I am an organized soul.
Really, I am. Certainly my life and surroundings do not always reflect that, but it’s something I’m constantly striving for – a sense of order, a sense of having a teeny bit of control over some small areas of my life.
Running a household is serious work that requires serious planning and organization, especially if you are cooking and preparing real food. I don’t take this role lightly. Without structure and planing, we end up spending money on convenience items that we cannot afford and quite frankly, our family life falls into chaos in an alarmingly short amount of time. The budget gets broken, stress levels rise and everyone loses.
We literally cannot afford to be disorganized!
Over the years, I have tried many different methods of organizing my schedule, home, and meals, all with varying degrees of success. Yet, I could never make any one system stick.
The Bullet Journal
This past winter, a friend of mine, who shares my love for organization, pulled out a notebook to show me. It was full of little notes, symbols and lists. She introduced me to the concept of “The Bullet Journal.”
The what?!? It sounded a little intimidating to me. Was this some kind of rigid organization system that required structure and perfection?
Actually, it turned out to be the opposite.
I went home and did a little research. The concept of the “Bullet Journal” was created by Ryder Carroll as a simple, yet effective way to manage time, ideas and a schedule. Be sure to check out his website, Bullet Journal, for an overview of the concepts and basic design of a Bullet Journal. As it says on the website:
“The Bullet Journal is a customizable and forgiving organization system. It can be your to-do list, sketchbook, notebook, and diary, but most likely, it will be all of the above. It will teach you to do more with less.“
On Carroll’s website, you can find all the information you need to get started and even purchase an actual journal. I highly recommend you start there before beginning a Bullet Journal. Watch the helpful introduction video here.
A quick Google search led me to loads of other helpful websites of others that have embraced the Bullet Journal concept and made it their own. Be careful. There are some avid Bullet Journalers out there who make their Bullet Journal quite literally a work of art – they are absolutely breathtaking and impressive…and completely intimidating at times.
I quickly learned to appreciate what others do, but not feel any pressure to make my Bullet Journal look like theirs. This is MY journal – I can do whatever I want.
There is no “right or wrong” way to do it.
An Analog System in a Digital World
I’ve become a bit of a Bullet Journal evangelist since I started 6 months ago. I can’t help but rave about it! Honestly, I’m not sure how I functioned without it.
Some people seem skeptical when I explain the concept to them (which is totally fine!). The question I get most often from people is “Why would you spend time writing things down? Why not just use your phone?”
It’s a valid question.
If there is one thing I have learned over the years, it’s that every person operates in a different manor. Each person’s brain works differently, each person has strengths and weaknesses in certain areas. And this is a good thing. Thank goodness we’re not all the same! We can’t expect one organizing system for work for everyone.
For example, I’m a “hands-on” person. I draw, I write, I doodle.
I need the feel of paper and pencil.
This is how I learn, how I process information and ideas, how I organize thoughts (and yes, I wrote out the framework for this post on paper before typing it because I just can’t organize my ideas on a screen!). Technology is a weakness for me because so much of it is abstract and goes against my learning style. An organization system that relies on screens has no appeal for me. I need to write, to physically hold a pencil and write on actual paper.
Hand-writing may seem old-fashioned and obsolete, but recent studies have proved otherwise. Studies of note-taking habits in college students have discovered that students who take notes by hand (as opposed to typing on a laptop/device) display increased comprehension, information retention, and ability to grasp new concepts. No one knows exactly why, but it seems that writing by hand engages the brain in a different way.
Technology is a wonderful tool for many tasks, but it is not always the best choice for everyone.
I know many people have great organizing/scheduling systems on their computer/phone/tablet. If that is working for you, that is awesome! But if you are a more hands-on person, like me, the Bullet Journal might be worth a shot.
What IS a Bullet Journal?
As stated above by Ryder Carroll, a Bullet Journal can be whatever you need it to be. Most people use it to organize their time and as a “To-Do” list, but it’s completely flexible.
- Need a place to keep track of dates, appointments, birthdays?
- Need a place to make a “To-Do” list?
- Need a place to make a weekly/monthly Menu Plan and Shopping Lists?
- Need a place to keep track of quotes, verse or ideas?
- Need a place to journal about your day?
- Need a place to keep track of your progress on your training regimen?
- Need a place to jot down all the books you want to read?
- Need a place to make lists/charts/goals?
The Bullet Journal can do all these things and much, much more. Everything will be in one place, instead of scattered on random pieces of paper.
Getting Started: Choose Your Journal
There are many options out there, including “THE” Bullet Journal on the Bullet Journal website. Certainly, you could use any old notebook you find laying about the house. I started this way, just to make sure I liked the system before investing in a more expensive journal, and this might be the way for you to start too.
However, I highly recommend taking time to search for a journal that appeals to YOU. Any organization system will not work if you don’t use it! Choose a journal that you LOVE, something that makes you happy, that you WANT to use. My journal lives on my kitchen counter, so I made sure to pick something I wanted to look at all the time.
