Starting a Bullet Journal in 2021 changed my life. It helped me to be more organised and keep track of what I was doing each day. I better understood where my time was going, and I could recognise my habits.
My BuJo brought a lot of structure to my disorganised life, and it was also relaxing and fun. How I’ve used the journal has also evolved over the past 12 months, and I thought it would be useful to share my setup.
Covered in this post: initial first pages, trackers I’ve created and my monthly setups for daily logging.
If you’ve ever wanted to try Bullet Journaling or have tried before and quit, I hope this post serves as inspiration. Perhaps there’ll be something I do that you wish to copy for your own BuJo.
It’s also never too late to begin a Bullet Journal. Whilst the beginning of a new year is an ideal time to start, the beginning of a new month also works. I actually started my very first Bullet Journal in December 2020, not January ’21. Don’t let starting a month late into 2022 stop you if you want to start/restart a Bullet Journal.
Before we get started, I should mention what journal is good to use.
You can order the official Bullet Journal from the BuJo website, which is probably ideal if you’re completely new to Bullet Journaling. The second edition comes with some handy tips on how to use it and extra stuff like a sticker sheet.
The official first edition is where I started. The one I have now is a fairly cheap dotted A5 journal I got in a double-pack from Amazon. The listing now says the pack comes with a black and pink notebook, but I got both of them in black. They’re perfectly serviceable. However, there are not enough pages. I won’t fit a whole year inside a single book.
For 2023’s Bullet Journal, I’m considering the dotted hardback notebook from Moleskine. If it’s anything like the softcover I’m using for my daily diary, then it’ll have 400 pages of good quality paper. That should be plenty of space to get a whole year into one notebook.
Now we move on to the setup…
On the very first dotted page, I copy the key from my previous BuJo. This key is adapted from the one included in the first edition of the Bullet Journal.
You can choose your own key; you don’t have to go by what is suggested. For example, the quaver (♪) and beaming quavers (♫) I’ve attributed to song and album respectively was my own idea.
The key is helpful to remember what every symbol you use means. However, it’s essential because you might change up your approach from journal to journal. When you look back, you don’t want to get yourself confused.
Next is the index, which I spread out across four unnumbered pages. Why? That’s how the first edition is set up, presumably so you couldn’t possibly run out of space. Whether you really need that much depends on how you use the Bullet Journal. I haven’t needed all four pages so far.
However, I’ve kept it to four pages just in case. The index is really what makes the BuJo more useful than other journaling practices as it allows you to easily find anything you’ve logged. I have not used the index to its full potential yet, but I’m trying to change my approach this year.
Essentially, anything you note that you want to be able to find again, you should add what it is and the page reference here.
The future log is the first page you give a number, i.e. page 1 (unless the notebook you’re using already has numbered pages). You spread the future log out across four pages like the index, which gives you an overview of 12 months — three months per page.
If you’re starting a new BuJo at the beginning of a year, as I did, then the first month in the future log should be February — not January as I have done. I included January by mistake and didn’t realise until I added the first item. As I know I’ll need two BuJos to get me through the year, I decided it didn’t really matter.
But if the first month you’ll be setting up is February, the future log should begin with March.
It’s here where you’ll make note of tasks and events happening months from now that you’ll need to remember. It’s also where I’ve noted certain people’s birthdays.
(I’ve inked out certain events that I feel should not be public knowledge.)
So far, everything I’ve been through was devised by Ryder Carroll, inventor of the Bullet Journal, which he outlines in his book The Bullet Journal Method. Whereas these trackers were adapted from what other Bullet Journalists designed.
The first is a general creativity tracker, covering the four areas I want to most focus on this year: writing poems, drafting fiction, publishing blog posts and maintaining my daily journaling habit.
“Tracker” is the keyword here. Whilst these four areas do relate to goals I want to achieve in 2022, these are not daily goals. This is not about chastising myself for empty boxes, it’s about recognising where I’m directing my time and energy.
Recognising how I’m spending my time is useful for reflecting and setting goals. That’s how a tracker should be used, in my view.
There are so many ways to set up habit trackers. This is a new approach I’ve created for myself this year.
Last year, I simply added a column to my monthly logs, adding a letter at the top of the column to represent a habit (e.g. “J” for “journal”), and crossed the box for each day that I completed the habit. This is a quick and easy method, most suitable if your habits are going to change from month to month. However, I wanted to track habits across the year and have an overview of 2022.
As I explained in my reading goals post, I’ve ditched Goodreads and have opted for an analogue approach to tracking my reading. Fingers crossed, I’ll read enough books to fill the shelves I’ve drawn.
As you can see, so far I’ve only finished Dave Rudden’s Twelve Angels Weeping and Lynda Barry’s Syllabus: Notes from An Accidental Professor.
