This post was originally published February 11, 2016. I am republishing in celebration of Intentional By Grace and the next chapter of living quietly for a bit. Even though I love my Daily Planner, I still keep a Bullet Journal, so it seems fitting to share this wildly popular post when so many of you are trying to find a planning system that works for you!
Several weeks ago I discovered the bullet journal. It was recommended to me by a friend, and after watching a few videos, reading countless posts by others, and pinning all sorts of ideas, I dove right in and created a bullet journal of my very own.
First, what is a bullet journal?
When I talk about bullet journaling, I’m inevitably asked, “What is that exactly?”
Well, I recommend heading here to read about it and watch the short video. The creator, Ryder Carroll, explains the method in its simplest form. Then, go here and read one of the best posts I found explaining the basics of the Bullet Journal.
Bullet Journaling is the analog system for the digital age. It’s a paper and pen method of planning that actually works!
It works because it’s a system that changes with you and works for you. It’s forgiving and customizable.
Essentially, a Bullet Journal is whatever you want it to be.
Second, there are so many ways to keep a Bullet Journal.
If you take it upon yourself to do a search for “Bullet Journal” on the world wide web you will inevitably turn up some pretty exceptional Bullet Journals. There are so many creative people out there doing amazing things with their Bullet Journals. It’s tempting to think you have to be just like them – coloring, hand lettering, and doodling all the pretty things.
You don’t. Take it from me, you don’t have to be an artist to keep a beautiful, functional Bullet Journal. You just need to be willing to let the system work itself out for you.
This means, you have to be willing to make mistakes as you figure out what works best for you and silence the comparison voice in your head telling you that you’re a Bullet Journal failure. There is no one right way to keep a Bullet Journal. You are your own worst critic and you have to let perfectionism go. Period.
I know this is making all my Type A friends get the jitters a bit. Let go of perfectionism?
Believe it or not, I am NOT Type A. I fall right splat in the middle of Type A & B. So, I get the jitters a little bit, but thankfully the Type B in me kicks in and allows me to experiment for a bit to find the best fit for me. So, you’re just going to have to trust me here, Type A friends. You have to choose to say no to perfection.
Before I started my Bullet Journal, I thought about my ideal planner.
I’ve been using a simple daily planner since I was in high school. You might have heard me talk about my Homemaker’s Friend Daily Planner for the last few years. I have loved it immensely, and it has served me so well! I still recommend it to anyone who isn’t interested in the Bullet Journal and looking for something practical and simple.
I also updated my home planning binder last year to reflect some of the necessary needs of my home. I loved this planning binder, and I still recommend it to those looking for a binder method of planning.
I used my daily planner and home planning binder in tandem, but I stayed frustrated that it wasn’t easy enough. It wasn’t simple enough to throw in my bag. It wasn’t simple enough to have all of my work lists (which I use Trello for) and home lists in one spot.
This disjointed system didn’t allow me to keep up with all those random lists and thoughts in one spot. I was all over the place in my planning, and I am nothing if not an incessant-tweaker in search of supreme efficiency.
Efficiency is my love language.
And having my lists in so many places was threatening to drive this busy, work-at-home, homeschooling, expecting-a-third-child mom to the brink of insanity. I needed to get it together and get it together in a simple and fast system.
Insert: The Bullet Journal!
As I researched how others kept their journals, I began to think about my perfect planner. I wrote down all the things I wish I had in a planner. All the things that worked from each of my three systems. All the things that I loved about the Homemaker’s Friend Planner. All the things I wish Trello would be to me on paper.
Essentially, I spent a good chunk of time just brainstorming what I wish I had in a planner.
The more I thought and researched the more convinced I became that the Bullet Journal system was created for brains like mine! The more I watched video tutorials and talked to my husband, the more I became convinced that I might be on the brink of a planning break through!
Yes, I was THIS excited and dramatic about my discovery of the bullet journal!
How I Do It
Because I wasn’t sure if I was actually going to like this method of planning (I’m truly such a skeptic…), let alone stick with it, I opted for a cheap classic journal from Walmart. It has 240 ruled pages, an elastic band, and a ribbon marker.
