Before I started using the bullet journal system three years ago, I would carry around as many as 4 notebooks/calendars with me at one given time. A small pocket calendar for my purse. A large planner for my work bag. A large journal/sketchbook. A small notebook. But the wonderful thing about the bullet journal is I can do everything I need to do in ONE notebook that fits in my purse. GONE are the days of second mortgages on houses to pay for 14 planners or calendars a year (because no ONE planner or calendar ever fit the bill completely) and 72 notebooks. Nope! One notebook! All the time!
This is very hard to admit. But I have decided the bullet journal doesn’t work perfectly for everything.
It started because I wanted to start logging my food as my running/training has changed and I need to readjust my calorie intake so I don’t gain 50lbs because I’m still eating like an ultra runner. Well, two pages into the food log in my bullet journal and I was thinking: Why am I wasting pages on this? To Do lists at least give me a later snapshot of my life. But my food/calorie log? This is a terrible waste of space.
So, I bought a 3-pack of small notebooks. And I started writing down my food/calories one of them. Now it didn’t feel like a silly waste of pages in my bullet journal where one whole week of planning took up one 2-page spread but 7 days of food logging took up 3 times that. Instead? I just log in this guy which can be disposed of without any guilt.
But I also realized it works for the long grocery lists too. I keep a section on my weekly spread “TO BUY” to note when we run out of things or when weird stuff pops up I need throughout a week, but when I sit down and put my meals in my daily spread I need to write down the associated foods needed and I don’t really want to waste a full page on my bullet journal for that either. And since I have this tiny notebook already floating around my purse, I’ve started doing grocery lists in that.
This makes it easier for my daughter to help me too, because she likes to be in charge of marking off the list as we go throughout the store. It’s harder for her to do that carrying around my bullet journal.
But I feel like I have to justify myself TO MY BULLET JOURNAL.
Dear Bu Jo, You are still the top in my world, but you’re so important I don’t want to waste pages in you with things that are not necessary for the whole #PlanDocumentCreate motto. Please forgive me.
This is one of my first bullet journal volumes when I was still trying to experiment with tabs.
I knew I wanted to tab monthly pages and kinda figured I should tab pages I flip to a lot, so from early on I put the monthly tabs on top and the content tabs on the side.
But I hadn’t decided what type of tabs I liked the best (obviously) and I think I was overestimating how many times I would need content pages, using WAY too many tabs.
This is what my current volume looks like.
If you notice, there are no tabs on the side, only the monthly tabs along the top.
I decided I like the K&Company Fabric Tabs the best, although it’s really more about the feel of them than anything. When I first started bullet journaling you could find them at Target, but now I have to get them online and I’m super-paranoid that I’m the only one who uses them so they’ll quit making them. I’ve started cutting them in half to conserve them as opposed to buying stock piles of them.
(Although every time I look at my last pack I think: BUY STOCK PILES.)
I don’t have anything tabbed on the side on the current volume. The only thing I would tab I think would be game schedules for the kids as that is something I might consult regularly. Although, I also put those on my monthly pages so I’m not sure I would need to tab it. I guess we’ll see in the fall. I do categorize things with washi tape flags which you can kinda see here.
That gives a help when I’m hunting down specific pages. Categories are marked by specific colors of tape, in specific locations on the page. The one you see most is my “therapy” category because I’m working through a grief program right now that has homework and I keep my homework in my bullet journal. But I also mark work pages and pages for different volunteer organizations I’m part of. I don’t need to tab those type of things as I don’t flip to them regularly, but I do like to have them marked visually and on the index page.
So I guess I’ve become a tabbing minimalist. Months only for now. What about you? Do you tab at all?
While it’s obvious to me, I’m not sure it’s obvious to everyone that there are three different journals represented in my collection.
When I first started using the bullet journal system, I just used a cheap spiral notebook to make sure I even liked the system. Once I decided it would work for me, I invested in a Moleskine Hardcover Ruled journal. This was a dependable product I figured they would make indefinitely, so I could always have this nice stack of notebooks on my shelf that would be uniform in size and shape. I didn’t mind variations in color, but I wanted the lines to look uniform.
But as I got into it, I realized I didn’t really like the ruled paper. It was great on lists, but on doodles or scratch pages I found the lines too distracting. Luckily I found out Moleskine made dotted pages, but only in softcover. This was okay (you can see volumes 6 & 7) but not ideal. I really did NOT like the softcover.
Finally, someone introduced me to the Leuchtturm 1917. I had actually been hearing about them for awhile, with their page numbers and their index pages but no one locally sold them and I didn’t want to take the plunge without holding one in my hand first. But they sold hardcover dotted variations which I just couldn’t resist after two frustrating volumes of a soft cover. Since then? I’ve not looked back. I still can’t find them locally but Amazon comes through for me when I need them every few months. And to me? You can’t tell when looking on the shelf where the transition is unless you’re fluent in notebooks.
The last 3 volumes are the Leuchtturm 1971s and they blend in quite nicely, in my humble opinion. I don’t know why that’s so important to me, that the height lines on the volumes on my shelf look perfect, but it is so it’s nice to have finally found a journal I love that blends in on the shelf with the journals I only kinda-liked.
