What Is A Bullet Journal & How To Use It

The phrase ‘bullet journal’ is one I’d heard floating around for quite a while, and with no prior information I assumed it was basically keeping a daily diary or journal but in the form of bullet points. I think it was Pinterest that sparked my interest a bit more back in October when I was seeing all these fancy monthly designs, doodles and people claiming it changed their life. I decided to find out exactly what is a bullet journal, how to use it and then put it into practice for a month to see what the fuss was about.

What Is A Bullet Journal?

A bullet journal is basically a calendar, a diary, all your to do lists, a scrapbook and anything you want to organise or track in one place. If you’re the type of person who has to do lists everywhere, shopping lists in your phone, apps to track spending, food diary, exercise plan, weight loss, etc, as well as a diary and notebooks filled with notes, it might be perfect for you to combine it all in one place.

It also might be for you if you want to become more organised but a proper planner isn’t for you, or if you feel like you don’t really have time and wouldn’t stick with using a diary. Bullet journaling simplifies everything, and will take up so much less of your time to maintain than you may be expecting.

A bullet journal isn’t a journal in the sense of keeping a written daily diary, unless you want it to be of course. Every bullet journal can be completely different and tailored to the Individual person.

But each one follows the same principles.

Are you confused yet? It’s everything it could possibly be in one, but is also the simplest thing to do. It works for organised and unorganised people. You could spend a lot of time or very little time on it. And it brings all lists, notes, projects and diary commitments together – without requiring a proper planner layout.

Confused is how I felt too, especially when you start to look into it and hear all sorts of weird terms like ‘bullet journal key’, ‘index page’, ‘monthly cover’, ‘habit tracker’ and daily, monthly or future log. More on these later.

What do you need to create a bullet journal?

The traditional way of creating a bullet journal is with a blank notebook. Nothing fancy or creative at all, basically a moleskin dotted notebook is best, and a pen. I use a fine liner, and I’ve found a ruler also massively helps.

The dotted pages are definitely better than lined pages to give you so much more freedom, especially if you do want to get creative with doodles and page layouts.

If that is the case then by all means add to your stationary and bullet journal pages with colours, stickers, highlighters and anything else you frequently use. Personally I think keeping it simple works best.

Also I think keeping an open mind helps. When I first looked into it I was sceptical especially being faced with blank pages rather than a structured planner. But stick with it.

Bullet Journal Terms & Basic Framework

Index Page

These are the first pages of your journal, but you fill them in as your journal progresses, so leave at least a blank double page spread for it. You fill this in as you go, not ahead of time, as you don’t know what pages you might create. This is why it’s flexible, rather than fixed like you get in planners.

Key (Sometimes known as Rapid Log)

These are symbols that you will use to refer to certain topics, points and things to do. These are what save you time, and is the bullet part of the bullet journal. You can create symbols for anything and everything, but most bullet journals use at least the following basic ones.

These are what allow you to jot things down quickly hence the term ‘rapid log’, in short note form journaling rather than long form writing. Keep them short and simple, with symbols that match the category. In addition to the above basic ones you could create symbols for anything that you will use frequently. For example I have a symbol for anything to do with my blog, one for social events, one for appointments, and so on.

Don’t overcomplicate it, and think you need a symbol for absolutely everything. You’re likely to find you will use the same four or five and forget the rest.

Monthly Cover

These are the fabulous creative pages you see on Pinterest, the cover page for every new month. Do a quick Pinterest search to get the idea. You can go as simple or as creative as you like depending on how confident and arty you feel.

Monthly & Weekly Log Pages

Most bullet journals will have a monthly log page after the cover page which will show you the whole month and your monthly tasks at a glance. So this is the calendar element of a bullet journal.

Weekly spreads, show the individual days of that week in more detail, and the best advice is to only create your weekly spreads when the week begins, rather than all in one go as you may want to add other pages in to track other things before your next week begins. The weekly spreads are where you’ll jot under each day everything you have going on using the symbols. I’ve blurred mine out but you get the idea.

Weekly logs also have a section for ‘next week’, where you note down anything you didnt get done that week to migrate it on to the next week. Most people use this symbol for that ’>’ and then when you do come to create your next weekly spread you can add those tasks in first.

Again the point is to keep everything short and concise, to get you out of the mindset that you need a full page for every day. If you have that much going on that you do need more room, then of course you can create a daily log too.

Other pages you can add

There really is no limit on the extra pages you can put in, at any point. If you’re a bookworm you could create a whole page for tracking your books read and future reading list…

Or if you want to track any bad or good habits you want to either get rid of or stick to create a habit chart. I’ve loved doing this as it has made me really stick to things or cut things out entirely. For example my habit tracker includes things like taking my make up off every night, alcohol intake, takeaways etc. When you’re holding yourself accountable by writing it down every day it’s surprising how much you stick to things.

