This is the ONLY guide you’ll need for bullet journaling.
You are going to get:
- 35,000+ words of free bullet journaling advice.
- 15+ free PDF actionable worksheets.
- Thousands of photo inspiration ideas.
- Access to hundreds of free PDF spread printables.
Have fun and keep reading… 🚀
Table of Contents
- Ch 1. What is Bullet Journaling?
- Ch 2. Why You Should Journal Right Now
- Ch 3. Journaling Flashcards
- Ch 4. Supplies Central: Getting You Equipped
- Ch 5. Bullet Journal Setup: Old School
- Ch 6. How I Bullet Journal: The Simple Way
- Ch 7. Fun Stuff: Lettering, Decorations & Doodles
- Ch 8. Digital Productivity: Take Your Journal Online
- Ch 9. Extra Hacks & Journaling Courses
What is Bullet Journaling?
Welcome to your 2019 guide to bullet journaling!
I hope you’re as excited as I am, because we are about to transform your journaling skills.
(At any point you have questions, leave a comment or email me directly.)
We have a lot of fun material to cover.
But let’s ease into it and start simple, by defining what a bullet journal is, its purpose, and why it should matter to you
Sound good? Let’s do this…
The Planning System That Revived My Spirit
There’s a quick story I want to tell you:
When I was a little girl in Alabama, I put my entire life inside tiny paper notebooks.
I took my notebooks everywhere I went, filling them with all my worldly observations and all the dreams I was destined to fulfill.
When high school rolled around, I even found a passion for letters and fonts… and I always got in trouble for testing new headers on my homework papers and doodling designs all over my tests.
But then I lost my way.
I broke up with my pen and paper when I went to college and became a computer nerd.
It was a sad time, but then something magical happened:
I was reunited with my childhood love… thanks to bullet journaling.
That’s what makes bullet journaling so special. It connects you with what matters most:
I had found exactly what I was looking for — bullet journaling was an adult version of my childhood journaling.
It was a creative place where I could express my emotions, but at the same time, it was a productivity tool where I could get serious about planning my future and setting goals.
So think of a bullet journal like a giant sketchpad… where you can let your thoughts flow freely, either artistically or with words.
Then you pile on your planner… full of calendars to outline your future.
Then your diary… to reflect on what happens and to get personal with yourself.
And finally, your to-do list… to conquer everyday tasks.
That’s what a real bullet journal is — a collection of all these.
(This might seem overwhelming at first, but it’s really not. I’ll show you how to set it all up in a second).
So as you can see, the bullet journal serves a lot of roles and can be used by any person, in any job.
Here’s the official definition:
The Purpose of Bullet Journaling
Bullet Journaling is an analog journaling system designed to help you track and store everything you do, all in one place.
(Analog in our world, just means “on paper”.)
The “BuJo” (that’s short for bullet journal) was invented by @rydercarroll, an Austrian immigrant and Brooklyn designer, who created his journaling system to manage his attention deficit disorder.
As Ryder put it, “I wanted to figure out a way for me to be able to capture whatever I was thinking, however, I was thinking it and still house it in a way that was organized and easily accessible.”
His method now helps countless people fulfill their goals with greater efficiency and gratification. You can learn more from the bullet journal official video.
But why is bullet journaling so popular?
That’s a great question — there are several reasons, that will help you decide if it’s right for you…
Why You Should Journal Right Now
The Bullet Journal went viral 5 years ago.
But to truly to understand why this is happening, we first need to understand the deeper benefits journaling has on our minds.
… and for that, we’ve got to get scientific. 🤓
The Science Behind the Ink
Why use a bullet journal?
Let’s start with the benefits of writing things down (according to super smart people):
- Your self-esteem skyrockets.
- It significantly reduces stress.
- You’re more self-aware and it improves your memory.
- It increases your productivity.
- You sleep a whole lot better. 😴
- It helps you quit smoking.
- You’re comfortable expressing your sexuality.
- Your immune system improves and you go to the hospital less.
It’s even made its way to the football field — the Cleveland Browns know the benefits of pen & paper.
Start a bullet journal. Track your goals. Your life will get better.
Science says so.
My 9 Life-Changing Benefits
For me, the true purpose of Bullet Journaling is more personal.
Here are the Top-9 benefits I’ve seen from journaling over the last 3 years, that have transformed my life:
1. I’ve seen real improvement in my productivity
I always thought I was a productive person — but I was wrong.
It wasn’t until I began journaling, that I realized I was not nearly as efficient as I could be.
Once I started creating spreads and laying out my tasks, I began to ACTUALLY accomplish all my goals and not feel overwhelmed doing it.
In fact, studies show that journaling significantly helps in completing tasks — it’s called the Zeigarnik Effect.
2. I smile like crazy at all the memories
It’s amazing how many wonderful memories in life we forget, and it’s a shame when we don’t have anything to remember them by.
3. I’m so much more grateful for what I have
Put me on the record right now: gratitude trackers are amazing.
We’ve all heard how important it is to take those few seconds a day to think back on what we’re thankful for… but let’s be honest, who actually does that?
Not many people.
The act of writing these blessings down on paper does something amazing — that small, physical effort to write, triggers your mind to associate greater importance to those words, which causes you to reflect more and unlock a much deeper appreciation for what you have.
And making this a habit will help you notice more things during the day, which will make you more grateful as well.
Trust me on this one.
4. I felt less pressure to be perfect
Your bullet journal is a custom notebook, so you can design it however you want. There are no set rules.
For me, I loved being able to plan at my own pace and use my journal when I needed it the most.
5. I discovered my creativity
I found a new passion for lettering and coming up with my new fonts, headers, and patterns.
(Heck, I even started my own stamp line.)
The journal is such a great place to practice and find your artistic side.
6. I became more aware of other people in my life
Throughout my creative process, I started to expand my mind.
And in doing so, I naturally thought of the people that matter most to me, and I made spreads and layout designs revolved around them (which I never did before).
7. I learned how to prioritize
Flipping back through my old journals and reflecting on my past, really helped me see what’s important and what makes me happy.
When you have a journal, you get to see exactly how you’re spending time, and you can literally track anything — money, health, sleep, etc. — to improve your habits.
8. The community of friends
If you choose to set aside the nerves and share your journal on social media, you’ll quickly learn how supportive our community is.
I’ve made at least 30 new friends that I love to death.
9. Getting healthier
I’m a big foodie… so I love to track what I eat. 😊
Now I can easily see trends in my eating habits and when I’m starting to slack on any diet I’m on.
A bullet journal will help you become more aware of how you’re treating your body.
Those are just my personal benefits, but everyone finds their own unique enjoyment from journaling.
(If you have a story of your own, please share in the comments.)
Now it’s time to debunk some myths…
15 Myths About Bullet Journaling (And Why You Should Ignore Them)
Now that you’ve seen all the awesome things bullet journaling can do, let’s talk about some criticisms that tend to keep people from getting started.
Like anything else, as the BuJo gets more popular, you’ll start to hear more and more excuses about why you should not bullet journal.
Please DON’T get discouraged by all this talk. In fact, ignore all the negativity.
Here are the most common myths about bullet journaling:
1. The Dotted Paper Is Why It’s Called a Bullet Journal
A lot of people confuse this one.
Bullets do not equal dots.
The “bullet” in bullet journaling does not refer to the dots on the paper.
And if you have a dotted journal or any type of notebook with dot grid paper, it does NOT mean you are bullet journaling.
Bullet journaling is the system that uses bullets — custom symbols you put beside your journal entries to classify them.
Here’s what bullets look like:
You don’t need dot grids to bullet journal. You can use any type of paper you want: blank, lined, pink, parchment (well maybe not this one). You get the idea.
2. I Have to Be Picasso
You’ll see a TON of gorgeous artistic spreads, that will make you want to throw your journal in the trash before you even get started.
But listen to me right now:
You don’t have to be artistic to start a bullet journal.
In fact, you’re not supposed to be — the fundamental purpose of bullet journaling is simplicity and minimalism.
So don’t get caught up in whatever it seems like everyone else is doing.
Just focus on being you and taking it as slowly as you need to.
If it makes you feel any better, here’s my very first journal spread:
Picasso worthy? Not so much.
3. I Can’t Make Mistakes
Piggybacking on the previous myth, I hear this one a LOT and it cracks me up:
“I’m afraid to make mistakes!”
If I had to guess, I’d say I mess up at least 10 times in one sitting!
Seriously. That’s why I use a pencil to outline my layout beforehand.
So don’t feel bad if you make a mistake, that’s how you learn. Just laugh at it.
When you do screw up, here are some awesome tips to save the day:
- Use a white gel pen after your ink is dry.
- Try metallic or opaque washi tape.
- Use correction tape (it’s instant and fast).
- Cover mistakes with stickers.
- Cover mistakes with cooler things — wrapping paper, a pic or a card.
- Use Post-it notes.
- Try metallic pens.
- Use erasable pens.
- Turn the mistake into a doodle.
- Glue or tape your pages together.
- Cut it out (don’t rip it out) and put washi tape over any cut edge.
4. I Have to Journal Every Day
No. You don’t.
It is completely OK to miss a day, a week, a month, or anything for that matter (it’s inevitably going to happen; life is busy).
Remember how the bullet journal is all about keeping things simple? It’s equally about keeping things flexible.
Remember that: simple and flexible.
Journaling every day WILL get overwhelming, so don’t do it if you don’t feel like it (yes, it’s that simple).
I recommend trying to get into a journaling routine when you crawl into bed (like I do).
Then give it just 10 to 15 minutes, to plan and reflect on your week.
If that seems like a lot, put on Bravo while you do it, and the time will fly by… 😉
5. I Can’t Start Whenever I Want
This is another huge misconception.
For some reason, the planner inside many of us, make us feel like we have to wait for the start of the new year… a new semester… new month, etc. in order to start our journal.
That’s just not true.
You CAN start your bullet journal in the middle of the week or any day of the year.
Remember, your journal is there for you to express yourself and to get your thoughts down on paper, whenever you have them.
As Mark Twain once said, “The secret of getting ahead is getting started.”
So just get started.
6. I Have to Follow a Specific Format
Do whatever you want, whenever you want, and make your journal your own.
For example, I don’t make a Future Log at the beginning of my journal (I actually don’t make a future log at all).
Instead, I try and jot down all the things on my mind — which I call an “Every Single Thing” spread — at least once a month.
I say “try”, because it’s not a deal-breaker if I forget to do it. My journal will be just fine without it each month.
I also don’t make an Index, a master key or Daily Logs (more on that later).
Rules are meant to be broken. So break them.
Keep it simple, maximize your time, and focus on the journal parts that you’ll actually use.
7. I Should Plan My Spreads Ahead of Time
I’ve been guilty of this myself — making journal spreads weeks or months in advance.
But don’t do that.
Because if you do, you immediately strip away the flexible power of the bullet journaling method.
Imagine this scenario:
You make a bunch of monthly spreads in advance, then you realize later that your schedule fits better in weekly spreads?
Now you got a major problem on your hands.
So do the smart thing — plan as you go.
You’ll be gifting yourself far more creative freedom, versus backing yourself into a corner when it comes time to put pen to paper.
8. I Have to Change My Style
I hear ya.
But by no means, do you need to reinvent the wheel each week and come up with some master layout with all the bells and whistles.
Here’s what I recommend you do:
- Go on Instagram and search the hashtag “#bujospread” (if you don’t have IG, then search Google).
- Pick 3 or 4 layouts you like, that you can reasonably recreate in your own journal.
- Over the next few months, make each of your chosen layouts and test which one you like best (how easy is it to use, does it collect all the details you want, etc.).
- Then pick a winner and use that design as a template… and stick with it each week!
You don’t have to change your spread design each week or conform to anyone else’s bullet designs.
There’s no set language, so be as creative as you want when making your keys and grouping your items.
9. Buying a Premade Planner is Much Easier
If you do that, then you’re not bullet journaling.
Planning and journaling are two separate activities.
Let me explain:
A premade planner tells you when and where you can plan.
(Remember, with a bullet journal you can start anytime.)
Journaling is SO much more: to-do lists, trackers, dailies, monthlies, indexes…
So you see? Using just a premade planner won’t deliver the same satisfaction as bullet journaling.
10. I Need a Million Supplies
Nope. You only need one notebook and one pen.
Really, that’s it.
After the bullet journal hit the scene, a bazillion knock-off stores sprouted up all over the world, selling all the “best” supplies imaginable.
And then naturally, everyone wanted to be early adopters and social media went crazy with journals, markers, stickers and any other gadget you could imagine.
So what’s my advice?
Since it’s so easy to get overwhelmed with all the supplies out there, start simple.
First, find your favorite notebook and pen, then when you’re ready for the next step, start researching supplies.
11. I Need a Fancy $20 Journal
The supplies myths don’t stop there — many beginners get caught up thinking they need to shell out the big bucks for some super special dot grid journal.
Sure, you can get a dotted notebook or a Leuchtturm1917, but you can also use ANY notebook you find at your local store.
The paper can be blank or lined too. It’s really whatever works best for you.
A few traits you’ll ideally want to look for when buying a journal:
- Go with a hardcover — the good ones will usually last about 2 years.
- You want at least 150 pages (200 is ideal).
- You want no-bleed, quality paper — around 100 gsm weight (think resume paper quality).
- Make sure the pages are numbered (this is crucial for bullet journaling). If you can’t find numbered pages, you can number them as you go.
- These dimensions work best: 26 squares (27 dots) wide x 38 squares (39 dots) tall is most common and the standard size you see with notebooks like, the Scribbles That Matter and Leuchtturm1917 A5 (my friends at JetPens can teach you about paper sizes).
- You want lay-flat binding — a form of book binding that allows your open book to lay completely flat, which makes it ideal for writing.
- Get one with a bookmark ribbon — the thread that connects at the top of the journal spine that makes it easy to save your spot.
- And an elastic band — the stretch band that’s connected on both ends of the spine to keep your journal shut.
One last thing:
Amazon is the best place to buy journals — they’re much easier to find and also cheaper.
It just can be hard to find dotted journals in physical stores (trust me, I basically live at bookstores).
(We’ll talk about all this in Chapter 4.)
12. It’s Pointless If I Don’t Have Anything to Plan
Ok, let’s imagine you have nothing on your calendar.
From your point of view, your journal would then be a complete waste of time and should live in your junk drawer.
But you’d be wrong.
- Here’s a few things you can still use your journal for when you have nothing planned:
- Write out a vision board of all your wildest dreams.
- Draw or doodle what’s around you.
- Practice your lettering and make your own journal font.
- Track your favorite activity: exercise, health, homework, Netflix watch time, etc.
- Brainstorm ideas for when you do have plans.
- And don’t forget all those amazing health benefits you get from writing.
Paul J. Meyer puts it best:
“Writing crystallizes thought and thought produces action.”
Writing your thoughts down will help you make plans, and those plans will turn into positive results in your life.
13. It’s Going to Make Me Less Productive
Karen, a student of mine, told me when she started journaling she wasn’t seeing a big enough improvement in her productivity.
I want you remember one thing:
Karen was working really hard at her journal and putting in a lot of effort. She was reading and watching everything online, but it was taking her too much time for no reward.
So what did Karen do next?
She found her purpose for journaling and learned from my course mantra “you do you” — she stopped trying to fit into the journaling mold, gave up trying to be perfect, and paved her own journaling identity.
I’m happy to report, she’s now discovered a balanced relationship with her journal that was perfect for her lifestyle.
So how do you find your purpose?
Ignore the naysayers, then start by asking yourself what you really want from your journal.
Do you want it to serve as a simple planner? Do you want more advanced to-do lists and trackers?
After you set your expectations, everything will start to fall in place.
You won’t feel pressure and you’ll start spending your time on your journal much more efficiently.
You’ll also see productivity rewards on the back-end.
For example, if you focus 5 minutes on your to-do list, you’ll make up that time tenfold with how much more productive you’ll be off-page, in real life.
14. The Learning Curve Is Too High
Starting and keeping a bullet journal is NOT hard.
(Me attempting to play the violin or knit a sweater is hard.)
Remember, all you need to bullet journal is a pen and a notebook.
You can keep it as simple as you want — you don’t need to make elaborate spreads or artistic elements — you can simply write down all the things you need to get done.
And again, you don’t need to journal every day. Just open it up when you have something to say.
Your journal is there to be a productivity aid, not a chore.
15. I’ll Turn into Tim Cook Before I Know It
Ok, I’ll admit. I wish this one wasn’t a myth, because I love Apple’s CEO (he’s a wonderful Alabama guy who signed my mom’s yearbook).
Your bullet journal is not going to make you some productivity guru and change your life immediately — it takes more work than that.
