A guide to the whats, whys and hows of bullet journals

 

Introducing my new obsession…

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Bullet journaling. For me, an only recently discovered craze that has become my new daily obsession (to the point where I couldn’t help myself from spreading the bullet journal joy with this dedicated blog post). I came across it during one of many bored Pinterest raiding sessions last month and now wonder how I ever coped without it. But unless there are any keen ‘journalers’ reading this, I’m guessing most of you will just be thinking what the hell is a bullet journal and why do I need one so much? Good question.

It can be pretty overwhelming when you first have a search on Pinterest and find hundreds of different ideas for what a bullet journal should include. Is it a to-do list? A goal progress tracker? A diary? A planner? A random book of thoughts and ideas? The short answer is all of the above, plus much more, but ultimately it can be whatever you want it to be, and include as much or as little as you like. Confused? Don’t be.

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Dubbed “the analog system for the digital age”, a bullet journal is basically a planner that allows you to organise all of your life events, thoughts, activities, goals, to-do lists, etc. into one place, and can include anything and everything from your bullet-journal-38day to day tasks to your long term goals and future plans. It comes from the idea of using short, bullet pointed lists, but can actually be so much more. It’s great for anyone who, like me, loves making lists, writing things down, setting goals, tracking habits, possibly being creative (but not necessarily), or basically just wants an easy way to organise the million different aspects of their life into one place. And for anyone whose highlight of their day is crossing something off a to-do list (is there any better feeling?) then this is definitely for you. But I promise that it’s much less complicated than it actually sounds.

Ultimately, it’s easier to do than it is to explain so, without further ado, here is my ULTIMATE (debatable) Guide to Bullet Journaling:

My version is adapted from the official guide and uses tips I’ve picked up from other journals on the world wide web, along with a few ideas of my own. Feel free to use as much or as little as you like and to adapt my guide to make it work for you! I’m still working on mine so some pages may be incomplete or empty but hopefully it will give you an idea of what a bullet journal can be 🙂 

What you’ll need

A journal: you can buy the official ‘bullet journal’ through the website, but really any old notebook will do (although some are arguably better than others). Not so big that you can’t carry it around with you, yet not so small that you can’t fit everything you need on each page. I used this neglected A5 notepad from WHSmiths that I found lying around at home. Mine is just a plain lined notebook but, looking at some I’ve dot-grid-notebook.jpgseen online, I think a ‘dotted grid’ type page may work better for drawing up certain layouts. Also, if you’re into being a little artsy like me and using coloured pens, etc., then check the paper thickness as ‘ghosting’ is a problem we’d all like to avoid. I found this out the hard way after spending ages making a page look pretty only to have the pen leak through to the other side…

Then all you really need is a decent pen and a ruler, although I’ve found it can also be useful to have some coloured pens/ pencils for colour coding tasks (or just upping the prettiness factor).

Other optional supplies could include: pretty paper, stamps, stickers, washi tape, page markers, clips, glitter, sequins… or pretty much whatever stationary must-have floats your boat (Paperchase lovers, go crazy).

Where do I start?? 

Ahh! If you’re anything like me, you’ll find putting pen to paper the scariest part, ironically enough. Not knowing what to write or where to write it (god forbid you make a mistake and mess up the page) can be daunting.

First things first, you’ll want to keep your first page or two free for your index. This is basically a contents page where you can easily keep track of where everything is in your planner, so you can quickly skip to relevant pages whenever you need them. You don’t have to fill this in now though, it’s better to do it as you go along adding sections to the body of your journal, marking the page numbers in your index once each section is finished/ mapped out.  (I have two because I decided to add my weekly planner to the back of the notebook- random, but it works)

Now for the important part: decide what you want to include. Make a list of whatever you want/ need in your bullet journal (see below for examples) and start with the basics.

I’d recommend starting with your weekly planner (although some people prefer to have a ‘daily’, or ‘monthly’ spread- this is up to you). This is where I make notes of my day to day tasks and events, like in a normal diary, but also plan my to-do list for each day, as well as the whole week. Some people also like to include things such as meal planners, cash flow monitors, or a habit trackers here (the possibilities are endless), but I decided to simplify things and instead kept my weekly planner separate from these added extras (again, see below for ideas on which extras you can include).

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14222115_10210352651283220_5699999899533655282_nIt’s then a good idea to create a ‘legend’ or ‘key’ for whichever symbols you may
decide to use in your planner. For instance, I have different symbols for events, tasks, birthdays, and things I have to remember (again, the possibilities are endless), and more symbols to show when a task has been completed, part completed, cancelled, or migrated (not complete but moved to a different day, for example). I made mine on a flap in the front cover that I can pull out to use alongside my weekly planner.Some people also colour code their tasks depending on whether they are work-related, school-related, personal, etc., but I opted to keep things simple.

It can take a lot of time to set up if you’re as bothered as I was about attempting to pretty it up, but if you stick to simple page heading and a clean, basic layout it doesn’t have to take long at all.

Most importantly: don’t panic! Test out different page layouts before you commit to paper if, like me, you feel the fear. Remember, it doesn’t have to be Insta-worthy, just make it work for you.

What else should I include?

The possibilities here are endless really. Here are some examples of things I have included in mine, as well as a few other ideas I found on the web.

“Word of the year”

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Goals and goal progress trackers. I wrote out some of my goals for the year as well as setting up a space where I can track my progress month by month. I colour these charts green, yellow, orange or red, depending on how well I think I’ve done each month, but I also have a page dedicated to each goal, where I can write targets and/ or updates on my progress.

Important dates. This is a basic calendar-type monthly overview, which I drew up before I decided to do the weekly planner, so in all honesty I probably don’t need this section that much any more.

