Getting Organized with a Bullet Journal

Learn how you can get your life organized with a Bullet Journal

As a mom, an educator, and a wife, I have a lot of things to keep track of. I did a pretty good job over the years, but I never felt like I had a concrete way of keeping up with it all. Everything was always spread around between different calendars, sticky notes, and apps, so it was hard to remember where everything was.

A friend at work showed me her bullet journal a few years ago, and I was really intrigued by the idea of it, so I started doing some research. Now, I’m completely hooked.

This post contains affiliate links, which means I make a small commission when you purchase through them (at no additional cost to you). Additionally, I am not sponsored by or affiliated with Ryder Carroll or Bullet Journal; I just think it’s a useful tool and wanted to share it with you.

What is a bullet journal?

To get an idea of what a bullet journal is (diehards use the term bujo), the first place to look is Ryder Carroll’s official Bullet Journal website. He’s the creator/inventor of the bullet journal, so this site has the original vision. He refers to it as a way to “track the past, organize the present, and plan for the future.” 

In a nutshell, a bujo is an analog method of organizing your life. When you set up your notebook, you start with an index so you can keep your pages organized and know where everything is at a glance. Then, you create your yearly, monthly, weekly, and daily entries as you go. You use symbols to differentiate between appointments, tasks, and events, and you “migrate” tasks and information you need to continue working on. You can also create collections and trackers for just about anything you need to keep track of. For example, maybe you want to track how much water you’re drinking, exercise, fertility, books you’ve read, notes about work, etc. I even do a reflection at the end of each week. The possibilities are endless.

Obviously, the above synopsis is brief. It doesn’t come close to encapsulating the awesomeness of the bujo or the nitty-gritty details, so take the time to explore the website after you read this post.

Caution: Pinterest

Ryder’s method is very minimalist. If you search for bullet journal ideas on Pinterest, you will be inundated with gorgeous, artistic spreads and layouts. The cool thing about these is that there are tons of different ideas to lay out your bujo than what Ryder presents in his original vision, which can be helpful for you. The downside is that most of them are presented at an almost unattainable level of prettiness. I’m artistic, but more along the lines of decorating Christmas trees and making mesh wreaths, and less so in the way of drawing. I found myself trying so hard to try to replicate the art I was seeing that the journal wasn’t working for me. I was focusing on the wrong things.

The point of the journal is to be functional. If you have the artistic chops (and time to invest) in making it look great, go for it. If not, or if you’re not sure, stick with the basics until you get a feel for it and how you want to organize yourself.

You can check out my Pinterest boards for ideas on Bullet Journaling.

Don’t worry about being perfect

When I started my bujo, I just went with what I read from Ryder and the things I saw on Pinterest. I had layouts for my year, each month, each week, and every day. After 3 years, I just have a weekly/daily layout, because I use my online calendars for everything else. It was too much for me to keep up with to update the journal and the online calendars every time something changed.

Not only that, but what my layout looks like has evolved as my needs have changed. If you page through my current notebook, you’ll see that I tried multiple layouts before I settled on the one I’m currently using. Have I messed up lines and drawing things out? Oh yeah. Have I hated layouts and started over? You bet. Imperfection is life. I’ve seen so many things online where people lose it if they have a flaw in their notebook. Get some whiteout tape and move on. If it’s horrible, flip the page and start over. 

A narrow weekly layout that I hated.
This was a new layout I tried this year. I hated it. Each day was too narrow and everything felt cramped. I stuck it out for the week, but was eager to get rid of it.

Your Journal

There’s no hard and fast rule about what kind of journal you have to use. Ryder has an official bujo you can buy, but you can use literally anything with pages…including something as simple as a spiral notebook. Personally, I use the Leuchtturm 1917 notebook with dot grid pages. It’s a good size for me, and comes in lots of pretty colors. Not only that, but it has a built-in index, a pocket in the back, and a couple of ribbons for marking pages. I like the dot grid because it helps me write in a straight line, because I stink at that. The dots are pretty light, so they aren’t a distraction. Some notebooks have actual gridlines, regular writing lines, or are completely blank. It’s up to you to choose what works best for you.

Pens

I did not realize there was a whole world of pen obsession until I started my bujo. People are very particular about weight, color, ink, etc. Personally, I like the Staedtler Triplus Fineliner because the ink flows nicely and it’s a thinner line. Plus, it doesn’t “ghost” and show through my pages. Again, a cheapo ballpoint pen you took from your doctor’s office will work just fine. If you want to go crazy and get something fancy, be my guest.

Ryder’s method is all done in black. For the first few years, I used one color for personal entries, a different for work, and another for my grad school, because it helped me to differentiate at a glance. Now that I’m done with school and down to just two big things, I’m back to just using black. It’s easier to only have to worry about carrying around one pen.

Accessories

Again, it’s easy to fall down the rabbit hole of accessories for your journal, so I’ll just mention a few that you might find useful. 

The first is a pen holder that attaches to your journal so you don’t have to go searching for it. You can see mine on the blue journal image in the last section.

Next are mildliners. I like to add a little color to my headers or use color as a divider, and mildliners work well for me. As the name suggests, they’re highlighters with mild colors. I prefer this because I don’t want to mess with markers and I don’t want to burn my corneas with the bright highlighter colors either.

My currently weekly layout, with appointments on the left and tasks on the right.
This is the weekly layout I’m currently using. I use the mildliners for each day and to separate the days on my tasks. The tasks on the right are laid out using the Alistair Method. You just put a dot under each day that you need to do it, so you’re not having to rewrite it every day and take up space. Then, you “X” it out when you complete the task. The left page is reserved for appointments.

I can’t write about bujo accessories and leave out washi tape. I’ve actually stopped using washi tape in my journal for the most part, but it’s still a big deal in the community so I’ll mention it anyway. Washi comes in a variety of colors, sizes, and patterns, and many use it to jazz up notebook entries. I’ve got a drawer full of the stuff, and I still use it for other crafts and for scrapbooking.

A weekly layout example with green washi tape at the bottom of the page.
I added some washi at the bottom of this week to jazz things up. You can simplify this layout by just drawing 2 lines across the pages to split them into 6 sections. I used the simplified version of this layout for over a year, but switched to the one in the last section with the mildliners because I needed more room for tasks.

Paper vs. Digital

It’s hard to rely on paper for organization in a digital age. Bujo purists schedule EVERYTHING in their journal, but you’ll have to find a balance that works for you. As I mentioned before, I only use mine for weekly and daily tasks, and rely on my digital calendars for everything beyond that. Ryder has an app that serves as a companion to the bujo, and it’s one of the few apps I’ve ever spent money on. The goal of the app is not to replace the journal, but to serve as a place to keep information until you get back to it. Anything you enter in the app gets deleted after 48 hours, so it forces you to go back to your journal and actually write it down if it’s important to you. It’s great for when you’re out and about without your journal.

Get going!

Now that you have an overview of the bujo, take some time and make notes about how you  might want to use it. Will you use it strictly as a calendar, or do you want to track things as well. What about reflections? How could you tie it to your classroom needs? This way, you’re not overwhelmed as you stare at the blank page when you’re getting started. Get in there. Experiment. Get organized.

Learn how you can get your life organized with a Bullet Journal.

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