Creating a bullet journal is difficult unless you know the secret:

It’s not about what goes into your journal, but how you organize it.

For that, you need a plan. And in a bullet journal, that plan comes in the form of a key.

Your key will be your compass. It will structure your items to save you countless hours.

But here’s the best part: 

It will teach you more about yourself than you ever imagined, by revealing what thoughts you truly prioritize in life.

In this guide you’ll learn how to:

  • Create a quality key page with the four “Mother Sections”.
  • Create symbols for your basic journaling items.
  • Set colors for your priorities.
  • Assign colors to your Tracker Boxes.
  • Create Life Icons to “Shortcut Journal”.
  • Use your new key as you journal through life.

There’s more to a key than you may realize.

And this guide will show you why.

Chapter Links

Choose your chapter.
Chapter 1

Meet the Key

Chapter 2

Prepare Your Key Page

Chapter 3

Create Main Key Symbols

Chapter 4

Color Your Priorities

Chapter 5

Assign Tracker Colors

Chapter 6

Create Life Icons

Chapter 7

How to Use Keys 

Bonus Chapter

Key Ideas & Printables

Just so ya know, some links in this post may be affiliate links — meaning I get a tiny percentage if you click through and buy, but that’s ALL put back into the blog and giveaways. 😁

Too Busy to Read?

Download the How-To Guide or watch the video below.

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Chapter 1

Meet the Key


You’ve probably heard of a “key” or legend before, maybe on a map.

But in the context of bullet journaling, a key is more complex.

In this chapter, we’ll define what a key is, what goes in them, and why you should use one.

Let’s dive right in.

What’s a Bullet Journal Key

A Key is a cheat sheet that you make at the beginning of your journal, that unlocks the meaning of the symbols, icons, and colors that you use to represent your journal items.

Keys come in many shapes and sizes, but they have two basic ingredients:

  • Items — things you typically include in a planner — like tasks, to-do’s, events and appointments — that you usually know of in advance.
  • Symbols — simple marks, icons or colors that represent each type of item.

In your key, all you do is draw your symbol and write the item type next to it.

For example, I might use circles (○) to represent events.

So I’d write “○ Events” in my key.

Easy right?

(We’ll talk about ALL the symbols and items you need a little later.)

For now, just remember this:

You’ll want to assign a symbol for any item — to-do’s, events, appointments — you plan to track regularly in your journal.

Examples of key items and symbols

FOCUS: In your key, all you are doing is defining which symbols represent which item types. You’ll learn how to use them throughout your journal in Chapter 7.

But why use a key in the first place?

Glad you asked.

Benefits of a Key

Being able to see the relationships between your items, makes your journal much easier to understand, especially in the context of how you spend your time.

What do I mean?

Creating a key will let you quickly identify the type of items you put in your time spreads.

That way you can easily reference the items you’re looking for when you’re in a rush during a typical busy day.

For example, I might flip to my current weekly spread to see what appointments I have coming up this week.

If my key told me I used circles for appointments, then I could easily pick out my appointments from all my other calendar items.

To sum up the benefits, a key will help you:

  • Classify your items.
  • View your day, week or month at a glance.
  • Save time.
  • Stay organized.
  • Evaluate your week.
  • See how you spend your time.
  • Enjoy the benefits of writing things down.
Q. Who should use a key?

If you are a beginner, you should definitely make a key! It will help you stay organized and figure out what items you use regularly in your spread designs.

As you start to journal more and more, you’ll end up memorizing your key symbols, so your key will become less important.

Q. What’s the best type of key to start with? Should I make it super fancy?

I recommend you start simple with main symbols and add more detail as you get comfortable making more keys.

With that said, you should always try and keep your designs clean and as minimalistic as possible to make them easier to make and read.

Simple is better, so only add what you need.

Q. What is the difference between a Key and a Legend?

They are often used interchangeably, but if we want to get technical, a legend is usually more simple and associated with symbology.

