Bullet Journalling is a modern-invented productivity powerhouse. Touted as ‘the analog system for the digital age‘, this brainchild of Ryder Carroll hit the internet in 2013, and has become a foundation stone of organisational strategies for the modern day. The #bulletjournal instagram hashtag has over 100,000 posts, and you can bury yourself in beautiful Pinterest images of creative bullet journals from all over the world.
I’ve been using the Erin Condren Life Planner for the last few months, and really not felt it working for me. While there are a lot of things I do love about it, I just was generally looking for something very different. There’s a whole post in my thoughts on the Life Planner, that I’ll share another time – but after some going back and forth, and debating what I wanted to do (that Life Planner was not cheap, and I was having a lot of guilt around switching) I thought it was time to give the bullet journal another go.
There is an amazing introduction to bullet journalling via the website that is definitely worth a read. My take on it is that bullet journalling is setting up a notebook to be whatever you need – a compilation of a calendar, diary, daily to-dos, dreams, goals, and capturing all that information inside your head down all in to one spot.
I’d tried the system in 2014, and really loved it, but fell back into using the layout as a written journal rather than a planner, due primarily to my life and job at the time. I’d unintentionally used a similar method when writing my honours thesis – I had a simple notebook, and started a fresh page for each daily to do list, which really functioned as a brain dump of everything in my head – tracking how much water I drank each day, what tasks I needed to do for my thesis, random things I wanted to do when uni was over…any thought that floated through my mind so that I could focus on my work rather than get distracted by what was floating past.
The bullet journal functions in a similar way. It is premised upon rapid-logging – getting your thoughts on paper and out of your head, in a simple and easy to read, easy to access and easy to understand format.
I spent a peaceful Sunday setting up my bullet journal. It felt like the right time to kickstart my new bullet journal in June, when I turn 26 and begin tracking my 27th year on this earth (I swear I’m still 20…??). I also feel that I have more of a handle on what my life looks like, and what I want out of it – so I’m not jumping back and forth between planning systems and projects and ideas. I know what I want to record, and what I want to remember.
All you need to get started is a notebook (any notebook), and a pen. I began by going out and buying myself a Leuchtterm A5 dot-grid journal. I used a Leuchtterm last time I tried the bullet journal, and fell in love with the beautiful paper and design, the quality covers and the page numbering (which becomes very convenient). I have used Leuchtterms for general journalling (I’m on my third, and love how they all look stacked together!) and use one for on and off lists at work, which I find to be way more convenient when all in one place.
I bought my journal from the specialist stationery store, which left me with few options when wanting the dot-grid style. If I hadn’t been chomping at the bit to get started, I definitely would have ordered the black from Larry Post, but I’m still pretty happy with navy. There are official Bullet Journals for sale, although every time I look, they’re sold out! Hopefully my second bullet journal can be in an official book…
I have Leuchtterms in blank, grid and lined. I find the grid and lined a bit too definitive, and they generally end up quite messy. I tend to favour blank pages for general journalling, and was going for that option, but after a heavy stalk of the beautiful instagram feed of @bujo.auslife , I figured the dot-grid was the perfect balance of providing some neatness and structure, while leaving space for some creativity in lettering.
I used the first page of my bullet journal to capture one of my favourite life quotes by Thoreaux. It felt like an appropriate choice to kick off the start of a new year of my life, and a new organisational method.
I googled around for some inspiration for setting up for the month. I have borrowed very heavily from the @bujo.auslife instagram, and from the traditional bullet journal method. I started with a two-page spread setting out a monthly log and a habit tracker.
A monthly log functions as a month overview. I’ve seen lots of bullet journals that prefer to draw up or stick in a traditional month calendar with boxes for this page, but the list-lover in me was drawn to this simple list style. I love that it captures just the big key events for that month in one place. I left a column to the side to include little signifiers, so that I can easily see important events or birthdays.
Officially the monthly log is a two page spread, where the left side is the log as pictured above, and the right side is a monthly task list. I prefer to set monthly ‘goals’, and think of my tasks on a weekly basis, so I skipped the tasks page. But the best thing about bullet journals is that this is totally allowed – unlike a pre-printed diary or planner where you’re beholden to what’s on the pages before you.