Updated in 2017 to add: I have stuck with the Bullet Journal, and opted to treat myself this year with this beauty. I cannot wait for it to get here!
Note: I highly recommend choosing a journal with an elastic band. I keep loose receipts, papers, etc. in my journal and the elastic band keeps all of it from falling out. Plus, it keeps my journal nice and tight allowing it to go places with me without feeling too bulky. Oh, and I can attach a pen to the band which just makes planning even easier.
Next, I grabbed a cheap, clear pencil bag from the dollar store.
I happen to like planning with pretty pens, these to be exact (they don’t bleed), and the pencil bag keeps it all together for me.
As I got into Bullet Journaling, I found colored pencils to be a fun way to spruce up my lists when I needed some relaxing, therapy time. So, the pencil bag holds those as well.
Finally, I keep some wite-out EZcorrect tape in the bag because I make mistakes a lot. This allows me to quickly correct them without having to start all over again with one of my spreads.
Oh, and every once in a while I need a ruler because I create my own calendars. I just keep this in my desk and pull it out as I need it.
The basics you need to get started with your Bullet Journal is a journal and a pen. That’s it. The rest you’ll discover as you go because you’ll learn what you like and don’t like.
My Bullet Journal Game Changers:
The Index feature was the game changer for me.
This alone convinced me to try the Bullet Journal method. I was so sick of losing things in random notebooks, and this feature allows me to keep various notes within the pages of my journal and be able to find them again later … easily. Who would have thought it possible?
I could now write down recipes for things I use regularly like homemade mayo or apple cider vinegar drink and be able to find it easily without having to pull out my recipe box (or look it up again online). I just had to make a note in my index for where to find it.
If I was collecting ideas for a homeschool unit study on American Symbols, then I could create a page in my Bullet Journal, add the page number to my index, and come back to it when it was time to actually plan the unit out for the week. So easy!
I keep my calendar in a traditional calendar format.
I tried more of a log format for my future and monthly logs (or to-dos), but it didn’t work for me. My brain works in both visual and linear, so I had to create my own monthly log system that fit my needs.
The weekly and daily logs are the things that keep my life running somewhat smoothly.
At the beginning of each week, I do my weekly planning. I brain dump everything I need to get done that week plus all the things that would just be nice to get done onto my weekly log. I do color code this list.
- I write anything home or personal related in purple.
- I write anything homeschool related in orange.
- I write anything work related in green.
I naturally think of those sort of tasks in those colors. Plus this lets me see at a glance what I need to get done in these three main pockets of my life.
Then, I use this weekly log to create my daily logs (sticking with the same color coding method, if I have the pens nearby). I do not lay out my whole week in one fell swoop. I let the log system work for me here.
The reason I don’t lay out a weekly spread is the very reason a standard planner doesn’t work for me. Some days I have a lot to do. Other days I don’t have as much to do. This is why I love the Bullet Journal!
I don’t have to fit my to-do list into a designated box size. Saturdays and Sundays are just as important planning days for me as the rest of the week. Those small planning boxes in regular planners just weren’t working for me!
The Bullet Journal allows my daily planning to be flexible. No more trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.
Then, each night before bed, I review my daily list using the “x” for what I got done and the “>” sign for what I did not get done. The “>” indicates that this has moved forward to my next day’s to-do list. If something was on my list that I found not worth completing, or I’m realizing it’s just not the right time to try to accomplish it, I put a line through it altogether.
(Note: These symbols keep with the traditional Bullet Journal method.)
I plan to continue learning new symbols to make this even easier for me. But for now, this is what I do.
Collections are where it is AT in the Bullet Journal world. Again, next to the index, collections were the game changer for me.
I like to keep random lists, but I always lose them. Now, I have them all in one place.
Books to Read
I love this page. It’s my happy page. I’m such a bookworm. If someone recommends a book to me, I usually add it to my Goodreads list. But this collection in my Bullet Journal holds the sacred list. This is the list of books that I want to read next. This page is sort of my goal list of books.
Family Favorite Dinner Ideas
There is a short list of meals that can hit my table without anyone asking, “What is this?” If you have young children, then you get me on this one. So, I keep a list of meals that every single one of us loves. I pull from this list when I really need a night of no complaining.
