Back-to-school season always puts me in mind of calendars. I get a thrill when I see all the shiny, pretty books, pens, stickers, and everything else Target dangles in front of us, saying, “If you take me home with you, your life will be pretty and perfectly organized. Your children will behave, eat well, and go to bed on time if you buy us!”
But in reality, my calendars always overflow with cramped text running up the side of the pages, with sticky notes and folded papers falling out. Sometimes it seems I’m too hopelessly disorganized for a calendar.
Until I decided to try the bullet journal.
I’d heard people raving about these bullet journal things, but I was never really clear about what they were. The common refrain is, “It can be whatever you want it to be.” Since that wasn’t helpful, I tried to do some research on my own, starting at the source. Still confused, I stumbled upon this article, which demystifies what it is and provides some ideas for why a bullet journal might be the right tool for you (the two that got me were, “people who have a million little to-do lists floating around” and “people who like pen and paper to-do lists”). If that seems overwhelming, check out this “low-key, low pressure take on using a bullet journal.” Clear as mud?
No, really, what is a bullet journal?
For me, a bullet journal is an all-in-one calendar, to-do list, notebook, and journal/diary.
What do I need to get started?
All you need is a notebook and a pen. I gave into the allure of the shiny, pretty calendar things at the craft store — and got some extras.
About the notebook: I love Moleskine brand for notebooks. I selected one that was small enough to fit in my purse and light enough that it didn’t feel like a burden. I got a ruled pages notebook, but some people prefer the blank or dotted pages. The notebook also has a little pocket in the back cover, which is a nice bonus for receipts, etc.
About pens: I look for pens that dry quickly (so they don’t smear) and that don’t glob or bleed through the paper (I’m looking at you, Sharpie fine-point markers!)
This is how I like to set up my journal.
Front cover: Confession: I love those little year-at-a-glance calendars that come in the registers of checkbooks. I mean, how else am I going to know the date of the first Tuesday in June 2019? I found an online calendar printable and printed it at a reduced size to fit the cover of my notebook.
Dates of note for the year: Because you’re building your bullet journal as you go along, there’s not typically a “November” to flip to yet to write down an event that you know is coming (unless it’s really important to you that there is, then I’m sure you could create one!). For me, a “year at a glance” is a place to jot down things (upcoming birthdays, events, deadlines, vacations) that do not yet have a place to live.
Index: Because the contents of your calendar are created as you go, there is no such thing as “February begins on page 10.” You start the page for February when you’re done with January. This might be on page 3, or it might be on page 15. So how do you know where to look for February in your journal? The index! (For example: February: pgs 8-17; Committee Meeting Notes: pgs 10-11, 21-23, 31)
Month at a glance: This is the overview for the month ahead. I like having a quick look at the month to be. If this isn’t helpful for you, delete. You can include a monthly “to do” with the overview.
Your current week: Again, this is just like a regular calendar, where you have a weekly view. You can include a weekly “to do” with the overview (and some commentary).
Daily view: This is where the “bullet” part of the bullet journal comes in. One of the points of the bullet journal is to keep the daily bullet section brief and emotionless.
Notes/journal/brainstorms/categories: This section is where it becomes more like a notebook/journal for me. Have an idea for a new handbag design? Turn to the next blank page. Taking notes for a meeting? Turn to the next blank page. Does this make you uncomfortable, wondering how will I be able to find these pages later? Remember the index? “Handbag designs: pgs 11, 37-38, 56.” Always making notes of books to read? “Books to read: pgs 21, 34-35.”
Some notes on the bullet journal “look”: Don’t be intimidated by all the gorgeous pin-worthy images you see when you Google “bullet journals”! I pine for the graphic artist quality layout and embellishments, but I know that’s not my strength. Here’s how I deal: 1) I don’t let the lack of pretty keep me from starting, 2) I use colors (still an aspiration for me), 3) I print, cut, and paste things into my bullet journal, and 4) I use stickers/sticky notes.
On reminders: I use my bullet journal in conjunction with Google Calendar. I need something that proactively alerts me to things like, “meeting in half an hour” and “cable guy coming at 12.” My electronic calendar on my phone does this for me.
Do you use a bullet journal, or have you been interested in starting one? Do you have a go-to calendar system that works for you? Please share!