But when you make the effort to track your life, so you can reflect on it, you’ll be rewarded greatly.
That’s the greatest gift of all.
Well we did it! We have debunked 99% of the bullet journaling myths.
I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to get my hands dirty…
We’ll start with the basics, then dip our toes into specific concepts.
Sound good? Let’s become journaling jedis together!
Basic Journaling Terms
It’s important that we define some key terms so we’re on the same page for future lessons.
(You should refer back to this chapter when you need a definition.)
Let’s start with the important, top-level terms you’ll want to have in your repertoire:
- Journal — your binded notebook full of blank pages.
- Dot Grid — the dots on your journal’s pages.
- Items — the individual entries you make in your journal. These could be: tasks, events, notes, appointments, reminders, etc. Really any activity you want to track.
- Spreads (aka “layouts”) — the pair of open-facing pages you see when your journal is laid open. Your spread creations will fall under two main categories: time and theme.
- Time Spreads — spreads designed to help you plan your schedule and manage your to-do’s. They are usually in calendar format and come in 3 different variations: daily, weekly, and monthly.
- Daily Spread — a spread designed to track daily activities.
- Weekly Spread — a spread designed to track your weekly schedule.
- Monthly Spread — a spread designed to give you an overview of your upcoming month. It usually includes a “goals” section.
- Theme Spreads (aka “collections”) — spreads centered around a specific interest or whatever is going on in your life right now. For example, favorite movies (or songs, restaurants, authors), travel itinerary, wedding plans…
- Trackers — a spread element designed to record the progress of a specific activity over time. For example, sleeping, exercise, eating…
- Key — a cheat sheet that you create at the beginning of your journal, that unlocks the meaning of the symbols, icons, and colors that you use to represent your journal items.
- Printables — the free downloads of spread designs, measurements or other tools (they usually come in PDF form).
You may not hear these terms as often, but they are good to know (and they’ll make you look super smart):
- Bleeding — when a pen’s ink seeps through paper, making the back side of the page unusable. It usually happens because the ink has a thin medium or the paper is too thin (low weight). These pens are great no-bleed options.
- Ghosting — when you turn to the back side of a page and can still see the shadows or impressions (similar to braille) made by the pen on the front side.
- Feathering — when the edges of your writing appear blurred. This happens when your porous paper absorbs too much pen ink or the ink itself is too wet.
- Dutch Door — when you cut out a section of a group of pages to reveal a single fixed page underneath. You can then flip through the above, cut-out pages normally, with the added benefit of having the fixed page visible the entire time.
- Threading — a page numbering trick to help you locate similar pages in other parts of your journal. You do this by appending extra page numbers to existing page numbers at the bottom of a page.
- Leuchtturm & Tombow — a popular journal and pen maker respectively, that you’ll hear about a million times on your journaling journey.
Got all that? 😉
We’re almost done with our vocabulary lesson:
Let’s wrap up with some official bullet journaling terms…
Q: When would I thread my pages?
When you need to remind yourself that similar topics are also located elsewhere in your journal (at the location of the appended page number). Think of it as a mini built-in index.
Q: How often should I make a dutch door?
Bullet Journaling Trademark
You’ll want to review this section so things make sense going forward.
(We’ll learn how to apply these in Chapter 5.)
- Bullets — custom symbols, defined in your key, that you use to classify your journal entries. For example, dots (●) for tasks, circles (○) for events, dashes (–) for notes.
- Migration — when you move and rewrite items from one collection to the other (usually from a daily log to a monthly spread or back to the future log).
- Modules — the name given to all the building blocks of the original system: index, future log, collections, etc.
- Index — a list of references to your spreads with corresponding page numbers. It’s usually at the beginning of your journal.
- Future Log — a high-level schedule of your upcoming months. It’s usually on an open-facing spread divided vertically into 3 parts, to create 6 boxes to represent 6 months.
- Collections — spreads or pages in your journal that collect similar items you want to track. For example, “books to read”, “movies to watch”, ‘recipes to make”… it’s the formal synonym for theme spreads.
- Rapid Logging — the method of dictating journal entries into your daily spreads, involving bullets and signifiers.
- Signifiers — these are extra symbols you write next to your journal entries, to emphasize their importance. The most common symbol is an asterisk (＊).
Alrighty. Great job!
This glossary should put you miles ahead of other journalers.
Now it’s time to get you equipped…
Q: How are bullets different from key symbols?
They are basically the same — they are both symbols or icons used to represent journal items. However, your key is usually more complex with different colors, marks, etc.
Supplies Central: Getting You Equipped
Finding the best bullet journaling supplies can definitely be a challenge.
So let’s settle this once and for all and get you equipped with everything you need — whether you’re a beginner or advanced — and cheaper alternatives if you’re on a budget.
(I’ve personally tested over 100 different products, so I got you covered. 😉)
In this chapter you’ll learn:
- Where to buy your supplies.
- What to look for in a new journal.
- The best pens for any occasion.
- The accessories that are worth your money.
- How to store and keep your supplies organized.
I also have 3 starter kit printables for you: $15, $30 and $50.
Ready to have some fun? Let’s get rollin’.
Where to Buy Bullet Journal Supplies
Before we dive into specific recommendations, let’s take a second to talk about where you should buy your supplies.
You can Google “bullet journaling supply stores” and lose your mind. So don’t do that. 😂
Here are the 17 best bullet journal supplies stores (in order) that are also budget-friendly:
- Amazon — the #1 choice where you can find all your beginner supplies.
- Tombow — home to all my favorite brush pens, erasers, correction tape and more (use code LIFEBYWHITNEY15 for 15% off anything).
- Michaels — best for stickers, stamps, pens and journal decor.
- Hobby Lobby — pretty much everything, but not necessarily journals.
- Joann — southern fabric and sewing vendor with deals for all hobbies.
- Notebook Therapy — bags, pens, plushies… you name it.
- Kawaii Living — pencil cases, fineliners… everything bujo.
- Target — I get all my stickers and desk organizers here (and other arts & crafts).
- Tuesday Morning — for crafts and DIY project supplies.
- Ross — find name-brand products for nearly half the price of Amazon.
- TJ Maxx — fun collection of art supplies and a variety of unique journals.
- Etsy — handmade stickers, stencils, and much more from unique shops.
- Mochithings — planners, notebooks, and binders.
- Paperchase — stationery and unique journal options.
- The Goulet Pen Co. — for fountain pens.
- Custom Ink — all sorts of cool office supplies and notebooks.
- Dollar General (or Tree) — affordable accessories, tools, and stationery.
Don’t forget about Amazon price matching.
That’s when you walk into a brick & mortar store, open up the Amazon app on your phone, and say “hey, Amazon sells this product for this lower price, so match it so I can save some cash.”
Stores I know that price match: Walmart, Target, Staples, Office Depot, Michaels, Office Max, and Joann.
Hobby Lobby doesn’t price match, but here’s how to get their sweet deals.
Now let’s talk journals…
Best Bullet Journals
Choosing the right notebook will be your most important decision.
It’s like picking a new boyfriend — you want to make the right choice now, since you gotta live with it for the next few months. 😏
But don’t forget this:
Your journal represents you.
So devote the time to research the one that truly fits your personality and lifestyle.
What to Look for in a Journal
The fundamental appeal of a bullet journal is the flexibility to organize it however you want.
You’re not bullet journaling if you have a fancy templatized planner, with pre-made calendars and task lists.
All you need is a blank notebook and a pen.
Sure, some come with a few reserved pages in the front — for an index or key — but really it’s a blank canvas for you to plan your life, in your own style.
Let’s say you’re ready to invest in a journal. What do you look for next?
First of all, you want a hardcover journal that lays completely flat on your desk, so it’s easy to write in.
Second, you want at least 150 dotted pages (200 is ideal).
Dots are awesome because they give you the cleanest guides with minimal interference.
Here’s the most important part:
(Better paper = more fun journaling).
You’ve probably heard that paper is made from trees.
But what you may not know is that paper is much more complex.
It’s important that your pages can withstand different pens and their inks, or else you’ll run into common pen problems, like bleeding, ghosting or feathering.
The best way to avoid all these problems is to look for thick pages with a grammage of at least 100 GSM.
Grammage is a measure of paper density (mass) and is expressed in grams per square meter (GSM).
Denser pages are thicker, which usually means higher quality paper that is less porous.
Porosity refers to the ratio of pore volume in your pages. Highly porous pages (like tissue paper) will absorb your pen’s ink faster and bleed.
Got all that? 😂
Let’s sum that all up real quick:
- Paper people use a term called grammage to classify the density of their stock.
- Grammage is measured in GSM (g/m2).
- Thicker pages have a higher GSM.
- Higher GSM means a higher mass and compression of paper fibers.
- Mass is the amount of matter an object contains, so paper with more mass is less porous.
- Low porosity means less pore volume or space between physical page fibers.
- Less space between fibers means less capillary action with your pen ink, which means less bleeding, ghosting and feathering.
Now we’re both paper nerds! 🤓
Let’s pick a journal we love, shall we? I think we deserve it.
My #1 Pick
- Best for everyday use
- Includes a key and index pages, dotted numbered pages, and 2 colored bookmarks
- No bleeding or ghosting
- Pro version has a doodle-free cover
Archer & Olive
- Popular among seasoned journalers
- Ultra thick pages (160 gsm)
- Includes a back pocket, elastic band, 2 bookmark ribbons and pen holder
- Just released a version with black pages
Cheat Sheet: Journals
Here are some quick tips to remember about journals.
- Get a journal that already has page numbers (Scribbles That Matter, Leuchtturm1917).
- Hardcover is best. Always.
- You want at least 150 dotted pages (200 is ideal).
- Look for these dimensions: 26 squares (27 dots) wide x 38 squares (39 dots) tall.
- Page thickness is more important than page count.
- A journal >$20 is usually worth the price… and paying more will actually keep you more motivated.
- Set aside a couple “test pages” to experiment with how you paper quality responds to different pens & ink (Scribbles That Matter come with pen test pages).
- Pick a cover color that makes you happy. 😁
- Look for journals with at least 2 ribbon bookmarks.
Here are some answers to common journal questions…
Q. Is GSM a measure of thickness, weight or something else?
Q. What’s the difference between grammage and basis weight?
Basis weight is the weight of 500 sheets of a particular grade of paper cut into its basic sheet size, expressed as pounds. This term is used in the U.S. instead of grammage.
(Grams measure mass. Not weight. Pounds measure weight).
If you want to convert your GSM to basis weight, use this tool.
Q. What is a Caliper (Micrometer)?
It’s a tool, that looks like a wrench, used to measure a page’s thickness. Its measurements are expressed in 1/1000 inch increments called “points”.
For example, a 0.009 inch reading would be “9 points”.
Q. Why do the most popular journals on Amazon specify GSM?
For example, Scribbles That Matter (United Kingdom) and Leuchtturm1917 (Germany).
Here’s a cool website with a guide to paper weights and sizes.
Q. What is the most important trait to look for in a quality notebook?
Q. What are the ideal dimensions for a bullet journal page?
You want a page size approximately 5.5 x 8 inches (26 squares wide by 38 squares tall). The dot grid boxes should each be about 5mm.
Q. What does A5 mean again?
A5 is a paper size that is used for notepads or small books. A5 measures 5.83 x 8.27 inches (148 x 210 millimeters) and is half the size of A4.
Q. Should I buy a Scribbles That Matter or Leuchturm1917?
Scribbles That Matter is best for all skill levels.
It has white dotted paper (vs. ivory) and 2x thicker pages (160 gsm vs 80 gsm), so you don’t have to deal as much with typical ink issues: bleeding, ghosting, feathering.
Q. Do I need an extra journal cover?
No. Most journals already come with a quality cover.
But if you want an extra layer of protection — especially if you plan on journaling outdoors or use it a lot at school — then try a leather cover. Men like these a lot too.
Remember, take your time and pick a journal you love.
But… if you’re too excited to wait…
You can’t go wrong with the Scribbles That Matter Pro (I’ve gone through 4 full ones).
Best Journaling Pens
Pens will be your #1 motivational tool.
There’s just something special about finding that right pen for the job, letting it rest between your fingers, and magically expressing yourself with ink.
Now I want to help you make some magic of your own.
(I’ve tested over 200, so I have some experience here. 😇)
In this section, you’ll get an inside look at all the best pens for any journaling job, how to do a pen test, and answers to all your pressing pen questions.
What to Look for in a Pen
There are ton of different pen types out there: fountains, ballpoints, rollerballs, brush, gels, fine tips, and many more.
There’s a lot.
But don’t worry. There’s no need to get overwhelmed when picking the right pen for the job.
Just focus on these 2 pen traits: Tips and Ink.
Let’s quickly break down each of these…
Tips (or points)
Most of your journaling time will involve exactly what you expect: writing.
And for that, you want clear, sharp lines that are created with fine and firm tips.
“Fine” refers to the tip size.
Pen tips generally come in two sizes: fine or broad (thin vs. thick).
The sizes are measured in millimeters, and the lower the number, the finer the line.
In this United States, less than 0.7mm is considered fine. Anything greater will be broader and bolder.
“Firm” refers to the hardness.
The hardness is either firm or soft (not flexible vs. flexible).
A good rule of thumb:
Fine tip pens are firm, while broad tip pens — which you see more with brush pens and lettering — are soft and have some flexibility.
The lines you make and the thickness of your strokes, depend on the size and hardness of the tips, as well as the amount of pressure you apply.
Pens with broad tips (or fountain pens with wide nibs) give off a lot of ink when they hit the page, so they are much more likely to saturate the page, especially if the page is porous.
For sharp lines — that give off less ink — you’ll want a fine tip that is firm and doesn’t bend too much.
So choose your fine tip carefully, since you’ll be putting it through the wringer.
(My specific recommendations are coming up in the Daily Pens section.)
To avoid bleeding, smudging and ghosting, you want a pen with quality ink that dries quickly.
Drying time depends on many things: ink, pen, paper, pressure, and even the humidity where you live.
The primary factor though is ink.
Let’s go back to science class for a second — what is ink?
Your ink cocktail has two main ingredients:
- Pigments (or dyes) for color.
- Solvents — either oil or water, to help dissolve the pigment.
Ink formulas have been closely guarded by chemists for centuries, but we know that most recipes are either oil-based or water-based (or a combo of the two).
Found in ballpoint pens, oil-based ink dries the fastest, so it’s less likely to smudge.
(This makes it a smart choice for lefties and fast writers.)
Also, the ink is highly viscous (thick), so it doesn’t soak into the paper as much to cause feathering or bleeding.
It’s these oils that mix with pigments to create a smooth writing experience and vibrant ink that dries quickly.
But what if we wanted an even smoother writing experience, with the latest and greatest in ink technology?…
Water-Based Ink (Gel)
The cleanest pens for journaling paper use water-based or gel ink.
Rollerball pens have water-based ink that requires less pressure on your part, giving it its trademark comfortable feel.
The downside? Since the ink is thinner, it can leak and bleed.
Bleeding is when the ink soaks through the page to the other side, often staining the pages underneath.
So what ink gives you the best of both worlds?
Enter gel pens.
Gel pens are popular because they use a water-based gel solution that magically changes its viscosity once it hits the paper.
It gets better:
The ink flows freely out of the tip so you get that smooth feel, but then it re-thickens on the page so it doesn’t absorb and bleed through the page.
Pretty cool right?
Many bullet journalers love their gel pens, and you’ll want to keep an eye out for water-based inks while you’re pen shopping.
Now that we are pen experts, let’s apply our new knowledge to bullet journaling and get our hands on the best pens out there…
Pen Categories for Journaling
The pens you choose will depend on the task.
For example, certain pens are better for daily use and rapid logging.
While others are better for bold letters or colorful decoration.
We can classify bullet journaling pens into two broad categories:
- Daily pens — these are your workhorse pens that you’ll use for everyday writing and journal entries. They come in mostly black and have fine, firm tips.
- Brush pens — used for headers, lettering, calligraphy, fonts, decorations, and aesthetics. This category includes all pens and markers, with broad, flexible tips.
You just want to associate your typical writing duties — when you want sharp, legible lines — with daily pens.
And your fancy lettering and creative designs, with brush pens.
That’s all there is to it!
Now for some specific recommendations…
These babies are your go-to pens.
You’ll use them 90% of the time for all your everyday journal items.
My #1 Pick
These 0.3mm pens are my absolute favorite for everyday task writing and entries.
This 20-pack comes in assorted colors that I use for everything: weeklies, keys, symbols… top of the line and worth every penny.
This pack comes with three tip sizes – 01, 03 and 05. They’re skip-free with no smudging since the ink dries almost instantly.
