Keeping a Bullet Journal

by Amanda Fleet

Let's start with "What is a Bullet Journal?"

You may have seen a million Instagram posts or blog posts with wonderful "Bullet Journal spreads" that are full of washi tape and highlighter, and different coloured pens and stamps and stickers and so on, but originally, The Bullet Journal is a method of processing notes/lists/to do/etc into one notebook. Its creator is Ryder Carroll, who wrote a book about the method. His website is also a wealth of information. Be reassured... you don't have to do all the artistic flourishes and spreads! You can Bullet Journal with nothing more than a single pen/pencil and a notebook. Many people use a dot-grid or squared notebook, but honestly, any notebook will work - plain, lined, dot-grid, squared. Dot-grid or squared make it easier if you want to create a fancy layout, but they're not essential.

In essence, in bullet journaling, everything goes into one notebook, whether it's an appointment, a task, a note of something like a song to look up... everything. At the end of the day/week/month, you then process all of this information. Tasks that have not been completed are either deleted (because you no longer deem them important) or migrated to a new day/week/month. The notes are processed into "Collections". New appointments are added. You keep an index/table of contents at the front of the book, listing what's on every page, to make finding all of your notes easy.

That's a lot of information in one paragraph, so let's go through the system slowly. There's also an excellent video summarising the system on the Bullet Journal site, if you're more of a visual learner.

1. The Index/Table of Contents

This is right at the front of the notebook (or, right at the back if you prefer) and is used to reference everything that's in the book. If you buy a dedicated Bullet Journal notebook, the index is already designated at the front for you. If you're using any old notebook you have to hand, you'll have to leave a bit of space for it. It's better to leave too much space for the index than not enough. Have a look at how many lines there are per page, and how many pages in the notebook to gauge whether to leave one double spread for an index or more.

2. The Future Log

This is a "six months to a view" essentially. Use a double-page spread and divide each page up into 3, to give you six months at a glance. This could be used for big-picture planning or project plans. Anything that might be being done over more than a month. Once you've drawn it, add it to the index, with the page numbers, so you can find it again.

3. Monthly log

This is nothing more complicated than a double-page spread looking at the month. On the left page, list the dates of the month vertically down the left-hand side of the page, with M, T, W, Th, F, S, Su to designate the days, and the name of the month across the top. It's used to note appointments/commitments etc. The right-hand page is used for tasks that fall in that month. Again, add it to the index.

4. Daily log

This is the core of the system. Start on the next page after the monthly log and write in the day's date. Each day, note the tasks, appointments and notes for the day. Tasks are denoted by a dot next to the task. Appointments are given an open circle. Notes are given a dash. If you want to mark important tasks, add a star next to the dot.

This is known as "rapid logging" - capturing all information rapidly and all in one place, rather than scattered across scraps of paper or different places.

Okay, then what?

Well, the "then what" is the most important bit! It's all well and good to note everything down, but this information needs processing.

5. The review process

When you choose to do this is a matter of personal preference. Some people prefer to do a quick review at the end of each day, with a longer review at the end of each week and month. Some prefer just to do this monthly. Ryder Carroll describes it as a monthly event.

Whenever you're doing it, go through the notes made on the daily log and cross through the dots next to tasks that are completed. Any that aren't completed that still need doing, add to the following day's list, and add a ">" to indicate they've migrated. Why the italics? Because an important part of the review is to consider whether a task really still needs to be done or not. Sometimes, tasks cease to be important or relevant. In which case, just cross them out.

Some people find it helpful to indicate tasks have been migrated from another day, so they can see if they've moved a task multiple times. In which case, maybe the task isn't actually very important, after all.

Notes get transcribed to "Collections" (see below).

6. Collections

These are where those notes such as "books I want to check out" would be kept. Start a new page (some people prefer to start at the next free page at the back of the book so that all collections are together, with all logs at the front; others just use the next free page at the front). Write the title of the collection across the top of the page (e.g. "Books to Read") and note the page number and the collection in the index.


So, that's the system. What do you need for it?

Essentially, you need a notebook and a writing implement. And that's it.

Good notebooks for Bullet Journaling

Pretty much any notebook will do, but for a monthly log, it's helpful to have enough lines/spaces to have 1-31 all on one page, so an A5 dot-grid is a handy size. Since you're using page numbers in the index, it's helpful to have a pre-numbered notebook, but this isn't essential.

The following notebooks all have numbered pages and table of content pages at the start.

Leuchtturm Bullet Journal
As you might expect, it has everything you need for bullet journaling! Includes a guide to bullet journaling, 240 numbered pages, table of contents.

Port West A5 dot-grid
170 pages; hardback woven cover, flat lay design, page numbers, 4 pages for table of contents

Clairefontaine A5 dot-grid
184 numbered pages and table of contents on 8 pages

Octagon Once Upon A Time Journal in black or red
A5ish (13.5 x 20cm) 114 numbered pages; 4 table of contents pages

The following notebooks are A5ish (13.5 x 20 cm) and have numbered pages, but no table of contents included.

Octagon notebook 128 numbered pages
Calm 121 numbered pages
F*ck Normality 121 numbered pages
Uses 121 numbered pages
Answers 121 numbered pages

If you don't mind about numbered pages or a table of contents, there are LOTS of notebooks on the site!

If you also want to use stamps in your shiny new bullet journal notebook, then there are some by Pebble with the days of the week, months and numbers. There's also a delightful little stamp by Dapper for you to note the weather.


Of course, if you want to get into all the fancy layouts and stickers and decorations, go right ahead. But at its heart, bullet journaling involves none of that. It's a system to rapidly log things, then process that information. All it needs is a notebook and a writing implement, and Nero's Notes has plenty of those to get you started.