I started a Bullet Journal last weekend and it seems that I have already filled half of my notebook.
The Bullet Journal was created by designer Ryder Carroll as a journaling system to track the past, organise the present and plan for the future, using a simple notebook. It’s called a “Bullet” Journal because you keep track of your tasks, events and note using short bullet points.
It has been adopted by a lot of creatives because it’s flexible enough to serve as a to-do list, sketchbook, notebook, and diary, all at the same time. Here’s a short introduction video by Ryder on how to Bullet Journal:
Ryder likes to use really specific terminology (stacks, modules, collections, rapid logging, signifiers, migration), to create a shared language for the Bullet Journal community. In the end, however, it’s just a journal, so use it in a way that works for you and tap into the Bullet Journal community for inspiration.
My BulletJournal stack includes all the collections people usually set up:
- Index: You give each collection a page number and a title and put it in the index to keep track of where everything is. I have a main index, a book summary index and a projects index.
- Key: You use a key to remember what or symbols you are using for different types of bullets (tasks, events, appointments, travel, notes) and what signifiers you are adding to them (important, completed, migrated, canceled). I also use different symbols for ideas, inspiration, questions, resources and quotes.
- Future Log: You write down all the bullets that you can schedule in the future in advance, or wish to do sometime in the future.
- Monthly Logs: At the beginning of each month, you write down all the bullets that you can schedule for the month or wish to do sometime in the month. You also migrate relevant bullets from previous months. You can also add your monthly goals and priorities.
- Weekly Logs: At the beginning of each week, you write down all the bullets that you can schedule for the week or wish to do sometime in the week.
- Daily Logs: You track all your bullets for the day, but don’t migrate bullets from day to day. I also use it to track what I have eaten during the day (breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack) and write down three good things that happened during the day.
- Monthly Habit Trackers: You track all the habits you want to develop, by marking them on a calendar. This can be useful to create an unbroken chain for daily habits. This can also be useful to keep track of all the things you like to do (like: listen to live music) and remember when you did them last.
- Monthly Mood Trackers: You track how you feel everyday, perhaps using a five point scale, and note down what triggers made you happy or unhappy, then proactively pursue your happiness triggers.
- Monthly Gratitude Logs: You write down two or three things you are grateful for at the beginning of each day. I also plan to look back at each month and add three things I am grateful for at the end of the month.
- Monthly Review: At the end of each month, you review your journaling practice, reflect on what worked and what didn’t work, and decide what changes you would like to make for the next month.
In addition, I have created some additional collections to support my daily writing and sketching habits. Some of these collections are inspired by Artist’s Way (Julia Cameron), Steal Like An Artist/ Show Your Work (Austin Kleon) and Miracle Morning for Writers (Hal Elrod, Steve Scott, Honoree Corder) while others serve as a swipe file (Austin Kleon) or a commonplace book (Ryan Holiday).
- Writing Affirmations: I write down affirmations to support my writing and read them every morning before I sit down to write my morning pages.
- Writing Visualisation: I create a visual dashboard of my ideal monthly word count and what it would result in, and look at it every morning before I sit down to write my morning pages.
- Books Read: I keep track of all the books I am reading at the moment. I was surprised to discover that I am reading more than a dozen books simultaneously and I have finished six in the first week of August.
- Visual Book Summaries: I create a two-page visual summary for each book I have finished reading (see The Sketchnote Handbook and The Sketchnote Workbook by Mike Rohde). It’s a powerful way to focus on what’s most important in each book and reinforce the lessons.
- Quotes: I keep track of all the quotes I come across as I am reading books or online posts.
- Visual Artist Date Summaries: I create a visual summary for all my artist dates (live music concerts, art gallery or museum visits, classes or workshops). It’s a powerful way to relive and remember my most meaningful experiences.
- Creative Hero Genealogy: I am creating visual profiles for all my creative heroes, to understand who inspires them, how they look at the world, and what I can learn from them.
- Blog Post Ideas: I am keeping track of my blog post ideas. It makes me happy to see that I have enough already to last a month.
- Notes for My Novel: I am writing my novel using the Snowflake Method (Randy Ingermanson) where you start with a one line summary for your novel, then expand it into a paragraph with a three-part structure, then add character summaries and so on. Here’s Randy’s introduction to the ten steps in the Snowflake Method.
Four simple organizing principles will help you use your Bullet Journal effectively:
- Index: You put your new collection on the next empty page, give the collection a page number and a title, and put it in the index. Don’t worry about pre-planning the number of pages needed for each collection. This way, you will be able to find what you need to quickly without having to flip through the journal.
- Themed Index: If you know that you’ll be using your Bullet Journal to create a number of similar collections, it might be useful to create themed index pages for them. For instance, I have themed index pages for book summaries and projects. Then, put the page numbers of the themed index pages in the main index so that you can easily find them.
- Threading: If you are continuing a collection on a page further along the Bullet Journal, write down the new page number in two places: in the index, next to the original page number, and at the bottom of the original collections page, next to the old page number. This way, you will be able to find where, for instance, all your quotes collections are, either by looking them up in the index or by going from collection to collection.
- Migrating: At the end of each month, look through all your open bullets on the month’s daily logs and decide which ones are still relevant and which ones can be discarded. Then, migrate your relevant bullets to the next month’s monthly log, or the future log if it’s a back burner item, by drawing an arrow through the bullet’s symbol. This way, you’ll have closure on your bullets each month and you’ll be able to focus on the items that are still relevant.
The Bullet Journal community is extremely inventive and it’s easy to look at the immense variety in Bullet Journal stacks, keys, designs and templates and feel overwhelmed. Kendra has some good advice on how to keep things simple:
- Signifiers: Don’t try to use so many signifiers that you need to refer to your key to remember what they are. Start with the simplest system with symbols for tasks, events and notes and signifiers for important, completed, canceled and migrated.
- Collections: Don’t create collections just to fill up the Bullet Journal. Start with not more than three collections that you will use frequently.
- Embellishment: Don’t feel that you need to make your Bullet Journal as beautiful as the ones you see on Instagram, with washi tape, stickers, stamps, calligraphy and color coding. Start with a black pen and create a system that you’ll use every day.
I will most likely update this post and add more Bullet Journal (and journaling) resources, but, for now, I’ll leave you with two videos on the importance of journaling:
Ryder Caroll on leading an intentional life:
Austin Kleon on the benefits of journaling: