Preface: I wrote this entry (and re-wrote it a few times) at my personal blog: misszoot.com. Then it was republished at Rocket City Mom. Since then, I have launched this website and simply brought this post over as-it-was. I have been updating it with more current information soon for the last several years, but I’m leaving the “old” stuff too so you can see how my methods have changed.
BULLET JOURNAL V/S DAILY PLANNER
I’m a pen-and-paper list maker. I write grocery lists and To-Do lists. I itemize meeting agendas and project task sheets. I make lists of chores for the day and goals for the month. If there is a pen (a good pen, I do have standards) and a piece of paper nearby, I’m probably jotting down some sort of list. And no matter how tech savvy I am, the need to write things down – to A) remember them and B) organize them – always remains. So, when I discovered a video introducing the Bullet Journal guide to living? I was hooked.
The bullet journal is a great system for list-makers. It’s a simple concept. You start with a journal of some sort, and you write all of your lists inside that journal with an index guiding you to them. That’s the basic idea. BUT – it’s not going to replace the Daily Planner style organizer IF you have a lot of stuff you schedule during the day. Example – I’m not entirely sure I could have relied on this SOLELY when I was producing musicals and plays at E’s high school. I had several things lined up at certain times on each day, weeks in advance, and I’m not sure I could have managed that with this system. Basically, if you schedule more than 3 things during your day more than 3 days a week, then the “daily” spots to manage those type of things are not going to suffice with this system. If you schedule multiple daily meetings weeks in advance, you’ll still need some sort of calendar (digital or analog) that gives you MORE space allocated for a day weeks in advance.
BUT – if you’re schedule isn’t concrete. If you’re more of a “these things need to get done today” and not a “I have a meeting next Thursday at 10am and at 2pm” type of person, the Bullet Journal should be all you need. This is in part to the Monthly pages and daily pages throughout.
The video is very useful for the general concept, but since I started I’ve solidified my technique with a few changes along the way.
Disclaimer: I like color. I like using different color pens and washi tape and stickers to just make my pages fun. This is OBVIOUSLY not mandatory. I just thought I should issue that disclaimer before I post pictures of my 2014 bullet journal.
CHOOSING YOUR BULLET JOURNAL
The original video author recommended the Moleskine Hardcover Ruled. I like the “ruled” version but they also have unlined and grid/graph versions of the same notebook. I actually started with something cheaper until I settled into a system and then I switched to this one. Here is why I used this one:
- Size: It’s big enough to be useful, but small enough to fit in my purse.
- Durability: The hard cover stands up to being thrown around the heavy-weight pages can handle inks and tabs.
- Wrap: The elastic band that wraps around the book keeps the pages from getting fold when in my purse.
- Bookmark: To mark the current day’s page.
- Fun: It comes in several fun colors.
- Popularity: This journal will probably always be available for purchase so as the years go on I can store them on a bookshelf as they’re uniform in size and I’ll always have record of years past.
UPDATE: I fell in love with the dotted paper so I now use the Leuchtturm A5 Dotted Hardcover I haven’t used a Moleskine since 2015 I believe.
This is the key to the functionality of your bullet journal. Since I started a new journal for 2014 (now that I have a good system I used the excuse to start a new one) my index is representative of the pages I carried over from my last journal. Some pages indexed in the last one didn’t get carried over. For example, in my previous journal I had soccer schedules and the kid’s training plans for their races. As seasons and races passed by, those pages are no longer needed. The daily pages won’t be indexed as I won’t need to reference them past that current day or week.
In the video above, he uses the list style monthly page like you see on the right page in the photo above. However, a lot of people I’ve talked to think this is the biggest drawback of this system, not being able to see the month at a glance in the typical grid format. I have made PDF pages for those people and have taped mine opposed of my list page. I have adapted to the list-month view fine, but it won’t hurt to have both at the ready. You can choose one or both for yourself.
One of the most common questions I get asked is: “How do I plan for the future?” – because the instructional video doesn’t really help you but for the current month. I used to keep a page marked “future dates” and just write them down and cross them off when I created that monthly page. But now! I use my printables (seen on my sidebar) and clip them to the back instead! I don’t always actually use that page when I create the monthly page because it’s often sloppy but it’s at least a guide and a way to quickly add something coming up a few months from now. I usually start the upcoming month about halfway through the current month, so I have two “live” months at a time and then 10 monthly pages pinned to the back! Boom. The entire year is ready for planning.
Every day I work on a basic To Do page for that day. Sometimes it has a grocery list, other days it has a task list. Sometimes I use one page for an entire week (unlike the guy in the instructional video) simply because I don’t necessarily have that busy of a life. These pages will create most of the filler for the journal, but they won’t be indexed. As you create a new page (either for the next day, or the next week) you make sure to carry over the items on the previous page that you didn’t complete.
Depending on your job, you can list your work tasks on your daily page. However, my job is more project based. So, I create project pages and create task lists on those pages. So, on my Daily page I’ll create a “Work” section that references those pages until those projects are complete. Each daily page is like a mini-index to help me manage my work and personal To Do lists.
OTHER PAGES I HAVE FOUND USEFUL
- Gift Ideas: I hate it when I think of a great gift idea for someone months before Christmas or their birthday. Now I have a page to keep those ideas.
- Bucket List: I don’t have a “bucket list” exactly – but I do have things I want to do “someday” and it’s nice to periodically look at that list.
- Movies I Want to See: I’ll read an article or hear an NPR report about a movie that sounds good but I only have time to rent movies a few times a month. This way, I can consult my list on when to look them up.
- Birthdays/Anniversaries: We celebrate birthdays of all of our local family and I keep a page of those dates so that I’ll remember to put them on the monthly page when I create it.
- Wish Lists: Sometimes we have extra money and I know there are things I want/need but I can never remember them at that moment. Now I do!
I like to put tabs on my Bullet Journal. Target had some nice tabs in their scrapbooking section and they hold up quite well. There are some pages (monthly page and future dates page) that I consult often. On my last journal the soccer schedule was tabbed. This is obviously not necessarily with the index, but I do it anyway.
I also keep a small makeup pouch in my purse that holds my pens/whiteout/scissors and washi tape. (I wrote here about the pens I use, and included a picture of the pouch.) Again – this is not necessary if you don’t turn your bullet journal into an art project like I do, but if you like using those fun things, makeup pouches are great containers.
All-in-all this system has proven almost life-changing. Calendars and daily planners never seemed to help me manage the random lists I would make throughout my life. But notebooks for lists never seemed to help me manage my calendar. I ended up with scatter use of several tools whereas now I seem to rely on only one. It goes with me everywhere and I look at it regularly. Some days it’s just a scratch pad for groceries, other days it’s helping me budget our Christmas money. I also like the idea of these journals accumulating and forming a type of archive of our life. The one I just “finished” (it wasn’t quite full, but I wanted to start a new one for the new year) chronicled the kid’s soccer season and their first running challenges. It had meeting notes and grocery lists. It’s going to be an interesting way to look back on our lives as it holds everything together in one place. I have summarized my method the last couple of years with the #PlanDocumentCreate hashtag because it really simplifies what I use this system for in my life.