A legend may be used to associate an icon with an object. For example, on a map, a triangle = mountain or a tree = a park.

Alternatively, a key is a tad more complex and conveys thematic details. For example, the colors of U.S. states may designate a political affiliation.

Q. What is Cartography?

Cartography is the practice of making maps (you may hear this term at a bullet journal cocktail party). 🤣

Q. Who invented the map legend?

Leave it to the early caveman and the Greeks. They made maps first.


Grab your A5 journal and a pencil.

We’re going to work.

Chapter 2

Prepare Your Key Page

Now that you know the basics, it’s time to prepare your journal.

All you need is a single dotted-page and a pencil.

But where do you put your key?

Good question smarty-pants.

Just open up a new blank spread right after your index, and you’re good to go.

How to Design Your Key Page

Are you ready to make the best key on the planet?

The key we are going to make today is divided into four “Mother Sections”.

Why four?

I’ve made a lot of keys and these four sections will allow you to start small and give you the space to grow at your own pace!

Each section contains items that are paired with symbols.

The first section is for your main key symbols. This section is a must since it’s where you put your most basic symbols that represent your routine planning items.

The other three sections are optional and are used for more advanced icons and color-coded tracking.

(We’ll cover how to fill in each section in the upcoming chapters.)

Here are the four sections we’ll focus on:

  • Main — this is where we put our most simple symbols — also known as bullets — that represent our standard journaling items, like tasks, to-do’s, events, and appointments.
  • Priorities — this is where we begin our color-coding adventure, and assign colors to different categories of our life.
  • Trackers — where we dive into advanced color-coding, where we pair colors with tracker topics and their spectrum stages.
  • Life (aka “Things”) — a section full of Life Icons — small doodles that represent your lifestyle — that are super fun and used for Shortcut Journaling once your day is over.

The four “Mother Sections” 

Remember, start with the “main” section. The other three should be treated separately and filled-in when you’re ready.


Let’s draw our mother sections.

You don’t have to be artistic — just grab a pencil and open your A5 journal to a blank spread. We are only going to use the right page.

Here are the steps:

  1. First, draw a horizontal line across the bottom ¼ of the page — about 10 rows up from the bottom (of an A5 journal).
  2. Now split your page in half lengthwise by drawing a vertical line, down to line #1.
  3. Split the left section in half crosswise by drawing a horizontal line.

Way to go Van Gogh! All your four sections are now ready to go.

Super simple indeed.

How to draw “Mother Sections” 

Want detailed instructions with pictures? Download the PDF.

(no email required)

DIY: Run out of room to title your key page? You don’t have to write the word “Key”, instead, you can add a key sticker or stamp.

Q. What is Color-Coding?

Color-coding is a communication system designed to convey information using different color hues and values.

Color-coding has a long history — the British used colored flags to communicate over long distances, and today we use color codes for everything from hospital emergencies to traffic lights to festival wristbands.

Q. What about color blindness? Any tips?
Use more visual symbols that don’t rely on color, like icons, arrows or annotations. And avoid using red and green colors for red-green color blindness.

If your vision is more limited, you can even try braille stickers.

Q. Should I use those "Key" pages that are included with some journals?

If you have a very simple key, then go ahead.

But I don’t use them because I like the space to be creative and expand my symbols & colors that we use in this guide.


I think we’ve waited long enough.

Let’s get to the fun part…

Chapter 3

Create Main Key Symbols

In this chapter, we’re going to make our Main Symbols.

These symbols are the backbone of your key.

They represent your foundational planning items, like tasks, to-do’s, events, and appointments.

So sharpen that pencil. It’s time to get creative. ✏️

How to Make Main Symbols

Whether you’re new to journaling or a seasoned expert, you’ll see a TON of different bullet journal symbols around the internet.

It can feel like a completely new language.

Luckily for us, the bullet journal system gives us a place to start with symbols — they’re called bullets.

FOCUS: You can learn more about bullets in Part 2 of the Bullet Journal Setup Guide.

You can use bullets as a starting point, but you should definitely make your own.

Here are the symbols I use:

  • A square () to represent a task or to-do.
  • A circle () to represent an event or appointment.
  • A dash () to represent a note.


Each item has different states (or stages of progress):

  • A checkmark (✓) for a task done/completed.
  • A forward slash () for task started/in progress.
  • X for task deleted.
  • A right arrow (>) for moved to a new spread.

Here’s how to add main symbols to your key:

  1. Open up your key page we made in Chapter 2.
  2. In the top-left section, write the title “Main”.
  3. On separate lines, write out all your item names.
    For example, task, event, appointment, note…
  4. Now add any item states to your list.
    For example, started, in progress, deleted, moved…
  5. Finally, draw your symbols to the left of each item.
    For example, I would draw a square to the left of the word “To-Do”.

Examples of Main Symbols

FOCUS: During your bullet journal life, you may come across the term “Signifiers” — these are just extra symbols, like exclamation points (!), to give your main symbols extra emphasis.

You can learn more about them here

How easy is that!

Just keep it super simple at first — you can always add more items later.

Before we wrap up, don’t forget:

Items are tasks you already know about it before they happen — like exam dates, project deadlines or birthdays.

So anything you know about in advance, can be treated like an item and added to your key with its own symbol.

Your items don’t have to be limited to just tasks, to-do’s, events or appointments.

Be creative. There are no set rules. So make symbols that are simple and easy for YOU to remember.

After all, you’ll be the one modifying your symbols throughout the week.

So make them in your own style. 😉

PRO TIP: Want to make your symbols easier to remember? Try putting the symbols you’re most likely to forget, at the beginning and end of your list — it’s called the Serial Position Effect.

Q. Am I just limited to those Main Symbols?

Not at all!

If your tasks have other stages of progress, like percentage complete (25%, 50%, etc.), make a symbol in your square for each stage.

Or if you want to move a task back to the future log (with a left arrow for example), then add that symbol too!

Q. Am I allowed to have overlap between item types? Wouldn’t a birthday also be an event?

Of course, you’re allowed to have some crossover — that’s completely natural in fact.

Sure, you could argue a birthday is technically an event, but if you find yourself adding a lot of b-days to your planner than separate them out into their own item & symbol.

A good rule of thumb: if you add a certain item 3+ times a week, then give its own key entry.

Q. What if I’m a student — any item or symbol ideas?

Try creating main symbols for exam dates, project due dates or homework.

You can even create a symbol for “research”, like a ?.

Q. What about symbols for work?

Try creating main symbols for project deadlines, meetings, presentations or client appointments.

You can even create a different state symbol for “rescheduled”, like a > or . So if I used squares for meetings, I may draw a in my square if that particular meeting got moved.

Q. What’s the difference between assigning these symbols to items and a Habit Tracker?

All these symbols & items will go in the day boxes of your time spreads — those daily, weekly, and monthly calendar layouts.

A Habit Tracker, on the other hand, is a full spread dedicated to tracking a specific routine, like social media usage.

Chapter 4

Set Colors for Your Priorities

You’ve probably admired some beautiful keys online.

And many of them use one powerful feature:


Adding color to your keys — in an organized and systematic way — is a LOT easier than you think.

All you need to do is follow the steps in this chapter.

How to Set Colors for Your Priorities

In this section, we’re going to unleash our colorful side.

How so?

We’re going to use colors to represent certain categories of our lives, by color-coding family members, work items, home items and more.

(Don’t you remember, painting all over your brothers & sisters? 😮)

The most obvious categories we are talking about here are personal and work-related items.

