
Rapid Logging Keys
Also, notice the symbols? Many people use symbols as short hand for task types. You should use whatever works for you, but here are some popular symbols — known a keys — that people use.
- Round bullet: A task, this is the most common type of thought
- Dash (-): A note
- Greater-than sign (>): A task that gets moved forward to another time to be done then
- Less-than sign (<): A scheduled task
- Open square: An event
- Open triangle: A meeting or appointment
- Open circle: A to-do
Keep in mind that you can go crazy with keys, but ultimately almost everything will be either a note, an event, or a task.
Sometimes stars or asterisks are placed next to tasks to make them more prominent, usually if they are especially important to you.
Sometimes you’ll notice that a task inherently has a lot of subtasks, like planning a party or a big project at work. When this happens you can build a “Collection,” setting aside that set of tasks on a separate page.
Bullet Journal Structure
6-month Bullet Journal Pages
- 2-3: Index
- 4-5: Future Log
- 6-9: Hold for important overview items
- 10-11: Month 1 Index
- 12-25: Daily Logs (3 days per page)
- 26: Movies to Watch
- 27: Books to Read
- 28-29: Month 2 Index
- 30-43: Daily Logs
But keep in mind, you don’t need to plan out the hold journal on Day One! You can make up pages as you go along so you never run out of space. Be generous with your pages and you’ll come up with ways to fill them.
If you like to spread out your thoughts or you get page-space anxiety, than don’t pre-populate your journal. Rather, do your index, future log, month 1 index and then do a daily log each day — don’t put down everyday day of the month! This way you can expand as much as you’d like on a given day.
When setting up a new month, go back to your previous logs and look for tasks that you haven’t cross out or highlights (completed tasks). Carry those tasks forward if they are still relevant!
The best way to do this is to entirely strikethrough the line if the task is no longer important. Don’t check it off! If you do this you might think you completed the task!
If something is being pushed ahead to the next month, change the bullet to a “>” so you know it wasn’t completed in that past month. Put the item down in the next month’s Future Log.
Don’t rip out pages or cross everything out! I can feel good at the time, but the loss of information and history will not be worth the few seconds of fun (or therapy). Journals are designed to store information, not just for planning.
Getting Started with Bullet Journal
This is all a lot to take in, but don’t let it get you down. The point of BuJo isn’t a strict set of rules or to beat you into submission with jargon, it’s to organize your thoughts, events, and todos in a way that is as flexible as modern life demands. Using your journal as a place to offload everything that has been weighing down your brain so you are free to work on the important stuff.
Many people get confused with the Future Log, but it’s pretty simple. This is a place to store notable things that have to get done in the future. If it’s August, and you just decided that your family is coming over for Thanksgiving… put it in your November future log. The Future Log is like a holding place for tasks that will be in your Daily Log when day hasn’t come yet.
Bullet Journal Steps
Need more structure? Here is the step-by-step guide to filling out your note journal. This is based on the official instructions in the Bullet Journal book which does a nice job in this respect.
Starting with a new notebook, or the fresh space at the back of an existing notebook. Page numbers are in bold.
- Create your Index (1-4)
- Title it “Index”
- Put down page numbers as you go along
- Make your Future Log (5-6)
- Divide each page into three month sections (use two horizontal lines)
- Label the 6 cells
- Add your known important to-dos, milestones, and events
- Add Future Log to your Index
- Make your first Monthly Log (9-10)
- 9: Put the month name at the top and write down each date vertically along the left side. Write down items from your Future Log
- 10: Add a list of things you want to accomplish or keep in mind this month
- Add this to your Index
- First Daily Log (11)
- Title it with the date and day
- Put down your to-dos for the day
- Remember to use Rapid Logging and keys
- Remember to have casual notes and thoughts as well
- Do not add to the index
- Second Daily Log (12)
- Note: You can start on the end of your notes on page 11 if you want to use space more efficiently
Helpful Bullet Journal Hints
- Number your pages
- Make an index. It might seem like a lot of work, but it’ll be helpful in the future
- Don’t forget to have fun! The journal can seem like a lot of work at times
- Don’t index your daily logs, it’s too much clutter! Just put down a page range
- If you want to write more, then use nest notes!
- Have your normal headline note, but then…
- Nest extended comments so you can get the main idea without having to read everything
- Have your normal headline note, but then…
- Try to BuJo twice a day, morning and night so your memory is always fresh
- Color coding can be super useful. Try blue for work and red for home, or something like that
- Don’t let your journal become a big todo list. It won’t be fun or sustainable. Note life experiences, thoughts, and more.
Bullet Journal Ideas
It’s easy to feel as limited by the BuJo form as you do empowered by it. You need to make it your own and build out the “collections” in order to have places for your brain to offload as well as put down things that will be interesting enough to revisit. Like what you ask?
- Food Log – What you’ve each and nutritional information
- Random drawings or doodles
- Media List – What you’ve watched and read, what you want to watch and read
- Quotes – A place to put down quotes or other things that you’ve been pondering
Is the daily log just a to-do list?
No. The daily log might contain a to-do list and it takes the form of a bulleted list, but it’s more than just tasks. At a bare minimum the daily log contains tasks you want to do, upcoming events, and notes about your day. You can enrich the log past that if you are so inclined and shouldn’t feel limited by the basic structure.