These guys are perfect for really fine details, doodles and drawing black tracing lines over your pencil sketches. Watch them in action.
Super versatile pens that work exceptionally well on post-it notes, cards, work stationary and school material.
They really are amazing value for their quality, since the tips are super strong and draw crisp, precise lines. The ink is water-resistant and doesn’t smudge or bleed either. Plus, you can buy them pretty much anywhere.
Brush pens tips are made of 3 things: natural hair, synthetic hair and felt.
The brush pens you want are of the synthetic kind and are usually made of nylon.
With brush pens, you’ll also hear a lot about the hardness of the tip: either soft or firm.
Soft tips require more precision since they are more difficult to create fine lines with.
Firm tips on the other hand, make it easy to create fine lines, but you may need to apply more pressure for thicker lines.
Those synthetic (nylon) tips you want, tend to be on the harder side.
Here are my brush pen recommendations…
Set of 9 colors and 1 blender pen, with a flexible brush tip on one side and a fine tip on the other.
These excel at watercolor illustrations, doodles, and custom art.
Quality medium-size felt tips (0.7mm) that create bold lines and come in a ton of colors.
The tips don’t fray and the ink rarely smears or bleeds.
A smart choice for your first color pack.
Bonus: Budget Pick #2
Very comparable to Tombow dual brush pens, except the fine-tip side is smaller ~ .2mm.
Blendable to colors that you can even use it to ink rubber stamps.
Q. What’s the perfect ratio of daily pens to brush pens?
How to Do a Pen Test
Over time, your favorite bullet journal pens will change.
You’ll want to test your pens to see which ones you outgrow or no longer fit your writing style.
The good news:
There is a SUPER easy way for you to test your own pens!
All you need to do is take a seat, pop open your journal, and follow the steps below.
Once you finish your test, reevaluate your pen inventory so you can make smarter financial decisions moving forward.
Here’s how to do a pen test in 10 easy steps:
- Open up a blank spread.
- Title it “Pen Test” and date the page.
- Optional: note the page number on the bottom, flip back to your index, and add the page number plus “Pen Test.” For example, “19 Pen Test”
- Flip back to your pen test page and think of your favorite test word. For example, “Doodle”.
- Choose your first pen to test.
- On one row, write the exact name of the pen. For example, “Sharpie”.
- Then write your test word next to it. For example, “Sharpie Doodle”.
- Optional: Add your own pen rating next to it. For example, “Sharpie Doodle 5 stars”.
- Now repeat the process, testing a new pen on each row with the same formula: new pen name + same test word + pen rating.
- Once you’ve run out of pens, review the test word you wrote for each pen, and see which pen wrote that word the best. That’s your winning pen!
But here’s what to do next:
Depending on the actual amount of pens you tested, I’d re-buy the top 3 pens from the list.
… and toss the bottom 3 in the junk drawer.
(You don’t have time for pens that don’t make you happy.)
Then you’ll be left with a much cleaner stockpile of pen pals.
That’s all there is to it! You’ve aced your first pen test.
Rather watch how it’s done? I tested 200 pens in this video:
Q. How often should I run a pen test?
About every 6 months — that way you can monitor your writing progress and your pen preferences, so you can see which ones you might want to explore next (you’ll also save money in the long run).
Cheat Sheet: Pens
- Always look for pens that say they don’t bleed or ghost.
- Quality pen ink will be acid-free, which means it has low sulfur levels that won’t degrade your journal paper.
- You also want elastic pens. You won’t see this term as often, but it refers to the tip’s ability to reform back to its original shape after each use.
PRO TIP: Order pens in bulk (10 or more) so you have extras at work, at home or in your backpack… and you’ll get a nice price discount. 😉
Q. Why are so many popular pens labeled with Asian characters?
It’s because East Asian and Japanese pen cultures have a much smaller definition of fine tips: 0.4mm or less to be exact. And it’s those fine tips that make for clean, quality writing.
Q. What other ingredients are in ink?
Besides pigments and solvents, inks also have other secret additives that are generally used to help ink flow, reduce clogging or speed up drying time.
Q. Who invented the ballpoint pen technology we use today?
John Loud, an American leather tanner, invented the ballpoint pen in 1888. He was a very handsome man.
Q. What other factors impact ink drying time?
Drying time depends on many things: ink, pen, paper, and even the humidity where you live.
Q. How do I clean my brush pen?
Many tips are self-cleaning, but I would roll the tip around on some scrap or tissue paper after heavy use (especially if it looks wet).
Q. Should I try fountain pens?
Old-school fountain pens use customizable nibs (tips) with different size ink cartridges that take forever to dry. That’s why you won’t see many journalers — including myself — using fountain pens.
Q. What’s the difference between a fountain, ballpoint and rollerball pen?
I personally don’t use any of these for bullet journaling, but the difference between them lies in the ink type. Learn the difference in pen types.
Q. What is Archival ink?
Ink that is resistant to fading and weathering, so it remains visible for a longer amount of time.
Q. What is Write-out?
Write-out is another term you may hear during your research, which is how long a pen lasts before it runs out of ink. Think life-expectancy.
Q. What type of oil is in pen ink?
We now have the pens we need and the journal to use them in.
But wouldn’t it be SWEET if we had some extra goodies?…
Bullet Journal Accessories
They are like the best friends of your essential supplies (your journal and pen).
They just make everything easier, prettier, and much more FUN!
Before we begin, I should warn you:
It can be super easy to get caught up in all the shiny products on Amazon.
So in this section, we’re going to focus on only the most useful accessories (without getting too indulgent). 😇
Let’s go down the rabbit hole together…
(I’d marry washi tape if I could.)
What Is Washi Tape?
It is loved by bullet journalers for its versatility, beauty, and functionality.
Washi actually means paper in Japanese, which is why it always looks like wallpaper with all its decorative designs and textures.
The term “washi tape” is used primarily in the west. The Japanese just call it “masking tape”.
But what makes it so unique?
Washi paper is made from local Japanese shrubs. We don’t have those in the west, so our paper is made from tree pulp.
There’s a lot to love about washi, but here are my 3 FAVORITE facts (that I bet you don’t know):
- Washi is a 1,000-year-old Japanese paper.
- It tears in any direction you want because there are no grains in the plant pulp.
- Unlike western paper, it is literally warmer to the touch due to the tactile properties of the fibers (which makes it ideal for gift wrapping and packaging).
I not only lacquer my journal with it, but I also use it to label everything in my kitchen, to gift wrap presents, decorate cards, package my door hanger shipments… basically for all my crafts and DIY projects.
How to Use Washi Tape
Here are 7 ways to use washi in your bullet journal:
- Dividers — standard washi is about 15mm (0.6 inches) wide, but you can tear it into thinner strips to use as makeshift dividers (especially if you’re not artistic).
- Bookmark — fold a 1-inch piece around the outside edge of a page to mark your spot.
- Fix mistakes — use it to cover up any misspellings, smudges or smears.
- Layout designs — make box outlines and other fun, unique designs.
- Decoration — stick different size pieces on your spreads (if you don’t like art or know how to doodle).
- Labels or headers — write on washi to make headers on your pages or even on your journal cover. Be sure you use a sharpie or permanent marker.
- Filler — stick pieces in fill up awkward empty spaces.
Where to Buy Washi Tape
Washi is not always made in the traditional way, so watch out for the cheap knock-offs.
The bad stuff is usually sold in bulk (like packs of 30) and if the deal sounds too good to be true, then it usually is.
I’ve actually had much better luck finding fancier washi at Target — they have a great assortment of designs for good value.
The Scotch brand makes some really pretty styles with sturdier washi material.
So I recommend trying Target first for their cheap prices, then your local craft store, then order online from Amazon or Etsy (try and get it shipped from Japan). 🇯🇵
You’ll love it (and so will your kids).
Stencils are cut-out guides you can place over your journal pages to make quick art, patterns, and designs.
They are very easy tools to help us “non-artistic” people create icons, straight lines, and other shapes.
Look for these traits when buying stencils:
- You want stencils that are flexible, but not super thin.
- Stencils made of quality plastic work best.
- Make sure each stencil sheet has many cut-out designs (at least 8).
Remember earlier when we talked about keeping your bullet journal simple?
You definitely DO want to keep your journal lean & mean, but…
When you’re ready to take a baby step forward, stencils are a great place to start.
Q. How do I store stencils?
Keep them in their own pencil case (the pouch looking kind).
And if your collection gets large, you can use a 3 ring binder with page protectors, and just slide your stencils on in!
Q. How do I clean my stencil?
Gently wipe away any ink with a damp cloth.
Q. What pen should I use with stencils?
Q. What stencil shape is the most common?
Circle. You’ll see circle stencils used most often with habit trackers and fancy future log designs.
The good news for you?
Now you can find virtually any design imaginable!
You can buy custom stickers from super fancy Etsy shops OR do what I do…
And go to Target or Walmart.
There you’ll discover a goldmine of cheap sticker sheets for only about a $1.
(You can also try Michaels or the Dollar Store too.)
I would recommend you start with individual letter stickers and use them for labeling page titles and headers.
That way, you can at least get a feel for the brand — how well they stick, peel off their backing sheets, etc. — before you decide to buy more.
To sum it all up:
Go to your local stores first, like a Target, to scope out their sticker inventory.
(You should find some gems. 💎)
Then choose letter stickers first and use them for titles and headers.
For example, you can stick the same apple sticker on top of school-related spreads or a briefcase sticker on work spreads.
How to Use White Out Tape
- Hold it like a pen at a 45-degree angle to the paper.
- Press the edge of the applicator on the page and drag it over the written mistakes you want to hide (you don’t need to press hard).
- Once applied, flatten out the tape by gently pressing down with your fingers.
- Wait 1 minute.
- Then write your corrections directly over the tape (you can use any type of pen).
Use correction tape. It’s super easy to use and helpful in a pinch.
Q. How do I fix white out tape?
Q. How do I remove white out tape?
DON’T do that.
It’s never a good idea to add extra liquids to paper — you’ll feather the ink and get soggy pages.
So I’d suggest scratching off the tape with your fingernail (or razor).
Q. Why not use an erasable pen?
Erasable pens use thermosensitive ink — fancy ink where the pigment disappears when you heat it up with the friction of an eraser.
The now “invisible” ink particles are still on the page though, they’ve just lost their color.
So it ends up being kinda weird having an extra film of invisible ink that changes the page texture. It just doesn’t feel clean.
But of course, it’s all up to you.
I don’t use erasable pens often, because I sketch out my spreads in pencil first, then just erase the pencil guides later.
Before we wrap up…
Let’s talk about a few extras: stamps, rulers, and Post-it notes.
Because who doesn’t love a few extra embellishments right? 🤣
When you search Amazon or Etsy, you’ll notice the best journaling stamps are rubber and generally fall into 2 design categories:
- Letter stamps — alphabet and individual letters to make your own headers and fonts (these are my favorite).
- Decorative stamps — images, symbols, dividers, symbols, etc. (basically anything that is not a letter stamp).
Now you might be wondering:
Which Stamps Should I Buy for My Journal?
I definitely recommend letter stamps, over decorative stamps, especially if you are just starting out.
Since your journal will have many more text-based elements (headers, page titles, etc.), you’ll end up using letters way more often than decorative stamps.
(Not to mention, you’ll also save time and money.)
Lettering stamps come in 2 types: Clickable and Clear
You can then snap the individual letters together to create your own custom words.
That’s what makes them so awesome — you stamp a whole word instead of stamping each letter one-by-one, which can be hard to keep in a straight line.
But with each letter stuck together into one word block? Problem solved.
I use clickables for a TON for bolded letters and to add special emphasis in almost every part of my journal.
Finally, we have clear stamps…
They show you exactly where you are stamping so you can make crisp, smudge-free images right where you want them.
I use them all the time, especially for larger spread titles, like “May 15 – 21”.
I recommend a clear block with lines, so you can see through the block to help you line up the block lines with the dot lines on your paper.
How to Use Stamps
- Open up your ink pad and place it close to your journal (use permanent, acid-free ink).
- Place a stamp rubber-side down onto your ink pad.
- Tap (don’t press the stamp 3 to 4 times into the ink so you don’t over-ink it.
- Gently pick up the stamp from the sides, then hold it up to the light to ensure you have full ink coverage.
- Then place it rubber-side down onto a page.
- Now gently press the back of the stamp with your finger firmly against the page, so you get an even image.
- Remove the stamp and gently blow on the page to help dry the ink.
- Then clean the ink off each stamp with makeup wipes or a damp cloth, before you store them.
Stamps are beautiful and will help you save time and energy.
If you’re like me, you may come to find that stamps are not worth it, simply because you’ll end up using them less and less as your journaling skills improve.
But they are definitely worth trying, and if you do, get your hands on those clickable or clear rubber stamps.
Q. Which ink should I use for rubber stamps?
Q. How do I clean rubber stamps?
Just use a makeup wipe or a damp cloth.
Or check out my stamp FAQ page.
Also, don’t use any cleaners with alcohol, since they are known to dry out and deteriorate the rubber.
Q. How often do I need to clean stamps?
If you start to notice your stamp images are getting a little blurry, it’s probably because you have an ink buildup.
So make sure you clean that rubber ASAP.
Q. How do I make my own stamps?
I’ve worked with companies across the country to make my own stamp line, so I have learned a lot throughout the process.
You’ll need to design your own characters (preferably in Adobe software) and then have them professionally printed, cut, and shipped.
Q. How long do stamps last?
Because rulers are COOL… and I love mine like my child.
Your ruler will be your #1 tool for designing weekly or monthly spreads.
You’ll use it much more at the beginning — when your designing your layouts — rather than later when you’re filling out your spreads throughout the week.
So don’t skimp on a ruler. It’s easy to overlook, but well worth it in the end.
What’s the Best Ruler
Here are a few things to look for in a bullet journal ruler:
- Stainless steel — metal is better than plastic, because it is more durable and doesn’t smudge the ink like plastic does.
- 6 inches or less — you want a ruler that fits within your standard A5 journal and is also easy to travel with.
- ½ cm increments — makes for easy measurement since the dot grids on your journal paper are usually ½ cm apart.
- Cork back — for no slipping and sliding, and since the cork provides a little cushion (the actual ruler doesn’t touch the page), it prevents smearing if you get ink on the metal part.
- Flexibility — a flexible ruler will bend with your pages and won’t break — like a clear or plastic one would — saving you money.
The most important quality is stainless steel.
Then remember to keep it short (6 inches) and to get that cork backing.
Q. How do you clean a stainless steel ruler?
I’ve had my stainless steel for 3 years and never had to clean it once.
But if you get some ink on it (and your ruler is truly “stainless”), simply wipe it off with a damp towel.
Q. Is it better to use a pen or pencil with a ruler?
You’ll use a pen much more with your ruler (I only use pencil when outlining my layouts).
That’s why it’s important to get a stainless steel ruler (with cork), so you don’t smudge or smear.
Q. What’s the difference between a ruler and the Door Hanger?
The Door Hanger is a straight edge tool and designed specifically for A5 bullet journal pages.
We use them for everything around our house, and they are equally useful for bullet journaling.
Which leads me to my next point:
How to Use Post-its in a Bullet Journal
Remember really way back, when we defined migration?
That’s when we move alive items — outstanding to-do’s, open appointments, etc. — from one journal spread to the next.
Want to know a cool way to migrate?
That’s right: Post-its
Use Post-its in your bullet journal to migrate or move lists of items to new places in your journal.
Here are my favorite lists to migrate:
- Grocery lists — didn’t get a chance to go food shopping that week? No problem. Stick the Post-it in the current week’s spread.
- Gift ideas — forget someone’s birthday? Need to go gift shopping? Move this list to your current schedule or a holiday month.
- Meal planning — have a menu on the mental backburner (I know I do)? Put a recipe on 7 different Post-its and change them around for each day of the week.
- ANY shopping list — basically anything you need to buy for anyone can go on a Post-it.
You can also make your own color key (on a spread page) for your Post-its.
For example, pink for shopping lists, red for meals, blue for task… or use a different color for each of your kids.
That way you can easily prioritize items and focus on what matters at the moment.
Post-its are sturdy and worth every penny.
Use them in your bullet journal to migrate lists or as task markers for floating items — things that don’t have a set time or can be done at a later date.
PRO TIP: Do you have something you want to hide? Like private info or maybe you were posting on Instagram, but didn’t want anyone to see the details of your journal?
Use a Post-it to cover it up.
Q. What size Post-its are best for a bullet journal?
Q. How do I keep sticky notes from falling down?
Second, break out your washi or scotch tape to secure them in place.
