Why starting a Bullet Journal is the best thing you can do in 2017 – Including why It’ll skyrocket your productivity
In this modern digital world, there are 100’s if not 1000’s of ways that you can stay organised. We have an abundance of apps, software and websites that all aim to help us stay organised, stay on track but more importantly for them, stay online. For years I’ve struggled with organisation, not just with my business but with my personal life too. Anybody that knows me will know that I’m always late, usually miss appointments and generally am a mess when it comes to these things.
This, however, is no longer the case, all thanks to a handy little piece of stationery that fits into my backpack.
My Bullet Journal.
What is a Bullet Journal?
A Bullet Journal doesn’t have to be a specific type of journal or diary. Bullet Journalling is a style of journalling developed by Ryder Carroll who is a digital product designer living in Brooklyn, New York. Dubbed an analogue system for the digital age, Bullet Journalling uses a few key styles to help you document and customise your journal to how you want it.
Ryder sees it as an evolving, adaptable practice meant to be self-curated as you determine what works best for you.
Do I need to buy a specific type of journal?
A Bullet Journal is simple, you can get any type of traditional journal if you like, but personally, I have loved using the one recommended by Ryder. This type of journal is a Leuchtturn1917, it was designed specifically with Bullet Journalling in mind and uses dotted lined paper. The size I use is A5 which I find perfect as a portable diary whilst travelling whilst also being big enough to fit my all my thoughts and content.
You can get hold of the recommended Journal and the one I use below:
How does a Bullet Journal work?
It’s simple really, all you need is a notebook and a pen.
Bullet Journalling is split up into 4 main components. Think of your Bullet Journal as a framework, these different components help you quickly and simply organise every aspect of your life.
The four main components to a Bullet Journal are:
- Modules – The Index, Future Log, Monthly Log, Daily Log.
- Rapid Logging
Sound confusing? Don’t worry I’m going to walk you through what each of these 4 components are and how to implement them into your Bullet Journal.
Excited? Good! I can’t wait for you to get started.
Let’s go through the different steps on how to start a bullet journal.
How To Start A Bullet Journal
Step 1 – Understanding the most important thing about a Bullet Journal
The Bullet Journal template is just that. You can call it whatever you like: a framework, a guidebook or a template. What’s truly magical about a Bullet Journal is that it is completely up to you how you fill it out!
There is a whole community online, through websites like Pinterest that are dedicated purely to Bullet Journalling and customising the framework that was set up by Ryder Carroll. It has turned into something beautiful that I don’t even think Ryder could have anticipated. There are so many amazing Bullet Journal designs online.
You have Bullet Journals out there that are crazily creative, with drawings and pictures and beautiful designs (see above). Then you have Bullet Journals like mine (aka the less creatives!)
What’s great is it doesn’t matter if you are creative or if you just write page titles, your journal is your journal and you can design it however you like.
The reason I mention this is in the first few weeks of having my own Bullet Journal I was beating myself up for the fact that I couldn’t draw or design my journal as nicely as the ones I’d seen online. Don’t worry about that. It’s for your eyes only.
Hell, if you want it to be plain as can be or hugely colourful and full of doodles, go wild in your own way! As long as it’s efficient
TLDR: It’s your Bullet Journal, it’s a framework. Design it and customise it to how you like, and go crazy!
Step 2 – Modules, your framework of your Bullet Journal
When you begin your Bullet Journal one of the best things to do is setup your framework. These are the different Modules that you will use whilst journalling and can help you structure your time very effectively. I personally follow a very similar approach to Ryder with my design but have borrowed a few design ideas from Pinterest.
Modules are your building blocks to your journal and a more organised life. Ryder describes modules as this:
“Modules are methods designed to help collect and organize specific kinds of entries. The power of the Bullet Journal is that you can mix and match these modules to best suit your needs.” – Ryder Carroll.
The four main types of modules that are in almost every type of Bullet Journal are The Index, Future Log, Monthly Log, Daily Log.
Let’s get to know them a little better.
Ahh, the Index. Your eternal glossary to your new and improved, organised life. The Index is what makes bullet journals productive, intelligent and generally so easy to use. The Index brings all of your pages together. As you add different pages, collections and topics throughout your Bullet Journal your Index will be your reference point to being able to easily find the content.
