Bullet Journal

Setting Goals and Getting Organized in a Real Paper Journal

Friends tell me that they want to be more ‘intentional’ about how they spend their time and energy. I know the feeling. This is the challenge of leading busy lives with eclectic interests and priorities. ASE subscriber and friend, Custis G. showed me her Bullet Journal and recommends it to ASE subscribers.

What is the magic Bullet (Journal) and what is it designed to do? It will help you…

Track the Past – Organize the Present – Plan for the Future

Bullet Journal (BuJo for short) was developed by Ryder Carroll, a digital product designer living in Brooklyn, NY. It is a combination diary, to-do list and planner – and you keep it all on paper in a real journal. This appeals to me because when I use online organization tools (I will report on these in a future article), I get distracted by incoming emails and text messages. Writing in an old-school paper journal feels like an indulgence, a treat and an efficient way to avoid distraction.

If any of these descriptions sound like you, you may want to try using Bullet Journal:

  • I should have control over my schedule, but I am always busy without completing the big tasks.
  • I have Post-Its everywhere with ideas, to-dos and lists.
  • I like to have a plan for getting things done.
  • I feel it difficult to relax when there are multiple tasks that I ‘should’ be doing.
  • I like pens and paper.
  • I want more time to read.
  • I like to check things off lists and feel a sense of accomplishment.
  • I want to stop feeling like Sisyphus – perpetually pushing the boulder up the hill only to have it roll back down on me.

What do I need to get started?

Bullet Journal, Moleskin There are books designed specifically to be Bullet Journals, but you can use any blank journal. The two most recommended blank journals are the Moleskine Classic Colored Notebook, Large, Dotted, Khaki Beige, Soft Cover (5 x 8.25) $17.96 and the Leuchtturm1917 Medium Size Hardcover A5 Notebook with Dotted Pages. The four colored notebooks are $19.95 for 249 pages and the black, white and gray notebooks are $33.4. You can use any pens or pencils as long as you give yourself some color choices.

How do I create a Bullet Journal?

My advice is to read through the web page by the creator of the Bullet Journal, “Bullet Journal – An Analog System for a Digital Age”. This will give you a good sense of what you will be trying to accomplish. It will also be a little like the first day you try to play bridge, lots of new terms and some confusion. The four core modules of the Bullet Journal are: The IndexFuture LogMonthly LogDaily Log.

For a simplified, readable, irreverent instructions on Bullet Journaling, check out WTF Is A Bullet Journal And Why Should You Start One? 

These two articles will introduce you to the general guidelines for setting up and bullet journaling. The second article suggests that you add a page for Big Categories like books, wine, health and travel.

Bullet Journal, BuJo

Divide your entries into tasks, events and notes. At the end of each month, review your log to see how you spent your time and what you have accomplished. Track your progress, check off completed tasks and move others to the next month. You do not cross out completed items entirely because this book serves as a journal. You want to see what you have accomplished and review where you put your energy. This information will help you set priorities for the next month.

Particularly appealing to me is the suggestion that in addition to putting down tasks which must be done such as ‘Pay Taxes’, you take time to think about what would make you happy and add those items to your Journal. For instance, you can add ‘Spend time with friends’, ‘Read books’, ‘Take a five-mile walk’, ‘Sleep eight hours, and ‘Spend an hour on a hobby’ to your daily and monthly journal and give yourself a positive check when you complete your plan.

My friend has enlarged her scope with journal entries including her intentions to be thankful and really ‘see’ the strangers she interacts with throughout the day. She tracks her Random Acts of Kindness (paying it forward). Her journal reminds her to appreciate the parts of her day which ultimately give her more satisfaction than conventional ‘to-do’ list items.

Now take a walk, listen to music or have a cup of tea. Once you understand what you can track in your Bullet Journal, you need to take time to make sure that you are tracking things that are important to you. This is more than a ‘to-do’ list. It will help you allocate your time to the things you value most. You can adjust the format of your journal to suit your needs.

Bullet journal, paper journal

Refining your journal over time.

If an item on your monthly journal is routinely incomplete and always moved to the next month (in my case this is, ‘Organize Family Photos’ and ‘Give Away Old Clothes’) you have choices. Move an undone item way into the future and plan to do the task at a specific time – like when you are trapped at home by a snowstorm. Alternatively, you could choose to do it immediately and get it off the list. You can decide that it is not important and drop it from your list entirely. Don’t just move it forward every month – it will oppress you. This planning tool will help you weed out distractions and focus your efforts on the things that are worth your time.

If you can find the discipline to manage a personal Bullet Journal, it may be possible to move beyond being busy and become more productive.

There are Free Downloads of ‘tried and true’ blank bullet journal pages.

Bullet Journal, Habit Tracker

You can download this free page, ready to help you track habits. You fill in the habits and items you want to follow on the left. For instance: spend time with a friend, exercise for at least an hour or read a chapter, then color in the circle each day (1-31) if you accomplished the task.

Bullet Journal, Cards

Bullet Journal, articles

This blogger offers 17 pages for you to download for free – already formatted for January 2017 (updated if you read this later). She also offers more elaborate downloads for BoJu pages on Etsy for a small fee.

These ASE articles offer some great pens and blank journals.


Bullet journals, writing with pen and paper


Bullet journals, organize


Henry David Thoreau wrote, “Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in.”  I think Bullet Journaling might help me fish more intentionally.