Life loves to throw things at us from all directions. The key to staying on top of everything is having an effective schedule to keep you on track.
So how the hell do you create a system for managing your tasks, events, notes, and calendar no matter where you are?
You need to create a bullet journal.
“A full 93% [of educators] state that using their Bullet Journal… makes their lives easier or significantly easier.
We here at Process Street know how difficult it is to keep track of everything, so that’s why this post will take you through everything you need to know to create your perfect bullet journal.
- What a bullet journal is
- What you’ll need to make one
- How to create a bullet journal
- How to get the most out of it
What is a bullet journal
A “bullet journal” lets you record, track, and organize your tasks, events, and notes no matter where or when you need to add to them.
The aim is to store all of this in a small journal which you can carry with you, organize your tasks using a calendar, and use language that lets you summarize everything in a few short words.
It’s a personal organizer, planner, and calendar all in one.
It doesn’t matter what the journal is made of (even though Moleskine journals are the traditional choice), as long as you stick to the core ideals and framework. Whether each margin is fancily decorated or kept bare, as long as you can organize your days more effectively, then you have a bullet journal on your hands.
Let’s go over what you’ll need to make one…
What you’ll need to make a bullet journal
Bullet journals are easy to make! All you need is:
- A journal
- A pen
- A ruler
- This post
That’s it. The only details you have to worry about are with respect to the type and size of the journal.
A bullet journal should be small enough to easily take with you; the whole point is to take notes and record tasks while you’re on the go, after all. My own journal fits into the inner pocket of my jacket (ie: it’s a little smaller than A5 paper) so that I can have it on me whenever the need arises.
The key is to strike a balance between the bullet journal being small enough to be portable, but large enough to hold all of the required information.
If push comes to shove, the portability is more important than how much the journal can hold. 100+ pages of almost A5 paper should be enough to last the entire year, but there are no rules saying that you can’t go through several journals in 12 months.
Some journals come with a holder for a pen built into them but, again, this is entirely optional. My first journal (from 2017) had an elastic loop to slip the pen into, but nowadays I just store a pen loosely in the same jacket pocket.
Finally, the journal’s pages don’t have to have a specific design, but having paper with numbered pages and either isometric dots or regular lines can be a godsend. The pre-numbered pages prevent you having to manually record them as you go, and the dots/lines allow you to split up the pages in an even and ordered manner.
Again, these are optional extras but will save you a lot of headache in the long run. Not to mention that it’s nice to have a journal which can be so easily divided up while remaining neat and tidy.
The language of bullet journals
A quick note on the language bullet journals use before we dive into how to make one:
- Be brief
- Be specific
- Summarise everything in a few words
- Don’t be afraid to use personal language
Bullet journals aren’t designed to tease out every inner thought or to record anything in fanciful terms. They’re a way to quickly jot down notes and record tasks so that you can glance at a page and instantly know what you have to do for the day.
For example, let’s say that you have a list of tasks and events for the day. You might usually record them as:
- Do 30 minutes of morning yoga
- Drop kids off at school
- Buy daily shopping for me, mum and dad
- Visit mum and dad – drop off pictures and shopping
- Clean the kitchen, bathroom, and living room
- Plan designs for next art project
- Pick up Julian and Bree from school
That’s all well and good, but we can condense these further using note-form language. This is the same language I use when planning my blog posts to save time, and it involves removing any and all unnecessary information.
The list would become:
- Morning yoga
- Kids to school
- Shopping (me, parents)
- Parents (pictures, shop)
- Clean (kitch, bath, living)
- Art designs
- Kids from school
This gives you almost double the space to record important events, tasks, and notes than you would otherwise. This can be compounded by using techniques like shorthand to make recording and reading your notes even faster.
Remember; you’re creating the journal for yourself. As long as you understand it, you can be as brief and cryptic as you like.
How to make a bullet journal
Bullet journals can be roughly split up into seven elements:
- The index page
- The future log
- The monthly log
- The daily log
- Distinguishing symbols
- Task migration
Don’t worry – it’s not as much work as it sounds. A bullet journal can be comfortably set up within 10-20 minutes (if not less), after which it’s ready to take with you and record items as you go.
I’ll take you through each item, but remember that “making” a bullet journal is an ongoing process. At first, all you have to do is set out the framework, the first month’s calendar, and your initial daily tasks; the key is coming back to it for 5-10 minutes each day and continuing to fill it out as time passes.
Before you know it you’ll have a comprehensive plan and record for the year!
1. The index page
The first port of call is your index page. This is the “contents” page of your journal, letting you quickly view the page numbers for the various months, weeks, and collections to let you easily flick to the page you want.