I went to a few bookstores to check out journals and in the end decided to order the Leuchtturm1917 Notebook with a hardcover and dots (a grid pattern). The Moleskine journals/notebooks were my second option, but I wanted something with a sturdy hard cover, since I would be stuffing the journal into my purse all the time. I take it everywhere with me, just like my cell phone.
It also has two page marker ribbons, an elastic closure and a pocket in the back. Since it didn’t have a place to hold a pencil, I simply hot- glued a ribbon in a loop to the back cover.
The grid pattern (dots) in the journal is handy for making charts and calendar pages, but some people prefer a lined journal.
Choose Your Writing Utensil
Again, choose something you love and that you want to use! If you look at photos of Bullet Journal pages online, you will see that many people use beautiful colored pens, pencils and markers. Some people use a plain pen…and some people, like me, go way old school and simply use a pencil.
As a recovering perfectionist, it’s important for me to be able to erase things. In fact, I erase in my journal all the time – it helps to keep my journal flexible and ever-changing to meet my needs!
I wish I had more time to use color and make my Bullet Journal more beautiful, but at this point in my life, it is definitely more utilitarian than decorative. For some, the Bullet Journal could provide a much needed artistic and creative outlet.
Create Your Modules
Here is where you may want to take some time to explore the Bullet Journal website and watch the video. There are 4 basic Modules that create the structure of the Bullet Journal, according to Ryder Carroll: The Index, The Future Log, The Monthly Log and the Daily Log.
(Again, the Bullet Journal is a flexible system for you, so be sure check out how other people have created these Modules – you may find one that works for you, or you may need to come up with your own. There is no right or wrong!)
Here is a peek at my Bullet Journal. I don’t follow all the “rules” on the Bullet Journal page, but found what works for me.
The Index helps you record where your entries are located so you’re not paging through the journal to find what you need. Every time you start a new page, you record it in the Index.
The Future Log is your main calendar. Use this to make plans months in advance (next time I will only do 2 months per page, to give myself more room to record upcoming events).
The Monthly Log is a more detailed calendar, along with a set of goals/tasks to be accomplished that month. Here I deviated greatly from Carroll’s Monthly Log. I break up each day into “Morning”, “Afternoon” and “Evening” so that I can see at a glance what parts of the day I have open. I’m grateful for Boho Berry for sharing this design idea!
The Daily Log is for day-to-day use, to keep track of the daily “To-Do” list and daily events. Carroll encourages people to create their Daily Log as they go or the night before, instead of setting up a bunch of days ahead of time. Again, I deviate here and have created more of a “Week at a Glance” module – there is space under each day of the week that I fill out the night before. If I know I have an appointment on a certain day of the week, I can write that in ahead of time, but the actual “to-do” items are added the night before.
I also have a space in the Daily Log called “To Do This Week”. At the beginning of each week, I look at the Monthly Log goal/task list and decide which ones will be tackled that week. Then I try to schedule which day that task will be taken care of.
Along the side, I have a column called “Today’s Schedule”. This is my hour-by-hour planner. I don’t use it every day, but if I’m having a particularly full day or have lots to accomplish, I use this to keep me on track and help me figure out what I can realistically tackle in one day. Everything is written in pencil so it can be erased at the end of the day and reused the next day.
The Daily Log is what really helps me keep my sanity. It’s the workhorse of the Bullet Journal.
Create Your Bullets
When creating your Daily Log, you will use symbols or signifiers to keep track of everything. Here is where the little symbols come into play and where the name “Bullet Journal” comes from.
A “bullet” or dot is put in front of each task.
Once that task is completed, it is “X”-ed out.
If the task is not completed, it is “migrated” or moved to the next day, represented by a arrow symbol. For example, if I don’t get around to “Pay Bills” on Thursday, it gets moved to Friday… and so on until I actually complete the task. Writing it over again reminds me I can’t ignore that task! If the task was not vital or worth moving to another day (such as an article you wanted to read, but it’s just not going to happen), you can simply put a line through it – that task is dead.
An “O” represents events.
A “-“ represents notes, thoughts, or ideas.
“*” or a star can be placed in front of anything that is of vital importance.
Feel free to make up your own symbols and signifiers.
Of course, this is YOUR Bullet Journal and you can do whatever you want. I found all these symbols to be overly complicated – now I simply stick with a bullet point for just about everything.
Create Your “Extras”
Spreads, lists, collections, charts… whatever you want to call them, you will probably want to add a few to your Bullet Journal. I advise you to take it slow and not get carried away with adding all sorts of of lists at first. You may find that you don’t really use them.
