How to bullet journal to boost productivity

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Your to-do list will never be the same

If you’re on social media at all these days, you’ve likely tripped across the term “bullet journaling.” The beautiful bullet journal spreads might have piqued your curiosity. Wondering how to bullet journal for yourself? We’re here to help.

How to bullet journal to boost productivity — a complete guide

Ready to learn all about bullet journaling? You’re in the right place. Here’s what we’re going to cover in this guide:

Let’s dive in!

What is bullet journaling?

Bullet journaling is a quick and efficient journaling and list-building method created by Ryder Carroll, a designer and entrepreneur. He recognized there are many benefits of handwriting like memory retention, promoting creativity and critical thinking, and developing motor skills.

So, using simple handwriting, he sought to create a versatile and workable journaling system that was flexible for any lifestyle and easy enough for anyone to do. The term “bullet journaling” was inspired by the system of bullets Carroll uses in his method.

International athlete Martina Navratilova stated:

“Keeping a journal of what’s going on in your life is a good way to help you distill what’s important and what’s not.”

That’s exactly what bullet journaling does. By writing down tasks and organizing events using this method, you are prioritizing what is important – and learning what’s not.

Bullet journals help you build long-term and short-term plans so you can transform ideas into actionable tasks. Then, the journal helps you hold yourself accountable to complete them in a digestible way.

Learning how to bullet journal is simple and — better yet — it doesn’t require much from you. Once you understand the bullet journal system, you can apply it to any workflow, notebook or even app.

Whether you’re a business owner looking to be more productive or an entrepreneur dealing with project management chaos, if you’re looking for a new way to bring order to your life, bullet journaling can help you out.

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The benefits of bullet journaling

There are endless benefits of bullet journaling, making it a great productivity option for anyone or any lifestyle. Here are some quick highlights on bullet journal benefits:

  • Bullet journals are fully customizable. The freedom of the system allows you to alter your method for any situation and fit your specific needs.
  • Bullet journaling is easy and quick to learn. The system was designed to be intuitive and personalized.
  • Bullet journaling is inexpensive. It’s inexpensive because its brilliance is in the method, not the materials. You aren’t required to buy anything to get started.
  • Bullet journals turn your to-do list into an organized strategy. Each part of a bullet journal works off the others so you can reference what you have planned immediately and see what’s in the pipeline.
  • Bullet journals keep your priorities in line. Its analog method keeps all your notes visible and encourages project completion by prioritizing what’s important and removing distractions.
  • Bullet journaling promotes mindfulness. Setting aside time to unplug from digital noise and write in your bullet journal encourages staying in the moment and helps cut through to what really matters to you.

You have nothing to lose. It’s simple, effective and easy to get started.

Related: Mindfulness for entrepreneurs — How to adopt a mindset that can improve your business and your life

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How to bullet journal

So, how easy is it? Grab a notebook and pen and you’re already halfway there.

No joke, it’s that easy.

Bullet journaling is often presented in a dot grid notebook because Carroll used this type of notebook for extra order due to its classic analog style. The dot grid pages provide ready bullet points and make lines, lists, and columns easy to draw yourself.

But, the method can be carried out on any style of paper or notepad. Just make sure your notebook is portable in case you wish to bring your “bujo” — short for bullet journal — with you for on-the-go updates.

Now that you have your bujo, let’s walk through how to set it up.

1. Index

Bullet Journal Index Page Example
Photo: The Index Page from Ryder Carroll and bulletjournal.com

The first few pages within your journal are known as the Index. These pages become your table of contents over time, as this is a space where you can manually track the page numbers of milestones like the beginning of months or important notes you want to remember.

The Index lets you easily find or reference past entries and organize your bullet journal at-a-glance. If your notebook doesn’t have numbered pages, you’ll have to number them yourself.

Saving four pages at the start of your notebook for your Index should be plenty.

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2. Future Log

The next few pages of your notebook will become your Future Log. The Future Log is where you keep track of – you guessed it – future items.

When you have a task or event planned for the future or something that does not need attention now, write the entry into your Future Log. By placing notes here, you’re weeding out distractions for your current month or week, helping you be productive and less overwhelmed.

The Future Log is also your place for important events like birthdays, travel dates, or other recurring items.

Think of the Future Log as a long-term overview and calendar.

