bullet journal

Bullet Journaling 101

Bullet journaling is a customizable, personalized system to organize your life. Journaling is an excellent way to process thoughts and emotions. It can help you plan and execute goals and build new routines and habits. It can also help you track and plan your daily activities. For people who don’t like to do long-form writing or don’t like writing prompts, or who do like to be more free-flowing and creative, a bullet journal might be the way to go.

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Bullet Journaling 101

What is a bullet journal?

A bullet journal is a flexible journal that can be used as a calendar, planner, and journal all in one. Ryder Carroll created the official Bullet Journal Method (also referred to as BUJO). However, the beauty of this system is that you can make it do whatever you need it to do. You can organize current events and activities, keep track of past events, and make plans for the future. All you need to start is a blank journal or notebook and a pen.

Before we dive into the parts of a bullet journal and how to use it, let’s consider whether bullet journaling is right for you.

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Who is bullet journaling good for?

People who like a paper journal

While there are multitudes of digital planners and calendar apps that you can use, for many people, paper is the way to go. There are fewer distractions when you’re working in a paper journal because there’s nothing else to look at to draw your attention. Notifications for email and texts won’t interrupt.

In addition, studies have shown a strong correlation between handwriting things and your memory. Writing and forming the letters on the page connects you to the ideas and the content, which makes it more likely for you to remember.

People who make lots of lists

Some people love lists. I am not a total list lover. I make lists as needed, but true list people make lists for EVERYTHING. They use lists to manage their lives so they don’t feel overwhelmed. They have daily to-do lists, lists for tomorrow, monthly to-do lists, event-planning lists, goal lists, habit lists…you get the idea. If you have stacks of lists floating on your desk, a bullet journal might be the system you’ve been waiting for.

Creative types

If you are a person who loves to scrapbook, engage in artistic endeavors, or doodle while you think, bullet journaling can feed that creative side. Bullet journaling is more of a technique or system than a product to purchase. It starts off as a blank canvas that you get to design to suit you.

If you buy a bullet journal, it might have some symbols, boxes, and layouts already set, but for the most part, it’s empty. You can use colorful pens, washi tape, or scraps of paper to decorate and make it look pretty.

The nice part of the blank canvas is that you can choose what type of layout you have, including the size and spacing of boxes and lines.

Journaling life style, Bullet Journaling - Planner - Notebook - diagonal top view isolated on white background with orchid
Journaling life style, Bullet Journal – Planner – Notebook – diagonal top view isolated on white background with orchid

People who have struggled with normal planners

Many of my favorite neurodivergent people struggle with using a planner. They know they need to get organized because their life is a mess. But there’s something about a typical planner that does not work for them. They have bought planners for years with the intention of really doing it this time, only to abandon them weeks later.

Bullet journaling tends to work well with someone who doesn’t work well with the restrictive nature of regular planners. You get to decide what you need instead of trying to make a pre-formatted planner work for you.

People who have seen a bullet journal and think it looks cool

I will be the first to admit I’m a little jealous of the artsy, creative people who have pretty hand-drawn planners. I wish I had the patience to do that. But I don’t. I barely remember to add the dates to my undated planner. My daughter, on the other hand, is all about doodling and coloring her planner. If this is something that you think you would enjoy, go for it.

bullet journal with bright colors

How to get started

There are plenty of bullet journals that you can purchase that are pre-formatted. You can buy individual pages or create your own. I think the biggest part of starting a bullet journal is research. You need to look at different papers and layouts, and get ideas from people who use bullet journaling.

Most bound notebooks will only have one style of page, lined or grid or dots. So if you know you like the dot format to make it easy to draw your own boxes, that’s what you get. However, if you are in the experimentation phase, I suggest using a binder system that will allow you to try different types of formatting to find what best suits you.

Setting up the journal

Most bullet journals have a set of similar pages:

  • Index
  • Future log
  • Calendar Spreads
  • Collections
  • Trackers


The index is found at the beginning of the journal and acts as a table of contents so you can find everything easily.

How you set up your index is up to you (like everything else). Make sure you leave enough space and decide what makes the most sense for organization. Do you want a linear list or will you group things by category?

Be specific as you label the pages in your book. If the titles/labels are too broad, you will get frustrated when trying to find something and it will be difficult to keep it organized.

Choose signifiers

Use creative bullets for your lists. Checkmarks, stars, arrows, circles, boxes…use your imagination. For most bullet journalers, this is one of the fun features. In addition, this is a good way to begin color-coding your planner.

Future Log

The future log is for planning your future. Divide the next two pages after your index into 3 sections each and label each section with a month. This is your six-month plan.

Calendar spreads or logs

This is the part of the planner that is going to require that you know yourself and what works for your brain.

I always suggest that my neurodivergent people have a monthly calendar to log in everything they have coming up. Otherwise, things sneak up on them. If you don’t want to draw a monthly calendar, you can print one out and glue it to the pages. Other than that, anything goes.

You can have a weekly spread or a daily spread. You can create boxes or use a numbered list.

For a monthly calendar spread, each month gets a single page. Number the rows for the dates of the month and abbreviate the day of the week. This gives you a quick overview of the month.

If you need a daily planner, you can organize each page with the sections you used. Some ideas are goals for the day, hourly time blocks, inspirational quote or affirmation, or to-do list.

calendar spread in planner

Collections and lists

For my list-makers out there, this is probably the most appealing part of a bullet journal. Instead of random sticky notes or sheets of paper all over, your lists can all be organized in one place.

Collections are used for recurring themes or areas of your life. You might have a master to-do list of things to organize or remodel on your house. You might have a list of personal goals you want to work on, but you know you can’t do them all at once. A collection is a way to keep them together and work through them.


Trackers are an excellent way to track the progress of habit building. They can be used for anything you want to keep a record of. If you want to drink more water, you can track how many glasses or ounces you drink a day. Maybe you’re starting a new fitness routine. Or tracking books you read. Trackers are a fun way to monitor your progress as the year goes on.

Pros and Cons of Bullet Journaling

I love the look of a bullet journal, but I also know that it would never work for me. I am not much of a list maker and I don’t use trackers. But there is still a lot of appeal to a bullet journal. The biggest advantage of the bullet journal is the flexibility and creativity involved. You can design the planner that fits perfectly for your brain and how you think.

For me, those are also the disadvantages. I would not find drawing the lines and boxes soothing. I am not an artistic person. In addition, the idea of not having the pages laid out or not leaving enough space to have everything organized would make me nuts.

However, if you’re using a binder system, that issue would be alleviated because you could simply add the pages you need where you need them. I would also use tabs to organize the different sections in addition to having an index. I like being able to flip to different parts of my planner as needed.

Final take: If you struggle to use a regular planner, bullet journaling might work for you. As usual, I suggest trying it out on the cheap before diving all the way in.

Bullet Journal Resources: Dotted Journal Kit with markers

The ADHD Bullet Journal

Lined journal

Grid-lined Journal

Ultra- fine point pens

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