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How to Bullet Journal and Organize Your Life (A Step-By-Step Guide)

How to Bullet Journal and Organize Your Life (A Step-By-Step Guide)
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Bullet journaling is a wonderful way to escape from the incessant digital inputs that have come to dominate our existence today. Everywhere we turn there is a screen — on the bus, on the train, at our desks and in store windows. No matter where we turn, there’s a screen full of information. It can feel overwhelming.

A well-organized bullet journal offers some relief. It can contain everything you need to keep you organized. The best thing about a bullet journal is you need no batteries, you do not have to decide between dark or light mode and aside from the cost of a simple notebook and a pen, it is very cheap to maintain. No annual subscriptions or apps to buy.

So, how to bullet journal? Here’s your step-by-step guide:

How to Set up a Bullet Journal?

The beauty of creating a bullet journal for yourself is you have complete freedom in how you set it up, organize it and what kind of notebook you use. The internet is full of ideas and suggestions on how to set one up, but the best journals are ones you create yourself, after all, we are all different and we all have different things we want to record.

I exercise a lot and like to keep a record of what exercise I did, how it felt and how hard I pushed myself. Others like to keep a daily list of two or three things they are grateful for or track their thoughts and feelings. What you record is entirely up to you.

Okay, so how do you go about creating your very own bullet journal?

The Items You Need

A sturdy notebook. Ideally, you should get yourself a hardback notebook. Your bullet journal is going to go with you everywhere and you are going to be stuffing it into your bag. It will need to be tough to stand up to everything you will throw at it.

You should also pay particular attention to the size. Remember, your journal should go with you everywhere you go, so it needs to be easily transportable. A5 size is the more common size and A5 sized notebooks will fit into almost any bag comfortably.

Another consideration is the kind of paper you will use. Blank, lined or squared? In the past, I have preferred squared paper because it helps keep the symbols for my daily to-do list in a clean vertical line (more on symbols later.) These days, I use lined paper.

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And of course, there is the kind of pen you use, a pen you love writing with. You want to love writing in your journal and that means the pen you use is important. I write with a fountain pen—there’s something wonderfully old-worldly about writing in fountain pen—but you may prefer a gel pen or a simple biro.

For the more creative of you, different color pens may also be a factor. The fantastic thing about a bullet journal is you can use whatever colors you want for the different parts of your journal. Blue or black for your daily to-dos, red for your objectives for the day.

My system is simple. I have a gorgeous green ink for writing in and I use a pencil for checking off tasks and adding additional notes to writing I want to add extra information to.

The Setup

Okay, now you have your tools. A sturdy notebook and a pen you love writing with. What to put into your bullet journal?

If you are completely new to bullet journaling, then the bullet journal website , created by Ryder Carroll—the creator of the bullet journal—will give you everything you need to get started.

However, the power of a bullet journal is you are in complete control. Unlike an app on your phone or computer, there are no constraints. You get to decide how to layout your journal, what information you keep in there and how you organize your lists and notes.

Below are the basics so you can get started quickly, but always be willing to try out different ways, you want to create a method that works for you and the best way to do that is to experiment with different layouts.

An Index

This is a content’s page where you keep a list of the page numbers for all your key information.

Imagine you have an idea for a new business while sitting in a coffee shop and you pull out your journal and write down the idea. In six weeks, it will be time-consuming to find that idea. To overcome this, you create an index at the front of your notebook and you can add the idea you had plus the page number so you can find it quickly when you need it.

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Give yourself enough space for your index. At least two pages, four is usually a safe number to make sure you have plenty of space to write everything down.

The Monthly Calendar

At the start of each month, write out the days of the month. You can add the days as well if you wish. For example, down the left-hand side of the page, you would write out:

  • 1-M,
  • 2-T,
  • 3-W
  • 4-T
  • 5-F

At the side of each day, you can add key appointments or events so you can easily see what’s happening and what happened.

The Monthly To-Do List

The next page is for the key tasks you want to complete that month. Think of this as a master monthly task list.

The advantage of having this list is it gives you an area where you can plan out your month and decide what objectives you want to accomplish. It also means you have a page that you can refer to regularly to see how you are doing against your plan for the month.

The Daily Page

This is where you can get very creative. Just Google “bullet journal” and go to the images page and you will see some incredibly creative journal entries.

The advice I would give here is to start simple. Do not go mad. Here are the basics of what you will need on your daily page:

  • Your to-do list for the day
  • Your events for the day
  • An area for your notes and ideas

Over and above these essentials, you can add anything you like. In my journal, I keep an area to document the exercise I did for the day, how I felt and whether I pushed myself or not. I also have my two objectives for the day right at the top right so I have a constant reminder of the two things I will complete that day.

You can add things like the weather, a gratitude log, a mood tracker or even how many days before your next holiday.

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One thing I like to keep in my journal is a list of everything I did that day. I do this so I can track how productive I have been over time.

It can be easy to forget what work you did daily. Most productivity systems and tools focus on work that needs doing and then once the work has been done, it either disappears (if you use a digital system) or, is never documented.

Your Goals

Officially, this is not a bullet journal item, but for me, I like to write out my annual goals in every journal I write. Obviously, over time, you will fill up your journal and you will need to buy a new one.

I go through around three journals per year and every time I start a new journal, I write out the goals I have for the year. These are kept at the front of the journal.

I also keep space at the back of the journal for future goal ideas and I transfer these to every new journal I start.

Writing out my goals every time I start a new journal allows me to review my goals and keeps them in the front of my mind, so I can stay focused on what I have decided is important to me.

How to Use Your Journal Daily

Okay, now you have your journal set up, the question is how do you use it on a day to day basis?

At the beginning of the day, you write the date at the top of the page and underneath write out the tasks you need to complete that day. Underneath your tasks, write down your appointments and key events for the day. Leave the left-hand page blank for your notes and ideas as you go through the day.

As you go through the day and complete your tasks, you use symbols to indicate what happened:

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  • A simple “X” would show a task is complete (or you could just draw a line through the task)
  • A “>” means the task has been forwarded to another day (if you wish you can add the date you forwarded the task to)
  • A “< “ would indicate you have decided to postpone the task until next month

Tasks you did not complete that day, can be moved forward to the next day.

That’s all you need to do. However, how you check off your tasks, what information you collect and what notes you write is entirely up to you. This is the power of the bullet journal. It is your journal and you can design it and record the information you want.

Slavishly following someone else’s system will not work for you in the long-term. You want to be thinking about what you want to record and keep. Of course, that will change over time but you must make this journal yours.

The Weekly and Monthly Master Task List

Every week, you should review your master task lists to see what tasks you can complete that week. Some people like to have a weekly master task list at the start of each week, and this can be a great idea if you have a lot of tasks to complete each week.

Again, that is really up to you. The important thing is you review these lists frequently and add the tasks into your daily lists as and when you can.

The Bottom Line

Creating a bullet journal is easy and there are a lot of resources online that will give you ideas about what you want to record and how to design your journal.

A bullet journal is a wonderful tool to keep you organized and focused on what is important to you in a way you want to record it. It gives you a rest from screens. When set up correctly, your journal will give you everything you need to stay organized and become more productive. It can and does help you to become more self-aware and mindful about who you are and who you want to be.

The great thing about a bullet journal is you get the freedom to create your method and design. You get to choose the kind of notebook and pen you use and you will over time build an incredible history of your life.

More About Journaling

Featured photo credit: Devin Edwards via unsplash.com

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More by this author

Carl Pullein

Dedicated to helping people to achieve their maximum potential through better time management and productivity.

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Last Updated on July 21, 2021

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

More on Building Habits

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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