Why I started a bullet journal

As I mentioned in a couple of previous posts (and on Instagram), I have ventured into the realm of bullet journaling. As the name suggests, it has to do with bullets and with journaling and it is – in short –  a customizable planner system. If you have no idea what I am talking about, I suggest you take a quick look here for a quick introduction, before you read any further. I assume though that most of you have heard of bullet journals by now.

I am not new to planners and journals. I’ve been using paper planners for forever, but this year, I had the itch to try something new (and I also didn’t want to shell out the money for an expensive planner, to be quite honest). I was looking for something more “engaging”, because I realized that I often wrote the same things into my old planner every week (meals, workouts, occasional appointments), but didn’t feel like I was getting the use out of it that I wanted to.

So, I set out to find a planner that was  more “customizable” to my needs, and which would help me to focus on planning, but also encourage more journaling, tracking, and creativity, all in one space. I want it to be a planner, a journal, and a creative outlet all in one.

I’ve used some sort of paper planner ever since I can remember. Definitely starting in High School. Early on, I used to buy cheap planners (or even got the promotional planners that companies would give out for free) and then spruce them up with photos and other decorations. My planners always functioned as hybrids – part planner, part journal and somewhere in my parents’ basement should be (I hope!) a bunch of old planners with tons of sentimental value. As with lots of other things growing up, time consuming things like journaling became less of a habit (and also partly replaced by my blog) and list-making (to stay on top of all the demands of adult life) became more important. Still, I still continued to make planners part planner, part journal for keeping memories.

I had Erin Condren Life Planners for a few years when they were all the hype, then I switched to Inkwell Press Planners in 2015. I blogged about them here and here.  At the end of last year though, I realized with a bit of a shock that I often wouldn’t even bother writing things down, which made me sad (and alarmed me a bit, if you want me to be a little dramatic). My work doesn’t require a lot of organizing and list making, and we use a (shared) Google calendar for meetings, but not using a paper planner for my personal life? That was out of the question. If I was honest, I just didn’t dedicate as much time to it as I used to, and I wanted to change that.

Bullet journaling is not new. I heard about it quite a while ago and I originally thought that the system was intriguing, but too “simplistic” for me. It seemed more like a system to keep track of to-do lists, but nothing more. If you look at the original bullet journal website (and watch the introductory video), it says, all you need is an empty notebook and a pen and then organize your year, months, weeks, and days by creating a list of tasks, events, and notes.

I was confused by the symbols (which I didn’t seem to be able to memorize) and it just didn’t seem like a good fit for me. I wanted something more engaging, and to be honest, something prettier than just a list in a notebook. Of course, other more artistic people took the bullet journal approach and ran with it. And this is where the bullet journal system recaptured my attention.

So, I spent some time searching the Internet for more information. I searched the hashtag #bulletjournal (or #BuJo, as it is often referred to in planner circles) on Instagram, which is where surprisingly, I did not find the simple text version that was envisioned by founder, Ryder Carroll, but a wide variety of layouts and styles.

Rachel Wilkerson Miller, senior lifestyle editor at Buzzfeed, jumped on the bullet journal train early on and coined the phrase ‘dot journaling’ for the more elaborate, diary-style layouts. She then wrote a book about it: Dot Journaling: A Practical Guide. I think she was trying to separate bullet journaling in its pure form from the ‘planner-to-do-list-diary’ hybrid that it has evolved into by renaming the approach, but  so far it seems as if most people still refer to both methods – the minimalist and elaborate layouts – as bullet journaling.

According to Rachel, bullet journaling is good for …

  • People who have a million little to-do lists floating around
  • People who like pen and paper to-do lists
  • People who are into goal-setting and habit tracking
  • People who like stationery, journaling, scrapbooking, beautiful pens, etc.
  • People who really love planners
  • People who want to really love planners, or who want to be more organized
  • People who would really like to keep a journal/diary but are having trouble sticking with the habit

… and I realized, I am all these people!

Well, let’s just say: I went down the rabbit hole browsing that hashtag and the artsy layouts instantly spoke to my creative heart. Although, I think I am pretty sure that  my personal bullet journal will probably fall somewhere in the middle between the bullet and the dot journal: a more minimalistic-leaning version with a bit of embellishment here and there. This really is the beauty of this planning system. It can be anything to anyone. There is no right or wrong  way to do this. And I know that I need something that is functional, but will also keep me enganged creatively.

I like aesthetically eye-pleasing planner designs, hence my previous use of the Inkwell Press Planner, but I also wanted to have more space and freedom when it came to using the planner, so the idea of a completely handwritten, hand-drawn journal was appealing to me on many levels. I also wanted a notebook that I could pick up at any time and jot down everything I wanted to remember: things to do, notes, blog ideas, thoughts, and obversations. The bullet journal seems to combine both.