 

To make a Future Log, draw lines horizontally slicing the page into three equal sections and label each with a month. Two pages give you six slots to nicely organize the next six months, or feel free to track all 12 if you like to plan ahead.

How To Bullet Journal Future Log
Photo: The Future Log from Ryder Carroll and bulletjournal.com

Related: 10 productivity strategies for eCommerce pros

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3. Monthly Logs

A Monthly Log appears at the beginning of each month in your journal. This lets you keep track of tasks one month at a time.

The classic Monthly Log from Carroll is simple and creates a workable calendar. Simply number the dates of the month vertically line-by-line down the page. Next to each date, write the first letter of the day of the week so you can differentiate weekdays from weekends. For example, January 2020 would look like:

1 W
2 T
3 F
4 S
5 S
etc…

By keeping a vertical monthly log, you can write down important dates, events, appointments, and more on the corresponding dateline. Refer to your Future Log and migrate any events or appointments to your Monthly Log to bring them into view.

If you’d like extra planning room, position your dates in the center of the page to create two columns so you can write two events per day or separate items, for example work and personal, like in the picture below.

how-to-bullet-journal-monthly-log.jpg
Photo: amizaomar on Instagram

On the page next to your month’s date list, write Monthly Log again. This page is your space to list all the things you need to do this month. List them here in advance, add items as you go, and cross off those that you complete.

We’ll get into clever ways to mark and organize items later.

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4. Weekly Logs

This is where the magic happens and true bulleting takes form. Weekly Logs are designed to plan your weeks day by day.

Weekly Logs are where you focus on things that are worth your time and need to be completed now.

 

On the page after your Monthly Log, start your first Weekly Log. Write Monday at the top of your page (or whatever day it is) and the date, then begin listing what you need to do checking your Monthly Log for any plans. Writing this list is called “rapid logging.” It’s designed to be fast and efficient.

How To Bullet Journal Weekly Log
Photo: The Weekly Log from Ryder Carroll and bulletjournal.com

Let’s say you have a few errands to do but also some events. You can differentiate these tasks using different shapes or bullet points. That way, you can clearly view what’s on your to-do list versus what you should remember, and so on. The original Bullet Journal Method uses this key:

● a bullet point is a task – something you need to do
─ a dash indicates a note – something you don’t want to forget
Ο a circle means an event – somewhere you need to go
✱ an asterisk is a clarifier that can be added to any item – this signals urgency

With this key, your pretend day’s log might look like this:

● grocery shopping
─ avocados
─ chicken
● pick up dry cleaning
Ο meeting with marketing team @ 10 am
●✱ finish quarterly report, send to Erica
Ο dinner with Brad @ 8 pm

As you start completing items on your list, mark them off. Tasks, a bullet point, can be marked as completed with a simple “X” over the dot. But let’s say your roommate picked up your dry cleaning and Brad moved your dinner plans to tomorrow. Cancel, migrate, or reschedule events just as easily with more indicators. Just draw these over your normal bullet point or circle.

X an X marks task as completed
> a forward arrow moves the task to another day
< a backward arrow migrates the task back to the Monthly Log
the item is no longer relevant or was canceled

Day after day, you will repeat this process until the month is over and you create a new Monthly Log where the process begins again.

When you write your new Monthly Log, consider all the tasks you did not complete. Before migrating them to next month, ask yourself: is this important? You’ll soon discover how something vital one week is not crucial the next. Cross these items off with confidence and free up some extra time for yourself. Who doesn’t need more of that?

For another quick overview, here’s a video summary of how to bullet journal from Carroll.

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Customizing a bullet journal

Now that you have an understanding of the method, you can see how the basics are only the beginning. Bullet journaling is a basic foundation, but your customization opportunities are endless.

For example, you can differentiate events like appointments from personal events using a different shape like a square or triangle in place of a circle. It’s up to you to change the method and key to fit your preferences.