But they can also include these fun ideas:

  • Home — all your DIY projects, home improvements, paying bills (rent, taxes, utilities), yard sales…
  • Personal — all your social events, health, meals made, birthdays, concerts, gifts, games, social media usage…
  • Family Member(s) — child or partner’s doctor’s appointments, school events, lessons, medicine, purchases…
  • Friend(s) — birthdays, favors, dinner parties, night out, babysitting…
  • Work — any day job tasks, deadlines, presentations, training, research, goals…
  • Project(s) — any side-business task, write a post, order supplies, newsletter, website fix, take a course…

Now it’s time to decide on what item categories you want to include in your journal.

Here are some helpful questions to ask yourself:

  • Do I want to track my job?
  • Do I have a side-project?
  • Do I have any kids?
  • Do I do projects around the house?
  • What are my favorite hobbies?
  • How do I spend my time in the community?
  • Who are my friends and what do we do together?

Take a breath and brainstorm what’s really important to you. 🤔

Ok, got your categories?

Good work.

Now let’s put them on your key page.

Here are the steps to add your priority colors:

  1. Open up your key page.
  2. In the box under the “Main” section, write the title “Colors” (or “Priorities”).
  3. On separate lines, write out all your priorities.
    For example, home, work, kid 1, kid 2, husband…
  4. Now draw the same symbol to the left of each priority.
    For example, I draw the same, simple square next to each one: “□ Work”
  5. Time for the fun part: choose your favorite colors for each priority.
  6. Then just color in the symbol next to each priority.

Adding colors to your priorities

It doesn’t matter what symbols you use here in the priorities section.

(I just use squares.)


Because here we are just focused on COLORS.

You’ll use these colors later when you put your main symbol shapes in day boxes if they’re associated with one of these priority items.

For example, let’s say I assign green for my home items in my key.

Then when I’m bullet journaling in my weekly spread, I might add a to-do with a square (a main key symbol) like this,

“□ Pick Up Groceries”

Then I’d color that square green because I consider it home related.

It’s easy once you get the hang of it, don’t worry.

(We’ll learn all about using symbols in Chapter 7.)

PRO TIP: If you want even more priority ideas? Check out these tips and ideas for women.

Q. What colors should I use?

Use pink for your kids, creative projects or feminine stuff.

Use yellow for happy items, like home stuff.

Use blue for orderly items or manly things.

… or discover the meaning of more colors.

Now you know the basic color wheel.

But let’s put it into high gear. It’s time to put the pedal to the metal with colors…

Chapter 5

Assign Tracker Colors

Want to know one of my favorite things about bullet journaling?

It’s tracking my life in tracker boxes — like my mood, energy level, productivity, the weather. You name it.

And it doesn’t stop there:

Many of these topics are tracked in stages, from high to low, happy to sad, 100% to 0%.

But they get better with color.

Let’s discover why right now.

How to Assign Tracker Colors

Imagine this:

You want to track your mood, but you don’t want to write out how you feel each and every day.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a simple color system that allowed you to quickly assign how you felt?

(You bet it would 😂)

Now before you put pencil to paper, you need to do 2 things:

  • Decide what topics to track.
  • List the stages of each tracker topic.

Let’s break these down…

Decide on Tracker Topics

A tracker topic is anything you want to track over a 7+ day period.

Here are my favorite topics to track:

  • Sleep
  • Mood
  • Health
  • Weather
  • Productivity

You want to choose four or five (max).

Pick from my faves above or check out this awesome tracker list.

Choose Your Tracker Stages

Tracker stages are the different phases of your tracker topics, that we assign different colors to.

For example, if I’m tracking my mood, I might have these stages:

  • Sad
  • Blah
  • Ok
  • Happy
  • Excited 

Or if I’m tracking my steps, I might make these stages.

  • > 15,000
  • 10,000 – 14,999
  • 8,000 – 9,999
  • 6,000 – 7,999
  • 4,000 – 5,999
  • 2,000 – 3,999
  • < 2,000

(These stages will become rows in our “trackers” section.)

So think about what stages you want and get ready to add them to your key page.

Here’s how we do it:

  1. In the bottom box — the one that spans the entire page width — write the title “Trackers” at the very top.
  2. Now create columns for each of the topics you want to track, but make sure to leave one extra column on the very left. This extra column is for your colors.
  3. Title each column with your tracker topic name. For example, “Mood”. (Don’t touch the far-left column yet.)
  4. Now add all the stages of each topic in separate rows.
    So if we’re sticking with “Mood”, add these stages under your column title: Sad, Blah, Ok, Happy, Excited…
  5. Remember that far-left column? Let’s put some colors in there — so pick a generic symbol (like a circle) and fill them with colors for each stage, in separate rows.

Adding stages & colors to your trackers

You want to choose colors that make sense for each stage.

You can think of it as a color spectrum — for the positive/happy end of the spectrum, choose green or yellow.

For the negative/sad side, choose red, black or a darker hue.

Ok. Way to go!

That was a LOT of information. 🤯

I think it’s time for some well-deserved playtime. With fun icons.

FOCUS: Remember, we reserved at least 10 rows for this section in Chapter 2 — so don’t add too many stages for each topic.

PRO TIP: Use the free Page-Split Tool or Journal Companion to help you split your tracker section into even columns.

Chapter 6

Create Life Icons

The results are in:

Icons are officially awesome. 🙌

In this chapter, we’ll learn how to make Life icons to represent your lifestyle and favorite hobbies.

Let’s get started.

Watch me make Life Icons

Map Your Life Icons

Life icons are the small symbols that represent your hobbies, habits, and favorite activities.

They basically define how you spend your everyday life.

You use life icons when you journal, so you can quickly log what you did during a given day, without having to write or think too much.

So say you got home late one night and wanted to fill in a day box in your planner.

You might add a meal icon to record what you ate or a little weight icon to record your exercises for the day.

As you might imagine, you pair each icon with an entry.

For example, I would pair a meal icon with “pizza”, “salad” or whatever I actually did eat that day.

Easy stuff.

Brainstorm Icons

First things first, carefully think about what activities you actually do during a week.

Do you watch a lot of TV? Exercise? Cook meals? Play a particular game? Travel?

Be honest with yourself and choose the most common ones.

Here are the categories of icons to start your brainstorm:

  • Favorite Hobbies — watching TV, exercising or meals you like cooking.
  • Routine Habits — waking up, going to sleep, emails or paying bills.
  • Special Events — celebrations, birthdays, take-out or shopping.

Guess what?

It’s that time again, let’s spruce up your key page by adding your icons.

Here are the steps to add your life icons:

  • Open up your key page. 
  • In the top-right box, write the title “Life” (or “Things”).
  • On separate lines, in one column, list all your categories of hobbies. For example, movies, tv shows, sleep, wake, football…
  • Now draw your icon to the left of each hobby category.
  • Search for icon ideas with this tool. 
  • Give it one final review, add any missing icons, and that’s it!

Examples of Life Icons in your key

You see?

Life icons are easy-peasy. We don’t add color here or do anything too fancy.

The most important thing is choosing icons that most accurately represent how you spend your time.

But it gets better:

We’re now about to learn how to use all our four mother sections in your bullet journal.

Q. How many dotted-page squares should a Life Icon take up?

Try and fit each icon into one square — keeping it small will allow you to add more icons without having to redo your entire key design.

Q. What happens if I mess up one of my icon doodles?
Just cover it with a little correction tape, then draw back over it. Also, it’s smart to start with a pencil before you finalize your design in pen.
Q. What symbols should I use for holidays in my key?

I like to look at emojis to get ideas for small icon doodles (here’s my free emoji printable).

Or you can try stickers or stamps.

And if you want an alternative to icons…

You can just assign a priority color for just holidays in the “colors” section, so next time you add an event main symbol (like a ○) to your spreads, you can color it that color.

Q. What are some of your personal favorite icons?

I love to use an icon for the “first-time” (⭐️) I tried something new. It’s a fun one to look back on.

