A lot has changed about me since middle school, but one constant has been my love for paper planners. I loved getting those school-issued planners in middle school and high school. They always had those shiny, holographic covers that were textured so you run your fingernails over it and it would almost sing. I colour-coded my classes and homework assignments, added soccer and track practice or when my high school had their big rivalry games. Back then, it was the only way to stay organised, to plan ahead. (Maybe fancy adults had a palm pilot by that point, who knows.)
In my post-school life, I continued the paper planner trend, buying a yearly planner at Target. Whichever looked prettiest and best fit my needs. Eventually I was introduced to the Erin Condren Life Planner and used her planners for three or four years, costing over $200. I spent even more money on custom stickers off Etsy and I reached pique excitement when she partnered with Pure Barre for a new line of products while I was managing the Boulder studio.
There was a brief period in early 2017 when I thought I would make the switch to iCal. I spent ages adding everything into my iCal and syncing them between my phone and computer. I thought it would be life-changing. I would be able to make plans on the fly with just my phone in hand, knowing exactly what my schedule looked like since I never carried my planner around (since I never really carried a purse, or a large one at that). Brief, it was, though. And when a friend introduced me to the Bullet Journal, it was just the answer I was looking for!
I’ve been using a Bullet Journal for two years now and I’ve learned quite a lot about how I stay organised and my creative abilities. Toward the end of last year, I had really streamlined my BuJo, taking a very minimalist approach and using a page for every day. Earlier this year, my friend Emily inspired me to take a more creative approach to my 2019 BuJo and it has become therapeutic for me.
As I’ve shared more about my BuJo with my friends or on social media, I’ve gotten quite a few questions, certainly more than I expected. I thought I’d share some of the common misconceptions about bullet journaling and bust some of the myths that might be preventing you from starting your own BuJo.
YOU NEED A SPECIFIC (DOTTED) JOURNAL
Bullet Journaling simply refers to how you set up your journal, not what kind of journal you use. I use the LEUCHTTURM1917 A5 Notebook, which is dotted, but you can use any notebook or journal you want. It can be lined, dotted, graphed, or even blank. It can be new or old. It can be empty or half-full. This is entirely up to you.
I chose a dotted journal because it allows me to create lines, grids, and makes it really easy to space out my creations. I used to write between the lines in school when we used line paper for everything, so it works well for me.
YOU NEED TO FOLLOW THE RULES
Once you have whichever notebook or journal you want, focus on setting it up. You can use the four key concepts in bullet journaling, but you can also do your own thing. I’ve used the four concepts as a starting point, but definitely evolved to make things my own and make my bullet journal work best for me.
Index (the LEUCHTTURM1917 A5 Notebook already comes with one!) - It’s basically a table of contents. When you add something to your BuJo, add it to the index so it’s easily found.
Collections - What you add in your BuJo are your collections. You’ll have a future log, a monthly log, a daily log, and everything else. (Meal planning, lists, goals, habit tracking, sketches/doodles, notes, reviews, etc.) Everything is a collection and this is really where you get to customise it to best fit your needs.
Rapid-logging - This is the essence of the BuJo system and consists of bullets and simplifiers. You’ll have task bullets (do laundry, send birthday card, etc.), event bullets (meeting, yoga, dinner with friends, etc.), and note bullets (observations, thoughts, facts, other things you want to remember) Using the BuJo system, task bullets will look like this:
• Task - Precedes any Task you write down.
X Completed - Once you’ve completed a Task, mark it with a X
> Migrated - If you didn’t complete a Task, you Migrate it to another Collection.
< Scheduled - Tasks with specific dates in the future. These can be added to the Future Log.
Event bullets will be represented with a O (filled in when complete, or crossed off if cancelled). Note bullets will be represented with a dash.
Migration - On a regular basis, you need to look over your bullets and move them to future collections. If things were undone or simply scheduled for the future, you migrate them to a later date.
Here’s the thing to remember: No one is going to check your work. There is no BuJo police that are going to come after you if you make tweaks in the system to create something that best serves you. For example, even though you’re “supposed” to use a carrot (>) when you move a task, I use an arrow (→ ). Even though it’s recommend that you migrate your tasks at the end of the month, I do it daily because I keep my tasks lists (to-do list) with my calendar and create a task list for each day.
YOU NEED TO SET IT UP BEFORE YOU START
Honestly, I would consider this the biggest BuJo mistake you can make because I’ve been there. When I got my first Bullet Journal, I spent probably a week setting up the rest of the year (probably 9 or 10 months) in daily logs. (I think at this point, I was using a week per two-page spread, but I’m not positive because that BuJo is at my mom’s house in Colorado.) It ended up being the biggest waste of my time you could imagine and because of that, I really didn’t enjoy bullet journaling.
I hated the colour I chose for the dates and times. (Lime green. Why?!) I hated the format I chose because it mimicked planners I had used in the past, but didn’t best serve my needs. I didn’t have the space I wanted for other collections where I wanted them. I felt trapped!
YOU NEED TO STICK WITH WHAT YOU STARTED
On those same lines, I always recommend setting it up one month at a time. You are allowed to change your mind. You are allowed to reformat everything. You are allowed to create a system that works best for you. If you set up January and it’s not working, change it in February. (This is why you shouldn’t set it up all in one go.)
In my last BuJo, I used one page per day. I used the far right third of the page for my tasks and the rest as an hourly calendar from 6:00 to 23:00. I made note of special dates (birthdays, anniversaries) in the top right corner. Over all, it looked very minimalist (what I wanted) and it was simple to set up the day, but incredibly time-consuming to set up the entire month.