Q. How many times do Post-its re-stick on journaling paper?
On corrugated walls (or walls with textured wallpaper) they’ll stick less.
Starter Kits: $15, $30, $50 (+Printables)
These curated starter kits will give you a HUGE leg up and make it super easy for you to get started.
Just choose a kit based on your budget:
The basics to get you started.
Reward yourself with a little extra.
Wait, we’re not done.
Let’s look into the future for a second…
Let’s imagine a new school year is about to start or you’re about to begin a new chapter in your life.
You’ve researched the perfect supplies for the job.
You buy them online and they arrive on your doorstep in one beautiful package.
Life is great, until… you have no idea where to put anything.
Well, guess what we cover next?
Do you need a case for all your pens and pencils? What about your accessories?
How do you carry everything from your office to another room? Or what about traveling?
Let’s role play each of these scenarios one by one:
First, let’s talk about the basic components of your office, that will make your bullet journaling life much easier.
After all, your office is your home base and creative command center, so it’s important that we get this right from the start.
Remember this one thing:
Our goal is to have a super efficient and streamlined working environment, so you can access what you need when you need it.
Let’s start with the foundation of any office…
You want a simple desk that has only one drawer.
The drawer needs to be as wide as possible, and at least 2 inches tall to fit your drawer organizers (more on those in a second).
What desk do I have?
I use these white desks from Target, that come in around $100.
I have 3 of them actually.
They are easy to put together (and even EASIER if you get your man to do it 👍).
Cubbies are clutch.
Because they make your supplies easy to access and manage.
No more digging through cabinets or opening drawer after drawer — all you need to do is visit your favorite cubby hole and grab what you need.
Our goal is to have an open and clean working environment. 👌
Which cubbies do I use?
This 6-cube organizer is cheap and does the job.
You can even buy two and stack the blocks on top of each other (for a total of 12 cubes).
Or you can do what I do:
Lay one cubby block (with 6 small cubbies) on the ground.
Fill the cubbies with less frequently used supplies:
Like stamps, stickers, accessories, office materials, etc.
And then put one cubby block on a desk (or side table) with more common stuff, like pens.
I like to lay mine down low (3 x 2) if they block any window sunlight.
FOCUS: Don’t buy any canvas drawers (the ones that fit into the cubby cubes), because you can’t see inside them without pulling them all the way out.
Q. Should I label my cubbies?
Surprisingly, no (or not often) — just because you’ll put a lot of things into a single cubby, and your mix of things will change often as you figure out what works best for you.
But if you can’t resist, label the bottom shelf of each one using a simple labeler from Amazon (or you can use washi tape).
… and keep your label title one line and concise as possible.
And now to my secret office weapon… the whiteboard.
Whiteboard (kinda optional)
Want to know the trick to all those fancy spread designs out there?
They’re pre-planned and pre-designed.
You’ll notice that many journalers (including myself) use a pencil to sketch rough outlines of their layouts before they ink them on paper.
But an even more effective way to plan — without messing up your precious journal pages — is to map your ideas on a whiteboard.
This works especially well when making weekly spreads AND it’s a great brainstorming exercise to identify new tracker ideas.
Helpful whiteboard advice:
- Get a whiteboard with wheels that lock.
- Use a variety of marker colors for keys and to color-code your items.
- Don’t let a dry erase marker sit on the board for more than 48 hours. Erase your work daily.
- Take a picture of your board with your smartphone before you erase any important notes.
Whiteboards can be expensive, but trust me, they are a game changer.
Ok, let’s finish this section with some tips…
Office Setup Tips
- Pick an office color scheme and stick with it for all your office purchase (mine is white).
- Try to hide as little as possible — think open drawers, cubbies, shelves, and spaces.
- Quality cubbies can be hard to find, but they are super helpful, since you’re more likely to use the supplies if you can see them. 😉
- Let as much natural sunlight into the room as possible — this will help tremendously with your photography and coloring.
- Planning on shooting videos? Check out these video supplies.
Follow those rules and your office will be primed for success!
Alright. Ready to move on?
We’re about to give your desk some much needed special attention…
Let’s prepare it for your bullet journaling journey, shall we?
This section is all about keeping with our theme:
We want to keep things simple, since we are bullet journalers after all. 🙂
Let’s start with your desk’s biggest challenge: your pens.
Once you’ve got over 30 pens… you’ve got a problem.
They’ll be a pain in the butt to keep organized (believe me, I’ve got hundreds now).
But there is hope:
How and where you store your pens really boils down to which pens you decide are your favorites.
Here’s how to organize your pens, step-by-step:
Step 1: Choose Your Favorite Pens
Your first step is to decide which pens deserve your time and attention.
- Start by separating all your black pens from your colored pens.
- Then from each of those groups, separate your daily pens (fine tip pens) from your brush pens (mostly broad tip pens). You should be left with 4 groups of pens: black fine, black brush, colored fine, colored brush (don’t worry if you don’t have pens for all these groups yet).
- Ask yourself, “Which pens are my favorites that I will probably use daily?” Pick a max of 10 from each group and set them aside (don’t mix the groups). These are your favorite pens that you’ll want at your desk.
- Count them and take note of the total number. ✋
Step 2: Pick a Cool Caddy or Tote
I highly recommend you keep your favorite pens in a caddy or tote, that has at least 6 open compartments.
Well, we have 4 pen groups from the previous step, but we also want to reserve two more wildcard compartments, for things like highlighters and tools (scissors, correction tape, erasers, etc.).
And guess what?
Since you counted all your favorite pens earlier, you can now make an educated choice when it comes to the size of your new caddy.
If you have ~10 pens per group (10 black fine tips, 10 black brushes…), then you want dimensions of at least:
3.9 (H) x 9.5 (W) x 5.7 Inch (D)
(Feel free to go bigger. You DO want a tote that is scalable, that you can grow into.)
But size isn’t all that matters.
Make sure your caddy fits your office’s style and personality — matching colors, circular design (if you use Lazy Susans), etc.
DIY: Don’t want to buy a caddy or tote? You can also use a cardboard six-pack holder (the beer kind) or a fancier wooden one that you can find in the wine section of your grocery store.
Step 3: Fill Your Tote
It’s time to fill her up!
Put each of your favorite 4 pen groups into their own compartments.
In the remaining 2 compartments, put your tools (ruler, eraser, scissors, correction tape) in one, and highlighters in the other.
All you need to do now is keep that tote by your desk, and you’re all set.
Is there a way to make pen organization even easier?
Yes, yes there is…
Step 4: Optimize Your Tote for Easy Access
Don’t leave your tote naked.
It needs some labels — that way you can quickly find and grab the pens you need when you need them.
So just label the side of each of your 6 compartments with a pen group or accessory name.
For example, black fine, black brush, colored fine, colored brush, highlighters, and tools.
Use a labeler like this or simply write on a piece of washi tape.
Step 5: Store Away Those Leftover, “Non-Favorite” Pens
For those extra Tombow Brush Pens…
If you have a ton extra brush pens lying around (I know I do), you should store them in the accordion Tombow Marker Case.
It fits nicely right on top of your desk and has 108 pen slots to hold of your colored caps upright, so you can find them quickly.
I made a free Color Guide Printable Grid to help you organize all the 108 colors.
You want to keep your finished journals close by for easy access.
Because you may find that you want to migrate spreads from your older journals to your new one.
So what’s the best way to store your journals?
Put them on a bookshelf with bookends, ordered from oldest to most recent.
(If you don’t have an available bookshelf, then stack them from the oldest on the bottom to the most recent on top.)
These upright letter holders also fit well on a desk surface.
Simply organize them like you would any book, but make sure to keep them close by for reference.
Q. Should I buy a journal cover?
No. I don’t use journal covers (or cases) at home, because the journals I buy already have super high-quality covers.
Covers are usually made from bulkier material (like leather) to protect against the weather. No need for that extra bulk in your office.
What about all that washi rolling around?
I use these 4-inch washi dispensers — they hold my top-five rolls and have a cutting edge to get just the right length I want.
(They are also super lightweight and easy to move from cubby to cubby.)
But let’s be honest:
You probably have more than just 5 rolls of washi lying around.
So what do you do with them? Simple.
I toss all my extra washi rolls in a drawer organizer or a silverware divider, which I keep in my main desk drawer (or in a cubby).
Room to Room
That’s why I love to lay by the pool or just cuddle on a blanket with my pups.
So this quick section is all about moving room-to-room around the house.
(We’ll talk about traveling away from home in a bit.)
When I move from room-to-room, I take my caddy with all my pens.
But what about those unique accessories, like stencils, stamps, and stickers?
I carry those in one of my all-time favorite accessories:
When you pick a pouch, you want dimensions of at least:
11 3/4″ W x 9 1/2″ H
That way you can fit all your rectangular accessories.
(It’s especially helpful for stencils and sharp objects, like scissors or a compass.)
This pouch doesn’t just stay at home. It also travels…
On the Go: Traveling
Sometimes you just can’t leave home without that bullet journal.
I go to the beach A LOT (I live in Gulf Shores, Alabama) and I always bring my journal.
But whether you’re going down the street or to Bora Bora, here are a few storage pointers to make your experience the best it can be…
Short, Weekend Trips
If you’re going on a road trip for just a couple days, try the Monaco Storage Case.
It’s ~12 inches long, has 9 pen loops, and can even hold stamps, ink, and stickers in a cool transparent pouch.
I like it on the road because it has a tough exterior, and can fit in my carry-on bags or larger purses.
Are you planning a dream getaway?
You better not forget your journal to capture all your memories!
So you may want an all-in-one case to bring extra pens AND accessories along for the ride.
The Happy Planner Storage Case-Stripe is a popular choice.
It’s 12 x 10.5 x 4 inches and comes with two detachable pouches for washi tape, scissors, and all your pens.
The best part?
One side includes a large pouch designed specifically to hold most journal sizes.
If you’re looking for just extra pen or marker storage, I LOVE the ColorIt Large Pencil Box Case Storage.
It holds over 100 pens or pencils and is built for excessive use.
(Going back to school? This baby is tough enough for the job.)
Quick Bullet Journal Travel Tips:
- Make sure to prioritize which pens you take on your trip.
- If you’re going on vacation, take more brush pens, markers, and fun stuff, like stickers.
- Going on work or school trip? Take more fine-liners and everyday pens.
- Don’t forget your pouch, with stencils, stickers, stamps and other rectangular goodies.
- Are you checking your bag? If so, pack your scissors and other liquid supplies. If not, leave them behind.
- Probably not a good idea to take fountain pens at higher altitudes.
- Take a backup journal, in case you get it wet and end up vacationing in a location that doesn’t have a supply shop or cell service (for digital logging).
- If you know your daily itinerary ahead of time, pre-make as many spread designs as possible with any stamps or fancy headers — that way you can save space in your cases AND don’t have to bring any ink or extra stickers.
- While planning your trip (scheduling your tours, making reservations), write down important numbers and events in your journal so you have it on the go.
We’ve gone over a TON of supply ideas.
When you’re ready, the next chapter awaits, where we start learning how to bullet journal.
But Whitney, “What if I want to get started right now and create a travel spread?”
In that case, here are 10 ideas for you! Pick your favorite:
- Plan a Dream Trip
- Weekend Getaway Ideas
- City Spreads
- Packing Lists
- Trip Planner
- Map of Places You’ve Traveled
- Mileage Tracker
- Games in the Car
- Gas Consumption
- Travel Souvenirs
Get details on these travel ideas and hundreds more in this ideas post.
Bullet Journal Setup: Old School
Ready for a crash course on how the system works?
In this chapter, we’re going to learn the traditional way of setting up your journal.
We’re going to define the 6 modules of bullet journaling, how to make each one, and how to use them going forward.
(If you want to skip ahead to my streamlined setup, jump to Chapter 6)
Ready to get started?
Let’s do this…
Getting Started with the 6-Pack
The BuJo is built upon six main modules.
(Technically there are 4, but I’m going to show you the 6 you need to know about.)
Each module has a specific role and will help you tremendously in your journaling efforts.
The first one you’ll want to start with, is the Key…
1. Craft a Key
Let’s recap what our definition of a key is from earlier:
A bullet journal key is a cheat sheet that you create at the beginning of your journal, that unlocks the meaning of the symbols, icons, and colors that you use to represent your journal items.
Ryder Carroll calls his system’s symbols and icons: Bullets.
You’ll then put these bullets next to your items to quickly identify what type of item they are.
The original 3 bullet types in Ryder’s key are:
A dot (●) to represent a task or to-do.
A circle (○) to represent an event or appointment.
A dash (–) to represent a note.
Each item has 5 different states (or stages of progress):
● Task incomplete or not started.
X Task completed.
> task migrated forward to a new collection.
< task migrated back to the future log.
≠ crossed out deleted tasks.
For example, if you finish a task, turn that dot into an X.
And if it no longer matters, just cross it out.
I also want you to take a closer look at one thing:
Do you see that word “migrated” in that list?
This is where we are introduced to the concept of Migration —the process of moving journal items from your daily log, back to the future log or forward to your next daily or monthly log.
You migrate by simply rewriting the items in their new location and modifying the existing bullet next to it.
So, you’d change your dot to a right arrow if you moved (rewrote) it to a new collection.
For example, if I postponed an appointment to the next day, I’d flip to the next daily log, rewrite my appointment there with a circle next to it, then flip back to the current daily log and turn the original circle into a right arrow.
Make sense? It’s all pretty simple actually.
(Don’t worry, we’ll talk about how to migrate items in the upcoming Daily Log section.)
But wait! Your bullets need friends:
These friends are called Signifiers, and you place them to the left of your bullet symbols to give extra meaning to your entries.
These are SUPER simple. The two most common are:
An asterisk (＊) represents an important task. Use it to prioritize an item, just like you would star or underline a task on a normal to-do list.
An exclamation point (!) represents inspiration. Use it to mark your great ideas, personal mantras, and genius insights.
FOCUS: Signifiers are optional — they are part of the original Bujo system, but feel free to leave them out.
You should create your own bullet system for work, school or for whatever hobbies you enjoy.
Don’t just limit yourself to these bullets and signifiers.
For example, here’s what my journal key looks like.
You’ll quickly realize the best part of a key is being able to create your own personal language.
So have fun with it and give it your own unique twist. There are no rules.
Now let’s make one together…
How to Make It
There are a lot of ways to make a key.
The first thing you need to decide is which bullets to use.
You want to choose bullets that YOU can easily remember and understand.
So let’s keep it simple for now and use the original 3 bullet types from above.
Here’s how to make a very simple key:
- Open up to a new blank page at the beginning of your journal, and write the word “Key” at the top of the page.
- Draw a small dot and write the word “task” or “to-do” next to it.
- In a new row, draw a small dot and write “event” or “appointment” next to it.
- In a new row, draw a horizontal dash and write the word “note” next to it.
- Now add any rows for all your migration states. For example, Not started, Started, Migrated forward, Migrated backward, Cancelled, etc.
- Then add any signifiers, each to their own row. For example, draw an exclamation point and write “important” or “priority” next to it.
Way to go!
Here are some extra design ideas for your key…
- Separate your key into sections:
- A “main” section for your core item symbols (like the bullets above).
- A “things” section with all symbols for all the important themes going on in your life.
- A “tracker” section with all the topics you want to monitor (e;g. mood) and their different stages (eg. happy or sad).
- A “color” section to assign different colors to certain subjects in your life:
- Work, school, personal.
- Family and friends (this works especially well for tracking different kids’ schedules).
- Projects or goals.
- Color coding: Take your color game to the next level by also assigning colors to the different items in your things and tracker sections.
DIY: Make a flip-out key, so you don’t have to keep flipping back to your key pages:
- Grab an index card or piece of card stock (~3 x 6 inches).
- Write your key on it.
- Open up the inside cover of your journal.
- Flip your key card over (so the blank back side is facing up) and lay it on the left of the inside cover, about 1 inch from the edge.
- Now grab some washi (or masking tape) and tape just the left edge of the card to the cover, so it can flip open.
Now you have an easily accessible key, no matter what page you’re working on.
Justyna made a cool video.
Q. Are signifiers the same as bullets?
No. Signifiers give extra meaning, like an exclamation point (!) for inspiration. People confuse these all the time, but they’re not the same.
How to Use
Here’s the fun part:
When you start making time spreads and adding your favorite items, you’ll get to put your new language to work.
Simply write your task or event, then just add the bullet symbol to the left of it.
For example, if an important birthday is coming up, just write:
“o Whitney’s Birthday”
That’s all there is to it.
But it gets better:
You can now use your key as a reference whenever you need it!
As you fill in your journal, just jump back to your key to remind yourself of your symbols.
