We have to make two confessions.
First: if you work here, you don’t pay for notebooks. Like, ever. As long as we don’t flagrantly burn inventory, we can experiment and play around however much we want. It's the best way for us to know our stuff.
Second: even though we could have tried bullet journaling any time before now, and quite literally for free, it took us THIS LONG to give it a fair shot. Consider this article our mea culpa and subsequent PSA on what a bullet journal could do for you.
NOW WITH MORE!
After two months of bullet journaling, we came back to report on our
BuJo experience. Just look for the same color further down the page!
Given the sparkly, perfect-looking examples in places like BuzzFeed—which, of course, get the most attention—we almost dismissed the whole bullet-journaling thing as a frivolous hobby or look-at-me trend.
After all: we'd say we write in our notebooks to dig to the bottom of things, not to polish the surface of them.
It’s very possible, if you’re reading this, that you’ve had a similar thought. But here’s what we’ve discovered: bullet journaling is somewhat like beer (or wine). Both the worst AND best examples can scare newcomers away—the worst because they're messy and harsh, the best because they're pretentious and pricey.
If you like beer or wine, we’re betting there was a time (probably right near the beginning) when you didn’t like or “understand” it. But then you had some fun, you figured out what you liked and why, and now here you are.
Same thing with bullet journaling: you can start anywhere, but you just need some context or guidance, and then you can find your own way to satisfaction.
The First Things to Know
“Bullet Journaling” is a reasonably accurate and descriptive name—though admittedly, it doesn't roll smoothly off the tongue. For the name, the essential thing to understand is that a bullet journal is intended for short, concise notes (i.e. bullets) and usually not for longhand prose.
Side note: The common abbreviation is BuJo, in case you were wondering.
Side note to the side note: If you’re Googling on the subject, make sure you spell BuJo correctly. “BJ guides” will not yield the intended search results.
The next thing to understand is that a bullet journal is meant to be a multi-function book which doesn't require (perfectly) linear use. In other words: not every page will serve the same function as the last, and you won't always finish one page before moving to the next. We’ll get into some details below, but for now, just think of a bullet journal as several collections of notes kept in parallel, rather than a single collection kept in sequence.
Since bullet journals are multi-functional, another crucial point: it is entirely up to you how your bullet journal functions. You’re not “doing it wrong” if you veer away from popular examples. We do encourage you to check out what others do since it’ll give you tons of ideas, both useful and creative. (Scroll down for our links to recommended reading.) But remember: whatever you do, it only has to make complete sense to YOU.
Source: Fix.com Blog
Finally: remember that this is an iterative process, one that you will adjust through repeated experience. Bullet journaling, like so many other hobbies and habits, becomes more natural and “broken in” once you’ve gotten a few laps into it. By the time you start your second bullet journal, the daily time with it will seem automatic and you’ll have a whole head full of ideas for starting again (or so we’re told).
Typical BuJo Starting Points
As we've said, you can adjust much of this—but to start with good footing, it's worth knowing some of the common functional pieces and "rules" of a BuJo.
Daily use of a bullet journal. Bullet journals are usually structured by time. As an example, each day might get a page to itself, and all such pages will work the same way. But then, there might also be a section before/between weeks where you include your choice of summary and "feature spaces"—and in turn, you might have bigger-picture notes you're keeping month-over-month or even across the whole notebook.
Source: Fix.com Blog
In practice: this usually means some shorthand notes each day, then coming back periodically to track the other features you decide to include at the week, month, or whole-book level.
Starter pieces. A bullet journal needs its own "front matter" to function properly. Aside from name and contact info, you'll want to have space for a few key features:
- An Index or Table of Contents. Whether you plan the whole book out or just add page numbers as you go, it's super-helpful to be able to find a spot quickly.
- A key (or if you prefer, "legend"). A daily bullet journal will use a handful of different symbols for bullets—their own added form of shorthand. There are common suggestions out there, but exactly what you'll choose (and then use consistently) should be noted here for your reference.
- Top-level summary, planning, and info. Whatever you want to see, track, or have handy for the longest-term reach of this journal, leave space for it at the very front before launching into the repeated blocks.
Source: Fix.com Blog
Starter equipment and accessories. Really, all you need to start is your choice of journal or notebook and a pen(cil).