This month, I started a new journal and moved back to a two-page weekly spread for March. It cuts my space way down in terms of margins, hourly blocks, and list space, but I can outline an entire week in less than 10 minutes. However, I did commit to using a two-page weekly spread through the rest of the year since I counted out the number of pages I needed and then started my “notes” collection on the next page.
YOU NEED TO BE CREATIVE & ARTISTIC
Nope. Definitely not. I’m not very artistic (which is part of the reason I love having the dotted journal) and I do get envious when I see beautiful BuJo spreads on Instagram and Pinterest. But being creative or artistic certainly isn’t a pre-requisite. You don’t need to be a skilled artist or calligrapher. You just need to create something that works for you. (And maybe a Bullet Journal isn’t what’s best for you. Maybe you’re best served by a planner that has already been set up for you. Or maybe you’re even one of those people living in the future who uses the calendar on their phone and computer.)
I do firmly believe, though, that using a BuJo to its fullest potential might make you more creative and more artistic. You can doodle. You can practice. You can try new things. And if it doesn’t work out, you can start fresh on the next page.
YOU NEED FANCY PENS OR MARKERS
Again, no. No one is going to tell you what you need to use to write in your BuJo. You can use the pen you accidentally took from your bank or that you picked up at a work conference. Though, I’d be willing to bet that if you’re using—or considering using—a BuJo, you probably have a favourite pen. I know I do!
There is a lot of information out there about what pens and markers people are using in their BuJo (I’ll tell you mine below). At least from what I’ve seen, Bullet Journalers on Instagram especially are happy to tell you exactly what they’re using in their photos or videos.
Those sorts of costs add up and if you don’t have the budget for it or the interest in it, you certainly don’t need to invest in a pack of brand new pens and markers like it’s almost the first day of school. And you don’t need to use the same pen(s) every time.
YOU NEED LOTS OF COLOUR
Last, but certainly not least, here’s your final no. There are a lot of colourful BuJo pages on Instagram and Pinterest but that does not need to be you if it’s not your style. (Remember, this is your style!) If you want to stick with a simple black pen for everything, go for it. If you just want to add in one or even a handful of colours, go for it! You do you!
Personally, I use black to set up my templates. (I learned from the lime green that definitely was not my style.) I love the minimalist vibes and simplicity of it. Just about everything else is colour coded though. I have colours for work, friends, family, household, travel, goals, my blog. I even have a colour for Luke’s calendar for things he does without me. So even though the set up is black, there is still colour on my pages because that’s what I want.
MY BULLET JOURNAL TOOLS
Like I said above, I use the LEUCHTTURM1917 A5 Notebook. My last two have been grey, but I’ve also had a black one and use a black one for our recipe book.
My aforementioned favourite pen is the Uni-Ball Signo Micro 207, which—to my knowledge—are not readily available in the UK. I bought a pack to bring back after Christmas and was very sad to discover that they’re not micro so too thick for my liking. The micro pens do bleed through a little in my BuJo.
I’ve loved PaperMate Felt Tip pens in my planner for years. Like my ball point pens, they do bleed through, but I don’t really mind. I currently have the 16+2 pack that I probably got in 2016 or 2017. I’ve seriously had this pack forever and only had to replace the two blacks, which is easy since they’re sold separately.
I recently got the Tombow Dual Brush Pens in primary colours and pastel colours. They’re quite new and I’ve been practising brush lettering separately, but I do like adding a bit of colour with them in my journal (they’ve basically replaced my 6 pack of highlighters) and they don’t bleed through, at least that I’ve found.
I also started adding a bit of washi tape to this iteration. The colours have no other meaning, I just picked patterns I like. For some reason I’m a bit hesitant to incorporate it a lot, but I like it here and there and especially on the edge of the pages to easily find where things start.
Finally, I use tipex and a triangular ruler. I’m not the type who is going to cross out something that was cancelled. I have to white it out and it has to be white out tape. Maybe that’s not true bullet journaling, but it’s my style! I also started using a ruler sometime last year to help my OCD mind because I couldn’t draw a straight line to save my life!
MY BULLET JOURNAL COLLECTIONS
At the very beginning of my BuJo, I have my check ins page. Here, I track my emotions with what I learned through a retreat and small group with my church in Colorado. I check in as sad, angry, scared, happy, excited, tender, ashamed, peaceful, hopeful, and/or grateful. They’re colour-coded separately than the rest of my journal with colours kind of associated with those emotions. (Red for anger, blue for sadness, etc.)
Next, I have my “content calendar” which is definitely a blogger term I roll my eyes at, but scheduling my blog posts is really helpful for me. I’ve started using colour-coded post it notes for each category on my blog (the colours are loosely based on the colours in the rest of my journal) to make it easier to reschedule posts. Before, I was going through a heck of a lot of white out and I couldn’t even write on some squares because I had changed my mind three or four times. It’s kind of inspired by the collaborative planning system used at work and it’s really working for me right now.
The last thing in the front of my journal is our meal planner. I have a box for each week through the end of the year and our “schedule” at the beginning. We fill it in on a weekly basis, though having it all already created (despite what I said above) makes it easy to add in events and special meals well in advance, like Thanksgiving! Because it’s such a basic template, I’m fine with not having the ability to change it for the rest of the year.
The middle of my journal is my monthly and daily logs. So far, I’ve only finished March, but I’m working on setting up April (with essentially no changes) now.
In the “notes section”, I have all my habit trackers. I used to separate them by month and have a column per habit, but now I’ve separated them by habit and have a column (or row or box) per month. I have TV trackers (one specifically for Game of Thrones since we were watching one episode per week for a while) and books to read. I have some other notes. I have a ton of blank pages to fill in the future. And the last 12 two-page spreads are reserved for monthly reviews, where I can track some stats (from my FitBit and my blog analytics), successes, things to look forward to or goals going forward, and more.
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