Q. Can I put my key at the back of my journal?
2. Launch an Index
Which means, it’s a list of the names of all your spreads with page numbers next to them, to mark their location in your journal.
You should make one because it’s super handy when you revisit your journal and want to find something quickly.
How to Make It
Here’s how to make your own index:
- Open up the first pair of open-facing pages (a spread), and write the word “Index” at the top of both pages.
- To start, use four pages for your index. Either in the front or back of your journal.
As far as design goes, there are a ton of complex ideas out there, but I recommend you keep it super simple, yet awesomely you. 😃
Try this simple idea to get started:
Write time layouts (weeklies and monthlies) on one side of a spread.
On the other side, write the names of your theme layouts.
Both in chronological order.
Here are some extra index design ideas:
- Color coding — use colors to categorize your different pages. Either use a colored pen or highlight a spread name with a specific color.
For example, I like to use green zebra mildliners for my time layouts and pink for my themed layouts. Colors will make it MUCH easier to find pages you’re looking for… plus they’re an easy way to add some flair.
- Shapes and icons — use your own symbols (aka bullets) to categorize your page names and index entries. For example, I like to use circles for time layouts and squares for theme layouts.
- Format your spread titles — a really simple alternative is to just emphasize your most important, most used, and favorite pages. You can do this by making entries bolder, highlighting them with color or even adding a bit of washi tape.
Now you might be wondering:
“Wait a minute, all these colors and shapes sound an awful lot like a key.”
Well, you’re kinda right. A key is used for item types (tasks, events, notes), item statuses (incomplete, completed), and actions (migrated, scheduled).
While color coding in an index is usually just used to categorize your spread types (work, school, personal).
Make sense? Keep reading.
How to Use It
Every time you add a theme spread, a collection, tracker, homework assignment or whatever in your journal, just mark the page numbers from that spread in your index.
Use this “Smart Index Formula” to add items to your index:
Spread name: page start # – page end #
If your themed spread, like “favorite recipes” or “shows to watch” covers more than one consecutive page, hyphenate the page numbers like this:
“Favorite Recipes: 14-17”
If you make the same themed spread more than once, on non-consecutive pages, then just add an extra pair of page numbers like this:
“Favorite Recipes: 14-17, 41-42”
(Just use a comma “,” to separate your page pairs.)
Here’s a real-life example:
I just made a spread for all my brother’s upcoming golf tournaments.
So I just looked at the page numbers at the bottom of that spread (30 and 31), then I flipped back to my index and wrote:
“Rocky’s Golf Tournaments: 30-31“
But what if he has more tournaments coming up and I ran out of space on my original spread?
Now it’s months later and I’ve already filled up most of my pages. What do I do then?
All I need to do is make a new tournament spread on the page where I’m currently at in my journal (page 90).
And I’ll add it to the index like this:
“Rocky’s Golf Tournaments: 30-31, 90-91”
So next time I need to remember one of his matches, I just check my index to remind me where I can find ALL of his golf matches.
That’s all there is to it!
Keep your index simple and number your pages.
And don’t forget one big thing:
The beauty of the bullet journal is nothing has to be done consecutively, so don’t feel like you have to add index entries in chronological order.
If you forget to add an entry to your index, who cares? Just add it later with the corresponding page number.
And don’t block off any blank pages for some future use (trust me, you won’t end up using it as planned), like an upcoming event or class.
Just add the event whenever it happens or fill out any type of spread when inspiration strikes for anything!
All you need to do is flip to the next blank page and have at it.
Then add that page number to your index.
Q. How many pages should be in my index?
Q. What’s a Dedicated index?
If you work on multiple complex or long-term projects, you can create a dedicated index for each specific project. Dedicated indexes can also be a great way to help organize notes for different classes.
Now let’s fast forward to the future…
3. Start a Future Log
Next up is the Future Log — a spread where you jot down all your long-term reminders, to-do’s, tasks and events, usually in monthly sections, over a 6 or 12-month period.
It’s your year at a glance and goes at the beginning of your journal.
I think the coolest part of the future log is you can design it however you want.
When you buy normal planners at the store, they come with generic calendar templates that dictate how you plan.
But with a bullet journal, you create it as you go. That’s what makes the whole system so awesome — it can be as flexible as you want it to be.
How to Make It
- Open up the next blank spread after your index, and title both pages “Future Log”.
- Note their page numbers, then flip back to the index, and add the future log to it.
For example, if my future log is on pages 5 and 6. I’ll flip back to my Index and write on a new line: “Future Log: 5-6”.
- Now flip forward to your future log spread and decide how many months you want to schedule. Let’s plan for 6 months (most common).
- For 6 months, we’re going to want three equal-sized rows on each page. So grab a ruler or Door Hanger, and draw two horizontal lines, evenly spaced, on each page (left and right). You should now have 3 equal sections on each page.
- Label these sections with the next 6 months, and write out mini-calendars on the left side of each section. In the extra space, list your appointments, anniversaries, trips, and any other important dates within the next 6 months.
As far as design goes, there are a ton of complex ideas out there, but I recommend you keep it super simple, yet awesomely you. 😃
Here are some future log ideas to give you inspiration:
- Mini Months — draw mini monthly calendars.
That way you can see your whole year in one spread.
A full year “overview” if you will.
- Horizontal — this is a super simple way of separating your spread into equal rows and month blocks (that we did above).
- Vertical — this is when you create vertical columns for each month.
- Circular designs — get fancy with circles and other unique shapes.
If you don’t feel like drawing calendars, try these 5-star calendar stickers.
How (and Why) to Use It?
Think of it as a giant word bank, with those words being tasks, events, and other important planning items — you just pull a word from the “bank” and plug it into your future time spreads.
But first you have to fill up your word bank, so pick a month in your future log and jot down all notable items that happen during that month.
Good future log item examples:
- Dinner parties
- Sporting events
- School events
- Financials (insurance, taxes…)
- Or any other calendar events that are important to you.
Cheat Sheet: Future Log
- Fill it with high-level items: tasks, events, and goals that happen once or twice a year.
- If you have recurring items that happen more often, save those instead for your monthly or daily logs.
- If you’re a student, use a future log to track exam dates, holiday breaks, sporting events, fundraisers, and extracurricular stuff.
- If you’re in business, use it to track corporate events, product launches, sales targets, revenue goals, project deadlines, taxes, etc.
I know what you’re thinking:
This seems like a lot of work, why can’t I just buy a yearly planner?
You could. But that defeats the purpose.
Starting from a blank spread gives you much more freedom — by not restricting your creative process.
You’ll be less overwhelmed, now that you’re allowed to be imperfect and schedule “outside the lines”.
Think big picture items here that you’ll want to reference later when filling in your more precise weekly and monthly spreads.
Don’t fill it with granular, routine stuff (like laundry, groceries, shaving your legs, etc.).
You’ll want to put all that goodness in the Monthly Log… and that’s coming up next.
Q. Can I start a future log in the middle of the year?
4. Create a Monthly Log
A monthly log is time spread that does exactly what it sounds like — it tracks your month’s tasks and events. All in a single glance.
Monthly logs usually include things like calendars, to-do lists, and goal trackers for the next 30 days.
(Many even have their own key, but more on that later.)
If you use your journal for work, you can categorize and separate work and personal items.
There are a TON of ways you can design your monthly log.
In fact, I’ve made dozens of monthlies you can download from my Free Spread Shop.
But for now, let’s keep it simple and walk through how to make a traditional bullet journal monthly spread… from start to finish.
How to Make It
- List of scheduled events (a monthly log) on the left page.
- To-do list of unscheduled tasks on the right page.
Scheduled Events (left page)
This section is a list of events, appointments, recurring tasks (e.g. bills) or reminders.
The important thing to remember here is:
You KNOW when these events are happening.
These days you’ll see some super fancy calendars — with box grids and all the typical designs you think of when you hear “calendar”.
But the original bullet journal keeps it simple with just a vertical list of events with their corresponding dates.
Here are the steps to make a monthly log:
- Grab a quality fine tip pen, like a Staedler Triplus Fineliner (Black) or a Sharpie Pen.
- Open up your journal to a new spread and title each page with the name of the month.
- Now open your calendar app, go to Google Images, and search for: month + year + “calendar”.
For example, if it’s May 2019, I’ll search for: “May 2019 calendar”. Now you know how many days are in each month.
- On the left page, write the numbered days in order in one column down the vertical length of the page.
- Then to the right of each number, write the corresponding first letter of the actual day of the week.
So, if the 4th is on a Monday, write “4 M” on one line.
- Now create a second column to the right and write down all your scheduled items — events, appointments, recurring tasks, birthdays, etc.— next to their respective dates.
- Go back to your Index and add your monthly log to it — just write the name of the month and the page numbers.
Unscheduled Tasks (right page)
This page is your to-do list, full of all the things you want to get done during the month.
But remember, we’re calling them unscheduled tasks, because you don’t know (or don’t care) what date they need to happen on — they just need to get done over the next 30 days.
For example, I know I need to get my brakes fixed. It doesn’t really matter what day I need to get them fixed, but I know I should probably get it done this month, before I get my car inspected.
Tasks like these are perfect for the to-do list section of a monthly log.
How to Use It
Think of your monthly log as your monthly master plan.
You want to make one right before each month.
Every time you think of something you want to get done during the month, just ask yourself this question:
Does it need to happen on a specific date or is it a goal for the month?
If your item falls on a date, then add it in the corresponding date spot on the left page.
If it’s a to-do list item or goal, add it to the list on the right page.
Cheat Sheet: Monthly Log
- If you’re just starting out, don’t spend too much time designing a fancy calendar format. Instead, use the list format, where all the numbered days are listed vertically with corresponding scheduled tasks.
- If you can’t resist starting with a calendar format, then head over my VIP Vault for a bunch of free templates.
- Break your task lists into two columns (on both pages) so you can separate work/school from personal items.
- The monthly log is also a great place to add goals you want to accomplish in the next 30 days.
- It’s also a perfect place for highlights or milestones: “firsts”, birthdays, anniversaries, “lessons learned”, things that changed your life, etc.
Those tips will put you WAY ahead of everyone else.
(There are even more sections, like “lessons learned” and “waiting on” in the next chapter).
Ok, so now you know that a monthly log really isn’t hard at all.
Just design it in a style that’s you’ll understand — it doesn’t matter if it’s minimalistic or super aesthetic — but make it something you can glance at without consuming too many mental calories.
Now let’s get our hands dirty.
Scheduling our days is up next…
Q. How many pages go in each monthly log?
Q. Can I use a monthly log for business?
Q. Do I have to put the scheduled items on the left page and to-do list on the right?
No. Create your own style. I’ll show you how I do mine in a bit.
5. Drill Down on a Daily Log
A Daily Log is your personal assistant — you tell it all the things you want to get done for the day.
While your goal is to get all these tasks done, if you’re like me, you’ll probably have some leftover tasks floating around.
So what do you do with them?
You migrate those tasks to new pages (more on that in a second).
But first, let’s set up a daily log in your journal…
How to Make It
With rapid logging, you add concise items, accompanied by a corresponding bullet symbol from your key.
Here’s how to make a daily log:
- Open up the next blank spread after your monthly log, and title both pages the current day, like “Friday”.
- Date the page at the top left, like “September 2nd”.
- Starting on the left page, start writing down all your journal items — to-do’s, events, notes — in one column (the order doesn’t matter).
- Then add the corresponding bullet symbols from your key to the left of each item.
For example, if I had to wash my dog (stinky Koda), that’s a task. So I’d put a dot to the left of my item “Wash Koda” to represent a task. Or… if a had a doctor’s appointment, I would write “Dr. Michaels” with a circle symbol to the left of it to represent an event.
Not too hard right?
See how the rising star, Hannah, beautifies her dailies.
How to Use It
Ok. It’s time to learn what all this migration talk is all about.
Remember, migration is when you move items from your daily log, back to the future log or forward to your next daily or monthly log (or any time spread).
You do this by simply modifying your original bullet symbol and writing the same entry on its new page.
You’ll end up 99% of the time doing this with just tasks, but you can also do this with events or notes.
It’s all about brainstorming what you think you need to get done, then prioritizing what needs to get done.
You do this by simply reviewing your daily log each day, then determining whether you should keep each task (and migrate it to a new spread) or forget it (cross it out).
Here’s how it works:
Earlier in the key section, we talked about the right arrow (>) and left arrow (<) bullet symbols.
You want to use the right arrow (>) to move incomplete tasks (that you want to keep) to your next daily or monthly log.
All you do is write over your task dot and change it to a right arrow, then write the same task on its destination page.
For example, if I forgot to wash my dog on Monday, I’d change “● Wash Koda” on Monday daily to “> Wash Koda”.
… and then on Tuesday’s daily, make it a new task by writing: “● Wash Koda”.
Make sense? All we’re doing is moving a task to your next daily or monthly schedule.
It doesn’t have to be perfect. Keep it stress-free.
If you don’t care about the task anymore, just cross it out.
If you kicked butt and finished your task, turn that dot into an X to represent completed.
Remember migration goes both ways:
What if you had no idea WHEN you were going to get to a task?
Then what do you do?
Draw a left arrow (<) over the dot, think of a month you think it may get done, and rewrite the task back in your future log.
For example, if it was January and I didn’t feel like washing Koda for a few months, I’d flip back to my future log and write “● Wash Koda” in the March box.
(Remember, the future log is usually split into monthly sections.)
And don’t forget to check that future log often:
Review your future log to see if you have any long term items that would be a perfect fit for your next daily or monthly log.
Then all you would do in the future log is change the bullet symbols to forward arrows (>).
The point is to just have a reminder in your future log for things that eventually should get done.
PRO TIP: When you migrate out of your future log, it’s probably a good idea to add the page numbers after the “>” symbols, so you know the destination of your migrated task.
This all might seem like a lot, but It’s actually quite simple if you think about it — again, all we are doing is moving items to their proper places in their journal home. 😀
When is the best time to add to your daily log?
The night before.
Create a log for the next day so you can migrate any unfinished tasks from your current daily log.
This way you can plan ahead and won’t be stressed in the morning coming up with that day’s to-dos.
(After all, who wants to be rapid-logging tasks when you’re trying to get the kids ready for school? 😉).
But here’s the most important thing:
Be consistent… and stick to a routine.
You want to get in the habit of journaling at the same time each day.
You’ll discover your mind will start to train itself to think creatively at that time, which will lead to many more insightful thoughts and more productive actions.
(You can add habit trackers in your dailies, but I’ll show you a better place later).
Water Break 💦
So let’s take a breath for a moment and recap shall we?
Here’s what we’ve got so far:
- You make a Key and put your symbols (bullets) in it to represent your tasks, events, and notes.
- And then we start an Index so we have a quick resource to help us find a specific page.
- Then we make a Monthly Log right before each real month starts, that has all our plans and goals laid out for the next 30 days.
- Then comes Daily Logs, which track our day-to-day tasks… and if we need to migrate those tasks, we move the task by rewriting it on a new page and changing the bullet symbol next to it.
- And finally, if we have space in our journal, we fill those empty pages with Collections, which are just themed spreads that record all the cool stuff you have going on in your life right now: like our favorite songs, the food we eat, your workout schedule, you name it…
This chapter is almost under wraps… we have just one more module to tackle.
6. Get Specific with Collections
Collections are my favorite.
They are pages with lists or groups of related items (here’s 279 examples).
Collections are basically any page in your journal that is NOT a calendar log or any of the five modules above.
You’ll read on the internet that a collection is defined, in bullet journaling parlance, as any page in your journal.
But that’s not how journalers use that term — actually, it just refers to a page type that is used to collect items about a certain topic.
For example, “recipes to try”, “packing lists”, “favorite Netflix shows”… you get the idea.
That’s why I call them theme spreads.
Just remember this to avoid any confusion…
In bullet journaling, you have two page types:
- Time spreads that log your items, usually in calendar format. Think your typical planner.
- Theme spreads which are collections of things you care about at the moment, usually NOT in calendar format. Think running lists or “favorite things”.
(I’ll go over all my themes in the next chapter.)
How to Make Them
You should make collections organically — just add them to your journal whenever and wherever you feel like it.
You can even add them between daily logs (don’t worry about having your daily logs in consecutive order).
If you’re new to journaling, I recommend you get comfortable with the modules above BEFORE you jump into collections.
You just want to get a solid grasp of logging, indexing, and the overall method of bullet journaling to see which parts fit your style best.
Then you can branch out and join the wonderful world of collections.
Let’s continue to keep it simple in this chapter and walk through a basic setup:
- Open up a blank page and title it the name of your collection. For example, if you’re creating a list of your kids’ sports schedules, name it “Sports Schedules” (you may also want to make a quick color key to represent each of your kids). 😉
- Number your pages (if they’re not already numbered).