The habit tracker is something I’ve seen across instagram accounts, and I just love the concept. I had a 108-day duolingo streak going (I was heartbroken when I missed a day!), and loved how it tracked the fact I did my lesson everyday in the app. This habit tracker provides an avenue for doing the same thing within the bullet journal, but all types of goals. I’ve listed my various exercise and gym options, drinking 2L of water a day, meditating, duolingo and reading for now, with room to add more habits that I want to work on as they occur to me. I’ve seen different people record days they completed their tasks in different ways – colouring in the boxes in different ways, or putting in dots. I plan on doing dots, because the minimalist style is really appealing to me lately.
Next I included a gratitude log. There is so much information out there about the benefits of introducing a practice or habit of gratitude into your life. All science and questions aside, there’s no doubt that taking time to appreciate the little things only breeds gratefulness and greatness in your life. I’m planning on taking a minute at the end of each day to populate this log before I go to sleep, so I go to sleep happy, rather than pondering the long list of work or activities I have to do the following day.
I debated a little about what to draw up next. I chose a weekly spread to capture general events happening on each day, including exercise classes and lunch and dinner plans, and any major to-dos that I knew were coming up in the left-hand table. On the right, I started jotting down some general weekly tasks. This spread will definitely evolve as I continue to trial this system, which is why I’ve left it extremely simple.
I do think I’ll end up doing daily to-dos as well – as a chronic list-maker, I can always find something to list down and cross off! But I’m really happy with the pages I’ve chosen as my starting set-up.
One of the best parts of bullet journalling is the concept of collections. I can’t see anything about collections on the official site, but the collections pages are some of my favourite to browse on instagram. They really function as a themed brain-dump – capturing lists of books to read or that you have read, addresses, ideas, dreams, memories…anything that is swirling around your brain, make a collection! I already started three – a list of future ideas for my etsy store, blog post ideas (which I used to just jot down in random notes on my iphone), the list of addresses for my penpals and books I want to read. I definitely see my collections growing overtime as my bullet journal evolves.
The magic of the Leuchtterm notebook comes with the pre-numbered pages and index. As the bullet journal functions as an all-in-one place to capture your lists, your calendar, your tasks and your future plans, having a functional index allows you to quickly keep track of where you’ve stored different information – your monthly logs vs all the ideas you had for your friend’s hen’s party, for example. Having an index also allows you to effectively ‘thread’ pages – rather than trying to save a few pages to dedicate to a particular project, like I normally would to track all of my etsy store ideas, stats and information, you can record in the index that you put your ideas on pages 2, 7 and 19, and record that information in the bottom right-hand corner of your pages.
In case it isn’t obvious, I’m extremely excited about this system, and I’m really looking forward to putting it to the test. I found myself putting information all over the place – a planner to track my food and exercise, a planner to write lists in, a planner as a calendar, a notebook for work plus a list pad, and it was just all getting a bit much. I never had the right book with me at any particular time to capture what I wanted to, and there was so much information sprawled all over the place so that this complicated organisational system was riddled with inefficiencies. As a result, this streamlined approach really excites me, and I hope to report back at the end of the month still full of enthusiasm.
If you’re thinking of trialling bullet journalling, I definitely recommend reading the official site. Other great resources that I used when deciding how to set up my notebook are Boho Berry and Tiny Ray of Sunshine. If you do check out those links, I highly recommend making a cup of tea and settling in for a good long read – there is so much beautiful inspiration on those blogs that you won’t be able to tear yourself away. Lastly, check out the #bulletjournal and #bujo hastags on instagram.
However, tread lightly when you delve into an instagram vortex. It is easy to get overwhelmed by how creative and beautiful (and neat!) some people are with their bullet journals, which is why I referred to @bujo.auslife before – remember that your bullet journal is yours and yours only. If you want to make it beautiful with stickers and washi and coloured pens and doodles, don’t hold back! But at the same time, the journal still works, whether or not you spend hours drawing beautiful things, or simply jot down the tasks and events that make up your day. I’m definitely a sucker for comparison, so I had to be firm with myself when setting up my journal that I only needed to include what mattered to me, and it didn’t have to be beautiful (which is fortunate, since I’m a terrible drawer). I’ll still be maintaining (read, using up!) a journal for more long-form recording of my thoughts, primarily because that’s usually an extremely messy brain dump of whatever emotional mess I’m in at the time, and I like to keep that part of my brain and life separate from a place where I capture events, activities and goals related to work, life, this blog and etsy, which I think is definitely the system that works for me. But the best part about the bullet journal is that since it is, in the end, a blank notebook, you can just allow it to grow and transform as you need.
Have you tried bullet journalling? Do you have any tips or tricks to share? Let me know in the comments!