From there, your style will dictate how your toolbox expands. Do you add different colors? Do you highlight? Do you use sticky notes or tape? Check out this list of inexpensive products for enhancing your bullet journaling.
UPDATE: Our First 2 Months
When we first published this article, we'd just gotten started bullet journaling. To be honest, writing this post was our way of "jumpstarting" that personal project with research and brainstorming. (And if you want to understand something, try to teach it.)
Two months later, we have some new perspective worth mentioning and adding back to this article.
How have you used your bullet journal? What's your approach?
"Relative to most other BuJos I've seen, mine is very non-linear. What I write has very little to do with the time I'm writing it. When I have an open notebook, I prefer to develop a topic over time and 'dive deeper' than I could in a single sitting.
"During a day at work, I mostly use scratch paper for quick problem-solving and jotting down details. I totally 'get' how people could use a BuJo to keep life organized, but that doesn't gel with me—most everything I do is digital because that's how it ties together best.
"So my bullet journal is for the non-work half of my brain. That's where I can sit, go where my mind wants, and write my findings however I please. It's full of things I like thinking about, rather than things I have to think about."
What topics are covered in your BuJo? How's it organized?
"Before starting, I made a brain dump: all the things I might want to cover in the journal, or include space for. The list seemed to clump into about 5 sections, so I made them the main blocks of my BuJo. Not trying to be cute, but they're all M words."
- MEDIA — Notes on music, film, books, games, et cetera. In all cases there's a Wish List and Finished List... otherwise it's mostly title-by-title notes.
- MATERIAL — Notes on creative work (my "material"). Some of it is craft/specialty notes from what I learn, some of it is inspiration or source notes, most of the rest is ideas sorted by project.
- MENU — All things food and drink. This one forks between "consumption notes" (where/what we've eaten, or want to eat, as patrons) and "preparation notes" for anything I might want to do in the kitchen.
- ME — This is (weirdly) more data-driven than other sections, since I keep notes on subjects like weight/health and financial planning. The fun mini-section is the Wish List—everything I (know I) want that can be bought with money.
- META — The smallest block at the very end, intended for notes about the bullet journal itself (or the process of working in it). This will be most valuable when I'm starting my next BuJo.
Any good BuJo advice you've gotten along the way?
"First, from the Customer Spotlight on John Grimshaw: when talking about his Code&Quill, John pointed out that notebooks serve as an 'external brain.' That's a familiar idea, especially working in the tech era—but I'm in a very different 'mental place' when I'm writing in my notebook. Having an external brain for my personal pursuits is just as important, and it's made me happier lately.
"Second, the more generic advice, which I was given a long time ago: everything improves if you put it on paper. Sure, there's the scientific and practical bent of this—that anything written is likelier to be remembered—and that's good. But writing something also means you engage with it directly in your mind. You somehow understand it better, or feel like you do. Before this journal I didn't have much reason to include that practice in daily life, but now I do and it helps."
Where To Go From Here
The expanding world of details is where you can get lost or overwhelmed (we're still there ourselves, at least somewhat).
Still, as long as you can take their how-tos with a grain of salt, it's always good to get perspective and detail from some other people who've done it.
So here's our recommended reading:
Good Starting Points
Fix's "How to Start a Bullet Journal" (thanks for the awesome infographic!)
Sublime Reflection's "Bullet Journaling 101"
BuzzFeed's "WTF is a Bullet Journal and Why Should You Start One"
BulletJournal.com's "Top 5 BuJo Ideas of 2016"
What to Bullet Journal
Gurl.com's "20 Genius Bullet Journal Page Ideas to Stay Organized"
SheTriedWhat's "Bullet Journal Ideas You'll Want to Steal"
HouseBeautiful's "Bullet Journal Hacks"
BuzzFeed's "21 Tips from Normal People"
We'll surely be back to talk more about the BuJo — especially once we've gotten further into our own. For now, we'll just encourage you to consider this whole hobby and habit anew. Sure, it's sparkly and Instagram-trendy, but peel away the aesthetic bits and it is, functionally, an excellent way to extend your mind in writing.
Even if someone's BuJo is way too colorful and over-designed for our taste, we're not gonna lie: those pages still look fantastic and, y'know, it seems like a relaxing way to take stock of things. Maybe we'll get there someday.
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