I am the author of three middle-grade children's books, and I blog on the side. My favorite topics are movies, writing, and pop culture.
Bullet journaling is a retro way of keeping organized in today's online world. There are a million videos, websites, and tutorials about starting and maintaining a bullet journal. Essentially, there is a basic guideline to follow, and after that, it’s up to you to personalize it and make it your own.
I started a bullet journal earlier this year, and it has been enormously helpful in keeping me organized in that old school, hipster way that I love and helps me to avoid sticking Post-It notes all over my house. However, there are some design choices that I have tweaked or plan to tweak with my next journal. Here are 10 tips that I came up with for anyone who has or is thinking of starting a bullet journal.
Simple Bullet Journal Designs
The Type of Journal to Use
My first bullet journal was a tightly bound, hard cover, 5x7 notebook. I think this is the perfect size. However, I would opt for a spiral-bound notebook so that you have a place to store your pen. My pen is always lodged into the page that I’m on. It can slide out of the journal easily and always keeps the journal propped open like a tent to the page I'm on.
Bullet Journal Key
The Page Listing Your "Key" Isn't Necessary After the First Week
Bullet journals use special symbols to keep track of events and organize tasks. This is the first page that you create in your journal. Not only does it fill up the easiest page to get to, but you can memorize the symbols in a matter of seconds or even make your own. So, creating a key that explains to you what every symbol means is useless. After all, bullet journals are generally for your use only. No one else is going to need to study it later to understand its meaning. Most tasks and events are self-explanatory, and their symbols are very familiar. So, there is no need to waste space with this page. It won’t be going into my next journal.
Bullet Journal Index Tutorial
The Index Isn't Necessary Either
The Index section makes numbering your pages worthwhile and helps you to locate specific pages easily. However, it’s not a section that I use often. Normally, I keep my journal on the most current page that I am on and don’t refer to previous pages very often. So, I don’t think I’ll be so meticulous about indexing every single page of the journal, only the important pages that I will need to refer to later. The weekly pages for each month can be grouped together, and specific information should be referenced more specifically, such as my “things to buy” list, which is a page that I’m always altering and need to get to often.
Creative Collections Page
Placement of the Collections Pages
Most of the bullet journal tutorials that I watched before starting mine said to create two pages titled “Collections” after each month. However, I think I’ll make collections its own section in the front of my next bullet journal and dedicate a large number of pages to it. I like the thought of keeping all of my lists together instead of sorting through each month’s to find the one list I’m looking for.
Bullet Journal Setup
Make Your Monthly Pages in Advance
This is just personal preference of course, but in my opinion, a bullet journal is supposed to keep you organized and on track, not suck up your free time designing and decorating it each week. So, I always make my pages a month in advance. My journal isn’t intricately designed, but I do like to set aside time to make it neat and a bit colorful. It’s a nice opportunity to have a task that is both organizational and artistic, and it keeps me from feeling rushed to plot out the next week’s charts as the current week comes to an end.
The “ >” Symbol Isn’t Helpful
Besides the bullets, the basic rules of the symbols are meant to mark tasks as either complete, cancelled, or postponed. The “>” symbol is most commonly used for postponed tasks. Then, you can move the task to another day or month. The purpose is to track which tasks you are putting off and figuring out if it really needs to be done if it keeps getting postponed.
This is not helpful to me. If I want to postpone a task now, I just cross it off and then move it to the next available day. The symbol around the bullet is distracting, and I don’t find myself scrolling through past pages to see what I’ve been putting off (believe me, I know what I’m putting off). So, if you are a forward thinker, this symbol is not for you.
A great spiral journal for bullet journaling.
Overlap the Months on your Weekly Calendar
The largest chunk of your journal is going to be your weekly tasks. These are labeled by the day of the week and date. However, most months do not end on the last day of the week. So, you have to decide whether to let the new month overlap onto that week’s page or to start a new page starting on the first day of the month. I prefer the former.
For example, if the month of January ends on a Wednesday, I finish plotting out that week with February 1st, 2nd, and 3rd. I feel like it’s more important to see the whole week ahead of you than worry about February events bleeding through in your January section.
Bullet Journal Supplies
Use Appropriate Materials
Making your bullet journal colorful sounds like a job for markers. I bust out every Sharpie I own when I make my new pages and come up with a different color scheme and font design for each month. However, Sharpies bleed through my pages, and they can overlap the designs you make on back-to-back pages. So, I would stick with colored pencils, or buy a journal with very thick paper to avoid this messy look.
Bullet journal design tutorial.
Leave Room for Extra Tasks Each Week
Sometimes there are tasks that you want to do on a particular week, but you’re not sure what day you’re going to do them yet (ex. I might want to wash my car one day of a particular week, but I don’t know which day my schedule and the weather will allow me to do this). I started to write these tasks down in the header of my weekly page and cross them off as if they were completed throughout the week. However, I started to devote the extra space on the second page of my weekly schedule (where usually just Friday, Saturday, and Sunday tasks would go) to a space beneath Sunday as an “Other” section. I can then move them up into a particular day as I plot out the week or just “x” them out as they are completed in that section.
Don’t Carry It Around With You
Now, this seems to defeat the purpose of keeping a bullet journal, but there are already so many things that we carry around with us all the time: phones, purses, wallets, etc. I prefer to leave my journal in my bedroom and whenever I want to add or subtract to it, I go to the journal. If I’m not home, I scribble it down on a piece of paper and take it home to pencil into my journal later. Even though I mainly use it as a planner and am not writing private thoughts into my bullet journal like some people do (which is encouraged in most tutorials), I take the title of “journal” very seriously and feel that it is not something that I should carry around with me. Keeping it in one place maintains its condition and makes for one less thing to carry around.
Do you own a bullet journal? Share your tips and tricks below!
Questions & Answers
Question: Do you, the writer of this article, use brush pens in your bullet journal?
Answer: I do but not in my bullet journal.
Dina AH from United States on May 04, 2018:
I have been incorporating my bullet journal since August of last year and it really is a game changer. For me, I use it to track my productivity as someone with a mood disorder. It helps me a lot when I discuss my progress with doctors. But, I also like it as a release for anxiety and as a way to reflect on my days. I'd love to hear (read?) more about your favorite pages, ways you personalize your journal, and what insights you have gathered through the journal!