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An In-Depth Guide to Bullet Journaling

Bullet journaling: if you don’t know what it is, it’s a funny phrase.  If you do know what it is, it might inspire thoughts of excitement or frustration.  Or maybe both.  The first time I heard of it and watched an introductory video, I thought, “Well, it’s a cool idea, in theory, but it looks too complicated.”  I exited the browser tab and didn’t think about it for months.

All that’s changed.  Oh, has it ever changed.

First, a brief explanation for those of you who don’t know what bullet journaling is: it’s a note taking system mixed with a journal that allows you to keep track of anything, from your weekly grocery list to the name of the movie your friend told you about, and actually be able to find it again when you need it.  The best introduction to a bullet journal, though, is to see it in action.  While the original video is worth watching, you can get an even better glimpse of the many nuances and possibilities by doing a search on Pinterest or Instagram.

I was enticed back to the idea of bullet journaling by Kara Benz, who started adding tantalizing sneak peeks inside her bullet journal to her blog posts and her Instagram.  A week later, I’d bought my very own Moleskine notebook, watched some YouTube videos of different set-ups to give myself a basic idea of what I did and didn’t want, made a Pinterest board to keep track of my favorite ideas, and then I began.

While I’ve only had it for a few months so far (and, I won’t lie, I forgot to stay on top of it a few times), I’ve already noticed I feel calmer and more organized.  It’s incredible to have a spot to write down nearly everything in your life, in one notebook, and be able to easily find it again!

Starting a bullet journal is only as complicated as you make it.  Don’t get hung up on having the exact right notebook and the perfect pen, or you’ll never begin (yes, I’m talking to all you perfectionists out there — I love you and want you to enjoy bullet journaling, too).

As a quick start, all you really need to do is:

1. Make a title page. You don’t have to give your notebook a name, unless you want to, but at the very least it’s nice to put something like Volume One (because you’re going to have scads more of these) and the date you started it.

I also wrote down the icon key I’d be using (I used the original one, with a few adjustments based on blog posts I’d read) on a sticky note and added it to this page.  I knew there was a strong likelihood I would want to adjust the key as I went, after realizing what worked for me and what didn’t, and I wanted an easy way to add a new key rather than crossing things out on the very first page.

2. Number your pages. Certain notebooks, like the Leuchtturm, will already be numbered, but lots of people use Moleskine notebooks, or even just a spiral-bound notebook, for their bullet journal and do the numbering by hand, which gives you a chance to be a little creative or keep it simple. I numbered the first 50 pages, and will carry on numbering as I get to the end of that section.

3. Make an index. You likely don’t need more than two pages for this, so keep it simple and just write INDEX at the top. This is where you’ll be keeping track of things like which pages are devoted to which months, and all your collection pages.

4. Start with the current month. I won’t go into this step, because it’s explained in great detail in numerous blog posts and YouTube videos, but once you’re here, that’s it! You’ve begun!

Does the idea of bullet journaling scare you? Pish posh. It's one of the easiest ways to stay organized! Click through for a sweet guide to bullet journaling.

I haven’t even had a bullet journal for that long and already it’s changed my life. 

As I travel further into my twenties, things only seem to be getting more hectic; taking the time to write down things like what movie I saw and who I saw it with, or the chat about knitting my mum and I had with Sandra from Brazil while we were at Starbucks, without feeling the need to go on for pages and pages like I would in a diary, has increased my sense of gratitude and a feeling of being present in my own life.

It’s also an ideal spot to record things like a book someone suggests or a cooking technique I want to try.  Because I always have it with me, I’ve even created a page for the brands and sizes of clothing I like, so I’m armed with that information when I go shopping.

People have also started figuring out how to adjust the bullet journaling system on a smaller scale, too, to make it exactly right for them.  Kim, over at the blog Tiny Ray of Sunshine, has an incredible variety of tips and tricks along these lines, and they’re perfect examples of how you can customize your bullet journal.  One of the biggest struggles about this journaling system has been the inability to forward plan, but people have found workarounds for that, too.

The possibilities of a bullet journal are practically endless.  Though it goes against the original idea of having everything in one notebook, some journalers have started keeping one for each of their kids, as a stress-free way to record things like their first steps or what book they were reading or that funny thing they said to the neighbor.

I’m thinking of keeping one for personal use and one for business, so I could have pages for blog post ideas, monthly budgets and webinar brainstorming.  You could also set pages aside (known as collection pages) for reading lists, go-to recipes, planning a trip to England… nearly anything you can think of, you could keep in a bullet journal.

I would love to know if you keep a bullet journal or have ever tried to.  Which collection pages are your favorite?  What would be your top tip for those new to bullet journaling?

About the Author

Victoria Fry

Victoria is a writing coach who's a creative catalyst for burnt-out writers, helping them tell the stories jostling for room in their heart and mind. She also writes, devours books, loves to dance, and takes part in a weekly Star Wars tabletop game.