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How to Make Bullet Journals Work for You

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With her bullet-journal experience spanning from the mid-2018 onward, Dina A. is keen on demystifying the process.

Image courtesy of StockSnap on Pixabay

Image courtesy of StockSnap on Pixabay

How to Be More Creative and Productive With Bullet Journals

Bullet journals have steadily gained momentum since the early 2010s. Nowadays, bullet journal must-haves line the corners of various stores. As the latest organizational tool, bullet journals may be something you want to try out. For me, I was intimidated by the sheer volume of bullet journal information, rules, and advice. Here are my top tips on how to make bullet journals work best for you.

  • If you are struggling to squeeze your goals into the tiny squares of a planner, this article is for you.
  • To my fellow artistically challenged people, read on to see how bullet journals are demystifying creativity for me.
  • To those who are curious about bullet journals but don’t want to wreck their budget, this post will cast a light on low-cost ways of maintaining bullet journals.

Why Bullet Journal in an App-Driven World?

I began journaling as part of my homework for therapy. Contemplating the discussions in therapy throughout the week strengthened their impact. Unorthodox as it may seem, my bullet journals took shape as I tracked the effects of medication on my productivity and moods. They are helpful for me to see a larger picture, especially when my moods would often paint a grim picture of my life. I would have data to back up my claims—or to question them.

While there are digital applications to track habits and moods, writing things down has a power of its own. The act of taking time to write things down can be therapeutic. If you are averse to art (like me!), a bullet journal can help ease you into an art practice. The small scale of your art pieces can increase your confidence. Maybe you’ll find doodling in your journal comforting or fun.

Most importantly, a bullet journal can start a journey to self-appreciation. Seeing everything you do in one notebook can help you have reflections on what works and what doesn’t. I advise you to keep your old bullet journals because they can give you an accurate picture of your growth over time.

Finally: This all accumulates into self-compassion and forgiveness. Sometimes, it takes the physical practice of noticing time in relation to your tasks and goals. The truth is: we all tend to have plenty on our plate. Having a visual representation of all these duties and plans can soften the severity of your self-talk.

Bullet Journal Basics

Bullet journals combine elements from diaries and planners. The concept was created by Ryder Carroll, a digital product designer. There are some staples of bullet journals, but the main ones revolve around visuals. Your use of a bullet journal may get easier if you keep these key terms in mind.

How to Use an Index

First, the bullet journal system allows you to combine lists, journals, and planners. To make the journal more accessible, it may be handy for you to have an index. An index is exactly like a book’s index. It lists page numbers and the content available on said pages.

Customize your index so that it is easy to navigate. Vary colors to refer to specific types of pages in your index. You can use highlighters or diversify the pen colors on this page. If you don’t want to keep an index, there are alternatives. Relying on post-it notes or small tabs can simplify indexes.

Keep the types of content small in numbers to avoid overwhelm. I have eventually allocated elements of my life to separate bullet journals altogether. This is an option to consider if space becomes an issue.

Keys, Migrations, Collections, and Logs

  • Next are keys. A key is a catalog of symbols that you intend to use throughout your bullet journal. Like indexes, I suggest you keep the symbols clear and unique.
  • Signifiers are another way of sorting your to-do list’s elements by importance. Creating signifiers can simplify the agonizing process of deciding which tasks to reschedule if any surprises change your availability.
  • Migrations are bullet journal staples. Even with signifiers in place, you will sometimes need to move tasks to a later section of your journal. That’s where migrations can be utilized. I have used migrations to also continue overflowing collections.
  • When it comes to lists, the general advice is to maintain collections. Collections are pages dedicated to content related to each other. Maybe you need to keep a list of purchases in a month. Or, maybe you want to have lists of special memories within a specific part of your life. If you mark it clearly, the sections of collections can provide insightful information. They can do that without being overwhelming, which is an advantage.
  • What is a planner without lists of anticipated events? Bullet journals traditionally have dailies, monthly logs, and future logs. The daily logs are called dailies. You can implement the symbols you’ve listed in your keys section.
Image courtesy of gloriak2700 on Pixabay

Image courtesy of gloriak2700 on Pixabay

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What You Need to Get Started

As you peruse articles on bullet journals, you may feel pressured to purchase certain products. However, I suggest simplifying the process and lowering the stakes. When I started journaling, I noticed that the more expensive the materials, the more daunting it became to use them.