This houses my running wish list for my home. We don’t have all the money in the world to update and replace everything I want to update and replace. I made this list to capture all my wishes and when we have extra finances, I know these are the things most important to me.
Reading Challenge for Kids
I saw this fun reading challenge for kids on Pinterest. I thought my list-making oldest would love it, so I created a collection in my Bullet Journal for us to check off as we go.
Before Five in a Row Book List
I just love this sweet curriculum. We’ve already gone through it twice with my oldest, but I am working through it again with my youngest. Having the list helps me to choose which book to row next with him.
Homeschool Unit/Lesson Plans
This has made homeschool planning so much easier. Now I can bulk plan a unit in one fell swoop even if it’s still weeks away from being completed. This allows me to get random inspirations onto paper so I don’t lose them. I brain dump all of my ideas onto a page and index it.
Chapter Book Read-Alouds
If someone recommends a chapter book to me for the boys, I add it to this list. Or if I’m browsing Pinterest, or happen to hear a book mentioned on a podcast that I think the boys will like, I add it to this collection.
Picture Book Read-Alouds
Same thing goes here except this list is exclusively for picture books.
Bible Passages to Memorize
We love memorizing scripture together as a family. We’ve now started trying to memorize whole passages together, and I keep a running list of passages that I want us to memorize together here. These are passages I come across in my daily quiet times or hear other families recommending.
Monthly Collections & Checklists:
There are some collections that I re-create each month. This is where my home planning binder meets my daily planner.
I like to do monthly meal planning. This collection I do keep in a log format. Works great for me! I also keep a running list of breakfast and lunch ideas.
Blog Post Ideas & Editorial Calendar
It’s always good to have a place to capture ideas when I’m out and about. I generally keep this in Trello, but if I’m not online, I add it here and transfer later. Also, my editorial calendar is something I need to see on paper and not just on my computer screen.
I am not perfect at updating this list, and I think I’m going to move it to my prayer journal, but for now, it’s in my Bullet Journal.
I really have enjoyed the simplicity of using the “three things” list. The only problem I’ve found is that once I start writing three things, I usually feel the need to keep going.
I’m not sure I will continue to keep such an elaborate checklist for the month. I haven’t changed it though because I’m not sure how to change it or what would work better for me. I do like that I can see how lazy I was one week … this checklist definitely holds me accountable to not letting too much time pass before cleaning those pesky bathrooms.
I print off our monthly budget and keep it taped inside my Bullet Journal. I fold it over and use the back side as a running list for our “cash envelopes.”
We don’t actually use cash, but I keep these running categories so we always know how much money is left in each “envelope.” I keep the receipts folded into the spread so I can review at the end of the month.
This is a new system for us. We’ll see how it goes. So far I am loving it!
Phew! I think this is possibly the longest post I’ve ever pulled together.
If you’re still reading, I give you mad props. I also think you must really be interested in Bullet Journaling so I hope this post was helpful.
I know when I was first starting out, the more detail someone put in their post the better. I gleaned so much from other people just sharing what they do. This allowed me to figure out what I needed in my journal.
The Bullet Journal method has really been an incredible process of learning for me. It’s also a system that has proven to work for me and not against me. It’s simple and easy to adapt each month. I can change what isn’t working. I can tweak and make even better what is working for me.
The Bullet Journal is a method of planning that flows with my life and keeps my brain much more at peace with all that runs through it each day. I know there will be changes I need to make in the future, but it doesn’t worry me. I’m not buying a planner and then finding out halfway through that I don’t like it anymore. This journal sticks with me through all of my changes, life circumstances, and various needs. I could not be more pleased!
What about you? Have you ever tried the Bullet Journal? What do you do to make your Bullet Journal work for you?
I shared a video flip through of my Bullet Journal if you’d like to see inside and how it all flows together from start to finish! Click here to view it!
Other posts you might like:
- Planning 101: How to Be More Intentional with Your Time
- How to Make a Prayer Notebook
- How I Set Up My Prayer Journal (inspired by my Bullet Journal)
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