Bullet journals - or bujos - are a trend all over social media, YouTube and the blogosphere.
When it was first introduced by Ryder Carroll, I watched his video, read a couple basic blog posts by people who thought they would give it a shot, and immediately dismissed it as being too complicated for me.
As I continued through my lettering journey, I kept stumbling across gorgeous bullet journal spreads, many of which incorporated elements of calligraphy. I kept admiring them and finally decided to watch a couple YouTube videos on the subject. I came across AmandaRachLee's channel and was immediately obsessed with her set-up. Inspired, I decided to give it a go.
It's important to note that the original bullet journal is quite minimalistic.
Carroll's video is a great place to start; I highly recommend watching it before you continue reading this post. He reviews the basic bujo setup and shows how simple it can be.
Carroll starts with a basic description of the purpose behind bullet journaling. He posits it as a way to stay organized, keep track of dates and shows how it can act as a blend between a journal and a planner. While the original is quite basic, users have expanded the idea and so many interesting and creative ideas have come to life that fit within the realm of bullet journaling.
I've never called myself a creative person, but I have always had an eye for colour and I've recently found my creative niche in lettering. I wanted my bullet journal to be something uncomplicated enough that I would use, but also as a beautiful creative outlet I would be proud of. That being said, your bujo does not need to be as complex as mine!
First, let's chat about what you need to start.
But, as I mentioned above, this is a creative outlet for me and I wanted to use more complex materials. I decided to give you a run-through of the items I used to set-up my bujo because I know a lot of you will ask. That said, you truly only need a notebook and a pen to start. No stressing about going out and buying expensive stationary, okay?
I slaved over what notebook I wanted to get for this project.
I had a few hanging around at home, but I was pretty sure I wanted to use a dotted grid pattern to best take advantage of the bujo system. The biggest priority for me was ensuring that the journal I picked wasn't going to wreck my precious brush pens. If you want a bit of an overview on why using the correct paper is important for brush lettering, check out this post on trying calligraphy for under $25.
I found this notebook at Chapters, but I thought $24 was a bit expensive for a hobby I wasn't totally sure about yet. In the end, I decided it was the best option, and here's why: the Leuchttrum 1917 A5 has smooth paper for my brush pens and the dotted grid, it was easily accessible (I could buy it locally instead of waiting weeks for it to arrive if I'd ordered it online), and it's actually set-up nicely for bullet journaling. More on that later!
I've tried a bunch of different fineliners.
For a long time, I thought the only fineliner in the world was the fine-tip Sharpie. So wrong. The Sharpie, while it has its purpose at times, bleeds like crazy and makes a big mess of most of my work.
The fineliners I like the best are Pigma Micron Fine Point Pens. They don't bleed, they provide a sharp line, and they come in a variety of thicknesses. I've been using the 01, which I'm finding is great for daily use.
I also bought some Staedler fineliner point pens to add a bit of colour. You'll see later in this post that I used the pink a lot for my May spread.
There are a few more materials I collected for creating my bullet journal.
I have a bunch of different styles of washi tape, all of which I bought at the dollar store in my town. I have two different widths, and a variety of different patterns. Washi tape is a fun option for decorating your bujo, and it's a great way to cover up mistakes.
I am also planning on using tabs for each month, sticky notes for certain pages, and the smaller stickies for highlighting important information. Once I figure out a system using those tools, I'll create another blog post.
Okay. Now that we've looked at options for stationary, it's time to set-up your bujo.
The first thing I did was put a cute piece of washi tape on the front cover to give my bujo some interest.
The page before the index is your key.
I watched Carroll's video four or five times before starting this process. The key acts as a reference page for you to keep track of the meaning of your symbols.
- The bullet point indicates a task that you wish to complete.
x The 'x' indicates that the task has been completed.
> The right arrow indicates that the task has been migrated to a future day.
< The left arrow indicates that the task has been scheduled to a different month or week.
o The 'o' indicates that the task is an event.