Here are a few extras that have proved to be helpful for me, that I DO use on a regular basis:
- Menu Plan and Shopping List: As a Real Foodie, cooking and preparing food is a HUGE part of my life. At the beginning of each week, I sit down and draw a new chart and menu plan. I created a system that works for me – I plan breakfasts, dinners and what food prep needs to be done the day before. At the bottom is my shopping list and a list of foods that I need to make that week to keep things running smoothly (usually foods to pack in lunches or for easy breakfasts). I usually shop on Tuesdays, so if I think of something later in the week that I need to buy, I write it on the list, circle it and move that item to next week’s Shopping List after I have created it.
- Freezer Inventory: We either buy meat in large quantities directly from local farms (beef and pork) or produce/hunt it ourselves (chicken and venison). As a result, at times we have 1/4 of a cow, half a hog, 30 whole chickens and an entire deer in our freezer at the same time. I keep track of it in my Bullet Journal so that when I’m out grocery shopping, I know exactly what cuts of meat I have available to work with.
- Health Goals Tracker: I’ve discovered that if I want to make changes, I need some sort of accountability. A chart to track my goals is very helpful and allows me to see actual progress. As you can see, I was not perfect and missed checking some things off, but perfection is not the goal! Improvement is!
- Books to Read: I’m constantly getting recommendations about books to read. Since I always have my Bullet Journal with me, it’s easy to whip it out and jot down the title. When I’m at the library, I can pull out the list and find the books. I also have a list of Children’s Books to Read to my kids.
- Books Read: As an avid reader with like-minded friends (I’m usually reading 3-4 books at the same time, generally non-fiction), I’ve found it very helpful to keep track of books so I can refer back to them and share as needed.
- Movies to Watch: We have “Family Movie Night” on Fridays, so we’re always looking for good content. I went to a few websites that listed the best family movies and jotted them down on our list.
- To Buy: This is where I write down random items we need to purchase in the near future . When my husband needs to spend a few bucks more on Amazon to get free shipping, we check the list and add those to the cart. I can add items whenever they come to mind.
- Long-term Project List: We live in an 1880’s farmhouse that hasn’t been updated since the 1940’s. There are so many projects to work on that we get overwhelmed and discouraged sometimes. We wrote everything down and it’s encouraging to see those “X”s that remind us we ARE making progress.
- Quotes: I used to write down verses and quotes on note cards or in notebooks and as a result, I have a gigantic pile of random pieces of paper or quote hidden away in random notebooks… and can never find what I’m looking for. Now they are all in one place!
- Musings/Ideas: Whenever a project idea pops into my head or I run across a website/company I want to remember, I jot it down on this page.
The Pros and Cons of the Bullet Journal System
Of course, there is no perfect organizing system for everyone, but I feel the Bullet Journal can be a good fit for many people. Like all things in life, it has pros and cons.
- Customizable and flexible: The Bullet Journal can be whatever you need it to be. You are not constrained by the layout of ready-made planner, calendar, etc.
- Soothing/meditative: Creating, writing, designing and planning can be very helpful for some. There is something glorious about creating order from chaos, feeling like you’ve got your ducks in a row.
- Good for both Left (Logical) and Right (Creative) brained people: The Bullet Journal offers both structure and flexibility, making it a viable choice for all brain types.
- Portable: You choose the size and style of your journal. I made sure it was easy to fit in my purse. My journal goes everywhere with me, just like my cell phone. In fact, I often place my phone inside my journal – they live together.
- Time Consuming: Let’s face it. It takes time to write things out and it takes time to create charts, graphs, calendars, etc. Some people have solved this issue by making photo copies of regularly used charts (like a Menu Plan template) and simply pasting them onto a page. Personally, I don’t mind the time it takes – sitting down and writing/creating helps me process ideas and organize my thoughts. Scribbles That Matter has created a bullet planner with the basics already drawn in, if starting from scratch is not for you.
- Not easily shared with others: There are some digital planning/organizing systems that allow you to share with the whole family. I can see how that would be a great fit busy families. The Bullet Journal really works best for one person.
- Have to actually remember to use it: Like all organizing systems, it won’t work if you don’t use it. This is why I recommend choosing a journal and writing utensil that you love, something that you really want to use!
Some Bullet Journal Options
You can use journals with grid lines or dots (or again, just lined paper to initially try it out). I took a quick look at Amazon reviews, so in case you don’t love the original bullet journal, here are some others people appreciate:
- Essentials Grid-Lined Notebook (folks mentioned that laying flat is a good feature of a bullet journal, also that this one has nice thick pages that don’t bleed through)
- Leuchtturm with Grids (many love it, one 3-star review said that the pages bleed with markers, and it’s pricey, although the same company that makes the official Bullet Journal)
- Moleskine Dotted, Soft Cover (a less expensive option, but thin pages according to reviews – no good for markers or felt tip pens, but others loved it)
- Scribbles That Matter in A5 and B6 have a dedicated following and are very responsive to customer feedback.
A System That Works
While the Bullet Journal is not a “magic bullet,” it IS possible that it could transform your life and bring a sense of order from chaos. It may not be the right system for everyone, but if you have been struggling to find something that works for your unique personality, maybe this is it!