DISCLAIMER: I’m not a very monogamous pen user. I like to keep an open relationship with my pens so that I’m free to try new ones any time I want. For this reason, I don’t spend a lot of money on pens. I don’t use fountain pens or brush pens. I like pens I can buy at the largest ranges of office supplies so I know that I will get a wide range of products and variation, at stores just like, Staples or Target. If I’m at Target alone (sans children) I always detour by the pen aisle just to see if any of the pens I like are on sale, or if any branded pens look interesting. This habit keeps me quite apprised of the new pen releases, so I was pleasantly surprised to notice a “new” label at Target awhile ago on the PaperMate Injoy Gel 0.7 pens. Now, I don’t use Papermate typically, so I wasn’t really sure how “new” these were, but they caught my eye because of the “NEW!” label on the packaging AND the fact that the package came with tons of fun colors.
Long story, short? I’m addicted.
They write a lot like the Pentel Energel 0.7 pens which I had been using pretty monogamously prior to this purchase, but the grip is SO MUCH BETTER. I love the silicon/rubber type grip on the Papermate pen so much more than the Pentel. Also? The color packs are better. More colors, bigger packs.
From what my Papermate friends tell me, the Injoys have been around for awhile but the gel ink is the “New” development in this product. Maybe also the grip? That part seems to be debatable. Some have seen that grip in other versions, some haven’t. And honestly? I’m not dedicated enough to research it. I’m just a dog seeing a squirrel. “Pen! Pen? Pen! Pen?” I just love the feel of new pens, I love new colors, I love new packs. I’m not an expert or a professional, I’m basically that girl who needs a new handbag every season. Except that I need new pens. And right now? These are the ones I’m adoring.
They’re a little slow-to-dry, quick-to-smudge. They definitely ghost a tad, but all of my favorite pens do which might be part of why I don’t regularly use the backs of pages. They are just a hair fatter than most of my other 0.7 tips. But overall? Totally my favorite and I would love to buy the 20 pack if I didn’t already have most of the colors from buy the 15 pack earlier. I keep waiting for it to go on sale so I can justify it because, honestly? I need more pens like I need a hole in the head.
A few people recently asked me…I’m thinking about starting bullet journaling, but what are the minimum requirements?
I probably make bullet journals look INSANE with my bag of pens and my customized folio and my washi tape and stickers. But y’all? You don’t need ANY of that.
All you need is a blank journal and a writing utensil.
I don’t suggest you start with a Moleskine Hardcover Ruled [Update: I now use the Leuchtturm A5 Dotted Hardcover instead of a Moleskine.] as that journal right there is $18 a pop. I did my first month+ with a $5 journal from Target just to A) Make sure I liked it and B) Get the hang of the basic system.
Once you have your journal and your writing utensil? Watch this video.
Then get going! Just use that video as a guideline. Other than the checkboxes and the index, I don’t use hardly any of his recommendations. When I watch the video now I laugh because he would probably HATE MY BULLET JOURNALS. But that’s the nice thing about this system, you can modify as you go. I fill up a notebook every 3’ish months so I get a clean slate to apply any new or different methods. And every volume so far is different. I change systems constantly to suit my needs, but that’s what I love about this system. It can easily change with you because you’re only framework is a blank notebook.
But seriously. That’s all you need to get started. Don’t be intimidated by my obnoxious personalization of the method nor my compulsion to cover EVERYTHING IN THE WORLD WITH SOMETHING PRETTY AND COLORFUL! Your bullet journal can be just as wonderful sans washi tape and zendoodles. I promise you.
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.
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.
BONUS UPDATE FROM 2014: I realized that the natural “part” of a moleskine actually falls AFTER the first page. Meaning the index page on the “first” page became problematic as the page tended to resist staying open to that first page.
Also, I filled up the Index page before I filled up the bullet journal. Writing on the back of the page is an okay solution except my favorite pens sometimes bleed a little through so I ended up having to tape a white piece of paper on the back side to continue my Index.
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!
BONUS UPDATE FROM 2014:
My biggest problem putting my first full Moleskin on the shelf was that – well – it was boring. I used it more as a daily planner than anything, meaning that the kids would find it terribly uninteresting if they were to go through it later. When I went through my Dad’s collection of similar journals, the cool thing was finding newspaper articles, or cards, or drawings he taped throughout. So! I decided to do the same thing. If the kids do anything small that I like, I’m adding it to the current bullet journal with a note regarding it’s origins.
And then, on a similar vein, I taped in the front of a card I had been holding on to because I loved it A) because it was pretty and B) because it had a nice memory attached to it.
SO! I’m now using my bullet journal in a little bit more of a “scrapbook” type of manner. I put ticket stubs or things like that in there. When Donnie did his Ironman I posted the map we used to hunt him down all day. Some of the stuff will be useful some day, but most of it is just to induce memories or to document events. I’ve even handed the bullet journal over to the kids on some days and said, “DRAW SOMETHING.” Now? My bullet journal volumes go on the shelf every 2-3 months as TRUE representation of our lives. I love them.
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.
BONUS UPDATE FROM 2016:
I started doing Weekly Spreads this year – instead of daily pages – like this:
I also started a new way of marking “categories” on pages with Washi pages. I explain in in detail here. It looks like this:
And finally – I’ve finished several volumes since I last updated this page – here is my collection now:
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.