The Index is simple to fill out; simply add the topics and their page numbers of your collections as you go. This allows you to quickly and easily find and reference your topics at any point.
Some collections are repeated and can be spread throughout your Bullet Journal. These topics can be indexed as: ‘Topic Name: 4-9, 17, 27-34, etc…’ Some examples of topics that get repeated might be: Drawings, Shopping lists or Ongoing projects. Don’t worry about leaving enough space for one topic so it’s all in one place. You’ll still be able to find it all easily.
The Future Log
This module is designed to store items that either need to be scheduled months in advance (think: your brother’s wedding) or things that you want to get around to someday (space flight and what-not).
There are tons of amazing inspirational future log designs that you can select from multiple sources. Ryder suggests setting up your Future Log by graphing the pages by a number of months you’ll need. Two equally-spaced lines horizontally across a two-page spread will create a six-month calendar view, Very handy. Just like the above example.
The Monthly Log
Shockingly, the monthly log helps you organise your month. I know you never saw that one coming, huh? Again, there are tons of different designs for a monthly log but what I like to do is have a double page spread. On the left-hand page I use it as a calendar, whilst the right-hand page I use for tasks.
The calendar page is great because at a glance you get a great overview of the month. To setup my calendar page, I title the top of the page then I have the dates down the left-hand side followed by the first letter of the corresponding day. So, for example, Thursday the 17th will be ‘17T’.
It’s worth leaving a column to the left of your dates in case you want to add a signifier (more on signifiers in the next section.) In your calendar section you can including events and brief tasks but this should only be a reference page.
The task section of the month is a great place to set yourself some goals and tasks to be completed for the month. It’s also where you will migrate tasks from the previous month.
I find the task page great to reference to every couple of days to make sure I’m on track with reaching and completing my goals.
The Daily Log
If you haven’t guessed what this is already, I’ll be a little surprised. The daily log is your go-to day to day use page throughout your journal. It’s where you will Rapid Log throughout the day and your Tasks, Events, Notes as they happen. Don’t worry about making a new page for each day entry, just add the next date where you left off on the previous day.
Quick Jobless Tip: I wouldn’t setup daily logs ahead of time. Create them the night before, or as you go along. You never know how much space you might need for a particular day.
Step 3 – Rapid Logging, what it is & how it saves you a ton of time!
When it comes to filling out your journal the greatest thing in my opinion that Ryder Carroll developed was rapid logging. Rapid logging was developed as note-taking and as traditional journalling takes time; the more complicated the entry is the more effort you have to put into it. The more effort that goes in, the more of a chore it becomes, the more likely you’ll either use it periodically or abandon it altogether.
Rapid logging is the solution to this. It consists of four components: topics, page numbers, short sentences, and bullets.
Topics & Page Numbers
The first step to any page when Bullet Journalling is to add a topic on the top of the page. You can choose to do a pretty design or just simple text, that’s really up to you.
Make sure to give your topic a little thought as this can help for clarity when writing your entry but also makes it easier when you index your page to know what the content is about. (More on indexing later.)
Once you’ve titled your topic make sure to number the page. As you start to fill out your Bullet Journal, try and get into the habit of titling and numbering your pages before you write the content.
Rapid logging relies heavily on the use of short-form notation paired with bullets. What I’ve found really useful with bullets is to create your own key at the front of your journal, this will help you as a visual reminder when you first start rapid logging.
Make sure that every bulleted item you put into your journal is in short objective sentences, this helps to make your rapid logging easier. The bullets will help organise your entries into three main categories: Tasks, Events and Notes.
These are represented by the humble bullet point/dot. These include any kind of actionable item such as ‘pick up cat food’ or ‘remind husband how awesome his breakfasts are’. The task bullet does most of your heavy lifting in the journal, so it also has three additional states:
- X = Task Complete (Cross out your dot with an X)
- > = Task Migrated (Bring your task forward to a new entry)
- < = Task Scheduled (Send your task to your future log to be scheduled for the future)
Events are represented by a Circle ‘O’ bullet. Events can be anything that can be scheduled like ‘meal out with work’ or can be logged after the event has happened such as ‘bought our house’.
