Bullet journaling has become an extremely popular way to organize your tasks and record your memories. A bullet journal is a combination of a planner, a to-do list, and a diary, so it can hold virtually everything that you need to write down.
If you’re just starting out, you may be overwhelmed by all the different possibilities. There are an unlimited number of sections you can include in your journal, and you can design them in any way you want. While this gives you lots of room for creativity, it also can make it difficult for you to decide where to start.
With this type of journal, it is important that you have a good plan beforehand and I want to share some hacks with you!
1. Decide on Your Sections Beforehand
Preparation is key and deciding on what sections you will include is important! When you rush through setting up your bullet journal, you probably miss a lot and don’t have room to move stuff around or add new pages. The best thing you can do is make a lot of the big decisions before you even put the bullet journal together.
Choosing all of your sections before you set up your journal will help you keep it organized. You can add collection pages at any time when you think of them. However, if you want sections in your bullet journal that repeat each month, deciding on them beforehand will help you space everything out evenly and leave enough pages for each topic.
What Pages to Add
The main sections for a bullet journal are the index, the future log, the monthly logs, and the daily logs. Some popular collections pages to consider adding include:
- Yearly goals
- Books you’ve read or plan to read
- Movies you’ve watched or plan to watch
- Recipes to try
- Things that made you laugh
- Your favorite quotes
- Goals or tasks
- Personal or business lists
- Other miscellaneous collections or pages
If you’re using your bullet journal to track your progress toward goals or to help you develop new habits, you can add monthly collections pages. Choosing about how many different sections and collections you want will help you select the best sized journal. Some monthly section ideas include:
- Sleep tracker
- Weight tracker
- Water intake
- Chore log
- Spending log
2. Make All Your Decisions Before Starting the Journal
One of my struggles when I started is that I didn’t plan my setup in my journal and the design didn’t inspire me to keep using it.
- Do you want all of your pages to be uniform, or are you okay with some variety between sections?
- Would you prefer your monthly task lists to be written in calendar form or in list form?
- What do you plan to use for signifiers?
If you want to be very creative or artistic with your journal, try designing a couple of sample pages on loose sheets of paper before starting your journal. This will help you figure out exactly how you want to format your different sections without having to remove pages from your journal that you don’t like.
3. Start Simple
Keeping it simple when just starting out is great. Of course, you can look up ideas for inspiration for different areas in the bullet journal. But I also like to see the progression I’ve made throughout the process.
Once of the challenges when you’re new to journaling, you can get overwhelmed real fast and end up quitting. This is why keeping it simple can be a good start to creating a habit.
Try beginning with just the main sections of a bullet journal: the index, the future log, the monthly logs, and the daily logs. Add a couple of collections pages that are important to you, but don’t go overboard. If you want to add some color or doodles, go ahead.
4. Leave Blank Pages Between Sections
I’m a huge fan of doing every month one at a time, which means I need to leave a few more blank pages in each section because running out of space can ruin the moment.
The more you practice bullet journaling, the more ideas and inspiration will come to you. Leave at least five or six blank pages between each month, just in case you have a lot to report. If these pages end up staying blank, it’s completely fine. If you do run out of space in one section, though, don’t worry. The index at the beginning of your journal will keep track of where everything is, so you can skip ahead to the next blank page and record it in your index.
5. Color Code Your Different Categories
If you’re a fan of color, then color coding will come in handy. You can color code each section of your journal, so monthly logs are all one color, daily logs are another color, and collections are other colors. One option is to color code your collections based on these categories:
- Things that have happened
- Things you plan to happen (books to read, recipes to make, etc.)
- Habit tracking
- Tasks and goals
Another option is to get more precise and detailed with your color coding of individual tasks or items in the journal. Instead of assigning each section its own color, you can color code subcategories within the sections. For example, you can mark up your monthly spread according to different tasks or events that day. Doctor’s appointment days could be blue, birthdays could be red, and bill due dates could be green.
You can also color code your daily log by assigning different colors to different tasks. This is mostly the purpose of signifiers, but some people respond better to colors than to symbols. You could use a different color for job or school tasks, chores, events, reminders, and memories. If you’re serious about color coding, buying a collection of high quality colored pens might be a good idea. You can also use highlighters or markers to assign colors to different topics.
6. Categorize Your Index
A chronological index is perhaps the most common way to keep things organized because you can refer to things via page number with ease.
But you could easily create an index that is categorized where one page is for a specific topic in your journal, ie monthly logs, keeping everything grouped together. If you have a lot of collections, you can list the different categories in your index. When you want to find all of your journal entries that involve that particular topic, you won’t have to scan through your entire index. Instead, you can go right to that category in the index.
