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Here's why everyone's talking about the Bullet Journal - and how it can improve your life

It’s a fun way of organising yourself – honestly.

Screen Shot 2017-01-08 at 09.16.31 Source: Aoife Barry

NEW YEAR, NEW you. Or at the very least, a ‘new-ish, slightly more productive and in control of your life’ you – that’s what many of us are reaching for as we enter 2017.

But making changes and taking on new projects can be overwhelming. I know I’m guilty of abandoning half-knitted scarves and bowls of quinoa over the years.

When it comes to organising your life, however, there is one small way to get things started – and as a project-beginner-and-then-dropper, I can vouch for the fact that it is really, really easy to keep it going. Honestly.

It’s called bullet journalling, and I’ve been using the system since June – and it’s honestly changed my life in some big and small ways.

If you’re someone who has to-do lists written on scraps of paper, scribbles on post-it notes to beat the band, and is always writing lists or thoughts in different notebooks (and then can’t find them), the Bujo is for you. You get to keep everything in the one place, and give yourself some peace of mind.

What is bullet journalling?

It’s described as ‘the analog system for the digital age’, which is a fancy way of saying that all that it requires is a notebook and a pen.

Yes, there are special Bullet Journal notebooks (more on them later), but you honestly just need a blank notebook and a pen to get you started. If you’ve a ruler, that’ll come in handy too.

Bullet journalling (we’ll call it Bujoing from now on) was developed by a guy called Ryder Carroll – who is, naturally, living in New York. As he told Livescribe, he wanted to work on a personal project, and decided to tackle how people take notes.

It took “a very long time” to come to the current Bujo system, and Carroll doesn’t see it as finished.

What he came up with was this:

A bullet journal, which is, essentially, a planner, organiser and journal in one. You can use it for work, for your personal life, or for a personal project.

I use mine for a combination of all of the above.

How do I get started?

Bujo is about a very basic system, but the terms it uses can seem a bit odd, so here they are broken down (and, yes, I know there will be sniggering at the back over the word ‘log’…):

  • Rapid Logging

Writing down your tasks succinctly (shorter sentences are better), using specific bullet points

  • Index

Keeping a table of contents at the start of the notebook so you can refer back to pages

  • Daily Log

Your daily to-do list (note – I combine my week of daily logs from Monday to Sunday  into a Weekly Log)

  • Monthly Log

At-a-glance calendar for the month ahead with stuff you need to do/goals in it

  • Future Log

A calendar for the year ahead where you can put down long-term goals/events

The first thing to do when you want to Bujo is read the guide on the Bullet Journal website and watch this video:

Source: Bullet Journal/YouTube

Now that you’re back: What I found helpful after reading about the system was to then write down (separately) what I wanted to put into my Bujo to get started:

  • An index (to be filled in as things get added to the journal – leave at least 2 – 4 pages for this)
  • A ‘future log’ (where I would put in the name of each month of the year with space to write what’s coming up – this took about 4 pages)
  • A monthly log (each month I write in the dates for the month ahead, with space to write what’s coming up on each day – 1 page)
  • A weekly log (outline created at the start of each week – not in advance – 2 pages for me, filled in daily)
  • A list of goals/tasks for the start of the month (1 page)

Here’s one style of weekly log:

Screen Shot 2017-01-08 at 09.18.05 Source: Aoife Barry

The key with Bujoing is to go month by month and week by week. Set up your monthly log at the start of the month. Set up your weekly log at the beginning of the week. Fill out the daily log each day – that literally means just adding your task/to-do list.

It might take about an hour to get your first few pages set up, but then it shouldn’t take more than a few minutes each day to add your tasks/make notes. Some people review their Bujo every evening, whereas I tend to use it as a work to-do list and then on a Sunday I’ll set up the weekly plan so that I’m sorted for the week ahead. Then I just have to add the tasks as I go.