It allows you to use its pages as you go, instead of a pre-printed planner that has the whole year layed out for you, and it encourages to write down anything that comes to your mind on the next free page (or pages!) of your journal, regardless of what page came before it. You have all the space that you need to put down your thoughts (and then you just note the page in your index at the front of the notebook, so you can easily find it again later).

On a side note, one of my complaints about other planners often was that I felt like I couldn’t write everything down that I might have wanted to write down, because the pre-printed space wouldn’t support my rather large handwriting or there was not enough extra space to get creative. As I said earlier, I want to be more engaged with my planner and in my bullet journal, I can use as much space as I want, because there is always another empty page waiting for me. I can throw in some journal entries, scrapbooking pages, book or craft project lists, or anything else I deem worthy of writing down.

I will probably share some of my other layouts at some point. I am still in the “setting up and trying out” -phase and I am keeping it fairly simple for now. One thing I read over and over again was to keep it simple and not overthink your layouts, especially at the beginning. Once you get the hang of how things work and when you figure out what kind of layouts/spreads will work – or not work – for you, you can start getting more creative (if you wish). I’ve been told that spreads will likely change over time, either due to boredom or out of necessity (and I consider this a good thing).

That is one of the things I am expecting to really love about bullet journaling: the flexibility to adapt and change my spreads as needed. Not every month looks the same, so why should your bullet journal layout? Give yourself permission to change your approach and your layouts as needed and let go of your perfectionism (hard one for me!) and embrace that your bullet journal will likely change with the times. It’s a good thing (or so I heard).

If you want to get an idea of how things might go right after you decide to start bullet journaling, this made me laugh (plugged from Rachel’s Buzzfeed article linked above), because I was definitely a bit overwhelmed at the beginning. But fear not, it’s really not as complicated as it sounds. I am barely 6 weeks into this adventure and feel much more confident already.  It’s really only as complicated as you yourself make it out to be.

If this post piqued your interest, there are a ton of resources out there (Instagram accounts, tons of blogs dedicated to bullet journaling, and YouTube videos with page-throughs and tutorials), so I won’t go into any more details here. Let’s just say: you can make a bullet journal into whatever you want it to be and that was the most intriguing part for me.

Some blogs I have been following (to name a few):

Ryan Carroll (Inventor of the Bullet Journal) | @bulletjournal

Boho Berry | @boho.berry

Tiny Ray of Sunshine | @tinyrayofsunshine

Page Flutter | @pageflutter

Productive & Pretty | @productiveandpretty

LittleCoffeeFox | @little_coffee_fox

Christina77Star |  @christina77star

The Petite Planner | @the.petite.planner

Phew. This got much longer than anticipated, so kudos to you if you made it all the way down here. If you have any questions for me, hit me up, although I think most questions have already been answered in all the helpful posts you’ll find about bullet – or dot – journaling online. If you also bullet journal, share your spreads with me! I am curious!

I’m planning to share some of my bullet journal supplies in a follow-up post, if you’re interested.

  1. I love bullet journaling! Love this inspiration :)

  2. I don’t have a bullet journal, but I love seeing everyone’s bullet journal. I’ve been considering trying one, but I’m not sure if it would work for me. I already use a planner, but I do tend to make tons of lists.

    1. If your planner works well for you, you don’t need to switch. If you do need more space for lists and other notes, I do suggest you give this a try. :)

  3. I have been so curious about bullet journaling and have really been thinking about trying it out! I love seeing your layout and how you are doing it! I’ll have to see about giving it a try!

    1. It was definitely a bit overwhelming in the beginning, but you gotta tell yourself that you don’t have to compare your bullet journal with anyone elses (to take the pressure of). I know people who bullet journal in a very minimalistic way and it works well for them.

  4. This is a great post about bullet journaling, something I’ve wanted to try for ages but something I’ve known very little about. Seriously, thanks for sharing this!! I think the problem I always have is that I don’t use the space in my planner the way I should—so either pages are too filled up, or I have little room to write. Anyway, all this things sound like me so may have to give this a whirl :) xo

    1. Thanks Charlotte. I hope you do give this a try… it’s quite fun!

  5. I so wish I had the time to do this because it is likely something I would enjoy. I actually used to get empty journals (really small ones) and I would write out as you have the days and make my own agenda. (This was back in college.) I recently got an agenda only to note down when Caelum gets sick and how he progresses during that bought of illness, how much medication he needs, and how much of his emergency inhaler/nebulizer we give him per day until he gets better as his doctors keep asking me and it’s getting hard to remember! I just jot down notes on the days he’s been sick and need to keep fleshing out an online journal on google drive I started so I can remember stuff. It’s been so useful and helpful in that sense.