I also order a ton of packages (📦) in the mail, so marking the day I get my goodies is always fun too.

Chapter 7

How to Use Keys in Your Bullet Journal

It’s time to put your skills to work.

This chapter is all about applying your key symbols and colors to your time spreads.

Specifically, we’ll cover how to use main symbols to schedule your items, how to color them, and how to “Shortcut Journal” with life icons.

Brace yourself:

Bullet journaling is about to get really fun.

Where You Key

We covered key symbols, color-coding, and life icons earlier in this guide.

But where do you put those symbols & icons in your journal?

The answer:

Time Spreads — those daily, weekly, and monthly calendar layouts, you see in all planners.

More specifically, you’ll put them in day boxes and tracker boxes — the two primary boxes (or elements) that are the building blocks of time spreads.

Day Boxes are the boxes with the names of the days of the week (like on a calendar).

You put your main symbols, priority colors and life icons in day boxes.

Tracker Boxes are any sections you divided into 7 boxes to represent the days of the week.

You track topics in them, like your mood, and assign colors for different stages.

Day & Tracker Boxes in your time spreads

FOCUS: We are only adding key symbols to time spreads now — not theme spreads. Learn more about the difference between the two main spread types here.

DIY: Need some help filling up those tracker boxes? Use this interactive Elements Tool to come up with a custom list of ideas.

Phew, that was a lot to take in!

If it doesn’t make sense yet, don’t worry.

We’ll cover both box elements next, starting with your main symbols.

Start with Main Symbols

Remember those main symbols from earlier?

They’re the really simple symbols used in your day boxes to represent your tasks, to-do’s, events, and appointments… things you typically put in a planner.

And they usually come in the form of squares () for to-do’s, circles () for events, and dashes () for notes.

↺ Refresh on main symbols

Then we take it up a notch:

Each of these items has different states so we know if a task or event is just started, completed, migrated to a new spread or deleted.

For example, if I start a task — let’s say “organize closet” — I draw a square () next to it and put a forward slash (/) in my square.

If I finish organizing my closet (that’s never going to happen 😂), I turn that forward slash into a checkmark ().

And if it doesn’t matter anymore, I turn it into an X.

Different stages of Main Symbols

But what about this situation?

If I have a task (again, represented with an empty square) and I don’t get to it during that week, I put a right arrow (>) in it, and move (rewrite) the item in my next weekly spread.

Not hard at all.

But what about events and appointments?

For example, if I have a doctor’s appointment at 3pm I’d write: “ Dr. Smith @ 3pm”.

(I use circles () for events and always add timestamps if I can.)

And if I had to reschedule that appointment, I’d again reference my state symbols in my key — in this case, use a right arrow (>) to represent “moved” — and write a right arrow in my circle.

Then I’d just rewrite “ Dr. Smith @ 3pm” (with an empty circle) in whatever future day box I rescheduled the appointment for.

Migrating with Main Symbols

FOCUS: Rewriting items into new spreads and modifying the existing symbol next to it, is technically called Migration. You can learn all about migration here.

PRO TIP: Before you add items to a new time spread, it’s a good idea to check earlier time spreads for moved or incomplete tasks or events that still need to be included in your schedule.

To sum this all up:

All we are doing is using simple symbols — called Main Symbols — to represent the usual suspects in a calendar or planner.

Then if we modify the symbol when we change the state or move a task or event. 🤯

You’ll get a MILLION times better at this once you start journaling. I promise.

Now let’s add some pretty color…

Q. When do you fill in your Day Boxes?

You fill them in with items you know about before they actually happen.

For example, things you put on your schedule or to-do list, like appointments, exams, soccer practice, etc.

Q. Do I only move or migrate items from weekly to weekly spreads?

Nope. You can migrate items from daily to daily spreads, and from monthly to monthly spreads.

I don’t use daily spreads anymore, so most of my migration is week to week.

Color Your Priorities

Earlier we assigned colors to your priorities— like family members, work, home, projects, friends, etc.