- Then flip back to your index and add the name of your collection and the page numbers, so you can have a quick reference when you need it.
PRO TIP: Make each of your collection titles something very recognizable. You might convince yourself you’ll never forget it, but that gets tricky when you compile a bunch of collections.
How to Use It
Once you’ve got your collection started, it’s simple to maintain it.
Every time you think of new addition to your collection — the most amazing idea or an ingenious recipe — all you need to do is add it to your list.
But what if I run out of page space? Good question.
That’s where threading comes in…
What is Threading?
Threading is a page numbering trick to help you find similar spreads in other parts of your journal.
Since many of your spreads will be on non-consecutive pages (not back-to-back), it may be helpful to append extra page numbers on the bottom of the page for quick reference to a similar spread.
Those extra page numbers refer to a continuation page, which is the page where you pick your collection back up.
For example, say you started a “Recipes to Try” spread on page 40, but then ran out of space.
Life goes on and you stumble upon a new recipe a few weeks later, but now your on page 80 of your journal.
So you start a new collection of recipes on page 80, and then you’re going to do two things:
- On page 80, reference the original spread on page 40, by writing 40 before the page number separated by a left arrow: “40 < 80”.
- Then on page 40, reference the continuation page (page 80), by writing 80 after the page number separated by a right arrow: “40 > 80”.
Besides theme spreads, you’ll also find it helpful to thread non-consecutive weekly spreads, so you know where the weekly sequence picks back up.
For example, if I had my “Mar 25 – Mar 31” weekly spread on page 99, but I didn’t get around to my “April 1-7” weekly until page 135, I would thread it on page 99 by writing: “99 > 135”.
And on page 135, I would also thread back to page 99 to remind myself of where the previous weekly is located (see pic).
FOCUS: Some people use vertical lines ( | ) to separate the page numbers, but I think the arrows are more intuitive: representing forwards and backwards.
Want to know something else super cool?
You can also thread to different journals. You don’t have to limit yourself to just pages.
So say you made a “Recipes to Try” spread on page 100 at the end of journal #1… but then you ran out of pages in your journal.
… and you want to continue your recipes in journal #2 on page 15 and 16.
Here’s how you do it:
- First, make sure to number each of your journals, by writing its number either in the inside cover or on the side of the pages.I just number my journals based on the order I finished them: 1, 2, 3, 4, etc.
For example, if my current journal is my first-ever journal I would name it number “1”.
- In journal #1, flip to your “Recipes to Try” spread.
- To the right of the page number, append the continuation pages of your new spread, by adding the right arrow (>) + journal number + a period (.) + the continuation pages.
In our example, the continuation pages in journal #2, are 15 and 16.So on page 100 of journal #1, we’d add a right arrow “>” then “2. 15-16”: “100 > 2. 15-16”. This means, “I have more recipes to try on page 15 and 16 of journal #2.”. Make sense?
- Optional: In journal #2, you can go to the index and write: “Recipes to Try: < 1. 100, 15-16”. This means, “I have recipes in this journal on page 15 and 16, but I also have more on page 100 of journal #1.
Here’s the deal:
I wouldn’t worry too much about threading.
Because if we’re being honest, when you start a new journal you’re rarely going to look back in an old journal and reconcile all the pages. You won’t have the time.
I just want you to know all the available options you have (since you’ll probably read a bunch of fluff on the internet).
Just remember, threading is about quick references to similar pages via appended page numbers.
But there is one more threading concept you may read about:
Collection of Collections — this is when you create a list of spreads from your old journal, that you want to continue in your new journal.
All you do is create a spread in your new journal and use the same index syntax as before:
“Recipes to Try: < 1. 100”
Where “Recipes to Try” is a spread from journal #1 on page 100, that you want to keep in your new journal.
So all you’re doing is making a list of spreads you don’t want to forget about, for easy reference.
You won’t see this that often, but in case you do, now you know what it means — it might come in handy when you migrate journals.
Ok, I think that’s enough about collections for now!
Cheat Sheet: Collections
- Practice with the core modules first, before you dive into collections (just so you get a feel for the original system).
- Your collections don’t need to be in any order — if you come up with an idea for a new collection, add it to your next blank spread right then.
Remember, a bullet journal is all about personalization, so add your collections wherever you want. So don’t be afraid to break up consecutive daily logs or any time spreads. Your collections are free to go anywhere.
- If you’re having trouble finding your collections among your timed spreads, here are 3 ideas (in order of recommendation).
- Wrap a bit of washi tape around the outside of your most popular spread pages.
- Use a separate journal for just collections… and another one just for time spreads (dailies, weeklies, monthlies).
- Start your collection pages at the back and work your way forward towards your time spreads (trust me on option #1, you’ll hear about the other two, but they’re usually too much hassle).
- Update your collections as many times as you like — you don’t have to wait until the beginning of the week or month to get started.
- You can use the threading technique to append extra page numbers to your spreads, so you know where similar content is located.
Q. How many pages can I thread to?
Q. What’s the difference between threading and migration?
Migration is about prioritizing your tasks on time spreads (like monthly logs), by moving them to appropriate pages and changing bullet symbols.
Q. What’s the best way to organize collections in my journal?
There is no set rule for this one. Some people recommend you start time spreads from the front and theme spreads from the back, but that’s too structured for my taste.
Instead, you should mix theme spreads between time spreads. I’ve never had any issues doing it this way.
And again, you can wrap a bit of washi tape around the outside of each page (see #3 above).
You’ve done it!
You learned the fundamentals of the traditional system. Awesome, awesome work.
Now you have an important decision to make:
You can go on your way, using what you’ve learned, and start bullet journaling right now.
You can learn how to journal faster, smarter, and cleaner in a more modernized, timesaving way.
All you need to do is keep reading…
How I Bullet Journal: The Simple Way
I witnessed its astronomical growth and seen it change the lives of thousands of people, including my own.
But things change:
As with all great innovations, people have adapted the original system and improved upon it to fit the realities of their unique lifestyles.
So in this chapter, I’m going to show you my streamlined journaling process and the elements you should prioritize, so you can journal realistically in 2019.
Grab a coffee and enjoy…
4 Things Your Bullet Journal Doesn’t Need
Before we dive into how I journal, let’s make things easier on ourselves upfront by removing some pieces off the chessboard.
Here are the traditional bullet journaling elements that we WON’T be using:
- Daily Log
- Future Log
- “Key” pages (included with newer journals).
You read that right — I don’t use any of those when I journal.
We want to keep things super simple, to not only make our journaling more efficient but to also have it accommodate our busy lives.
Let’s briefly touch on why we won’t be using these elements, which will really help us understand their replacements in the upcoming “building blocks” section.
I don’t use an index and I don’t recommend you do either.
Why? For 3 reasons:
- You’ll end up using your journal’s ribbon bookmarks to mark your current spots (you won’t need to refer back to your index).
- It’s impractical. It’s too much work to go back and forth documenting each page.
- If you need to constantly reference pages throughout your book, try marking them with washi or a post-it.
If you do decide to skip one traditional Bujo element — make it the index.
Then consider skipping my second least favorite…
2. Daily Log
Your daily log is where you rapid log all your to-do’s and open tasks… all in a concise way with bullet and signifier symbols.
But let me ask you this:
Are you really going to log everything daily?
Earlier, I recommended you daily log the night before (and if you do decide to use a daily log, you should do it then).
But honestly, coming from me (a super planner and timeblocker), I still couldn’t find the time or the mental calories to process what I was doing the next day.
It’s WAY too much effort.
So the question we really should be asking is: how do we manage our daily to-do’s with our busy schedules?
You scale it up.
And you do that by increasing your time frame, to weekly or monthly spreads.
3. Future Log
The future log should be next on your chopping block.
Remember what the future log is?
It’s a spread where you jot down all your long-term reminders, to-do’s, tasks and events… split up into monthly sections, usually over a 6 or 12-month period.
And you can also migrate a task from a daily log back to your future log, so you can remind yourself of things that still need to get done.
So why don’t you need it now?
Because of technology — all of my scheduled important appointments and events are in my Google Calendar.
A future log is nice to have if you have the time to make one, but I ALWAYS have my phone on me, and I can easily look up my appointments with the click of a button (or by asking Siri).
4. “Key” Pages
I don’t use the “Key” pages included at the beginning of journals.
Now don’t get me wrong:
I use keys all the time in my time and theme spreads to symbolize items — but not on the reserved “Key” pages you usually find upfront in the newer journals.
Here’s the thing to remember:
When you start out journaling, don’t feel like you need to devise some master key that has symbols for every possible task or scenario (that’s never going to happen).
Just start journaling, and eventually, you’ll find your own language and get comfortable with your own style of icons and colors.
Then once you memorize them naturally, go back to your “key” pages and add your language.
Just don’t feel rushed or obligated to use it.
Q. How should I use the key pages that come with the journal I bought?
Fill them in after you get comfortable with your own system of icons and colors, that you’ll use while working with your journal over time.
Q. How do you design your keys?
I use a small key to symbolize different types of tasks. I use mostly symbols and little icons for different things I do throughout the day.
For example, I use circles for appointments, squares for tasks & to-do’s, triangles for events, and dashes for notes.
Then for certain things I did, I’ll use tiny icons: like a weight for working out that day and a TV icon for the show I just watched.
That’s how I use my key. I keep it really simple.
My Building Blocks
Now we’ve reached the heart of this guide: the core building blocks of my journaling process.
The real 6-pack (plus 1 extra 😉).
Each building block will help you plan smarter and faster; giving you the freedom to enjoy yourself along the way.
In this section, I’ll show you how and why to make each building block AND how to use them to improve your productivity.
Here are my 7 building blocks you should be focusing on:
- “Every Single Thing” spreads
- Monthly spreads
- Weekly spreads
- Time spread add-ons
- Theme spreads
- “Currently” spreads
Let’s get started…
1. “Every Single Thing”
Every Single Thing (EST) is a journal spread with everything that’s going on in your life.
It’s similar to a mindmap, where you visually brainstorm everything that’s been on your mind.
For example, think of:
- things you need to get done at work.
- appointments you need to schedule.
- yard work and home improvements.
- emails you need to send.
- phone calls you need to make.
- bills you need to pay.
- and everything else that you’re responsible for.
You may have heard the term “brain dump” when researching productivity, and that’s exactly what we’re doing.
Dumping everything out of our head and writing it down.
Later, we’ll decide what to do with it…
How to Make It
Here’s how you make it:
- Open up a new spread.
- Title one of the pages “Every Single Thing”.
- Now we need to get our brains flowing.
Here are 14 ideas:
- What is on my to-do list for this week?
- What is on my calendar for the month?
- What needs attention in my house?
- What do I want to attend or where do I want to travel?
- Do I need to buy gifts for any upcoming events or send any cards?
- Do I need to plan or prep for a holiday?
- What does my family have going on this month?
- Are there any upcoming appointments I need to schedule?
- What meals will we have this week?
- Do I have any unfinished projects at work?
- What am I waiting on (phone call, email, packages)?
- Do I have any bills to pay?
- What is currently stressing me out?
- What project would I like to start or finish?
- Write all the answers down and anything else that’s on your mind — in a mindmap or list format — with the words all over the page.
No need to be fancy — write whatever is on your mind at the time.
That’s all there is to it. Well done.
Q. Do I need to date or mark my answers in any way?
How to Use It
You should ideally create an Every Single Thing spread EVERY Sunday — before your week begins — so you can clear your head.
I have been known to skip weeks, but I make sure I do this before each month begins.
The most important part of planning is going through you thoughts and deciding on what’s important.
Here are my simple steps to using it:
- After you finish writing everything you can think of down, start at the top and read each item with the intent of “putting it somewhere” in your journal or calendar.
- Decide what to do with each one of the items.
You have 4 action options here:
- Do the items immediately.
- Put it in a journal weekly spread.
- Put it in a digital calendar (via your smartphone).
- Do nothing.
- Do the item immediately or copy (rewrite) the item in your weekly spread or digital calendar.
- Put a small checkmark next to the items you completed or copied.
It’s as simple as that!
So we are first deciding what we want (or reasonably expect) to accomplish in the upcoming week or month.
Then we decide where to copy it.
And mark it completed or moved with a simple checkmark.
I like to think of my Every Single Thing as a guide — it’s nice to have in your back pocket, as a source of ideas.
A source you’ll use to fill in your spreads for the month…
PRO TIP: Keep a doc or a note on your phone titled “Every Single Thing” and document ANY thought you think you may need to remember.
I use a Google Doc for all of my random thoughts and ideas, and I reference it anytime I start my brainstorm.
For example, use a book symbol for a weekly spread and a smartphone icon for your digital calendar.
You can either draw each symbol or use a stamp or sticker.
Q. How often do I need to make one?
Q. How many total should I have in my journal?
Q. Can I put one in a weekly spread?
Cheat Sheet: Every Single Thing
- Make them before each month.
- Use a full spread.
- Write down anything that comes to mind, and answer all the prompts above.
- After completing, read and decide what to do with each item on your spread.
- Keep a document on your phone so you have access all the time.
Q. How fast do you go through a bullet journal?
2. Monthly Spreads
Your monthly will be your master guide for your entire month’s tasks, events, appointments… you name it.
Monthly spreads are the first of two time spreads (the other is weekly).
A few things to know off the top about monthlies:
- You want to make them a month in advance before you make any weekly spreads.
- You want to draw out a calendar that covers at least one page of the spread.
- Your monthly should have a “goals” section to act as a mini vision board.
- You also want to block off spreads for each week of the month (at least 8 pages).
Got all that? Fantastic.
Now let’s make one of these bad boys…
How to Make It
- Open your calendar app or go to Google Images and search for: current month name + current year + “calendar”. Then click on a calendar image and keep it open on your computer.
- Grab your journal and open up to a new blank spread.
- Give your monthly spread a title with the month name (use a brush pen here).
- Use a pencil to draw a rough sketch of the calendar on one page (using the googled image as a guide).
- On the other page, you have 2 choices:
- LIST the numbered dates down the left side of the page and write out your important appointments, deadlines, and events besides their respective dates.
- Create a “goals” section (or box) with enough room to write out your big goals for the month. You will have extra space to work with here, so ask yourself what you want to track this month, and create boxes for each.
- Once you’re happy with your pencil sketch, go over your pencil outlines with a dark fine tip pen.
- Use an eraser and remove all your pencil markings.
Your calendar design can spill over to the second page if you want spaces big enough to write inside.
You’ll have plenty of extra room around your calendar to decide what else to track that month.
DIY: If you’re not confident in your drawing skills, you can always print out a calendar image (that fits the dimensions of your notebook) and tape it onto a page with washi.
Create a calendar sketch with a pencil that covers at least one full page of your spread.
Leave room for a title (month name), a “goals” section, and anything else you need or want to track.
Go over the pencil with a pen.
And there you have it. Let’s now talk about to use your monthly…
How to Use It
Once you’ve got your month drawn out, it’s time to put it to work.
First, think of all the important events and appointments you have coming up.
Write the item in its day box and draw (or stamp) a little symbol next to it that represents that type of item.
For example, I might use a circle for an appointment, square for a task or a triangle for an event.
(You can get these symbols from your “key” pages or just memorize it).
What about that “goals” section? Good question.
Before the month begins, ask yourself:
“What would I like to finish by the end of this month?”
The answers will help define your goals. Enter them here.
Need help? Try these 20+ free monthly printables in the VIP Vault. 😉
Cheat Sheet: Monthly Spreads
- Dedicate a full spread (2 pages) to each monthly.
- Create them a month in advance, before any weekly spreads.
- A calendar design is most helpful in planning your month (use a pencil first).
- Make a “goals” section and fill it with your big to-do’s — think of it as a vision board.
- While you’re making a monthly, go ahead and block off the pages you’ll need for your upcoming weeklies.
Make monthlies your own style and keep them simple.
If the idea of drawing your own calendar is a little overwhelming (I completely understand), then just list the numbered dates with their corresponding items next to them AND highlight the weekends, so you can quickly glance at the date and tell what day it is!
Or you can also try the “Month by Days” technique, where you add tasks you do the same day every week in day boxes.
Now that you’re a monthly spread expert, let’s talk about the greatest spread type of all-time…
3. Weekly Spreads
Because they are the creative hub of your journal, where you’ll spend most of your time, tracking and enjoying life.
Your weekly spread is really like a weekly planner, with some extras.
It has two main parts:
- To-do’s (within day boxes or sections).
- Trackers or Add-ons (which are optional).
