How to Build Your BuJo
Need to Get Organized?
Is your life a series of missed appointments, late arrivals, forgotten deadlines, misplaced tasks, and multi-colored Post-It reminders growing around your computer screen like mold on cheese?
You’ve tried calendars, whiteboards, fancy notebook organizers, and maybe even waded through the Getting Things Done book, but each system seems unsustainable or doesn’t meet your needs?
You might be a good candidate for Bullet Journaling.
What’s a Bullet Journal?
There is an actual home on the web for the Bullet Journal. It is, appropriately, BulletJournal.com, which bills it as “The analog system for the digital age.”
Ryder Carroll codified the Bullet Journal system. What Ryder did was bring together various tools into a system that worked for him. What makes him unique is that he set up a website specifically for explaining his system and allowing others to share how they personalized his ideas. (Good Man, Ryder.) Today his site is Bullet Journal Central for the web.
If you never heard of a Bullet Journal before, watch Ryder’s short video introduction, below. This will give you the basics of Bullet Journaling.
As you saw on the video, a Bullet Journal, often shortened to BuJo, is a modularized system of calendars, daily logs, and personalized notes, all brought together into a notebook with an index and daily usage. It’s easy to learn. You don’t have to read a book to learn the system. (There isn’t one. Yet.)
What you need: a notebook (preferably a bound one, with a bookmark ribbon or two), and a pen and pencil. A ruler helps, too. If you’ve ever used a Moleskine or a similar notebook, you may have one or two lying around.
Selecting a Notebook
Any size notebook will do, but if you are planning to carry this around you should get a pocket or pocketbook-sized notebook. If you do all your work, planning and journaling at your desk, you may prefer a larger desktop sized notebook.
I’m using a hard-bound, pocket-sized (3.5 x 5.5 inch), Rhodia pocket “webnotebook” with a dot grid. (It’s similar to a Moleskine, but Rhodia’s paper is better quality.) A dot or square grid is better for drawing grids and guiding any other drawing or design you might want to do with your notebook.
Leuchtturm1917 notebooks have an advantage in that they are available in a dot-grid or regular grid AND the pages are numbered, but the dot-grid ones are harder to find in the pocket size and the Leuchtturms are slightly taller, filling the pocket a bit more. (Leuchtturm also makes a notebook specifically for bullet journaling in a desktop size.)
Moleskines are easy to find (office supply stores, big box stores, book stores and online) but a bit pricy for the quality, in my opinion. The dot grid is difficult to find, especially in the pocket size. See our guide on Alternatives to Moleskines for many more choices. Some people prefer Moleskine’s “cahiers” which are thin, softbound notebooks. If that hits your fancy, also check out the workmanlike Field Notes.
Some newbies prefer a wirebound notebook, which makes it easy to tear out pages and start things over again. However, if you want to keep your notebook in your pocket, like I do, the wires bend and can stab you or your clothing.
Other Practical Aesthetics
Unless you find the Leuchtturm1917 notebooks in the style you like, you’ll have to number the pages, either as you go or all at once. Or do 25-100 pages at a time. Your choice.
Being messy is OK. You don’t have to be artistic to use a Bullet Journal, but (as we will see) it won’t hurt, either. Just remember, the purpose of a BuJo is to organize your life and take notes and drafts. If you want to also express yourself artistically, go ahead, but it’s not required. Just remember not to get so hung up on the art part that you ignore the purpose of a BuJo.
The Basic Parts of a Bullet Journal™
Put it in the front or the back, your preference. If I used a Leuchtturm notebook with perforated pages in the back, I’d put the index in the front.
I prefer the back, like a book.
In my index, I keep calendar items on a separate page from my collections to make it easier to search for them. (I also use a 2-column index.)
2. Future Log
A 6-12 month calendar, set over 2 to 4 pages of your notebook. You draw it yourself. Keep it at the beginning to make it easier to find.
3. Monthly calendars
Most people just number the 28 to 31 days of each month down the side of the page. This works, except that a pocket notebook is too small for 31 lines.
