Starting a Bullet Journal (and What I've Learned From It)

Thursday, September 8, 2016 / 10:46 PM

I've always loved paper planners, but I've always been horrible at maintaining one. Often times I would buy a planner (or be given one) and only use it for a month or two before losing it or falling out-of-date with it – usually because my Google Calendar served as a better alternative, and I keep my phone on me at all times and spend my life sitting in front of computers; or, because, I am an absurdly stubborn perfectionist and one mistake or missed day in my planner throws me off.

So when everyone and their third cousin started talking about bullet journaling, I was immediately both interested and skeptical: interested because it seemed to combine my two favorite things (to-do lists and neat schedules), but skeptical because blank pages were too big of a canvas for me to screw up and give up.

But a couple of months ago, I decided to take the plunge and see what all this chatter was about – and now I'm the one preaching to everybody about the magic of bullet journaling. Bear with me.

Side note: I originally filmed a vlog about bullet journaling but as I was editing it, it became super clear that it was WAY TOO LONG. So I ditched it. Womp womp.

What I use for my bullet journal:

  • Moleskine Classic Squared Notebook – I have the "large" soft cover (I say "large" because it's standard journal-sized to me, but compared to other Moleskines, I guess it's "large"...) with the grid paper. I don't think regular lined paper would be too different, but the grid provides more flexibility with designs, yet isn't as scary as completely blank pages.
  • 6-in. plastic ruler – I got this in my Kate Spade bookshelf pencil pouch, and I like it because it fits nicely in the pocket in the back of my Moleskine
  • Sakura Micron pens – This is important: you do not need fancy pens to start bullet journaling. You don't need anything fancy to start. I just went all in because A) I wanted to make the investment to force myself to not abandon the project; and B) because I didn't actually check the price before I went to the counter. 
  • Extras: coloring pencil! A pencil! A large eraser!
After spending hours and hours on Pinterest looking at designs and watching YouTube videos on how to start, I began with the simple starter pages that are recommended on the "official" Bullet Journal site:

Index pages...

(Literally the first thing I did to get started with my bullet journal was numbering pages because I figured I couldn't screw that one up!)

A "key," which is not the prettiest because it was the first page I did and I was anxious about just starting...

The key gives you the gist of the bullet system: each task is noted with a bullet and when you complete it, you "X" it out. If you don't complete a task, you can migrate it to the next day and bullet it there; or you can "future-log" it, meaning it's not something that's tied to an immediate day or deadline, so it can be moved back to your Future Log (more on that below), or however you keep track of your general "to do" and "goal" lists.

Once I got used to the bullet system (my first week, I just made plain lists day-by-day), then I moved onto prettier designs (thanks Pinterest!). I blurred out the actual tasks themselves from my journal, but here's what a couple of my pages have looked like:

Here's the thing that I think I love the most when it comes to bullet journaling: you don't have to stick to one design. I think that's what's always frustrated me about traditional planners. If a section becomes irrelevant the following week or month, I can leave it out of my next design. If I want to add something, I have the freedom to do it in my bullet journal. The whole thing is enormously customizable.

I began with a Future Log, and realized I never really referred to it. I do still use my Google Calendar for scheduling, so for 2017, I'll re-think how I approach the start of the year on paper. I also wasn't using the traditional Monthly Log page for those same reasons, so when I got to August, I started a "gratitude log" instead with the same format of the Monthly Log, but just leaving the lines open for things I'm grateful for. (It's the little things that keep you positive!)

For September, I added a "September Memories" page, which I think will be helpful for my "year in review" blogs at the end of the year.

I also have project pages (which you can add anywhere throughout your journal, as needed) that have lists of books to finish and blog topics to write about, and I'm planning to add more that will be related to creative projects and travels.

So, why a "bullet journal" and not just a notebook of to-do lists? Because the actual process of bullet journaling adds structure. Because "rapid logging" everything I need to the next day before I go to bed helps remove anxiety since I know everything is written down on paper for me to tackle when I wake up and I don't have to think about all of the things I should do/have to do/might forget to do. Because designing your next week's pages are therapeutic. Because it makes me accountable for all the shit I need/want to do.

That having been said, bullet journaling isn't for everyone! So if you hate it or if it doesn't work for you, then don't fret – and share with me your productivity secrets, because I'm always interested to hear what people are doing to keep themselves on track. 

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  1. Wow, Traci! I love the productivity that comes with this process! I will begin (do over) to realign what I thought was a good way to plan my new LHS office system! Thank you for sharing this! ❤

  2. OMG your bullet journaling seems exhausting. I like super OLD SCHOOL journaling. I have pretty much kept a journal since 4th grade, just writing down whatever every day. I have done it my whole life except for college when I was too busy. I am THRILLED that you are keeping a GRATITUDE LOG. PS - I enjoyed your anxiety and networking videos. You are so damn complex, girlie. LUV, YFM.