So how do we incorporate these colors into our time spreads?


You just color your main symbols with the assigned priority color.

So let’s stick with the same example from earlier and say we have a doctor’s appointment on a Tuesday, so we write this in our Tuesday day box: “ Dr. Smith @ 3pm”.

But who is that appointment for? Is it for you, your kids or hubby?

That’s when you jump back to your key to see who that color represents, then fill in that circle with that color.

Or you might have this situation…

You have to order flowers on the same Tuesday.

You may write “ Call Florist” in your Tuesday day box.

(I’m using squares () for tasks here.)

But again, ask yourself this question:

What (or who) is it for? — are those flowers for you, someone you know, is it work-related?

Just check your key, and fill in the square with the corresponding color.

I told you it was easy. 

Now don’t forget this:

When we are dealing with main symbols, we add scheduled events and tasks before they happen — think planning your future.

But when it comes to trackers and life icons (shortcut journaling), we use them after things happen — think diary, when you reflect on the past.

For example, we may log how we felt or what we actually got done after a given day.

Keep that in mind, as we learn how to use tracker boxes and life icons next…

Color Your Trackers

Now let’s shift gears from day boxes to tracker boxes.

Tracker boxes are 7 boxes that represent each day of the week (but they’re not necessarily in calendar format with dates in them).

In our key, we use them to track high-level topics, like your mood or the weather.

And each color is often associated with stages, like: sad to happy, 1 to 10, etc.

So let’s say you’re tracking your mood…

You’d create 7 boxes, and fill in each one with your mood for the day.

How do you track something abstract, like mood?

With colors of course!

For example, if I was in a bad mood Monday.

I might fill my first box in red (depending on what my key said).

Or if I was happy on Sunday, I might fill my last box in green.

Color-coded Tracker Boxes

FOCUS: Tracker boxes come in all shapes & sizes. A good rule of thumb is to your 7 boxes (or sections) small and simple.

Q. When do you fill in your Tracker Boxes?

You fill them in at the end of the day or the end of the week.

For example, I journal every night right before I go to bed, and that’s when I’d fill in my productivity level or overall mood for the day.

Don’t Forget Life Icons

Dr. Seuss once said:

“Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.”

So what does that have to do with bullet journaling?

You want to add your life icons to your day boxes to make memories.

Life icons memorialize what you did that day, and make it super easy (and fun) for you to reflect back on your life.

But here’s the kicker:

They help you journal FASTER.

It’s what I affectionately call, “shortcut journaling”.

↺ Refresh on life icons

“Shortcut Journaling”

Speed matters.

Shortcut journaling is when you replace long journal entries with icons, so you can save time and become a more efficient (and happier) journaler.

These icons are almost always accompanied by a very concise journal entry.

For example…

I might get takeout one night, then draw a meal icon ( 🍽) and next to it write “Chinese food”.

That way, when you’re tired after dinner and don’t really feel like writing:

“tonight I picked up Chinese food at Komodo Dragon’s for the entire family”.

You just draw an icon and write what you ate.

Simple but effective.

“Shortcut Journaling” with Life Icons

Guess what?

You now know 99% more than anyone else about keys!

Pat yourself on the back, you deserve it. 👋

You might be wondering:

Where can I get more ideas and resources?

Well, I got good news for you — the final chapter is dedicated solely to that.

PRO TIP: Draw your icons with the same colors you set for your priorities in Chapter 4.

For example, if you read a book for work, you can color your book icon (📕) the color you set for work-related activities in your key.

But if you read the latest Harry Potter book, you can color it your personal or home color.

Q. How is Shortcut Journaling different from Rapid Logging?
Shortcut journaling is a way to save you time writing, by simply using icons to replace sentences.

Rapid logging is the official term for writing bulleted lists.

Q. Where can I get more inspirational life quotes?


Key Ideas & Resources

Now that you’re a key master, it’s time to review some cool key ideas and inspirational resources.