What I do is paste in a copy of my Google Calendar for the month. (I export the month’s calendar as a PDF, then send it to my printer at about 42%) If you like a boxed format you might prefer this, even if it is a little bit ugly.
I also just started experimenting with a 2-page monthly spread with a folded page in the middle (between the two halves of the month) for notes. So far I’m liking it.
4. The monthly task list
The task list goes alongside the actual calendar. List the things you need and want to do, your goals, and reminders here. Appointments and deadlines go in the calendar.
5. Daily Pages
Daily pages are for tasks, events and notes. Here’s where the symbols (what typographers call “bullets,” hence the name) come in.
- Dots for tasks to do
- A circle for an event
- A dash for a note or list of what you did today
“Signifiers” can be used to add extra meaning to bullets
- A star for something important. (Chess players may prefer an exclamation point.)
- Enter the time for an appointment.
- Use a dollar sign to indicate an expense (if you are tracking expenses).
- Invent others as you need them.
- Angle brackets are used for migrating tasks, which we’ll talk about later.
Depending on the number of tasks, events and notes you keep daily, you can put several days on a page, or use a full page per day. Or two. (See, it’s flexible.)
Collections are, basically, notes that won’t fit in calendar pages. They can include:
- long-term task lists for a specific project
- writing drafts
- shopping lists
- homework assignments
- work assignments and/or tracking tasks delegated to others (especially those requiring follow-up)
- a list of goals, resolutions and ideas
- brainstorming lists for a project
- any other list: books to read, movies to watch, novels to write, worlds to save
- a personal journal or diary
- a sketchbook
Each collection gets listed in your index. This is important if you ever want to find it again.
Although Bullet Journaling emphasizes brevity (implied by the speedy “bullet” idea of a bullet journal), you can add notes, ideas, writing or blogging ideas, plots, or just writing exercises as you need. A Collection allows you to do any of these things, without cluttering up your monthly, weekly or daily pages with them – keeping the organizational part of your BuJo apart from the creative activities.
Some Optional Entries
I like to enter a weekly calendar to get an overview of each week. It’s not required for the Bullet Journal, but many users like to do this. Similar to a monthly calendar, put the calendar on the left side of a 2-page spread, and tasks, and reminders on the right. If this feels like too much duplication of effort, just use the monthly and daily pages. That’s fine.
A Habit Tracker can be used to encourage the creation of good habits, or just to track what you do on a daily basis. Writers might keep a log of words written each day, if that helps motivate you (or reach your goals).
Emotion Tracker or Happiness Meter
An Emotion Tracker is for those who want to keep in touch with their feelings or want to monitor their general mental health.
Just list at least one thing you are thankful for, each day. Positive thoughts are good. I try to have one once in a while, too.
This is my own unique addition. After each daily headline, I leave a line space specifically to check off my daily tasks. I call this a Status Bar. I also add an abbreviation for any habits I monitor. I add an abbreviation for activities: W for walking, R for reading, S for Study. A squiggle for writing. If you take vitamins or medication twice a day, add an AM and PM reminder to check off. You can use it to track anything you want to monitor daily, such as dieting, fitness, checking your email, or just draw an emoji to show how you’re feeling today.
If you are like me, the free-form method of bullet journaling might seem a bit too free. But don’t think you have to learn it all before starting. Just Start! It’s only a notebook. You can refine the look, the display, and what you want to add to it later. Keep it with you. Take notes. Be messy. If you sit down for a cup of tea or coffee, browse through your notebook. Write things down.
OK. That’s about it for the structure of the Bullet Journal. In the next post, we’ll talk about organizing your tasks in your journal and other ideas.
The Intro Video about using a Bullet Journal is available on bulletjournal.com and on YouTube.
All still images are by the author, Andrew Brandt, copyright © 2017.
The title image is an imagining of what “blogging” tools would look like in the 1960s. The closing image, likewise, shows tools for blogging in the 1920s.