Ask any of my colleagues or friends and they’ll tell you that I bloody love a to-do list. However, they’ve started to slowly take over my life. My quest to be organised has resulted in stuffing my bag with a total of five different notebooks and diaries which has not only taken a toll on my brain, but my shoulder too. Sound familiar? If so, bullet journalling, a DIY coded system that involves brain-dumping all your tasks, thoughts and personal and professional commitments in one place, could be for you.
Originally created by New York-based digital designer Ryder Carroll as a way to help him “track the past, organise the present and plan for the future,” it’s gone down a storm on social media. On Instagram, it’s attracted more than 1.5 million posts marked #bujo and around 2 million marked #bulletjournal with followers of the system keen to showcase their eye-catching journalling skills online. Think calligraphy, beautiful illustrations and elaborate use of different colours of washi tape. It’s a treat for the eyes - the closest you’ll get to organisational porn.
The people I’ve met who bullet journal speak with such enthusiasm about its benefits, that it’s hard not to catch the bug. However, talk of ‘signifiers,’ ‘collections,’ ‘migrations’ and other bullet journalling jargon had me feeling like they were speaking another language, one that I was keen to learn but had no idea where to start.
So I started digging deeper in the hope of creating (what I hope) is the Rosetta Stone of bullet journalling. When stripped back to its basics, I realised that it was actually a lot less complicated than what Instagram seemed to indicate. In fact, Ryder Carroll recently suggested that keeping it simple is perhaps the better option. “Productivity can become its own form of distraction,” he told the Wall Street Journal.
All you need is a pencil or pen, a notebook and a ruler to get started. The really great thing about it though is how personalised you can make it. “It’s really adaptable,” my mate Megha told me. “Everyone’s needs can be included in their own journal. I think that’s why it’s so successful.” How you adapt the core techniques to suit your life depends on how your brain sees and processes things most effectively. I know colours and drawings work best for me, but for others it may be numbers and words.
How to start a bullet journal
This four minute video from Ryder acts as the perfect starting point for kicking off your bullet journalling goals.
Setting up your journal takes about five minutes. The following five sections serve as your foundation.
1. The Index Page
This is what ties your bullet journal together. Simply open up your notebook and write a heading of ‘Index’ on the first blank page. As you set up the rest of your journal and write page numbers in, you can pop these into your index to make everything easy to find.
2. The Future Log
This should be on the next blank page. The Future Log is where you can write down dates and tasks that are happening in the following months. Divided into six parts, a two page spread can provide physical (and mental!) space for the next six months. The tasks don’t need to appear in chronological order. Write the page numbers at the bottom of the pages and add them to your index.
3. The Monthly Log
On the next blank left hand-side page, write the month at the top, and then list the number of days down the side. Next, write alongside the numbers, the first letter of the day that each one falls on. Add the page numbers of your Monthly Log to your index.
4. The Monthly Task List
This should sit on the right hand-side page of each Monthly Log. It provides a general overview of what you need to do that month. Again, add the pages to your index.
5. The Daily Log
On the next page, enter the day’s date and write in your entries. The aim is to keep it short and succinct. Ryder recommends using dots to label tasks, circles for events, dashes for notes and stars for important things. You can adapt it to best suit your needs - personally, I like to create separate work and personal logs to compartmentalise the day's jobs.
And that’s it! You’re now good to go.
Bullet journal jargon-buster
Signifiers - the term used to refer to the dots, circles and dashes referred to above, visual cues that indicate what category each task falls into.
Migration - the term used to describe the task of carrying over any leftover tasks from the previous month to the next. At the end of each month, go through your open tasks and assess if they’re worth carrying over. If not, cross them out. This process is pivotal to the core value of bullet journalling of weeding out what’s worth your time and what isn’t. For the tasks that are worth completing, replace its bullet with a left arrow symbol (another type of Signifier) and transfer it into the Future Log under the relevant month.
Rapid logging - the term used for listing tasks in your Daily Log.
Collections - where you collate related tasks, notes and events that crop up throughout your bullet journal in one place. These include topics such as ongoing projects, shopping lists, expenses and meal plans.
Threading - a page numbering hack that allows you to more easily see where related Collections are in the bullet journal rather than constantly flipping back to the Index each time. For example, say you had a Collection on page 2 and another on page 20, you’d ‘thread’ them on their pages by writing ‘2, 20' on them. Not one for bullet journalling novices.
Beginner's tips for bullet journal success
1) Use a pencil! I definitely messed up when I first tried it.
2) Take it slow. Treat the first month as a dress rehearsal.
3) Don’t worry about it being pretty. Life often isn’t…
4) Any notebook can work for it. However, a particularly popular choice is a Moleskine Dotted Notebook , £11.27, (my friend Megha rates this one too).
I’ve also found this new range of Bullet Grid Journals , £10, helpful. Pages are already numbered and each comes with a useful guide for getting you started too.
5) Save creating lots of Collections and Threading until you’re a couple of months in. Let them happen organically.
6) Just start. Don’t be put off by #bujo overwhelm like I was. Chances are the people behind those elaborate posts are seasoned bullet journallers.
The above are the basics, but as you get used to the system, you can personalise it. Here are a few suggestions to take your bullet journal game to the next level.
1) Add a weekly log. If the jump from daily to monthly logs is too high, this acts as a useful intermediary step.
2) Use more signifiers. People log everything from ideas to memories and positive quotes in their bullet journals. Start with simple ones to begin with and then expand accordingly. Create a key that sits in your front cover to help you remember what’s what.
3) Illustrations. Everyone’s brains work differently, and personally, I like a little embellishment to personalise my bullet journal style. There are so many bullet journal ideas out there and Instagram and Pinterest provide spread-loads of inspiration. The beauty of bullet journalling is that it’s all about making it your own - no matter how colourful or uncolourful the result may be.
For more bullet journalling inspo, check out bulletjournal.com .
Follow Ayesha on Twitter and Instagram .