6 Lessons Learned in My First 6 Months With a Bullet Journal

I started my bullet journal back at the end of August / early September 2017. (So it hasn’t been a full 6 months, but it’s close.) I don’t remember how I stumbled across the concept, only that I’d heard of it before, and decided in that moment to give it a shot.

I can become passionate about new ideas very, very quickly, and this was no exception – I wanted to start my bullet journal RIGHT. AWAY. I was so impatient to get started that I refused to order my journal on Amazon, and went on the hunt for a Moleskin that same afternoon. And, funny story, it turned into a wild goose chase because I couldn’t find the correct Moleskin notebook anywhere (the dotted grid). I think I went to three stores before I found it at my local Barnes & Noble.

…Anyhow, let’s backtrack. What IS a “bullet journal”? How is it different from your typical planner? Why did it impress me / why did I ultimately decide to give it a shot?

The bullet journal (BuJo for short) is an organizational system (similar to an agenda or planner) created by Ryder Carroll. I love this quote from the website: “The Bullet Journal is a customizable and forgiving organization system. It can be your to-do list, sketchbook, notebook, and diary, but most likely, it will be all of the above.”

Before we go any further, I’d encourage you to check out this brief introductory video (only 4 mins) on the BuJo website, because it describes the concept so eloquently and even instructs you how to get started. (Also, I find the narrator’s voice soothing.)

Your bullet journal can be as simple or as involved as you’d like it to be. You could use any old journal and pen, the classic Moleskin, or even the customized Leuchtturm notebook (sold on the BuJo website) – both of which I’ve linked at the end of the post. The point is, you bring your bullet journal into existence. You start from scratch. Initially, this might sound a little overwhelming, but it’s actually just the opposite. It’s freeing!

A bit of my background (pre-BuJo): I’ve always loved journals, stationary, calendars, planners, etc. But I was all over the place, because I’ve never found the one thing that worked for me. In high school, I used Lily Pulitzer planners, because they were beautiful and came with stickers and because you weren’t “cool” if you didn’t have one. In college, I researched the Erin Condren planners. I had a desk calendar. I used Google Calendar. My dad swears by OmniFocus, and I gave it a trial run but ultimately couldn’t keep up. I was always scribbling notes and lists on scraps of paper or in whatever notebooks happened to be within reach. So all my ideas, to-do lists, grocery lists, etc. were spread out, and, subsequently, very easy to misplace.

And, in an attempt to explain WHY I chose to start bullet journaling and WHY it’s still working for me, let me share 6 things I’ve learned in the 6 months I’ve been using this system:

1. The bullet journal keeps everything in one place.

Starting a bullet journal freed my mind from believing that I needed separate spaces; with this new system, my grocery lists can coexist side-by-side with my to-do lists, my bucket list, my calendar. My bullet journal has a home on my desk, and I reach for it anytime I need to jot something down. And when I record something in my bullet journal, I know it will be simple to refer back to it later. I don’t have to wonder where things are anymore. Miraculously, my desk isn’t as cluttered! There are no other notebooks/post-its/etc. floating around in my space.

2. The bullet journal serves more than one purpose – it’s not “just” a planner. For example, BuJo is awesome for capturing lists (of all sorts!).

When you purchase a planner, you adhere to its structure and layout. There’s no room for the “miscellaneous” in your life – i.e., anything that isn’t an appointment/event/task. The bullet journal, however, leaves room for the miscellaneous, because you decide what goes in it. I was excited because it was something I could control. While I do, of course, use my bullet journal as an agenda, it also includes: brainstorming session notes, time tracking (for work tasks that I complete at home), packing checklists (for weekend trips), grocery lists, my gym schedule, a goal list, and more. Maybe you’ve noticed – I really, really love lists. In BuJo lingo, lists are sometimes called “collections,” because they “organize related items” (this is in the video, roughly 3:37). For example, a list of books you’d like to read or movies you plan to watch.

3. The bullet journal “saves” or “captures” your lists/ideas/tasks/etc. It’s something you can hold on to.

The BuJo system has become a new form of scrapbooking (in a sense). If you use your bullet journal to capture things that are important to you, it’s unlikely that you’ll simply “toss it” when you’re finished. Have you ever kept a planner or agenda? Probably not. Because when the year is over, the planner is outdated. But the bullet journal is like a creative companion, and is therefore something you can keep for years to come. I think it’s fascinating to preserve a piece of yourself in this way, to flip through the pages and to remember what was important to you (when it was important, and why). Even the most insignificant of lists lives on in the pages of your bullet journal. I appreciate the “index,” (the recommended table of contents), because it allows you to easily find what you’re looking for later.