It’s important to decide how to format and use your index before you start setting up your journal. Make sure you leave enough pages at the beginning for your index to expand if it needs to. If you want to divide your index into lots of different categories, consider splitting your index pages into two columns, which will give you twice the space.
7. Keep Signifiers Simple
Signifiers are the symbols in your daily logs that provide visual categorization. You can take a quick glance at your list and see what type of tasks or reminders you’ve written. This is a fantastic organizational method, but it can get confusing and messy if you use too many symbols.
The purpose of signifiers is to easily recognize what’s written in your daily log, but if you have 20 different symbols to keep track of, you’ll just have to spend more time remembering or decoding the symbols. Some people keep a fold-out key for their signifiers in the cover of their journal. This can be very helpful, but it’s usually easier just to keep your signifiers simple.
Here are some examples:
- [heart shape] – For any list of things you love.
- [open circle shape] – Often used for bullet points, allowing you to check off items on a task list.
- [star shape] – When you do something amazing, use a star!
8. Use Sticky Notes
You may sometimes have short-term reminders or small lists that you want to write down but don’t want to keep in your journal permanently. Grocery lists and weekly meal plans are great lists to keep on sticky notes with your daily or weekly logs.
Also, if you design your monthly logs one at a time, you may have an event or task to remember in the next month but don’t want to make the log for that month yet. In these cases, you can add a sticky note to your current monthly log as a reminder to jot the information down when you make next month’s log.
Sticky notes can also be used to put blank pages on hold for collections or projects when you are bullet journaling. You may have an idea for a collection but aren’t yet ready to write it down. Keep a sticky note with your idea on a blank page, so you’ll remember that the page has a purpose.
9. Make It Look Pretty
Once you’re comfortable with the layout of your journal and bullet journaling has become a habit, you can start decorating. Making your bullet journal pretty is a great stress reliever, and it can make you feel especially proud of your project.
Decorating your page headers is another way to spruce up your journal. Try practicing your cursive to write elegant headers, or write your headers in bubble letters and fill them in. You can use highlighters or colored pens to decorate around the heading, or you can draw a banner around the heading to make it stand out. If you like doodling, you can add decorative borders to your pages or devote entire pages to drawings.
Even if you don’t feel that artistic, you can make your bullet journal look great just by keeping it organized and adding some color. You can add patterned washi tape to your pages to make them more artistic, or you could include photos in some of your entries to break up the text.
10. Make Journaling a Ritual
Many people are very excited to write in their journal for the first few days, but when you are certain a bullet journaling habit, it’s also easy to stop as quick as you started. Creating a routine and making it a ritual can help with the process. Try to keep your bullet journal in the same place, so it becomes a regular fixture in your life. This may be on your nightstand, in your kitchen, or in your bag to go with you everywhere.
One great thing about bullet journaling is that it’s a much smaller time commitment than other types of writing. Once you set up your monthly spread, you just have to jot down a few bullet points each day. It will be a challenge to not fall into the trap of “I will do this tomorrow”.
If you’d rather write everything down at once instead of sporadically throughout the day, find the best time of day for you to write. This could be during your lunch break, right when you get home from work, before you go to bed, or whenever you feel the most productive or creative. Set a reminder on your phone to journal during this time, and make it a habit to journal every single day.
11. Don’t Compare to Others
Looking at other people’s bullet journals can be great for finding ideas or inspiration, but you shouldn’t compare your journal to theirs. You’ll see some journals that look like professional pieces of artwork and others that only contains messy bullet points written in pencil. As fun as it can be to decorate your journal, the content matters more than the appearance, and your content is unique to you.
Also, don’t think that just because other people include certain topics or collections in their journals, you have to as well. Bullet journals are very customizable, so you only need to include what’s relevant to you. Don’t make your journal look a certain way or contain certain topics just because other journals do. This will make your journal less sincere and authentic to you.
12. Keep Looking for Inspiration
Your bullet journal should always be representative of you, but you should also keep looking for inspiration to stay interested in motivated. You can read blog posts about bullet journal ideas or look at other people’s journals on Pinterest, Instagram, or YouTube. You might see something that’s perfect for your own journal, and adding a new page will spark your enthusiasm.
Continually looking for ways to improve your journal will prevent it from becoming just another chore. It should be a fun project that helps you stay organized and lets you record important moments or ideas. If you focus on what really inspires you to write, your bullet journaling can become a lifelong project.
Let me know if you know of any other bullet journaling hacks in the comments.