Bullet Journal – What Is It?

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Are you wondering what a bullet journal is and what is the bullet journaling trend you may have heard about? The bullet journal has been around in a less structured form for a long time. It takes the best features of many different organizing and scheduling tools to keep you on schedule, on task and focused. It’s a brilliant tool that is invaluable for keeping my busy life organized and on track. 

hand holding pencil and writing in open journal on wood table with title text overlay reading What Is a Bullet Journal
Photo by Estée Janssens on Unsplash

When I first heard of bullet journaling, I thought, “Bullet Journal? What is it?” Then I discovered that I’ve been bullet journaling for years, but simply called it my To Do List. My bullet journal has kept this busy mom of three and small business owner organized, focused and sane through many military moves and many life events. I can’t say strongly enough how much I rely on my bullet journal to keep my life, my family and my business running smoothly. 

Bullet Journal – What Is It?

Bullet Journaling has been a hot trend for a while in the planner and on-line organizing communities.

Bullet Journaling may be for you if:

  • You love to-do lists
  • You love checklists
  • You haven’t found the perfect planner for your unique needs
  • You need to get organized
  • You need help completing tasks on-time
  • You’re tired of juggling a calendar, a planner and miscellaneous To Do Lists

If you have too many things to remember and think about on a daily basis, you need a simple system to help you keep track of everything. Bullet journaling is your answer. We all have many different daily tasks, appointments, and various things we need to remember. Trying to keep track of everything in your head is exhausting. Keeping track of all those notes and slips of paper is impossible. The stress is further compounded if you manage a team at work or a family. How much more productive and less stressed could you be if you don’t have to try to remember all this stuff in the midst of your busy, busy life?

A bullet journal is a way of keeping track of everything you need to do in one notebook. It usually consists of three different parts:

  • The first part includes the index and key. They’ll be located on the first few pages of your journal and help you stay on track with what information is located where in the bullet journal. This is the backbone of how the bullet journal is organized.
  • The second part consists of a monthly log or calendar and running daily entries. This is the calendar/planner portion.
  • The last part of a bullet journal is called collections or lists. They’re simply lists of related things you want to keep track of. For example, you may have a list of tasks to accomplish, a budget, a list of books you want to read or a list of clients you need to contact.

The foundation of a bullet journal is the first two or more pages set aside for the bullet journal index. Number every page in your bullet journal and then list every page number on your index. Leave space to write the contents of each page next to the corresponding page number. 

At the beginning of the month set up a monthly calendar page. It’s the calendar part of your bullet journal and gives you a one-page look at your month. This is your space to record appointments, anniversaries, birthdays, holiday and such. Some people list all the days of the month, 1 through 30 or 31, and leave space to note appointments as they come up (similar to the bullet journal index you created on the first two pages). Others prefer to draw a more traditional monthly calendar grid on one page or over two pages. Try both styles and see what works better for you.  When you create a monthy page, note the page number(s) and record that month on the index next to the page number(s).

As tasks and items arise, you’ll record them in your bullet journal and note them on your index.

On the next blank page, enter today’s date and start recording things you need to take care of today, appointments to keep today, and anything else you need to keep track of including quick notes and ideas. This is your To Do List and note taking page. I prefer to put my daily To Do List on one side of a page and my Daily Notes page on the facing page (or backside of the To Do List page). 

Most people use a task key to manage the To Do List tasks.  Think of it is as the ultimate ongoing to-do list. There are many variations on the task key, but two common task keys are:

  • Original Key
    • ⃞       Task
    • ■    Completed Task
    • ⍈  Migrated Task
    • ⃝      Appointment
    • ⬤   Completed Appointment
    • ⟴ Migrated Appointment
    • –     Notes
  • New Key
    • ᐧ (Dot) Task
    • X          Completed Task
    • >          Migrated Task
    • Appointments and notes are used as before.
    • Any task on your list can be crossed out if it is no longer applicable or needed.

Pick the task key system that seems most intuitive for you and implement it as you record the things you need to keep track of and remember in your Bullet Journal. Feel free to adapt the key so that it works best for you. 

At the end of the day review your task list. Things that have not been completed need to either be crossed out because they are no longer relevant and important or they should be moved forward to tomorrow’s or a future page. 

hand writing in open journal with flowers and purple highlighter nearby

An additional benefit of the bullet journal is that you have a permanent record of the tasks you’ve accomplished and information you recorded. It’s simple to flip back to an earlier page to reference a task or note. 

The final portion of the bullet journal is your collections or lists. You can personalize this area for your unique needs and interests. Some common lists uses are:

  • Savings Tracker
  • Expense Tracker
  • Exercise Tracker
  • Water Consumption 
  • Exercise Tracker
  • Bucket List
  • Books to Read
  • Brainstorming Ideas
  • Gratitude List
  • Gift Ideas
  • Birthdays & Anniversaries

When thinking about a bullet journal and what is it, I think it’s the best of a calendar, a planner, a To Do List and a journal all contained in one place. My bullet journal is the single best tool I have to keep myself, my family and my business organized, on task and operating smoothly. 

More Bullet Journal and To Do List Ideas:

For more simple and powerful productivity tips, hacks and printables, see the table below. You can scroll though the table and look for ideas or search for specific ideas with the magnifying glass in the upper right-hand corner (on desktop). Click on the topic and then click through the specific article.

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  1. This is a great explanation of what a bullet journal is. I like the idea of being able to look back in case you need to reference something. I think it could also encourage you as you look back and see how much you’ve accomplished!

    1. That’s a great point, Brenda. I don’t do enough of that and it’s important to give yourself credit for what you’ve accomplished. I’m so glad you’ve given me the idea, so I can incorporate it more.

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