4. The bullet journal is about practicality and functionality…

In the beginning, I was frustrated that my journal didn’t look like the beautiful, artistic, creative journals I saw on Instagram and YouTube. When I realized that worrying about what my journal looked like was only bogging me down, I decided it was best to keep things simple. As I’ve previously described, I’ve tried many other systems. One of the reasons I gave the bullet journal a shot is because I grew tired of starting projects I didn’t finish. I’ve finally recognized that in order to follow-through, my organizational system has to be practical and functional. It has to meet my needs, not anybody else’s.

5. …and yet, creativity is welcome. You have creative control over the look and layout of your bullet journal.

Now that I’m becoming more comfortable with my bullet journal, I’m finding it easier to be more creative. I think this is because I know (now) what works and what doesn’t. I’ve begun to realize that certain types of content lend themselves to particular layouts. For example, when I considered the things I wanted to accomplish in the month of January, I divided the page of my bullet journal into four sections so I could categorize my goals (personal / creative / travel / work). Whereas before, I may have written out a master list, which would have been difficult to visualize.

6. The bullet journal is inspiring. No two are alike (and that’s ok!).

When I started my bullet journal, I tried to go about it like everyone else. But as I went along, I modified the system (as is encouraged!), and so I no longer use my BuJo in the traditional/classic way. For example, I don’t use the “future log” or the monthly calendars because I still use my Google Calendar for that. I don’t use the task indicators – I use bullets for individual tasks and I’ll cross them out as I go. (Like I said, I have to keep things simple!) But I feel so inspired by others’ creativity – taking peeks into someone’s journal gives me additional ideas for my spreads. What are they tracking in their journal that I might consider tracking, too? How have they organized their weekly or daily spreads? Let me tell you, there is plenty of BuJo inspiration on Instagram, YouTube, and Pinterest.

If you’re interested in starting a bullet journal (do it! you totally should!), I’ve linked to a few helpful resources…

BuJo Supplies

Moleskin dotted notebook (the dotted grid gives you the flexibility for all kinds of layouts) – This is the notebook I’m currently using. It’s great, but next time I’ll go for a notebook with thicker pages.
Leuchtturm notebook
Uniball pens (shoutout to this scene from TV show Suits for introducing me to this excellent writing instrument)
Staedtler Triplus Fineliner pens – The pens featured in my photographs! I love the colors. I’m not a fan of the super-fine point, but they get the job done and they’re certainly pretty. (And I appreciate the plastic case, the pens are easy to tote around with my notebook!)
Crayola Supertips – I don’t personally own these (yet!), but I’ve heard a lot of great things and I’m dying to add them to my collection.

Getting Started

Check out the BuJo website for an introductory video and some instruction.

“Bullet Journaling for Beginners” / WithWendy – I love Wendy’s video because she describes her organizational system prior to the bullet journal, why it wasn’t working for her, and how the bullet journal has helped. Also, I think it’s especially helpful how she points to the changes she’s made to her own system. You don’t have to “get it right” in the first day/week/month! There’s a learning curve, but it’s part of the journey.

AmandaRachLee has some really great, in-depth videos about bullet journaling. Also, her bullet journal is fantastic (view her 2017 BuJo flip-through), and I love the creativity of her spreads. Check out this video showcasing her pen/marker collection.

I’m a fan of Miss Louie on YouTube, so I’d recommend her 2018 Bullet Journal Setup video, as well as this Bullet Journaling Tips for Beginners video (a collab w/ AmandaRachLee!).

If you’re interested, follow my BuJo Pinterest board for ongoing tips/tricks/inspiration. I love learning more about the system, and I invite you to grow/learn alongside me.

I hope this helped… I’m excited to have found something that truly works, and I couldn’t wait to share what I’ve learned. Feel free to leave questions/comments, I’d be happy to share additional resources. Tell me – what organizational system works for you? Have you started a bullet journal? I’d love to hear your BuJo tips and tricks!

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