In the meantime, let’s learn how to make your own…
How to Make It
The focus of your weekly should be your to-do’s. In this basic example, we’ll put our 7 different day boxes on one page of the spread.
(Save the other page for trackers and add-ons. More on that in the next section.)
An easy way to do this is to draw sections for each of the 7 days of the week in a 2x4 grid (2 columns wide by 4 rows tall).
Here’s how you make a weekly spread:
- Grab a pencil and a Journal Companion, Door Hanger or ruler.
- Draw one line down the middle of the page lengthwise to create two columns.
- Draw one line across the middle of the page crosswise to create two rows.
- Split each of these two rows in half again, to make four equal rows & 8 equal-sized boxes.
- Use 7 of these boxes for each day of the week — label them with a date number or day letter (M, T, W…).
- Use the extra 8th box for whatever you want: your week heading, another goals section, a “later in the month”, etc.
- Don’t forget to take a picture of your spread and share on social media with these hashtags.
How to Use It
Remember earlier in the monthly spreads section, when we talked about reserving pages for weeklies?
Well the reason I mentioned it in the monthly section, is that when your filling in your monthly, you should add items to your weekly spread as well.
Here’s the two-step process:
- Add your item (task, event, appointment) to your monthly spread.
- Flip to the corresponding weekly spread and add the same items, with the same title and key symbols.
But how do you use your weekly during the week?
Here’s how I do it:
- I check the digital calendar on my phone (to make sure I’m not missing anything), then add any items to my weekly spread.
- As new items arise during the week, I add them to their respective day boxes, with key symbols (or little icons):
- Circle (●) for appointments.
- Square (￭) for a task or to-do.
- Triangle (▴) for an event.
- Dash (‒) for notes.
- Exclamation point (!) for important.
- At the end of the day, I reflect back on what I accomplished and add those items to their day boxes with fun activity icons too.
For example, I’ll add a tiny weight if I exercised, a TV icon for a show I watched, or a plate for a meal I cooked. Be as creative as you want!
Q. How do you come up with all your weekly spread ideas?
I pick random grid size from the Journal Companion and draw that on my spread using a pencil.
Then I try to come up with a new design based on that grid, plugging and playing with different elements and the 7-day boxes.
That’s all there is to it.
Ultimately, you want a design that’s easy for YOU to understand, manage, and enjoy reflecting back upon.
Cheat Sheet: Weekly Spreads
- Keep your weekly spreads in chronological order. They don’t have to be in consecutive order (back to back).
- Use one page of your spread for to-do’s and the other for trackers and add-ons.
- For your to-do’s, make a simple 2x4 grid design on one page if you’re just getting started.
- Try the free Journal Companion or Door Hanger Pro for precise line measurements.
- Add small key symbols and icons for things you’ve done throughout the day.
- Color code your day numbers for different months (if the days spill over into a new month).
- If you have extra blank space on your pages, add doodles, patterns, washi tape or just leave it blank!
Our weekly spread isn’t done yet.
We still have one page to fill out… and that’s where add-ons and trackers join the party.
4. Time Spread Add-Ons
Do you want to give your journal a personality boost?
As Maya Angelou once said, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”
You gotta get out there and share your style.
These spread add-ons will give you a ton of ideas to help you fill up those blank spaces on your time spreads.
(You can learn even more about spread elements in my post here.)
Let’s start with those 7-day boxes that you’ll see everywhere on time spreads.
I call these “7-day boxes” because you’ll have something to add to them every day, and you can create individual sections in your spreads to add these 7-day boxes.
For example, if you want to keep up with daily weather, you’ll need 7 small square boxes where you can write in the temperature or a weather doodle.
If you want to meal plan for the week, you’ll need 7 spots dedicated to writing down your meal ideas.
Need some other ideas for 7-day boxes?
Try these 20 7-Day Box ideas:
Doodle a Day
Headline of the Day
One Line About Today
Outfit of the Day
Positive Word or Quote
This Day in History
Trying Something New
Word of the Day
Zendoodle a Day
Single Box Ideas
Let’s go back to that 2x4 grid we designed earlier.
After we filled in our 7 days, we still had that eighth box remember?
This is where “single boxes” come into play.
These single boxes fill up your spread, and you can add anything you want to them!
(You’ll often find tons of extra space in your spread after you draw out your 7-day boxes).
You can decorate this extra space with doodles, washi or stickers, or you can make it functional with any of these single box ideas (and these boxes can be any shape).
Here are 20 Single Box ideas for you:
Key Area (if needed)
Next Week To-Do
Song of the Week
This Week To-Do
If you use a lot of grids to design spreads (like I do), you’ll have a lot of these “extra” boxes to fill.
After you create them, you can fill them in throughout the week or at the end of the week (depending on the box).
I recommend you start with:
- Next week (or “Later”) — things on your radar.
- Goals — big items you want to get done this week.
- Don’t forget — things you would definitely set reminders for.
Q. When should I add single boxes to my spreads?
It depends on the box type! You’ll fill in the “memories” box at the end of the week. And maybe a “currently” or “ideas” box during the week. Or you can wait and fill them all in at the end or fill them all in as the week goes on.
Ok. So now you’re no longer a beginner!
You know how time spreads work and you know why you should use them.
But now it’s time we take it up a notch.
We’re about to tackle another favorite: trackers.
Trackers help you see how you live your life, and more importantly, the patterns you’ve developed.
That way, you can determine what habits you want to quit and which ones you should continue to pursue.
(This is where we enter diary territory.)
We can group bullet journal trackers into two types: Habit Trackers and Pattern Trackers.
Habit Trackers monitor your big-picture routines — usually for habits longer than a week — for more serious things you definitely want to keep track of.
For example, exercise, paying bills, bible study, etc.
(These guys are the most popular trackers.)
Pattern trackers, on the other hand, are more general and usually encompass casual or serendipitous items.
Like: mood, sleep, cleaning, Netflix, etc.
So just remember:
Habit Trackers = serious, real-life stuff. Long-term.
Pattern Trackers = everything else, nice to track. Short-term.
Let’s drill down into each type…
Or if you prefer a video, watch me go through all my journal trackers live:
Let’s say you developed a habit that lasts longer than a week.
So maybe you decided to finally try to eat healthier at work… or you want a smarter way to track your school work… or you keep forgetting to water your garden.
Well, that’s where habit trackers come in handy.
They help you create and stick to a routine, so you’ll never forget (or want to forget) the things that matter.
First, you need an idea of what to track.
I got you covered. Here’s 80+ Habit Tracker Ideas:
Cooking at Home
Acts of Kindness
No Junk Food
Practicing a Skill
Plan Before Bed
Tried Something New
Now the question is:
How do you make them?
That’s a loaded question — you can make them a TON of different ways.
Here’s a video of me setting up a habit tracker for my social media.
A few tips for habit trackers:
- They go best in monthly spreads — not weekly spreads since we are tracking longer habits here.
- Don’t try to start more than one or two new habits at a time (you’ll get overwhelmed).
- Try to fill them in at the same time each day (I fill mine out around 9 pm).
- Use simple color-coded keys to represent different states or items (you can use symbols too).
For example, when I track my mood, I use: dark green = super happy, light green = happy, orange = content, pink = blah, and red = bad mood.
Use habit trackers in your monthly spreads to manage your behavior and to shed light on your good & bad habits.
(Learn more in my habit tracker post.)
The rest of your trackers fall into the Pattern Tracker bucket.
These are basically any other type of tracker, that monitors your short-term, casual habits.
Here are 16 pattern tracker ideas to get you started:
Diet / Meals
Income / Money Made
Steps (Working out)
School / Studying
I know what you’re thinking:
“A lot of these ideas could be considered habit trackers too.”
That’s true. There is some overlap.
But here’s what makes pattern trackers different:
- They go best in weekly spreads.
- Use graphs (like bar graphs & line graphs) to see a more visual representation of your patterns.
- They are great for tracking symptoms and pain scale/body locations.
- They also make for great space-fillers in your empty journal spreads.
See how I make a mood and energy tracker:
There’s one last thing before we close the circle on trackers. 😂
They get their name from their circular design.
These guys can be used as a tracker or a planner.
Most often, you’ll see circular monthly habit trackers, with 4 or 5 habits to track.
You can also use it like a planner for a 24-hour day, 7-day week, 30 or 31-day month, or 12-month year.
Just split the circle into equal sections and label them with dates. Draw a line to the particular date and label what’s planned for that time.
Circle trackers are fun to use once you get them all measured out, but I don’t use them on a regular basis because of the setup time.
How do you make a circle tracker?
- Grab a protractor or a stencil. 🤓
- Find the center of your journal page.
- Draw one large circle around the page center point.
- Then draw a smaller circle within the larger one.
- Use a straight-edge or door hanger to make perpendicular time interval sections (hours, days or months) in the space between the circles.
For example, if you’re making a daily circle tracker, you’ll want to make 24 sections for each hour. Use this free printable to measure hourly sections.
- Label the sections.
- If you need it, make a quick key and color-code each section (for mood, work, school, etc.).
Here’s a 24-hour tracker how-to:
When you’re making any spread, always try to include trackers. They are super helpful, fill up extra space, and keep you on top of your game.
What if you just want to JOURNAL?
Like, you just want to write down what’s on your mind and not worry about tracking or scheduling your time?
Well, my friend, I’m about to blow your mind. 🤯
Meet Theme spreads…
Q. How do I get 20 circle tracker printables?
Q. How do you decide on what trackers to use?
6. Theme Spreads
Remember earlier in the weekly spread section, when we talked about those weeklies not having to be in consecutive order?
(Meaning, the pages don’t have to follow each other in immediate order.)
So what do you do with those pages in between?
You fill them with theme spreads — the fun pages centered around a topic. A topic that matters to you right now.
For example, I love me some Netflix, so I may make a spread with all my favorite shows and the ones I want to watch.
Theme spreads are your break from the formalized “planning” part of any journaling process.
It’s where you get to express yourself, reflect, and be you.
How to Make Them
There are no rules; no specific place or order to put them in your journal.
It’s just you and your creativity.
Here’s how to get started:
- Choose your topic. I recommend a list of your “favorites”. Try these first:
- TV Shows
- Recipes to try
- Ice cream flavors
- Dream vacation spots
- Bucket list items
- Open your journal to any blank spread. And grab a fine tip pen.
- Add a title to the top of the left page.
For example, “Netflix Shows”.
- Your initial design should be simple — just start with a basic list underneath your title, writing down all the items related to your chosen topic.
“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”
“Tidying Up with Marie Kondo”
Give each one their own line.
- Optional: Index your spread by noting the page numbers, then flipping back to your index, and adding the spread title and page numbers.
You want to keep your spreads simple (especially if you’re a beginner), so don’t worry about any colors or fancy designs at this point.
Or better yet, take home the free printable. 😁
Because there is nothing more satisfying than looking back on your life and reflecting on what mattered at that moment.
That’s the underlying beauty of theme spreads.
Q. How many pages should a theme spread be?
Q. Where do I put my theme spreads?
Q. How do you find your theme spreads if you don’t index them?
7. “Currently” Section
My last building block is the “Currently” section.
It’s a place to check in on yourself during the week or during the month.
But want to know the best part?
It’s like a little time capsule — an easy way to store the memories of all your favorite things and interests.
(Then I like to revisit them on a rainy day when I need some positive vibes.)
Currently sections make your journal that much more special, so don’t skip them.
How to Make It
Remember earlier in the add-ons section, when we talked about single day boxes?
The currently section was listed as an option.
So you can add them within your weekly or monthly spreads, but I recommend you dedicate a full spread to one big currently section — it’s just more fun that way.
Let’s get your wheels churning with these 12 “currently” ideas:
Looking Forward To
“What are you doing RIGHT NOW?”
Then just write down all the answers.
Watch this video to see how to make one:
Use this free emoji guide sheet, to come up with some extra decoration inspiration.
Currently spreads are super fun to look back on, especially when you have multiple years of memories
Put them in your journal — somewhere close to your monthly spreads — to cherish those special memories.
Q. How often should I make a Currently section?
Do it every few months (at least), just to check in with yourself to see what’s going on.
My Building Blocks: A Recap of How I Journal
- “Every Single Thing” — a giant brainstorm of everything on your mind.
- Monthly Spreads — the first time spread (planner) with an overview of your monthly items. Typically in calendar format with a “goals” section.
- Weekly Spreads — the second of the time spreads, and the most popular spread in your journal.
- Time Spread Add-Ons — tons of different 7-day box and single box ideas to fill up extra spread space.
- Trackers — to monitor your habits and routines. Circle trackers offer a unique design.
- Theme Spreads — collections of similar items centered around a specific topic. The fun spread of the group.
- “Currently” Section — everything you love right now. A time capsule for your memories.
There are 4 things your journal doesn’t need:
- Index — too much effort and you’ll rarely use it.
- Daily Log — use weekly spreads instead.
- Future Log — use your digital calendar instead.
- “Key” Pages — just memorize your personal key system and include them in your time spreads.
- Migration — we do a weekly review once the week is over and add tasks that still need our attention to our new time spreads.
- Your time spreads don’t have to be in consecutive order (back-to-back), but they should be chronological.
- Keep your journal simple and make sure to have fun with it. There are no rules!
Fun Stuff: Lettering, Decorations & Doodles
In this chapter, we’ll dip our toe into the world of hand lettering and decoration, to give your journal some extra flair.
Let’s do this:
You’ll see a lot out there about hand lettering, fonts, and fancy calligraphy in bullet journals.
But most lettering in bullet journals takes place in your headers and page titles — so you’ll want to start there.
Even if you’re not artistic, you can make super simple headers for your spreads with your favorite black pen.
To get started, watch me draw 21 header styles that you can mix and match for all your monthly, weekly, and daily headers.
Here’s a few lettering tips to keep in mind:
- Lightly sketch your headers first with a pencil, that way you can ensure your work fits on the page.
- Use soft tip brush pens for thicker, colorful characters (learn more about pens).
- Use a hard tip brush pen for more detailed characters or designs (like in the video above).
- Don’t hold your pen too tight and don’t rush through your writing — that’s what causes the messiness!
- Start practicing your lettering with the alphabet or quotes.
- Then try Pangrams — sentences that use every letter of the alphabet.
- Trace styles you love from a printed page or use an iPad (make sure to keep “Guided Access” ON in settings).
I like to practice all my lettering styles on random pages in my journal or try this free practice sheet: 😁
Play around with different font styles, colors, and pen types and you’ll get SO much better before you know it.
In fact, that’s one of the coolest parts about practicing lettering in your bullet journal spreads:
You get to go back and see your progress throughout the year.
Pretty cool right?
Q. How can I find online fonts to try?
- Search websites like dafont.com under the “Script” font.
- Select a font you like, then under Custom Preview, type in the phrase you want to write.
Q. How can I learn hand lettering?
Q. What is bounce lettering?
Bounce lettering is when the letters move vertically up and down their baseline — the line that most characters sit on, to keep your writing straight.
Changing the baseline and looping gives individual characters a whimsical effect.
Here are 12 popular ways to decorate your bullet journal:
Doodles are probably the most popular.
Check out this full inspiration gallery for a TON of great ideas:
Dividers & Patterns
Use dividers and patterns to fill up those extra page spaces.
A few tips on dividers:
- To make them, just draw a straight line with a pencil, then start repeating simple circles, squares, shapes, dots, lines, etc. — just make sure they’re consistent!
- You can also turn these dividers into borders and outlines for boxes.
- Search Pinterest or Google for “hand drawn dividers” and find all kinds of inspiration.
- Practice making dividers on any blank page of your notebook.
Do you love patterns as much as I do?
Then learn how to draw patterns — circles, squares, swirls, line designs — in this video:
Stickers will save you a ton of time and take the stress out of drawing.
Things to remember about decorative stickers:
- Find packages of cheap stickers at Target or dollar stores.
- Don’t place them over wet ink (or else they may not stick properly).
- Use calendar stickers in place of time spread elements or on cover pages.
- Look for smaller stickers so they don’t take up too much space in your journal spreads.
- Use icons stickers to mark your tracker items and for in-spread keys.
- Stickers are particularly good for covering up mistakes or filling in blank spaces.
You should definitely give stickers a try if you’re looking for quick decoration (especially if you can’t draw).
We talked earlier in the supplies chapter about the best stencils to buy, but here are a few decorative tips:
- Fine tip pens, like fineliners, work best with stencils. You don’t want high-bleed or brush pens — they’re more likely to smudge and mark the stencil. You can always use a pencil too.
- If you don’t have stencils, search for things around the house to trace around: drinking glasses, coins and pastry cutters for circles.
- If you have a Silhouette or Cricut – you can learn to make your own professional stencils!