Here are some ideas of products to use:

  • Journals in stores like Ross, Marshalls, grocery stores, and dollar stores. I go for plain lined ones.
  • Simple single-subject lined spiral notebooks during school sales or discounts.
  • Blue and black ballpoint pens
  • Colored pencils—aim for the smallest package. I went for a Crayola box in the kids’ crafts section of a grocery store.
  • Construction paper, colored post-it notes, any scraps of paper you are willing to part with in the spirit of creative courage.
  • Glue stick or tape
  • Scissors—before going out and buying new ones, look around your home. I found a couple of scissors that belonged to my younger sister’s elementary school days. They have zigzagging patterns and I adore them.
  • A highlighter of your choice
Ideas for bullet journal themes

Ideas for bullet journal themes

Inspiring Bullet Journal YouTube Channels

Using bullet journals can be improved with some research. The internet offers access to a diverse group of bullet journal users. As always: proceed with an open mind. Remember that what works for others can be altered or adjusted to work for you, too.

Below is a sampling of my favorite prominent YoutTube bullet journal accounts.

  • Amanda Rach Lee: Amanda was a key figure in my early bullet journal process. She has an artistic flair that is not alienating. It's a delicate balance to strike. Her enthusiasm livens her content. Her stationary reviews and organization videos are my favorite.
  • Caitlin’s Corner: As a recent college graduate, Caitlin has stress-free bullet journal content. Her bullet journal plans are simple and efficient. If you want easy planning videos, Caitlin's Corner is a good fit.
  • Jenny Journals: Her posts are colorful and whimsical. In part, this is because she uses watercolors in her bullet journal materials Jenny's artistic bullet journal spreads reinvigorate my approach to my own journals. Be sure to check out her Instagram for more dreamy motivation.
  • The Petite Planner: If you are interested in expanding your doodling skills, the Petite Planner’s content is for you. She has wonderful videos on doodling challenges.
  • Jordan Clark: She shares wonderful drawing tutorials, plan-with-me sessions, and all kinds of creative do-it-yourself ideas that can free you from having a boring bullet journal.
Creative avenues to take with your bullet journal

Creative avenues to take with your bullet journal

Tips for Maintaining Your Journal

After nearly two years of using bullet journals, I recommend:

  • Use them with an open mind.
  • Resist the urge to conform.
  • The way you use your journal has to be beneficial to you. Otherwise, it will become a burden, not an aid.
  • Set small goals.
  • Enjoy the exploration of what truly works best for you.
  • Watch yourself flourish as you play by your rules.

© 2018 Dina AH


Shaloo Walia from India on November 08, 2019:

I have heard so much about bullet journaling and have seen so many beautiful pics of bullet journals that people keep posting on instagram. Bullet journal is supposed to save time but if I try to maintain a journal like that, it will take up much time.

Alyssa from Ohio on March 18, 2019:

I've heard so much about Bullet Journaling, but it always seemed overwhelming. I like how you broke it down and gave simple tips. I'm big on organization and I love making to-do lists. My problem is that I write them on index cards, and I also use those cards to jot down notes and info about my yoga practice. Those cards accumulate pretty quickly. haha! I actually bought a notebook to keep track of all my yoga challenges. I also utilize the notes app in my phone a lot! After reading your article, I think I need to make my own bullet journal. I have some free notebooks hanging out in my house and this sounds like it would be beneficial. Thank you! I will be sharing this!

Dina AH (author) from United States on February 26, 2018:


You can totally have pages for stream-of-conscious long winded essays, too. The beauty of this type of journal is that it is tailored to your writing style and your needs. Thanks for stopping by my hub!

peachy from Home Sweet Home on February 17, 2018:

I never thought of using bullet points to write a journal. Mine always turn up into a long winded essay