Starting a Bullet Journal
Last month, I took the plunge and started my first-ever bullet journal. I spent several weeks researching what a bullet journal was and what I needed to get started and convinced myself that I could create one even without much in the way of artistic skills. Well, I managed it, and I'm loving it! Here's a quick guide to get started so you don't have to go down the bullet journalling rabbit hole that I did...
What is a bullet journal? What are the benefits of using one?
Basically, a bullet journal is a DIY planner that you build out yourself to help you best manage your monthly, weekly and daily tasks. There's obviously a lot more behind it, and it's worth Googling what a bullet journal is and how Ryder Carroll, the creator of the bullet journal concept, envisioned them to be used. In a nutshell, I was drawn to using a bullet journal for a few reasons and have found a lot of benefit in journalling this way. Bullet journals:
Reduce screen time - I work in IT and I'm really comfortable using digital project management tools... but I found that compulsively checking my tasks for the day via my phone just wasn't helping my mental health. Now, I still compulsively check my tasks but that's a matter of pulling out my physical journal. It just feels better.
Encourage thoughtfulness - Because you have to create the bullet journal from scratch, you become more thoughtful about what you put in it. If a task is quick enough that I'd rather just do it than having to write it into my journal - I just do it.
Help you set your priorities - No online digital task management system I've found was very good at both goal-setting and task management. Bullet journals are good for both. They help you focus on what's actually important.
Allow for flexible monthly, weekly and daily planning - Because you make the bullet journal yourself, you create the spreads (that's bullet journal speak for pages) that work for you. And you can tweak your spreads from month to month or week to week.
Are a 'one-stop-shop' - Bullet journals are also great for more than just planning and tasks. Use the concept of 'collections' (see below) to house other things in your bullet journal - like habit trackers, gratitude notes, wish lists, etc.
What do you need to get started?
Not much. Technically just a pen and a notebook, but here's what I prefer:
A dotted notebook (I use an A5)
Highlighters or coloured pens
What are the basic elements of a bullet journal?
If this is your first bullet journal, I'd recommend starting with the following pages. I'm not a visual artist and don't have particularly nice handwriting so I kept my designs as simple as possible. The possibilities for how you design your spreads are endless, so check out Pinterest for more artistic inspiration.
1. Key - a list of the symbols used in your journal (e.g. a square to denote a task, a triangle to denote an event).
2. Index - a table of contents (this requires you to number your journal pages)
3. Future Log - a quarterly overview of the main events for the next few months
Full disclosure: I put these three spreads in my bullet journal but I literally never look at them. I'm probably not going to use them again. I also see little value in numbering my pages - I just use paperclips to mark the important pages I refer to most often. The following, however, I do use!
4. Monthly Spread - this is a monthly overview. I draw a mini calendar (trust me, mine is about as un-fancy as it can get) with my main events for the month. I also choose three goals to focus on for the month and note them on the monthly spread.
5. Weekly Spread - for my weekly spreads, I list out three goals for the week. Simple as.
6. Daily Spreads - my daily spreads are very basic. I use half a page for each day, which leaves me plenty of space to list out my tasks for the day. I find that I work best if I list my tasks for the following day the day before, rather than planning out the whole week. I have a three-year-old, so life is just chaotic and I like to remain flexible.
7. Collections - collections are basically whatever you want to make of them! I've found a couple work really well for me. First is the habit tracker. This is where I track recurring daily tasks like doing my physio or meditation. The second is my 'task repository'. I found I needed a place to 'brain dump' all my tasks for the month, so I list out all the tasks I know I need to do (carrying over any incomplete ones from the month before) and cross them off as I complete them.
That's it! That's how I bullet journal without having artistic skills (trust me, I can't even really get a good straight line). It's fun to embellish my really simple spreads with washi tape and stickers. So far, bullet journalling has made my life a little bit easier and pulled me away a bit more from my phone. I recommend it!
Angie Spoto is an American fiction writer and poet living in Edinburgh. In 2020, she completed a PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Glasgow. Her doctoral thesis was a fantasy novel, called The Grief Nurse, and a collection of essays on grief, madness and language. The Grief Nurse has been shortlisted for the First Novel Prize 2021 and The Bridge Awards Emerging Writer Award in 2020. Angie is represented by Robbie Guillory from Underline Literary Agency.