And I have great news for you:

You don’t need to design a key page from scratch.

Instead, use one of these free printables, tools or galleries to make your own key magic.

Just so ya know, some links in this post may be affiliate links — meaning I get a tiny percentage if you click through and buy, but that’s ALL put back into the blog and giveaways. 😁


Start here with these tools to help you design your key page:

  • Page-Split Tool —  a free PDF tool to split up your A5 journal pages to help you create your four “Mother Sections” — it’s simple and uses whole number increments.
  • Journal Companion Tool — another free PDF tool to split up your A5 journal pages, that’s a little more precise — it uses decimal increments.
  • Door Hanger Extreme — my flagship spread design tool. You can print the digital version or get the 2-pack shipped to your door. 

Here are my paid offerings to help you journal like a pro:

  • Letter My Journal Course — learn how to add to write those pretty letters and headers in your journal. 🔥
  • Journal You Course — my flagship course on how to become a better journaler and a more productive person. 🔥
  • The Shop — all the tools you need to split up and design your layouts with ease. They’re worth every penny.

BONUS: Get a full sortable list of ideas for your tracker boxes with the Elements Tool.

Printables & Templates

These templates and PDF printables will guide you on your way:

  • How-To PDF — a full recap on how to design your key page the right way 🔥
  • Emoji Printable — to help you discover ideas for your life icons.
  • Main Key Worksheet — brainstorm and fill in your main key symbol ideas.
  • Life Icon Worksheet — create easy doodles for frequent items in your life.
  • VIP Vault — subscribe to my popular vault with tons of extra goodies and all my 100+ PDF spread designs. They’re free. 🔥

New Key Ideas

Here are my favorite places to discover inspiration.

  • Photo Album — get AWESOME key ideas in this free picture album. 📷🔥
  • Take the Quiz — what type of key master are you? Discover your key strengths. 🔥
  • Life Icon Ideas — try one of these icon websites: #1, #2, #3 — to get doodle ideas for shortcut journaling.
  • Ideas Post — my master list of 379 theme spread ideas. 🔥
  • Facebook Group — my tribe’s Facebook group.
  • Reddit — meet a ton of new bullet journalers — especially useful if you’re just starting out.
  • Pinterest — all new ideas posted here for your viewing (and sharing) pleasure.
  • Instagram — tons of the latest bujo inspiration. Also check out my #hashtag guide.

Cliff Notes

If you’re strapped for time, here’s a full recap of what we’ve learned:

  • Your key page goes at the beginning of your journal and has two basic ingredients: items and symbols.
  • Items are things you typically include in a planner — like tasks, to-do’s, events and appointments — that you usually know of in advance.
  • Symbols are simple marks, icons or colors that represent each type of item.
  • Your key design should be divided into 4 “Mother Sections” (or boxes): Main, Priorities, Trackers, and Life.
  • Use this How-To Key PDF to learn how to build a key.
  • Start by making symbols to represent your items (Main section).
  • You color-code your Main Symbols to visually organize your items (Priorities section).
  • You also assign colors to different stages of topics you track (Trackers section).
  • You create Life Icons to represent your hobbies and habits (Life section).
  • “Shortcut Journaling” is when you use life icons to journal faster.
  • You put your key symbols and trackers in time spreads, which are spread layouts designed with day and tracker boxes.
  • You put main symbols and life icons in day boxes. You put your tracker topics in Tracker Boxes.
  • Main Symbols and priority color-coding are scheduled in time spreads before they happen (similar to a planner).
  • Life icons and tracker topics are added to time spreads after they happen (like a diary).

Now It’s Your Turn

So that’s how I’m preparing a key this year!

I hope this guide showed you how to use a key in your own bullet journal.

Now I want to hear from you:

Which symbols do you use to plan your day?

Which type of life icons are your going to try first?

Are you going to assign colors to your trackers?

Do me a favor and let me know by leaving a quick comment below. 👇

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