Start by going to the first 2-page blank spread of your journal and label the top of each page with “Index”.
The index is something that needs to be filled in as you go along and create new sections, so for now this is all we can do.
Think about it this way; imagine planning preset page numbers for every section. Now imagine needing extra space for a set of notes or an unexpected collection.
Suddenly, all of your preparations would be for naught, and the only solution would be a messy re-do of (at the very least) the index page.
This method, meanwhile, gives you less work to do up-front, remains flexible enough to let you create new sections or extend existing ones for more space on-the-fly, and keep your journal nice and neat without extra effort.
2. The future log
Turn to the next empty double spread in the journal to start on the next section; the future log.
This houses a record of each month in the coming year, along with short notes on important tasks and events. As such, the main setup requires splitting the pages equally to give space for the notes in each month.
Depending on the size of your notebook, it’s best to use four pages for the future log and separate each page into sections for three months. That way you have enough space to make brief notes of the key tasks, but it’s brief enough to avoid wasting space.
To do this, count the number of lines or rows of dotted lines on each page (if your journal has them) and divide by three. Once you have the size of each section, separate them using your ruler and pen so that you can easily see where one month ends and another begins.
Label each month and page number (if they aren’t already there) and then update your index to contain the page numbers for the future log.
Before moving on, try to fill in any tasks and events which you know are coming up that are either important or require planning in advance. For example:
- 24th April – Mike’s birthday
- 7th-19th July – Scotland holiday
- 6th October – Anniversary
Don’t worry about catching everything – the future plan is primarily used to plan out tasks a month or more in advance as you discover them. Because of this, you’ll be revisiting this section at least once at the end of each month.
3. The monthly log
Next up it’s time to start on your first monthly log. As with the future log, this should be started on the next empty double-page spread, as this will make it easier to find when coming back to the journal.
Label the two blank pages with the name of the first month you’re using your bullet journal for (it doesn’t have to be January – you can start a bullet journal whenever you want), note the page numbers, and then record them in your index for future viewing.
Next, use the first blank page in your monthly log to record the dates of the month down the left-hand side of the paper. Then write a letter next to each date representing the day of the week it will be, making your list look as follows:
- 1st M
- 2nd Tu
- 3rd W
- 4th Th
- 5th F
- 6th Sa
- 7th Su
This gives you a handy guide to when the days fall in that month, letting you plan weekend events in advance, see when you’re free more easily, and so on.
The other blank page can be used to note down the tasks that you know need to be completed that month. This shouldn’t include your daily tasks but, instead, those which break the norm, such as “buy anniversary present” or “book holiday”.
If you want to, you can also record key events (birthdays, etc) next to each date in your calendar list for easy viewing.
4. The daily log
Now it’s time to start on your daily log. These sections will make up the majority of your journal, as each page will contain roughly three days’ worth of notes, tasks, and events, and will contain the most detail out of any given area.
You don’t need to label the top of your pages here. Instead, write the date of the first day you’re recording, then list the tasks, events, and notes for that day as you go.
To tell the difference between these items at a glance, try using the following symbols instead of just bullet points for each entry:
- Tasks – regular bullet points, as these are most common
- Events – a hollow circle
- Notes – a dash
Remember to use the brief, direct language mentioned earlier in this post, and you should be able to fit several days onto a single page of your journal.
Take note of (or record) the first page of your daily log, then record that in your index. The page numbers should be filled in further either when you complete the last day of the month or stop to create a new collection (more on those below). For example:
- April monthly log: 12-13
- April daily log: 14-15, 18-23
- Woodworking: 16-17
Going forward, all you have to do is repeat the monthly and daily logs (while keeping your index up-to-date) and you’ll have yourself a perfect bullet journal for organizing your life.
However, before we get onto how to take this technique beyond a basic bullet journal, it’s worth going over three more core concepts which, while optional, will make your journal even more useful.
5. Distinguishing symbols
Distinguishing symbols can be used to show that a certain task, note, or event is different from the others somehow. You can use anything you like for the symbols (as long as you remember what they mean).
- Stars show important items (usually tasks)
- Exclamation marks show inspirational items (quotes, ideas, to remember, etc, usually notes)
- An eye indicates the need for further research, information, exploration, etc
Again, feel free to customize these to suit whatever seems natural for you, and don’t be afraid to add extra symbols for different purposes.
These distinguishing symbols can be used alongside any item in your bullet journal, be they in the future, monthly, or daily logs and even collections.
