If you have even the tiniest productive bone in your body, you're probably interested in how to keep better track of all of your to do's. I've tried many tools over the years from digital apps to cute to do lists to a digital/analog combo, and what I've realized is that, for me, simple is best! That's why I use a bullet journal which combines my love of office supplies, my desire to be a little artistic, and my need to feel in control!
You may have read about bullet journaling or watched videos of some really elaborate ways to use a bullet journal and gotten scared because it looked too hard. I'm here to tell you that you don't have to be an artist or a productivity genius to make a bullet journal work for you.
What is a Bullet Journal?
The Bullet Journal method was designed by Ryder Carroll, a former web, app, and game designer with ADD who needed a way to stay organized. He knew that study after study had shown that writing things down by hand cemented them in our memories and provided a sense of order, so he developed a way to quickly log notes, to do's, ideas, and appointments quickly and easily in a bulleted list. In addition to capturing your thoughts and tasks, you can create all sorts of collections of related information from a food log to vacation planning. The heart of the bullet journal is reviewing your information regularly and migrating incomplete but still relevant tasks so that they stay top of mind.
What Supplies are Needed?
One of the great things about bullet journaling is that you only really have to have two things to get started: a journal of some sort and a writing utensil. Other optional supplies are additional writing utensils in multiple colors, a ruler, stencils or stickers.
With the amount of options available for journals, it can get a little confusing, so let me break it down for you. The features to consider are size, cover and binding type, paper weight, paper design, book marks, closures, and pockets. Your first decision is how big do you want your journal? There are codes that indicate the size. Common sizes are labelled A5, A6, B5, and B6 that correspond to measurements.
Covers are really a preference - do you like a hard cover or a soft cover and what material? Some come with designs or quotes on the front while others are just a plain color. There are four main types of bindings: spiral bound, saddle stitch binding, perfect binding, and case binding. Spiral bindings can have plastic or metal coils threaded through holes in the pages. Saddle stitch binding is the technique when all pages are printed and then folded in half and secured with staples. Perfect binding uses a soft cover and pages are glued to the cover. Case binding is also called hardcover binding. Pages are stitched together in sections, and the sections are glued to the cover. This type of binding allows the book to lay flat on every page.
Paper weight is another important feature to consider so the ink you use doesn't bleed through. Paper weights are measured in pounds (how much a ream of 500 sheets of paper weighs) or GSM (grams per square meter.) The higher the number, the thicker the paper. The conversion between pounds and GSM is 1 pound = 1.48 gsm. For example regular printer paper is around 20 lbs or around 30 gsm, and cardstock is around 65 lb or 96 gsm. In addition to weight, paper can be lined, have grid dots, or be blank.
Some journals have other great features like built in bookmarks (sometimes up to 3), pockets for storing loose paper, elastic or magnetic closures, pen holders, and even included rulers or stencils.
I've tried several journals over the years of different styles and now have a list of must have features in a journal. I want my journal to lay flat when it's open, have prenumbered pages, have an elastic closure, a pen holder, and multiple built in ribbon book marks. This year's journal had two new features that I think will make my list - grid dots instead of lines on the pages and a pocket for a small ruler with stencils!
Writing utensils can be pens, markers, pencils, colored pencils or a combination. I prefer pens or markers and enjoy using multiple colors to create visual separation and include some artistic flair! It's important to have paper thick enough to prevent bleeding. My current journal has paper that is 160 gsm. There are many utensils that are bleed-proof. My favorite are Sharpie felt tip fine point pens that come in assorted colors. Or if you prefer a gel pen, one of my favorites is the Sharpie S-Gel fine point.
What's the BuJo Lingo?
Whenever you try something new, the lingo can be intimidating. Here are what the basic words related to bullet journaling mean:
How to Get Started
Once you have selected your journal and writing utensils, you can quickly get started! Make sure your pages are numbered, or add in page numbers yourself before you begin.
How to Maintain Your Bullet Journal
The bullet journal is only as good as what you put in it, and just like any productivity system, it requires regular maintenance. There are only three main things to remember:
1. Use it!
At first, it may be hard to remember to have your journal with you at all times. I work in an office setting, so I keep my journal on my desk for easy access. I take it with me to meetings, and though sometimes I may take notes digitally I always transfer any to do's to my bullet journal so I have a master list of to do's with me at all times.
I often take my journal to my bedroom in the evening to review the day and mark off things I've completed or delegated, and get a jump start on tomorrow. Even if you don't do this daily, it's critical to do at least weekly. Some people do a weekly spread to force themselves to do this review. I did a weekly spread for the first few months, but found that reviewing daily worked better for me.
Migration is the thread that holds the bullet journal system together. You could do this weekly if you choose to do a weekly spread or monthly if that's enough for you. Use the symbol that you decided on (most common is >) to indicate the task is not complete but it has been moved forward to a new section so that it won't be forgotten. I also look back at any delegated tasks to determine if they are completed or not. If they are not I will move them forward with the migrated symbol and the initial of the person I delegated it to. When the migrated task is complete, I will mark it as such.
The Benefits of the BuJo
I like the bullet journal system because it allows me to slow down and write things down legibly so I will be able to read them later! This sounds silly, but sometimes I feel like I have so much to do that writing something down takes too much time. Rushing is what leads to forgetting what I need to do and in turn getting overwhelmed. Writing things down helps my brain process and remember things.
I enjoy the opportunity to be a little artistic in a non-judgement zone! It's fun to use stencils and sometimes even stickers to decorate my pages. I enjoy hand lettering, and it's an opportunity to use and improve those skills. I also love that if I mess up, no one will see it, and I can just start a new page.
The biggest benefit of BuJo, is the sense of control it gives me knowing that all my tasks are captured and won't get forgotten. I have the ability to look back at the history of my notes and tasks. With the custom collections, I have the ability to track progress in many different areas of my life all at once.
So, do you think you're ready to give it a shot? Please reach out if you have any questions or need some more guidance to get started. If you want a deeper dive into the philosophy and process of bullet journaling, I recommend Ryder Carroll's book, The Bullet Journal Method
Carroll, Ryder. “Bullet Journal.” Bullet Journal, 2021, bulletjournal.com/.
Carrol, Ryder. The Bullet Journal Method: Track the Past, Order the Present, Design the Future. FOURTH ESTATE LTD, 2020.
“Commercial Printing Company in Florida: Solo Printing.” Commercial Printing Company in Florida | Solo Printing, 8 June 2021, soloprinting.com/.
“A Comprehensive Guide to Notebook Sizes.” Galen Leather, 2021, www.galenleather.com/blogs/news/notebook-sizes.
“What Does Gsm Mean When Buying Paper and Card?” Papermill Direct, 20 July 2021, www.papermilldirect.co.uk/inspire/what-does-gsm-mean-when-buying-paper-and-card.
Philipson, Samantha. “What's in a Bind? 4 Types of Book Binding – Pros and Cons.” Ironmark Blog, 2021, blog.ironmarkusa.com/4-types-book-binding.
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