When it comes to decoration, think of washi as your personal MacGyver.
(Learn all about washi in Chapter 4.)
Use washi to:
- Cover up mistakes.
- Divide pages into sections.
- Add colored decoration to your pages.
- Color code your index.
- Bookmark pages.
- Make a full washi spread in your journal.
- Seal envelopes.
- Wrap gifts.
- Make a “washi collage” page with extra washi scraps.
Want more creative washi ideas? Here’s 100.
Just like stickers, stamps will make quick work of empty spaces and save you the hassle of drawing.
But unlike their sticker counterpart, stamps will help you keep the “ink” look on your journal pages.
A few things to remember when decorating with stamps:
- If it takes you a ton of time to draw the same patterns (or doodles) over and over, use a stamp to repeat the design.
- Miniature stamps make great key icons.
- If you buy the clear stamps (like at lifebywhitney.com), make sure to get a CLEAR stamp block of some sort, so you can see straight through the block onto your page. Some even have faint guidelines.
You can learn a TON more about stamps in the Supplies chapter.
Q. Where can I buy clear, self-sticking stamps?
Watercolor is when you combine paint and water to create unique colors and subtle shading designs in your journal.
But before you start dreaming about watercolor, there’s one big thing you should learn more about: paper.
The watercoloring world has its own paper. So all the “advice” you hear may not work best on journal dotted paper.
But since this is a bullet journaling guide, all my recommendations will work well in your typical A5 journal.
- Begin using watercolors in your journal in one of these 5 easy ways.
- Make sure your brush is not too wet (or mix your chosen paint with less water).
- If you’re afraid of using too much water, paint small illustrations to decorate empty corners and borders of your pages.
- Start with simple swashes as backgrounds to test your supplies.
Speaking of supplies…
These are expert recommended:
If the idea of picking up a brush pen intimidates you — don’t worry.
Go at your own pace and simply start to mess around with the easy tips above.
Now it’s time to finish this chapter of fun. I saved the best for last…
Q. Where do I buy watercolor supplies?
Q. How do I store my watercolor supplies?
And obviously, keep you paint tubes airtight and at room temperature (they should last at least 5 years that way).
Q. What is all the "wet on wet", "wet on dry" and "lifting" talk?
Watercolor artists have many techniques, the most common of which are: wet on wet and wet on dry. The former being applying paint over a water-brushed area. The latter, just directly on paper.
Lifting is removing paint from the page by scrubbing or diluting a new brush stroke with more water.
Q. What’s the difference between artist grade and student grade paint?
The main difference is that student grade paint has lower pigment levels, so it’s cheaper with fewer colors to choose from. It’s great for beginners.
But if you’re only watercoloring small illustrations (recommended), you should get the artist grade for its vibrant colors.
Welcome to the wonderful world of doodles (and I’m not talking about my dogs 🐶 😂)!
I’m talking about the artwork kind:
Doodles are simple illustrations you make to add context, design, and aesthetic beauty to your bullet journal.
Once again, there are no rules. No expectations. It’s all about adding your personality to the paper.
Draw your doodles all over your journal. If they serve a purpose — like a key symbol — then great. If not, it doesn’t matter.
The point is:
You’re making your journal your own, by adding your unique style.
You can find TONS of doodle inspiration and learn much about them in my full blog post.
Now you might be thinking:
“I don’t doodle every day and I’m worried about messing up my precious journal pages.”
You have a point, but that’s why we have practice sheets.
How to Doodle
There are a million how-to doodle accounts out there on Instagram, Pinterest, and YouTube.
I suggest you start by searching for “doodle accounts” on your favorite platform, to get some general inspiration.
Before we begin, you’re going to need two supplies:
- A pencil.
- A pen — the Staedtler Triplus Fineliner or the Tombow Mono Drawing Pen (or any pen as a last resort).
Ok, let the doodling begin…
Here’s my process to find something specific and easy to draw:
Step 1: Find Inspiration
- On your mobile phone, go to Google Images.
- Now search for: what you want to draw + “doodle”.
For example, “Flower doodle”
Step 2: Choose Your Favorite Doodle Image
- Tap on an image that you can reasonably expect to draw (or trace) yourself.
- Bookmark the image by tapping the bookmark banner icon — this way you can refer to it later under your Google collections).
Step 3: Cheat a Bit and Trace
- Enlarge that image with your fingers.
- Now place your phone under a journal page.
- Grab your pencil.
- Roughly outline the image (or you can just look at it and draw it freehand).
Step 4: Finish Your Design
- Now grab your pen.
- Trace your pencil outlines with the pen.
- Give it any extra touch-ups, then you’re done!
Doodling will help you fill blank spaces, showcase your inner artistic genius, and even help you relieve stress.
Q. What are doodle challenges?
Digital Productivity: Take Your Journal Online
You can’t be productive in 2019 without adapting your journaling habits to modern technology.
A notebook alone is not enough…
If you’ve made it this far, you know the main theme of this guide is simplicity.
So in this chapter, we’re going to get a head start on everyone else and learn how to take your journal off-page and online, so you can maximize your productivity and achieve your real-world goals.
Mastering Digital Productivity
“Why are we talking about digital productivity when we’re wrapping up a how-to journaling guide?”
Because if you rely solely on your journal to plan, track and schedule your life, what happens if…
- You’re on the go and away from your journal?
- You lose your journal?
- It gets stolen, spilled on or otherwise ruined?
- You run out of pages and to need reference older pages or resources?
You can keep everything there that you need, and access it anytime, as long as you have the technology.
Learn to Love The Cloud
You store your items usually via your smartphone when you’re on the go, away from your tangible journal.
Let me explain:
Say you run into an old friend at the grocery store. You catch up for a bit, promise to stay in touch, then you get back to food shopping.
Before you forget, you want to write down when you saw your friend, the time you agreed to contact one another again, and a few important dates she mentioned: her kid’s bar-mitzvah, your high school reunion coming up…
But where do you write all that down? Your journal is napping at home.
And what about that mouth-watering mac & cheese recipe you thought of strolling down the pasta aisle?
You need to write them down on apps on your phone, that store it all — you guessed it — in the fluffy cloud.
More benefits of the cloud:
- You don’t have to worry about computer or phone storage running out.
- Your documents are secure and safely backed up.
- It’s free for most with very affordable options for power users.
- You can access ANY files quickly & easily on any device.
Google Drive is their file storage and synchronization app that safely stores your files and lets you synchronize those files to all your devices.
It’s free. All you need is a Gmail email address.
(Which means you need to create an account.)
Google offers this as a “service” (Saas) to you, which means all the resources needed to run these programs are all done on their servers.
All you need to access these services is a browser and an internet connection.
To make things even more fun, within Drive, you get “programs”: docs, sheets, and slides.
These programs now replace those old Microsoft programs you’re used to thinking of — word, excel, powerpoint, etc. — and they’re smarter because all the work you create in these programs (files) is saved in one place.
(that you got for free earlier when you created a Gmail account).
Make sense? It’s all pretty cool.
How to Access Drive
Here are the steps in order to get started with Drive:
- Open up the browser — Google Chrome — and sign up for a Google Account.
Now you’ll have an email address (Gmail) and free access to all Google’s suite of web-apps (Drive, Gmail, Calendar, etc.) and all the programs within Drive.
- Click the dot grid icon in the top right, top open the dropdown of available apps.
- Select Drive from the list (the colored triangle app) to open up the Drive dashboard.
- Click the + New button up top to open up the dropdown of Drive programs.
Drive is the ultimate storage spot for documents and photos.
(It’s where I keep ALL of my working digital documents for my business.)
As long as you have a good organizational & naming system for your projects and folders, you’ll be able to find documents quickly & easily.
- One-time sign in — create a gmail email account and you have access to the full suite of google apps.
- Sharing & Popularity — share documents and full folders with other Google users. You can both edit shared files.
- Zero cost — it’s free for most users (based on their storage amount). I pay only $1.99 per month for 100 GB extra storage).
- Team Collaboration — you can easily share any files with your family, friends and work colleagues.
For example, my boyfriend and I share a Google Doc when we go to Publix (he goes right and I go left), we literally cross-out the grocery items we get live, as we go through the store. Kinda cool.
- Anywhere access — if you have an internet connection, you can access any shared files and run any project, business or family operation. Priceless.
Those are the benefits of Google Drive — it will change not only the way you work but also how you communicate with every person in your life.
And how do I use these in conjunction with my bullet journal to be even more productive?
Let’s see what we can discover next…
Q. How I do learn to do all of this in detail?
Q. Do you recommend Google Drive or Dropbox?
Both Drive and Dropbox are compatible with nearly every device; Both sync seamlessly with your computer as long as you download the computer app.
Using Google Docs with Your Bullet Journal
Docs is a word processor (think Microsoft Word but better), where you can jot down all your ideas, appointments, and to-do’s when you’re on the go.
Remember way back, when we talked about all the different types of journaling items?
- To-do’s — that go in your weekly spreads.
- Ideas — that go in your theme spreads.
- Events & Appointments — that go in your monthly spreads.
You’ll want to use Docs for all your to-dos’ and ideas.
(We’ll talk about events & appointments a little later.)
So when you think of things you need to get or any brilliant ideas pop into your mind, jot them down in Docs when you’re away from your journal.
How to Access Google Docs
- Access your Drive dashboard and then hit the + New button to open up the dropdown of Drive programs.
- Click on Google Docs (the one with the blue icon).
- Now Docs will open with a blank page.
- Click on the doc title in the top left, and name it whatever makes sense to you (I call mine “Every Single Thing”).
You can create a new doc, sheet or slide super quickly, by typing “new.” doc, sheet or slides directly in your chrome address bar.
For example, type “doc.new” in the address bar and a new doc will automatically open and save in your Drive.
Just make sure you’re already logged into your Google account (you should be when you open up Chrome).
How to Use Google Docs
- When you think of a to-do item or an idea, just open up Docs — on your smartphone or computer — and type it out.
- Then grab your journal. Open it up to a new blank spread and get it primed for a new weekly or themed spread.
- Design your spread.
- Open up your Google Doc for reference and pick out the to-do’s or ideas you want to add your weekly or theme spread respectively.
- Write them into your spreads.
- Then erase your those transferred items from the Google Doc.
All we are doing is using Docs as a place of reference for all the items to help fill our journal spreads.
The key here is to reference this doc at least once a week, so you know you’re not missing any items that should be transferred to your journal.
But what about those appointments and events?
Using the Calendar with Your Bullet Journal
Google Calendar is a popular web-based app that allows you to create a customized calendar (with all their cool scheduling features) and sync them to all your devices.
… so you’ll never miss a thing.
How to Access Google Calendar
Here’s how to get started with Calendar on a desktop:
- Open up your browser — Google Chrome — and login to your Google account.
- Click the dot grid icon in the top right, top open the dropdown of available apps.
- Select Calendar from list (with the blue box icon).
- Now your calendar is open! Play around and explore all the options.
How to Use Calendar with Your Bullet Journal
- When you make a new appointment or commit to an event, add it to your Calendar.
- Then open your journal to a new monthly spread.
- Add a title (e.g. “February”) to your spread and get it ready for your events.
- Open up your Google Calendar for reference and choose the events that fall into your current month.
- Write them into your spread.
That’s all there is to it.
Cheat Sheet: Productivity
- Use apps like Google Drive and Calendar, and programs like Docs, to stay organized when you’re without your journal.
- Use Google Drive to store all your files, from documents to images (great for small businesses too).
- Use Google Docs for to-do’s items that you’ll add to your weekly spreads. Also use Docs for any ideas you have that you’ll add to your theme spreads.
- Use Google Calendar for all your events and appointments, that you can add to your monthly spreads.
- Set reminders on your phone, so you don’t have to rely just on your journal (this is what Siri is best at).
- Use your phone settings, to control the amount and frequency of app notifications.
As long as you have a simple system that you understand, you can finally get digitally organized!
Q. Do you not put to-dos in monthly spreads?
Q. Do you use a Calendar app instead of the Future Log?
All my long-term stuff and the things I need to today, I keep digital.
Extra Hacks & Journaling Courses
Congratulations on sticking with this guide and staying focused on your journey.
Let’s take a quick break and recap:
So far, you’ve learned,
… the benefits of journaling.
… all the supplies you’ll ever need.
… how the traditional bullet journaling system works.
… my adapted building blocks and my process to be more productive in today’s modern age.
In this final chapter, we’re going to keep it light and send you on your way with a few more tips and DIY hacks.
Then for the final hoorah:
I’ll introduce you to both free and paid journaling courses, so you can keep learning and take your planning skills to new heights.
Extra Journaling Hacks
(You can view this gallery for images of all these hacks and more.)
- You don’t have to worry about computer or phone storage running out.
- Your documents are secure and safely backed up.
- It’s free for most with very affordable options for power users.
- You can access ANY files quickly & easily on any device.
- Don’t feel like you have to use your colors every day — you can always come back and add color later.
- When working with trackers, just use a pen to mark the percentage of your daily mood & energy levels. Then worry about the colors later.
For example, if your mood was so-so one day, say 50%, make a pen mark in the center of your horizontal (or vertical) mood bar.
You don’t need to color it in right then.
- Use colors that resonate with you:
For example, If you think of red when you think of tasks. Use red in your spreads.
If the color blue pops in your mind when you think of events. Use blue.
All this will help you remember your personal key system, so you don’t have to ever use the “key” pages in your journal.
- Use sticky divider tabs or washi tape to color code your pages. Add a small piece to the corner of the pages you visit most often. You can even color code pages by category: weeklies, monthlies, etc.
- Many journals come with bookmarks, so keep one on your current weekly (or daily) spread.
- If you use an index, group similar spreads together — I would group weekly and monthly spreads together so I wouldn’t run out of room listing every page.
- If you don’t want to draw them, print them out on sticker paper or cut/paste them into your journal.
- In your printer settings, adjust the percentage size of the page to make your circles fit better. It is trial and error here.
- Don’t overwhelm yourself with a ton of habits on your first few habit trackers. You will start to dread filling this thing out! Start with 3-4 and see how it goes.
- Use an index card or cardstock to create a removable or flip-out key when you’re starting out. You can see the key no matter which page you’re on.
- Make keys easy to remember. Take them to the next level by adding symbols or mini-doodles.
- Once you memorize the keys you use most often, you don’t need to use the “key” pages in your journal. I don’t.
- I sometimes make them per-week (on weekly spreads), but otherwise, I’ll reference the last key I used.
Fixing Mistakes or Bleed
Try these options:
- White out tape or white gel pen
- Print something out and paste it over!
- Cover with stickers.
- Flip the page and fuhgetaboutit! 😉
More DIY Tips
- If you’re traveling with a notebook, tape a small envelope inside for emergency funds. 💵
- Also use taped-in envelopes to hold things like stickers, carbon paper or scrap paper.
- Incorporate sticky notes into your spreads to add removable items: grocery lists, gift lists, meal planning, etc.
Make It a Habit
- Keep your journal open with a clip beside your bed, on your desk or somewhere you will see it daily.
- Keep it by a habit you already have to continue to come back to it each day.
For example, keep it by your contact case or toothbrush to not forget about it!
- Try and journal at the same time each evening or morning.
- Try not to break your streak — set a reminder on your phone if you need to.
Keep Learning with Journaling Courses
After reading this guide, you are more prepared than 99.9% of other beginner journalers.
(Heck, you are smarter than most “advanced” journalers.)
So crack open that notebook, start practicing, and discover your style.
And when the time comes, and you’re ready to take it to the next level…I have something special for you.
Introducing: The Journal You Course
So, let’s be real:
Applying the fundamentals of bullet journaling, like tracking your to-do’s and putting pen to paper, are positive first steps towards meeting your goals.
But that’s ALL they are — first steps.
It will be very difficult to transition your goals out of your journal and into real life.
So, what do you do?
You do the ONE thing that the most successful people have understood for centuries:
You follow a SYSTEM.
And guess what?
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(No more searching the internet trying to piece together random, often wrong, bits of advice from blog posts.)
Instead, I’ve you got it all right here in the online Journal You Course:
- A pre-packaged, 4-week productivity system that any beginner can master.
- 35 private video lessons — each with step-by-step instructions.
- Over 100 PDF printables, so you can follow along at your own pace, anywhere.
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Don’t take my word for it. Just ask one of the 300 graduates who put the course to the test and gave it their stamp of approval.
Now it’s up to you:
Pat yourself on the back!
Now you have everything you need to get started and succeed.
If you want more free printables and ideas, you can join my VIP Vault — it has ALL my free journal spreads (3 years worth).
Best of luck, and remember, keep your journal simple and have a blast!