You know, I’m not really sure if Bullet Journals are still a big thing. It’s kind of crazy how time flies though. It feels like just yesterday that I was introduced to the idea and excitedly recommended it to friends. I’ve been through a few planners since then, but have maintained some type of Bullet Journal the entire time. And this year, after years of cobbling together my planner life with multiple versions running simultaneously, I’ve started using my BuJo for everything. I thought it would be fun to share how I’m using it, as well as how I got there.
Let’s begin at the beginning, just in case you’re unfamiliar with the term Bullet Journal. What is a bullet journal?
According to its site, a Bullet Journal is “an analog method for the digital age.” What does that mean exactly? In a nutshell, it means that it’s a pen-and-paper method of planning that also offers endless flexibility. And it is a method, rather than a planner itself. You can certainly buy a Bullet Journal from the site, but the method can be employed with any ole notebook. How’s that for flexibility? Now, creator Ryder Carroll has a pretty specific methodology that he suggests for use. I’ll be honest – I don’t really follow it that closely anymore. I do, however, use the concept for my own journal. But I’ve created my own system based on methods I enjoyed from other planners.
Before I jump into my BuJo system, let me share a few other planners that I’ve tried and enjoyed over the past few years.
The Passion Planner was the first planner I gave a go after first using the Bullet Journal. Confession? I NEVER used it. I don’t think it’s the planner’s fault itself – I’ve heard so many people say such good things about it. For me, it was just a bit overwhelming, and maybe a bit too structured. I did, however, like that it provided space for so many different things, including socializing and an hour by hour breakdown of the day.
I started using this planner last August (2019) and I re-ordered one for 2020-2021 (the liturgical year version is pictured, I use the academic year). I’m still using it now! BUT, this year, I’ve decided to use it for spiritual formation, prayer journaling, etc… rather than an actual daily planner. I never felt like I had room to do more than jot a simple to-do list in this planner, but was always wanting to jot more notes about how I was feeling, what I was learning, etc… What makes this planner is unique is that it’s really a guided Bible reading plan, using the Daily Office from the Book of Common Prayer. It guides you through the liturgical year (Advent through Ordinary Time) with scripture readings, prayers, and examen practices. It’s a beautiful, wonderful tool – just not a functional planner for me.
I swapped to a Monk Manual over the initial pandemic quarantine and it was pretty life changing. Monk Manual is a 90 day planner that focuses on months, weeks, and days separately. It’s good for tracking goals, hourly tasks, achievements, and more. But it’s also good at helping you keep track of what you’re grateful for, what you’re looking forward to, what you’d like to adjust, etc… It really kind of combined all of my planner desires in one. The problem? I needed more space and I can’t quite afford to buy a new $40 planner every 3 months. And that, really, is what led me back to the Bullet Journal.
In August, I decided to combine the aspects of these planners that I enjoyed into my Bullet Journal. Now, there are a lot of people who are very creative with their journals. And for a hot second, i looked into buying pretty pens, stencils, rulers, and more to make my journal look nice. Thankfully, I came to my senses – as lovely as all of that looks, it’s just not me. It sounds nice in theory, but in practice, feeling the need to decorate my planner pages would add nothing but stress to my life. If it’s your cup of tea, please do what you love! But for me, I need simplicity.
So how do I use mine?
First, I do use the index as taught in the original method. I find this is really invaluable when you’re using a plain notebook that can be easy to lose information in.
In addition to the index, I also use washi tape to mark pages that I need to quickly access. I just move the tape around as needed.
Next, I set up my monthly, weekly, and daily spreads. I make mine on the go, from month to month, week to week, and day to day. When I set up my monthly spread, I draw out a grid, like any regular calendar, on a single page. On the back, I employ some of the strategies learned from Monk Manual – looking back at the month as a whole to record my favorite moments, things learned, things to work, etc..
Once my month is laid out, I lay out one weekly spread at a time. I do another simple grid, with a box for each day of the week, as well as a box for meal planning, events for the week, what I’m looking forward to, goals for the week, and my to do list. On the back, I do a similar thing as I do for the month.
Next up are my daily spreads. At the top, I take about 10 lines and divide them in half. On one side, I keep track of my to-do list for the day. On the other, I jot down meals for the day, notes about my menstrual cycle/overall health, and chores. Below, I list what I’m looking forward to, what I’m grateful, any specific needs or prayers, and the habits I’m working towards. Then, at the end of the day, I write out any highlights from the day and insights I had. I typically go ahead and write everything out, leaving a few blank lines to fill in at the end of the day. Then I use the rest of the page (as needed) to journal. I start the next day on the next blank page. I have, at times, also listed out the hours of the day on my daily page and tracked what I’m doing each hour. When I feel it’s needed, this is helpful for my time management. I used this more before school started; now that I’m at work, my time is dictated by my therapy schedule more than anything else.
Now, in addition to scheduling and daily journaling, I also use my Bullet Journal to keep track other things. I count out roughly the number of pages I need to plan an entire month, then begin these pages. They are highly variable, depending on what you want to keep up with. Common pages I use include my reading list, sunrise/set and moon phases, things I’m thinking about purchasing, or master chore lists, and long term goals. But these can be anything! Doing a quick Pinterest search for bullet journal spreads will probably provide you with more ideas than you need!
I’ve really enjoyed using my Bullet Journal this way over the last month or so. It’s such a flexible and personal way to plan, schedule, journal, and take notes. If you think you might be interested in using a Bullet Journal, I encourage you to give it a go!
Here are a few tips I would give:
1 | Don’t feel the pressure to make it more or less than you want it to be. One of the greatest pros to using a Bullet Journal over a pre-made planner is its flexibility and individuality.
2 | Choose a notebook you really love. I originally used a large Moleskine, which I loved. I decided to give a smaller, Northbooks a try this year, and I’m not as big of a fan. Notebooks and journals are highly personal. If you’re going to be using it every single day, you should definitely make sure it works for you! Its size, paper quality, spine, and layflat abilities are all important based on your preferences.
3 | Don’t be afraid to change it up! I changed how I drew out my weekly spread after about 2 weeks. You’re not aiming for perfection – you’re aiming for practicality.
Just for fun, below I’ve shared some images of different Bullet Journal spreads. NONE of these are mine (my own journal is highly non-photogenic!). But maybe they’ll give you some ideas of what you can do! Make it YOU. That’s the whole point!