Websites and blogs I like. Haven’t really filled this page in yet but it may be good for all of those inspiring and interesting pages I find online and then forget about.

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Books I want to read. Just like Good Reads, here you make a note of books on your ‘to read’ list and check them off as you go along. I copied a few I saw online and drew mine up as a bookshelf, colouring each book in once I’ve finished it.

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Films I want to watch. Ditto the above.

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Sewing projects. As a bit of a crafty lady I have a list as long as my arm of sewing projects I have on hold that I’ve yet to complete. This works the same as the previous two pretty much.

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Craft ideas. Mostly from Pinterest in my case.

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Baking stuff. Stuff I want to bake.

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The 365 Day Challenge. This is a personal one from a challenge I set myself at the start of this year (have a look for yourself). I may not have completed as many daily challenges as I wanted to, but dedicating these pages to it allows me to keep track of the challenges I have completed, as well as making a note of important ones I’ve yet to try.

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Travel lists. Pretty much just checklists of all of the countries, states, cities and landmarks I’d like to visit before I die.

Bucket list. This one’s pretty self-explanatory. I divided mine into categories such as ‘learn’, ‘achievements’, ‘experiences’, ‘sports to try’, ‘other’.

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Line a day. This is an idea I took from another type of journal where you write one line about your day (the highlight, for example) and when you get round to that same day the next year you can look back on what you were up to. So it’s basically Timehop in book form but it’s a nice way of keeping a diary that doesn’t take a lot of time or commitment.

Quotes I like

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Inspiration. This can be anything that inspires me from a project to try out, to a particular writer/ artist, to a charity/ cause, or even just an idea for a blog post.

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Meal ideas. I have a list for ‘vegan meal ideas’ and another for ‘healthy meal ideas’ but this can be easily adapted.

Habit tracker. I have a spread for each month, although some people prefer to include this in their weekly planner. Anything that I want to remember to do every day (drink enough water, get 8 hours sleep, exercise, eat my 5 a day, read, finish my to-do list, no spending, etc.) can be included here and for every day that I complete each task I colour in a square on the chart. This way I can track my progress and am motivated to keep up those good habits!

“Learn about…” tracker. There are plenty of things I’d like to learn more about but find it hard to dedicate the time. This just allows me to make note of my interests and, similarly to my habit tracker, I can just colour in a square every time I watch a documentary, read a book, read a news article, etc. about each particular topic, to track my progress. (So basically the Sims)

Memories. I dedicate a page to each month where I make a note of anything interesting that happened, big or small (often it’s the little things that you forget about) and stick in any tokens or event tickets, etc. This way I have have something nice to look back on in months or years to come.

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Xmas gift idea lists. I also included xmas baking and xmas crafts lists in mine because anyone that knows me will know that I’m a xmas baking maniac.

Brain dump. A space for any random ideas you have that you want to make a note of before you forget.

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Others…

 

Daily gratitude log. I guess this would be similar to my line a day.

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Weekly/ monthly to-do lists (unfinished tasks can be migrated to the next month).

Finance tracker for setting savings goals and keeping an eye on your progress.

Mood tracker

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Doodle page

Study/ revision planner

Blog ideas

(As you can see, the order is completely random because you just add sections as you go along- there is no ‘right’ way)

Other tips

Decoration: Once I’d tentatively started the first few pages of my bullet journal and then had another look on Pinterest for inspiration, I nearly considered starting all over again or giving up altogether when I saw how neat and pretty everyone else’s page layouts were compared to mine. And on many an occasion since have I considered ripping pages out because the writing and/ or colour scheme didn’t work quite the way I wanted, but ultimately IT JUST DOESN’T MATTER. It is your bullet journal and can be as simple or as decorative as you like. Plus we all know that nothing ever looks as nice in real life as it does on Pinterest anyway…

 

Don’t worry if a section takes up more pages than you’d planned. Say you wrote up your ‘films I want to watch page’ moved on to a new section and then decided you wanted to add more to your list but are now out of space. You can always add an overflow section in later pages and just pick up where you left off. (For example, your index could read “Films I want to watch pg. 13-14″ ” Books I want to read pg. 15-16″ and then “Films I want to watch cont. pg. 17-18”.) It doesn’t matter if it’s not perfect, or “in order”; that’s the beauty of this system.

Don’t overthink it. Just plan your pages, start with the basics and work your way up from there. Otherwise it can get overwhelming and you can end up like me, having a crisis halfway through and worrying that you’ve done it ‘wrong’ (there is no ‘wrong’ way).

Now what?

Now that you’re all set up, all that’s left to do is to start using your journal! Some people draw up their weekly spreads at the end of each week ready for the week ahead; I prefer to sit down for a mini journaling session where I’ll draw up a month or so ahead, so I know that it’s out of the way. Then I tend to just spend about 10-15 minutes each evening checking off my to-do list from the day, planning tomorrow’s schedule, filling in my habit tracker and ‘line a day’, and updating any progress on my goals. Everything else can be filled in or added to as and when! I just find it quite a nice way to unwind before bed and to clear my mind of all of those niggling ‘to-do’s, and things I have to remember for the next day, by putting them down on paper.

If you’re looking for more bullet journal ideas/ inspiration, then a simple Google/ Instagram/ Pinterest search will more than suffice!

I hope you’ve enjoyed my guide and have maybe felt inspired to start a bullet journal of your own! (That is, if I haven’t overwhelmed/ confused you all too much with my over-complicated explanations…) If you do decide to give it a go, or have any other ideas for what to include, then please let me know in the comments section. Happy journaling!

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