- The dash indicates a note.
* The star indicates a prioritized task.
Ultimately, these symbols will tell you which tasks have been completed and which ones have not.
The index is next in the order of your book.
The Leuchttrum 1917 A5 has a built-in index. This was what I was referring to when I mentioned that this notebook is set-up perfectly for bullet journaling. Generally-speaking, the index is a great way to keep your bujo organized.
When you add an element or section to your journal, pop it into the index.
My index currently has my yearly log, my creative ideas page, my read/watch lists, my May monthly log and my weekly/daily log for the week of May 15-21. I'm not sure if I'm going to keep adding the daily/weekly log to my index, but for now, I'm trying it out.
Next up is the yearly log, or the future log. This is where the planning really begins!
Based on AmandaRachLee's YouTube channel (linked above), I formed my yearly log by putting a calendar of each month on the left, and leaving space on the right for that month's events that I know ahead of time.
These events could be things such as...
- Birthdays and Anniversaries
- Future events, such as Mother's Day or St. Patrick's Day
- Holidays, such as Christmas, Thanksgiving or Family Day
These are just some examples. Include as many or as few events and details as you wish!
I didn't fill out this section to protect my privacy, but when I set it up after I took the pictures, I coloured in a date with the blue Tombow I used throughout this page, then wrote both the event and the date on the right-hand side of the box.
Below is something I added for myself. It's not necessarily something everyone would include, but because bujos are so personalized, I thought I would add it.
I wanted a space where I could keep track of ideas for my blog, and for my (future) YouTube channel. I think this is really going to help me when it comes to tracking my goals. I will easily be able to check off the ideas that I complete or post, and continually refer back to this page if I'm ever stuck for content inspiration.
On the next page, I created a space where I could keep track of my read/watch lists. I always struggle to remember what books I've read, and up to which seasons I've watched of a particular show if I haven't watched it in a while.
I don't really watch movies (that's a whole other story), but if I do, I can include them on my watch list. I might even colour coordinate this page!
I also have included space for shows and books I want to read. Do you ever walk into Chapters and see a ton of books that look really interesting? I usually just take pictures on my phone, but they tend to get lost and I forget about them. So, I created a space to keep track of them!
This is where bullet journaling gets really useful.
You've created a yearly log, which is all good and well, but it doesn't have the space, nor is it user-friendly enough for monthly, weekly and daily activities.
This is where the infamous funnelling-of-tasks system comes into play:
When you're setting up your monthly log, you refer to your yearly log.
When you're setting up your weekly log, you refer to your monthly log.
When you're setting up your daily log, you refer to your weekly log.
Generally, you refer to one level up, and then you add more detail when needed.
You can see that I chose to use a cute pink vine coloured theme.
Below and to the right I have included a photo of my monthly spread.
I did a bunch of research on what I wanted my monthly spread to look like.
Many bullet journalists either use the method I chose, or a calendar format. Who knows - maybe I'll try calendar-style next month! That's the cool thing about bullet journaling: everything can be as creative as you'd like it to be, and it can change month to month, week to week, and day to day.
Ultimately, I went with the list style. I loved AmandaRachLee's version so I mimicked hers. Instead of doing the classic single-spaced layout though, I opted to leave a space in between each day. It takes up more space, but it leaves more room to add activities. Plus, it looks cleaner.
I'm happy I ended up going with this layout so far. It seems organized and productive for me.
You can see that I included a calendar on the left page for reference, as well as a section for "monthly to-dos." This is a spot for me to throw activities or tasks that I know need to be done in the month of May, but do not have a specific date yet.
Finally, you can really see my theme coming through here. I love the pink, and I also included a few of the vines that I started with on my cover page.
The next thing I included in my monthly log was a habit tracker. This is where I can track my exercise, spending, lettering, potato chip consumption (it's pretty sad that I need this, eh?) and more. Ideally, by the end of the month, the entire section should be blacked out, indicating that I completed each of the target habits for each day of the month.
