Before I dive into Bullet Journaling, let me give you just a bit of backstory. I’ve always loved planners and getting organized…so much so that I might occasionally spend more time getting organized and making to-do lists than I will actually doing the stuff I need to get done. Procrastination at it’s organized best!
Before my calendar was in my phone, I relied on a good old Franklin Covey binder for both appointments and tasks. Man, I carried that sucker everywhere for nearly a decade! As technology evolved and I embarked on my quest to eliminate paper (and the amount of crap I have to carry daily) I tried a multitude of digital task-management solutions. I’ve tried keeping it in Evernote (and you guys KNOW how much I love Evernote!) and in apps like Todoist. I’ve tried the reminders app on iOS. I even created a monster of a spreadsheet complete with formulas and macros in Excel to give a prioritized ranking, metrics on overdue tasks, and project level views.
Uh, damn. Well, if you hadn’t realized I’m part-nerd yet, I guess that last one just made it crystal clear. #lettingmyfreakflagfly Whatever. As my architect father-in-law said once, “The question is not IF you spreadsheet, but WHAT you spreadsheet!” hahaha, I swear I think in Pivot tables…
Anyway, I digress. The issue is that I also like writing things down. I’m a bit of a pen snob and a total sucker for a new notebook or fancy bound journal. I take notes all the time, because if I write it down then my mind is free to do other things. I also like having my “brain” handy, not housed on my laptop in an Excel file. The hard part about most of these other systems/tools is they only manage ONE piece of the puzzle well. One was great for tasks, but not lists. One was great for actually making a list, but then was a pain in the ass to find again easily. And if you also need to take notes in a meeting AND capture action items, then heaven help you.
In April 2015 I discovered Bullet Journaling and I simply have never looked back. At its core, Bullet Journaling is a simple, completely flexible, analog (pen and paper) system that can track/incorporate as much or as little as you like. The introductory video and blog post over at www.bulletjournal.com will give you a far more comprehensive how-to guide, but I’ll cover the basics here.
- It simply couldn’t be cheaper to start a Bullet Journal. All you need is paper and a pen. I like fancy notebooks, but I was halfway through one already when I decided to give this a try. I literally just flipped to the next empty page and started in the middle as a “test run” of the system. You can use a spiral notebook, looseleaf paper in a binder, or a notebook. It can be lined, dotted, quadrille, or plain.
- Start with an Index for your Bullet Journal. If your notebook doesn’t have one, save 4-5 pages in the front of your notebook for indexing your pages. Then number your pages. Don’t feel like you have to number them all right now. Just do the first 10-20 pages and number more as you need.
- Decide on how you want to keep an eye on the month. I used a calendar and tracker combo for a while but found I didn’t flip back to it often enough to keep up with the tracking I wanted to do. So I moved to more of a monthly brain-dump and gratitude log – with the date specific items and tracking moving to a weekly spread.
- Then set up your weekly spread, if you’re using one. Daily spreads will be created as you go.
- Brain dump. Jot down a list (collection) or doodle a bit. Take notes in a meeting in the middle of your daily task section. Just use it and watch how your productivity soars!
- Log your pages in the Index as you go.
- Beware of Pinterest and Instagram/Facebook. There are huge, growing communities of Bullet Journalists and many of them feature VERY talented artists. This is great for ideas but can be a serious rabbit hole you may not want to go down right away.
- Your bullet journal can be as plain and functional or as colorful and artsy as you like. HOWEVER – I see MANY people posting in these groups that they’re simply too nervous to start for fear of messing up or that they are ripping out pages because they made a mistake! This is a TOOL for you to use to make your life more streamlined. Period. If any part of it is causing you stress you need to stop and reevaluate!
- Periodically, stop and reevaluate regardless. Over the last 16 months, I’ve tried many different layouts and I switch things around regularly. This flexibility is SO awesome to have, especially as I transitioned from a corporate job to working for myself. A new layout is literally as easy as flipping the page – no more year’s worth of pre-printed inserts, boxing me in or a giant waste because I changed my mind (again).
And that’s it! I’m on my 3rd Bullet Journal and love the simplicity and organization I’ve gained with this method that costs only pennies to try out! It’s truly been a game-changer for me and I hope it works well for you, too.
How about you guys? Have you finally found #plannerpeace like me? Have you tried the Bullet Journal method/system? What do you think? And if you have any questions, please drop them in the comments – I’ll get back to you ASAP!