For the last three and a half years, I am into Bullet Journaling. It’s a simple framework for analog journaling, created by Ryder Carroll, and used by thousands across the world. It’s not like a planner that you get from the store that forces you to follow specific formats. It’s an extensible, customizable, and re-hashable system that gives a variety of ways to use it — and there are thousands of “BuJo tips and tricks and templates” available online.
If you are new to Bullet Journal, the best way to learn is by watching this small official video. It’s simple, well explained and just 5 minutes!
In the last three and a half years, I tried multiple journals, pens, layouts, templates, formats, and even experimented with digital bullet journaling. (Self-confession: I have bought around 6 journals and 12–14 pens “claiming” that it’s gonna improve myself / journal) Here is what I do now :
One Journal, One Pen
My journal is a rough notebook. No lettering, calligraphy, or penmanship. I jot like how I used to take notes while at college. Also, I use one pen to write everything. Two-color annotation, highlighter, etc. doesn’t work for me. To emphasize, I use upper case text or underline.
One Column Layout
I found ‘setting up BuJo’ a tedious task. For some reason, it never worked for me. Hence I went for a single column, no highlight, no decoration layout. Also, I don’t have too many bullet styles — it’s a dot for actions and dash for notes. Dot become cross once it’s done.
One thing that made me interested in Bullet journal was the way he handled Index. I always had issues with reserving empty pages for an idea. How many pages to leave, what if it’s not enough and all kept bothering me. Instead of Page number relating to title, BuJo recommended having one title referring to multiple page numbers (more like Appendix). I still use this method.
Future log is a place to store events and dated entries outside that month for the future. I gave it a multiple try and stopped using it. I mark future events on Google Calendar and future project ideas on a page “idea list”.
Bullet Journal suggests a two-page monthly log — one for calendar and one for the monthly task. While I use the calendar to mark all my events, plans, meetings, etc., I don’t create a monthly to-do list. I prefer creating it weekly. Instead of the Task page, I use the right side as my “One line a day dairy.”
As my tasks are more tactical and one-time, I find it easier to list them every week, based on priority and time. (In other words, I don’t plan for an entire month). One of the best experiments I have seen for Weekly journal is the 10 block method.
Advantage of this method is that it helps you to compare your estimate with actual time while assuring that time is split between all task. It’s a great experiment I recommend for junior employees and freelancers if you want to improve your task estimation.
Instead of 10 blocks that track hours, I use a simple checklist to assure task-balance. It’s not clocking actual hours or checking if I am focusing more on one project, but kind of provides me a simple check if i am providing time for all projects.
General Notes & Meeting Notes
I don’t have a separate notebook for notes. Be it for client meetings, personal grocery list, tax details, or mutual fund planning, I use the very same journal. A new page, add that to Index, thread it, and that’s all. (These days, for collaborative purpose, I rehash the notes to Notion and share it)
For meetings, the only difference is that I write small meta data like time, date, location, and attendees and underline core actions.
I find building a new habit, though, especially when you try to make multiple habits at the same time. Hence habit tracker as a page never helped me, and when I had to track one thing, I do that with a Cross/Empty column on the monthly log.
Answers to some frequently asked questions
The decoration is a choice: You might have seen books with illustrations, calligraphy, and penmanship while searching #bulletjournal on Instagram. It’s beautiful. But not mandatory. Some take journaling as their me-time or a way to relax. If you can do it, and if that helps to stress-less, go ahead. But that’s not a barrier. You don’t need a dozen pens, washi tapes, and all to do journal.
Any Notebook is beautiful
It’s totally up to you to choose the notebook. Don’t fall for the the brand & price trap. Moleskine won’t make you productive. (Tho the quality is stunning!) If you are planning to have monthly logs, check if journal can contain 31 lines per page. For Indian users, I would recommend Matrika journal (Amazon Basics note is fine, but they don’t have dotted books and on square, the lines are darker than it’s supposed to be)
To conclude, Don’t be too religious about the Bullet Journal. It’s a framework and Try using, observe the results, and continue if it makes sense.
Update : You can download bullet journal mockup from my Dropbox.