I also included a mood tracker. This was something cute I'd seen on quite a few other blog posts, but I'm not sure it's going to be something I necessarily need to track. I'm generally a pretty happy person with good mental health.
If you are someone who struggles with anxiety or depression, though, this might be a good tool to use to track how you feel each day.
Finally, I included an Instagram tracker on this page. Because I am trying to grow my following and my little business, I thought this would be useful. All I'll do is log the number of followers and posts I have at each date listed.
And...who knows? Maybe I'll add a YouTube tracker soon!
As you can see, on the right-hand side of the page, I've also included a space to note any quotes I'd like to letter for the month of May. I'm always seeing and hearing cute sayings, but as soon as I sit down to letter, I find myself blanking on what to write. This is a good spot for me to record any prompts I might want to try.
The weekly log is, yet again, another opportunity to funnel your tasks and activities.
I decided to include my weekly log into my daily log page as a way to see the week at a glance.
As you can see in the photo, I put my weekly log on the left, added a little calendar for the month of May underneath, and highlighted the week in question.
I then decided to do my daily spread all at once.
Many bullet journalists write one day, then begin the next day immediately under the day they just finished. I'm a bit of an organization freak, so I wanted to see the whole week at once. I don't know if I'll keep using this strategy or this layout, but I do like how it looks and how functional it is.
I think I also want to try a block format, but I will blog about that another day!
As the week went on, I realizes that I don't necessarily need both the weekly log, and the daily logs. I think I might end up actually scrapping the weekly logs all together, but we'll see. I think they are mostly intended for those who only record one day at a time. Either way, I'm a newbie and I'm still learning the system and what works best for me!
On the bottom right of the right-hand page, you can see that I included two smaller boxes in the leftover available space:
- An "other" section, for tasks I know need to be completed this week, but don't have a set date (just like in the monthly log), and
- A groceries section, for any food I might need to pick up.
I've found both of these to be quite useful so far. I like the 'other' box; I have used it as I mentioned above, and I also used it as a space to record things I need to pack for my weekend away.
Here's how to use your bujo.
- At the beginning of the year (or whenever you decide to start a bullet journal), set up your yearly log. Feel free to include trackers and brain dump pages that are personal to you.
- Work on your monthly spread. Keep it minimalistic or pick a theme like I did.
- Add in the month's tasks, events and activities from your yearly log.
- Create your weekly log (especially if you are doing a day-to-day log, unlike me).
- Add in the week's tasks, events and activities from your monthly log.
- Start your daily log. Set it all up like I did, or just record it day-to-day.
- Add in the day's tasks, events and activities from your weekly (or monthly) log.
- Keep the key at the start of your bujo in mind - and use it! Cross off, migrate and schedule tasks, prioritize some over others.
- Each day, use your bujo in these ways...
- Cross off, schedule or migrate tasks for the day.
- Use your habit trackers.
- Set up tomorrow's plan.
- Use the extra features you added, if applicable.
That's it! Simple, right?
Okay - I know a lot of you are probably thinking that setting it up is a lot of work.
And it is.
I'm not going to lie.
BUT. BUT. BUT.
Once it's set-up, it's set-up.
Then, the only maintenance is daily use - just like a normal planner or journal.
And you get the joy of spending an hour or two at the end of the month creating next month's theme and spread.
Which to me, is a joy.
If that idea doesn't bring you joy, it doesn't mean that bullet journaling isn't for you.
It's easy to create simpler spreads. There are tons of YouTube videos and blog posts about bullet journalists using a "minimalistic" spread. Many only use a single black pen and the system works really well for them. In fact, as I mentioned at the start of this post, Carroll's original bujo was quite simple.
Make your bujo what you want and need it to be. It should be fun. It should be unique to you.
But most of all, it should be functional.