    I do feel bad because I should be jotting down daily or weekly musings about him and what he does so he can look back at them one day if he wants. A bullet type journal would be great for that. I even have an empty journal (really nice one) sitting on my night stand at home, waiting for me to write stuff about him in it and stick my little instant photos of him on it, but alas, time. I need more time in the day friend. *sigh*

    1. Well, if you keep a notebook in your purse and jot things down, you’re doing it already, friend. It definitely takes less time than I thought it would (but I am also purposefully keeping things simple!).

  6. Your journal is so beautiful! Mine is so basic but like you said, how it’s used is totally up to the user and what they want out of it. I stayed away from bullet journaling because I thought it was only for artistic people – and that is so not me. But I came to see that it would be a great way to plan my life and that I didn’t need the rigidity of a planner like my Erin Condren planner. And it was cheaper. I also like how small the journal we both use is. It easily fits in my purse. I end up taking a lot of notes from doctors appointments and it’s great to have one place to keep all of that info since I often have to refer back to it. I also used it to take notes when we visited the 4 daycares we were considering and again, it was nice to have one place where I had all the info about the places we were considering.

    You definitely learn as you go with this, though. Like I learned that it’s best for me to have all my monthly calendar layouts done ahead of time instead of using a future log. So for 2018, I have the month layouts for all the months in one section. That makes it easier to keep track of the many doctor appointments I have coming up!

    I’m glad you are liking it so much! I’ve been using mine since June and I absolutely love it and can’t see myself going back to buying a planner!

    1. I remember I went back to your post, Lisa, to see how you were doing it… because I love that you don’t pressure yourself to make it fancy, but use it they way it works for YOU. I love that about the whole approach. It doesn’t need to be artsy!

  7. According to Rachel’s list bullet journaling would be perfect for me as well. I LOVE planners and I love to make lists even more. But I’ve been always intimidated by the idea of actually making the journal myself! I think I could have written a similar list like Rachel after starting a BJ. I love the idea bullet journaling, but I know that I’d be not consistent enough. That’s why I kept using a ready-to-use planner and I’m loving the one I’m using this year. https://einguterplan.de
    I got it for Christmas (was on my wishlist ;-) ). Have you heard of it? And on another note, my teenage daughter started a bullet journal and she’s is REALLY into it! She even facetimes with a friend every night and they bullet journal together. Maybe I should give it a try at one point?

    1. I hadn’t heard about “Einguterplan.de”, but I just checked it out. They look like nice journals… but there are a lot of pre-formated layouts in there (that I am not sure I would use). You should see how bullet journaling works for your daughter and then you can think about if you want to try next year ;)

  8. I love your creativity! I started bullet journalling at the end of last year and I love the flexibility but I’m still playing around with collections and spreads. I’m inspired to add a running log and knitting projects collection too :)

    1. So cool you’re also bullet journaling! I’d love to see some of your spreads. As I said, there is no right or wrong way to do it!

  9. Ooh yes, please! Share more on what you do. I love reading people’s posts about planners and bullet journals. I’m using my bullet journal (first time I’ve done one is this year) for entertainment purposes, so things like movies and books, etc. We’ll see how it changes through the year! :)


    1. Oh cool, you’re also bullet journaling. Would love to see some of your spreads!

  10. Looking like it’s going good!
    As said before I’ve been intrigued with bullet journaling for a few years but I don’t think i will keep it up once i have to make the spreads. I kinda do hybrids in a ready made planner where i will empty spaces with habit trackers or pixels-a-day spreads. But I often fail to fill them. So I don’t know if I would do in making monthly and daily spreads too
    But I am looking forward seeing your inspiration coming up here!
    Happy Thursday

    1. I’ll definitely keep the spreads simple, because I know that otherwise it won’t work for me. I need to be able to make a basic spread in a few minutes…

  11. Last year I finally found a journal method that works for me (most of the time). It’s been so good to get back into the swing of regular journaling outside of reminders for appointments or grocery items or whatever that populate my planner. Huzzah for new things!


  12. I’m definitely not craft enough to try the bullet journal thing, but I do LOVE looking at how everyone else is organizing their lives. There are so many pretty layouts & so many things to track that I haven’t considered. All that said, my current planner does function almost like a journal – I write down important meetings & gym sessions, but I also write little recaps of my day in there too, and stick little scraps of paper in there, like movie tickets, etc. I like that’s it’s a snapshot of my year.

Comments are closed.