Bullet Journal 101

In 2015, I discovered the Bullet Journal. I immediately adopted it and it changed the way I stay organised and productive. Ryder Carroll, a digital product designer living in Brooklyn, NY, developed the Bullet Journal. It has exploded on the internet, but before we get into that, let’s look at the original Bullet Journal video. This video will give you the best sense of what it is and how to use it.

What is a Bullet Journal?

As you can see, the Bullet Journal (aka BuJo) is functional, flexible, and simple in appearance. Its popularity has grown and there are now many blogs, YouTube videos, and social media pages, profiles, and groups dedicated to the Bullet Journal. I belong to a few Facebook groups and the most common concerns I see are about how to get started and feeling overwhelmed by all the doodles. Doodles? What doodles? There aren’t any doodles in that video. If you were to Google “bullet journal”, you’d get image results like this:

Bullet Journal

Social media is full of images like this and it gives the impression that the BuJo is a cross between a planner and an art journal. There’s nothing wrong with a beautiful, artistic BuJo. Even though mine will never look like this because I can barely draw a stick figure (and I’m not interested in perfecting my stick figures), I enjoy looking at them. They can inspire new ideas. Unfortunately, they also lead newbies to think that the Bullet Journal is more complicated than it is and that, therefore, it’s not a good system for them. It also makes newbies feel overwhelmed, like if their Bullet Journal isn’t beautiful, they’re failing at life.

Recently, I saw a Bullet Journal 101 infographic that included the following tips: start in a practice journal, keep it simple and save the embellishments for later, and sketch in pencil first. No. Bullet Journal 101 is a notebook, a pen, and Ryder’s video.

What’s in a Bullet Journal?

The Bullet Journal has basic elements:

  • An index
  • Monthly calendar spread (dates on one page and monthly tasks on the other)
  • Daily calendar with tasks, events, and notes
  • Collections (groups of similar tasks or notes)

That’s it. Pretty simple.

You can add whatever you want to it. Bullet Journalers add yearly and weekly calendars and trackers to log things such as habits, work-outs, weight loss, bills, and spending. They add meal planners and cleaning schedules. They add all kinds of lists. My collections include:

  • My goals for the year (and I revisit this regularly to see how I’m doing)
  • Waiting on: a list of items I’ve purchased online and am waiting to receive
  • Books on loan
  • Movies to watch
  • Books to read
  • Donation budget (to keep track of which organisations I’ve donated to and how much)
  • Things I’m grateful for (I try to log at least one every day)

I don’t understand why, but some people also use it to make lists such as “Every Horror Movie I’ve Ever Seen” and “My Favourite Episodes of Supernatural“. They draw maps of their local supermarkets and log all their Sharpie colours. They practice their handwriting, doodling, and drawing cute foxes. That’s fine if that’s what you want to do. For these folks, the Bullet Journal is a creative and/or therapeutic outlet. If you’re artistic, it might feel counter-intuitive to keep that element out of your journal. For me, the Bullet Journal is an everyday productivity tool. I use it to capture everything – to-dos, planning, meeting notes, thoughts, and anything that comes to me. My Bullet Journal is meant to be functional and I don’t care if it isn’t beautiful.

How do I get started?

  1. Get a notebook that you like enough to look at every day, but not so much that you’d freak out if you messed it up. I’ve loved Moleskine notebooks since I was a teenager and I use a black A5. My first Bullet Journal was a softcover grid. My second was a hardcover grid. For 2017, I’ve purchased a hardcover dotted. Leuchtturm is another popular brand among Bullet Journalers.
  2. Get a pen you like. I use Artline 200 Fine 0.4 in black. They’re cheap and I like how they write. Whenever I go to Officeworks, my local chain of office supplies store, I pick up a few.
  3. Watch Ryder’s video and dive in.

Those are the basics. The rest is up to you. Some people adopt the Bullet Journal system in other kinds of planners and journals such as the Filofax, Traveller’s Journals, discbound planners, composition notebooks, or any cute little journal they like. Some people like using high quality fountain pens. Others like using a variety of coloured pens and pencils. You might also see the use of stencils, rubber stamps, and washi tape to decorate.

Because the artsy planners and journalers are prolific on social media, this style has become the apparent norm for the Bullet Journal. Some folks view this as an “evolution” of the Bullet Journal; I prefer “adaptation”. Ironically, journalers like me that use Ryder’s original system are labelled Minimalist Bullet Journalers.

Don’t be intimated by the beautiful journals. The pursuit of perfection is a form of procrastination. The point of the Bullet Journal is to get things done.