If you’re not used to using these symbols, consider using the last double page spread at the back of the journal to provide a guide to them. Remember to record the page numbers in the index if you choose to do so.
6. Task migration
Once you’ve reached the end of a month it’s useful to review the tasks and events and note which ones you achieved. This can be done by putting an X over the original entry’s symbol (eg, a hollow circle) to signify that it’s complete.
That leaves you with the tasks that you didn’t complete. These can be split into three categories:
- Incomplete tasks that aren’t worth your time
- Incomplete tasks that are worth your time in the short-term
- Incomplete tasks that are worth your time in the long-term
Tasks that aren’t worth your time can be struck through to remove them from your journal. Try not to obscure the item entirely with the line through it (it’s useful to know what you didn’t achieve).
Incomplete tasks that are worth completing must then be migrated to your next monthly log or the future log, depending on how soon it needs to be carried out.
First, set up the following monthly log on the next empty double-page spread, note the page numbers, and transfer them to the index. Then use the following symbols to indicate the different types of incomplete tasks from the previous month:
- Incomplete tasks to complete in the following month= >
- Incomplete tasks to complete in the long term = <
Any tasks marked with “>” can then be copied into the notes section of the next monthly log, letting you easily keep up to date with what you need to do.
On the other hand, “<” tasks should be copied into the future log to act on later. Consider how long it will take to plan and prepare for the task, along with any potential time limit it needs, then copy it into the suitable month.
Collections are essentially topics which can be used to contain a group of tasks, events, and notes in one easy-to-view place. This can let you easily plan events, create regular shopping lists, organize personal projects, and so on, and so forth.
To create a collection, just think of a topic which can group together several of your tasks, events, or notes (eg, “Stuffed Doll” for a personal project to make a doll). Use this topic to label the first page of the next empty double spread in your journal.
Next, note (or record) the page number of the collection and update your index to reflect it.
Finally, migrate all of the relevant tasks, events, and notes into the collection. Consider putting a symbol next to the original entries to indicate that they have been moved into a collection (such as a wavy line, or a tick).
The other empty page can be left blank for now, giving flexibility to the collection. Continue your regular monthly or daily logs from where you left off on the next double spread.
Depending on what you need first, the empty remaining page can either be turned into an extension of the collection or an entirely different collection. It entirely depends on what you require, and what you would prefer to group together.
From personal to professional
So, you now know how to create a working bullet journal. Fantastic! This should allow you to organize your daily activities and set short-term goals to build into long-term objectives.
What if I told you that you could take this one step further?
Bullet journals are great for casual notes and personal diaries but, in terms of professional settings, they don’t allow the necessary level of detail to correctly carry out your duties without mistakes.
You know what tasks you need to do but won’t have a way of consistently performing it in the same way every time. This leads to variation in your output and makes you vulnerable to mistakes.
The best way to get around this is to document workflows so that you can follow detailed, set instructions every time you carry out a common duty. This means the quality of the process increases, as human error is prevented and less time is wasted wondering what to do next.
By reviewing the entries in your bullet journal, you can see:
- Which tasks were the most common
- Which tasks were often not completed
- How many important tasks fit into the previous categories
- Which tasks you cannot start without a documented method
This gives you a solid starting point to start controlling, tracking, and improving your core business processes, as you’ll be able to see which are the best to start focusing on.
For example, the first processes which should be documented would be for common, important tasks which were often not completed. Once these are done you can then move on to the most common tasks that weren’t finished, then the common, important tasks which were completed, and so on.
Remember – you don’t have to go into a huge amount of detail!
We here at Process Street know just how intimidating the time commitment is for creating processes, but you don’t have to do everything at once. Instead, jot down the rough task list to complete the task, then move on.
You can always come back later and fill in more details to standardize things further. For example, you could just expand the process every time someone makes a mistake while running through it.
Once you have the rough workflows for all of your regular processes, the next step would be to use continuous improvement to tweak and perfect them.
Don’t be afraid to customize your journal
Bullet journals aren’t something that has to conform to a certain style. So long as you stick to these rough guidelines to keep everything organized, feel free to experiment with different symbols, formats, and collections to get the most out of your entries.
If you find yourself struggling with organizing your work life, consider using a bullet journal to organize your tasks there too.
While I would recommend keeping separate bullet journals for work and personal life (to help maintain your work/life balance), there’s something to be said for the convenience of only having one combined book. You only have to carry one journal with you and it’s easy to see when you’re busy and when you’re free.
Either way, I wish you good luck! I’m coming to the end of my own bullet journal, so if you’ll excuse me, I need to set up my own for the coming year.
Do you have a bullet journal? If so, how do you use it? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!