When you need to write something else in (like a page for notes, or a list of books you want to read), just do this on the next available page. Don’t skip ahead. This is key with Bujoing. Fill out the pages as you go. You might start out all gung-ho and create a load of pages that you then abandon. That’s ok –  you’ll refine what you use as the weeks go on.

You keep track of everything by writing the page number and description into your index. If your notebook isn’t numbered, you’ll need to number the pages as you go.

Rapid logging

Screen Shot 2017-01-08 at 09.17.36 Source: Aoife Barry

This is the backbone of the Bujo system. Even if you say ‘screw you!’ to monthly logs or weekly pages, if you don’t follow this rapid logging system to some level, you’re not really Bujoing.

Rapid logging uses ‘bullets’ or notation to allow you to quickly log entries into your Bujo.

This means that at a glance you’ll be able to look at your list of tasks/etc for any given day and be able to tell how many tasks, events, priority items, etc you have.

They look like this:


Essentially, what you’ll end up with is a list every day of what you need to do, with the special bullet points letting you see at a glance what you’ve to do.

For example, when an item is completed, write a big fat X over the bullet point. If it’s a priority item, put a star next to it.

You carry over (migrate) any unfinished tasks to the next day, using this symbol: >

This helps you realise “hey, I’ve had ‘email my dog’ on my list for three days – this needs to get done now”.

Wait a minute. Isn’t this just a fancier way of writing to-do lists?

Of course it is. And that’s the key.

It gives you a system that is both usable and interesting (and, dare I say it, fun). This creates a sense of purpose and excitement around your to-do list that makes it something you want to tackle.

By creating a system and plan around taking your daily to-do notes, you become – in my experience – more engaged in what you’re doing and what you have to do.

In addition, if you’re the kind of person who gets overwhelmed by tasks and to-do lists, this puts everything in the one place and gives you a sense of order.

It also can spur you on to take more note of your goals and interests in life.

You might want to create lists in your Bujo: books to read, films to watch, how many kilometres you’ve run this week, how your mood is each day, when you visit your parents, etc.

Which leads me to…

Branching out with your Bujo

Screen Shot 2017-01-08 at 09.17.02 My December monthly layout Source: Aoife Barry

Now, Bujoing is two things at once: a prescribed system and an adaptable system.

I have the usual weekly and monthly pages, plus pages for any thoughts/ideas/ goals that come to mind.

I track my runs, reading, and vitamins I take, and when I bring lunch to work. It’s all a way of keeping me accountable for things like budgeting and my health. Also it’s quite fun filling out the squares in the tracker.

In addition, Bujoing has turned into a really creative pursuit for me – and for thousands of other people who are joined Bujo forums, tag their Instagram posts with #bujo, and tweet about bullet journalling. I’ve gone to a calligraphy workshop and reawakened my love for drawing all because of starting a Bujo.

There are people who dedicate their blogs and YouTube channels to tips for bullet journallers. The internet has turned what is a solitary, analog pursuit into a way of connecting with others digitally.

You don’t have to want to tweet or post about your Bujo. You don’t have to be able to draw, or want to use coloured markers, or write in a specific notebook. You might just want to follow the basic rules of the Bujo system.

And that’s the joy in it – there’s no pressure.

Finally – what’s this about special notebooks?

You’ll find that the Bujo notebook of choice is usually the Leuchtturm1917 (with dots instead of lines). In fact, this got so popular that Leuchtturm has a special Bullet Journal which already has the index, page numbers, and Bujo tips. If you have around €20 to spare, it’s recommended.

But if you have any old notebook knocking around at home, then you can start with that. (Moleskines are also another great fancy notebook, as are Paperchase’s notebooks).

But before you start, don’t forget to visit the official Bullet Journal site and read up on the system.

If you’re into Bullet Journalling, why not share your thoughts and tips in the comments?

Read: Life Coach: 2017 is the year for you. Ditch your old-but-comfy habits>

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