In addition to the classic logs, leverage your bujo to monitor anything that’s important to you. The internet is bursting with ideas. Many popular monthly bullet journal spreads include:

  • Budget trackers — expense sheets to track purchases, bills, etc.
  • Mood trackers — a way to track feelings for a monthly emotional overview
  • Habit trackers — an actionable method to track a daily habit
  • Long-form journaling — dedicating space in the bujo for traditional journaling as often as you’d like
How To Bullet Journal Lists
A packing list, to-do list, and event organizer from bullet journal influencer Amanda Rach Lee’s Instagram, @amandarachelee.
Photo: Amanda Rach Lee on Instagram

While so many artistic spreads and colorful trackers are exciting to consider, not every feature is required and they are certainly not for everyone. You may prefer one method over another or scratch something altogether.

Your bullet journal is meant to be a tool to help you prioritize and organize the things in your life — not an overwhelming extra activity.

 

Keep it simple, have fun, and add other features as needed.

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Bullet journal apps

What if you’re just not a fan of pen and paper?

That’s OK, because bullet journaling can be translated onto digital platforms, too.

The method of rapid logging you’re implementing doesn’t matter so much, as long as you can access the device as simply as you can open a notebook.

Digital bullet journaling is a great option for those that prefer to capture notes digitally or like typing more than handwriting. Plus, there are many apps that make the process even better (emojis, please!).

OneNote

OneNote is Microsoft’s solution to modern note-taking. Your notes sync across devices in real-time so you can update your bullet journal from anywhere.

The OneNote mobile app puts your bullet journal in your pocket to support on-the-go journaling.

 

This app’s template library even has A4 sized pages that mimic a classic bullet journal. One of the best parts of this system is that you can combine OneNote with Outlook to get reminders for tasks and events.

Related: How to use OneNote to organize your business

GoodNotes

GoodNotes is Apple’s offering for next-level note-taking. This iOS app is available for iPhone and iPad and another fully digital option for bullet journaling.

GoodNotes differs from OneNote and is closer to traditional bullet journaling. Why? It’s the handwriting of the future, translating your handwritten scribbles into searchable, organizable data. If you’re a fan of Apple products, swap your pen for a stylus and try it out.

Trello

Created as a productivity app, Trello can be transformed into a bullet journaling system. Trello is designed like a pinboard that lets you use lists, columns and cards to organize your life.

Many businesses and project managers use Trello for its collaboration and team abilities.

You can create boards in lieu of logs to organize your future, monthly or weekly logs. Columns can be used to organize weeks or days, and cards can become entries, bullet points, or more.

It might take some creative thinking, so here’s a how-to guide on bullet journaling in Trello. This is a fantastic option for those already using Trello in the workplace.

Taskade

If you’re a list person, Taskade is for you. This app uses the simplicity of list building to offer a genius productivity platform. Its lists are fully customizable and different layouts and views allow you the creative freedom to plan your workspace like a bullet journal.

Better yet, there is a Taskade bullet journal template to get you started.

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Which method is best for you?

There are so many ways to bullet journal, you can make the method work for you no matter what your habits or goals are.

Digitally or manually, bullet journaling can fit your unique needs and preferences when you make it your own.

It’s up to you what style will integrate better into your routine.

For those trying to incorporate bullet journaling into their professional life, digital may be the way to go. If you could benefit from collaboration with others, a digital app or platform allows others to contribute to lists and logs.

Collectively, you can track projects, add items on the fly, and get live updates on the status of things.

If you’re using your bullet journal for personal reasons, using a notebook lets you unplug. There is a beauty to removing yourself from technology and dedicating time each day handwriting and organizing your thoughts. Also, if you like doodling, stickers, or painting, then a notebook lets you decorate spreads with whatever details you desire.

Additionally, the methods and basic principles of bujo can be applied to any organizational system, both online and on paper.

Its endless possibilities and creative freedom give you ultimate control, while its foundation of rapid logging and sectioning goals help you focus on what’s important.

 

Whichever way you choose to bullet journal, there is one common outcome: you’re going to get more things done.

Try it out; you’ve got nothing to lose.

Need to get a jumpstart on productivity for your business? Microsoft Office 365 from GoDaddy makes it simple and includes OneNote as part of its productivity suite, helping you look like the pro you are.

Image by: Ian Schneider on Unsplash

Amanda Larson
Amanda Larson is a freelance marketer and content creator. With a degree in Public Relations and Journalism, she began her professional career in marketing and never looked back. She grew an immediate passion for tech working with multiple software companies and international startups. Specializing in digital branding, copywriting, and graphic design, Amanda freelances and consults for small businesses globally.