With rapid logging, you want to make these event entries, no matter how emotion heavy or very personal as objective and brief as possible. The aim is to try and get all of the information down when rapid logging so your entry for ‘the cats latest injection’ shouldn’t have any more or less weight than ‘best friend’s wedding’.
What I’d suggest though is if you do have a lot to say about one of these events, just pick your next available page, title it and write about it in length.
You can spot a note in your rapid log with a dash ‘-’ bullet. Notes can include facts, thoughts and observations. Hell, you can put just about anything you fancy under a note.
Notes can be really handy for something you want to remember but doesn’t necessarily need any immediate action. These can be really handy for meetings, classroom notes or just when your friend came out with that hilarious quote you want to remember.
Signifiers are symbols that add extra context to your Rapid Log entries. I love signifiers because you can come up with your own variations based on what you think you’d use most frequently. Here is an example below of the signifiers I use in my rapid logging but feel free to come up with your own.
The signifiers Ryder suggests you can use are:
- Priority – This is represented by a “*” and is used to give a task priority for example: ‘pay of credit card by tomorrow’. You place signifiers to the left of your bullet, this makes them easy to pick out when scanning your list of open tasks.
- Inspiration – These are represented by an exclamation point ‘!’; mostly you will find these paired with a note. These can be amazing ideas, insights and personal mantras, guess you won’t lose these anymore! For inspiration, I use a heart, see above.
- Explore – Represented by an eye symbol; this is used when something requires further research, discovery or a little more delving into.
Step 4 – Collections
Collections are where you can really start to personalise your Bullet Journal. A collection is quite simply any page you create and can be anything from books to read, films to watch, shopping lists etc. There are some amazing suggestions on …you guessed it – Pinterest!
Some of my favourite collections in my journal are:
- 100-day habit tracker – This is a 4-page spread which I track 6 habits I’m trying to achieve every day. I got the inspiration for this tracker from Heath Armstrong’s 100-day habit tracker challenge.
- Budget Planner/Tracker/Notes – I have this over a 4-page spread and is helping me budget whilst travelling in a huge way!
- Bucket List – Probably my favourite collection page! Inspired by Sean Ogle’s posts on setting up a bucket list this page made me think about what I really wanted to achieve and already it has helped me strive to achieve these goals. (I managed to cook my first full roast dinner for my friends during my first-week travelling! Something I’ve been meaning to get around to for years.)
- Blog Schedule – This page I set up with a calendar and designed to help me keep track of what I’m scheduling and what I’ve already posted.
Get creative with your collections, in the next few weeks I’m planning to setup a ‘Celebrity Wall’ for people I meet whilst travelling to sign and leave a note.
Step 5 – Migration – pulling it all together
Ryder calls Migration the cornerstone of Bullet Journalling. This is what brings your Bullet Journal together and will help you to establish what is relevant, what is still important and what can be discarded.
Once you’ve reached your second month of Journalling, take a look at your previous entries. If you see any tasks that haven’t been updated, ‘X’ out the completed tasks and see if the remaining tasks are still relevant.
If a task is no longer relevant, strike it out including the task bullet. If the task still needs attention migrate it. Simply change your Bullet to a ‘>’ or ‘<‘.
- > = Task Migrated (Bring your task forward to a new entry)
- < = Task Scheduled (Send your task to your future log to be scheduled for the future)
If you’re moving your task forward, place it into your new Monthly Log. If your task needs to be scheduled for the future, place it into your Future Log.
It might seem like a lot of work to keep rewriting entries but that is the point. By rewriting what you’ve already written it makes you consider each item to see if it’s really worth your time. If you can’t be bothered to rewrite an item, chances are, you’re not going to complete it. Get rid!
The purpose of Migration is to figure out exactly what is worth your effort, to become aware of your own habits and patterns, and to separate the signal from the noise.
You’ve made it, time to get started!
Woohoo! Congratulations you’ve made it through the post. Still interested in starting a bullet journal? Click the link below to jump to Amazon to get your own Journal. I’ll also include a link to the pens I use with my Journal, I find them amazing to use whilst travelling. They are compact and give me access to a huge amount of colours, who doesn’t like more colour!