You could also include a page for Netflix shows or films you want to watch, your coffee intake (this could also be included in habits but I create a whole page per month for mine), sleep tracker and mood tracker.

It all builds a picture at a glance of everything you need to know about your life. For example I can see if how much coffee I drink has an effect on my mood – good or bad, or if Ive spent too much time on Netflix how it affects my mood, and so on. I’ve just started the 5.2 diet for the next four weeks so I’ve created a page for that and meal plans too.

Mood board pages for the month are also quite popular if you like scrapbooking. This one isn’t for me but they do look good if done right.

Back to the Index

Hopefully you can now see why you leave the index blank initially but then go back to it. You don’t know what pages you might create and every time you add a new one you number it at the bottom and add it to the index. It’s a work in progress rather than set in stone.

So there really is no limit, and for further inspiration I would recommend doing a Pinterest search which will bring up so many suggestions, and searching on instagram. There are some pro bullet journalers out there, I will link some of my favourites at the end.

What I Learned From Bullet Journaling

I decided to give it a try for a month, through November last year when we were all in lockdown and I needed a bit of a project. I’d also decided to do Blogmas which required a lot of organising and the amount of scribbling and note taking for that was going to be huge. It surprised me even in lockdown how much there was to record though, life admin doesn’t stop, and it was the run up to Christmas so there was a lot to think of and remember.

It turned out to be a great month to trial it. I started full of big plans for creative colourful pages, but I quickly realised that I actually prefer to keep it much more simple. My November cover page was so full of doodles and drawings that it looked like a child did it and I hated it. So I searched ‘minimalist bullet journal’ and that changed my life.

Keeping everything simple – page layouts, lists, fewer symbols, it really helped. I am naturally a waffler, long list writer, scribbler, doodler and have a lot of notebooks. With a lot going on all the time I found that using a bullet journal made everything a lot simpler. Even I couldn’t fluff it up, and I was really drawn to the simple designs that drew clarity rather than chaos.

I had a lot of pages – a whole page for Christmas gifts and things to buy, a page for Blogmas plan, another for Blogmas note taking, a Netflix page, sleep tracker, habit tracker and my weekly layouts. I found that the habit trackers were great for sticking to things, and the weekly layouts were so good for just remembering all the little things I had to do.

I went from needing to refer to five or six different things (diary, notebook, iPhone calendar, iPhone notes etc) to really just focusing on the bullet journal. The initial set up took some time but then each day it took no longer than 5 minutes to update and it made me feel like I had life together. It allowed me to see a whole picture across every aspect of my life, not the past in the form like a journal, or the future in the form of a planner. It was a full overview and I loved it.

I was initially worried I would be too psycho about it, the slightest mistake or slip of the pen but it doesn’t matter. All your pages are blank so you aren’t confined to boxes – just create another one. I did rip out the occasional page, but in general you learn to just move on to the next one which for me is quite a big deal. Bullet journaling shouldn’t be discounted if you’re a perfectionist.

My biggest surprise was that I quickly went from arty colourful doodles and designs to a much more minimalist approach. I’ve stopped using the colours entirely and only use a black fine liner. Everything is simple and clear. I still invest some time at the start of each week to designing my layouts, but in general the whole thing is very quick and easy.

It can be very useful for men too. When I shared on instagram that I was going to try it, one of my friends messaged and asked what it was. I tried to explain and he went off and researched it himself. He’s now totally converted. I think he uses it mostly for work organisation, and a bit of life admin but he agrees that it gives a lot of organisation without much effort.

I’ll also link some male bullet journalers at the end too. It was actually a guy who started it and he wrote a full book on it, then it evolved into a big trend. As always there could be a lot of pressure into beautiful designs especially when you go on Pinterest, but the basic format is what matters. There is a whole community on instagram – give #bujo a search and see – but that’s not for me. This trend actually has some substance behind it beyond the pretty designs.

I was a bit worried if I would still be able to do it after I bought my 2021 planner (I use the Carrie & Co. one that I talked about in my planners and journals Blogmas post here), but I’ve decided to go with both. The planner is huge and sits on my desk, whereas the bullet journal is light enough to go everywhere with me. So although I’ve talked about how a bullet journal is everything rolled in to one, going forward I’m still using a planner too, but I have adapted the symbols and quick fire notes into my planner.

If I’ve sparked your interest in bullet journaling, I’d recommend giving it a go for a month at first and accept you will probably figure it out as you go. Here’s some further resources to read:

The original bullet journal website and book BulletJournal.com

The New Yorkers article on Bullet Journaling

My Pinterest board on Bullet Journaling

Journalspiration on Instagram – I LOVE this account

MenWhoBullet on instagram

#bujo hashtag search

Other posts you might like:

The best planners and journals for 2021

Highlights of 2020

My top 9 Instagram Photos of 2020

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