Last year, I just made a list of books I read and made notes underneath each title with any thoughts or quotes I wanted to pull out. I now write all my thoughts about a book and any quotes in my daily journal.
This page just serves as a record of the titles I’ve read.
Depending on how this method works out this year, I may drop or change this for 2023. Maybe I should’ve made it a double-page spread with taller shelves so I could draw bigger books in the spaces. We shall have to see how it pans out.
If I possessed more artistic talent, I’d decorate the shelves to compensate for gaps.
On the opposite page is a bookshelf with titles I’d like to read. I’ve already filled the top shelf and January is only halfway over. This is clearly another tracker that needed to be on a double-page spread — and even two pages may not be enough.
This is also the umpteenth attempt at finding a way to catalogue books I don’t own that take my interest. I’ve got so many lists all over the place of books I’d like to read. I have no doubt that this method alone won’t be enough. But I thought this would be worth a try.
TV & Film Tracker
To track all the TV shows and films I watch throughout the year, I thought it would be fun to set it up in the style of thumbnails — like something you’d see on a streaming service.
I have the section for shows up top and films below. Inside each box, I note the title, what season(s) if it’s a TV show, the date I started and the date I finished it, and then I’ll add a star rating below.
This wasn’t something I’ve adapted from anyone; this is my own system I’m trying out. It’s also why several of the boxes are not the same size as I’m still in the trial-and-error stage.
Now is a good time to discuss messiness and mistakes. Some people love to make their Bullet Journal look gorgeous, and I’ve seen many beautiful BuJos shared online. However, aesthetically stunning journals have put people off in the past from starting because some believe artistic skill is required. But that was never Ryder Carroll’s intention.
Your notebook does not have to be beautiful to be valuable. Design should always serve a purpose. If it also happens to be beautiful, great! As long as it does not get in the way.Ryder Carroll, The Bullet Journal Method
Functionality is the priority. For that reason, I encourage you to embrace the mess. I allow my BuJo to evolve as time goes on. If it looks different every month then fine, it doesn’t matter. It’s not about making art; it’s about creating something that serves you.
Back in 2020, when we were all locked down, I got in a high number of steps every single day. Sadly, come 2021, my long walks got shorter and shorter.
Last year, I tried to track daily walks that lasted at least 30 minutes. But I didn’t set timers or check when I left the house, so I always had to guess whether I felt like I’d done 30 minutes worth of walking. It wasn’t useful in the slightest.
Now at the end of every day, I note how many steps I’ve done.
I set up my monthly logs the same way Ryder Carroll advises in The Bullet Journal Method. When I set up a new month, I refer to the future log and add any upcoming events and appointments to the calendar.
Earlier, I mentioned you can add habit trackers here too. In my old BuJo, I added a column to the right-hand side for three or four habits I wanted to track. I don’t need to this year, thankfully. Quite often I need the extra space that column occupied.
Ryder Carroll also explains that the opposite page should be dedicated to monthly tasks. For the past three months, I’ve not done this. This is because quite often the page gets filled with tasks that are not priorities and rarely get done. They also accumulate month after month until it becomes overwhelming.
This month, before my first daily log, I noted some priority tasks and left space for some more. In future, at the start of a new week, I might make a list of key tasks to get done for that week. It might be less overwhelming for my brain. We’ll see.
Opposite January’s calendar instead is another tracker…
Much like the habit trackers, there are many ways you can set up a sleep tracker. I’ve experimented with different formats, and I suspect my experimenting is not yet over. But this is what I’ve settled on for now.
We’re meant to get eight hours of sleep every night, which is the sleeping goal I’ve set on my phone. Thus, the first part of the tracker is similar to a progress bar in a video game. I draw a bar that is roughly close to the total sleep I have recorded and shade it in with a pencil. I then add in the hours and minutes that the bar represents.
The VeryFitPro app also tells me how much deep and light sleep I get, so I add that in too. I also note the time the app tells me I fell asleep and when I woke up.
The NOTES section at the end is where I can record how long I snoozed for or if it took me an especially long time to get out of bed. But it’s not large enough. Sometimes I’d like to record some other notes about my sleep but lack the space — hence why my experimenting with sleep trackers is not yet over.
Finally, the daily logs are something I check and update multiple times per day. It’s the part of the BuJo that is most used.
Whilst I use a Trodat 4810 to stamp the dates, you can note the days your own way. I use a stamp because I saw Austin Kleon stamp his journal pages and it reminded me of how satisfying the stamping feel was when I worked at the Essex University Library. But before I had my stamp, I marked dates in the same way Carroll formats them in his book. Today’s would be written as 14.01.FR.
At the end of each day, before I do a bit of reading before bed, I go over my daily log. Any completed tasks I haven’t crossed off yet get an X. I add in any tasks I completed that I hadn’t noted from the night before. It’s also where I log anything else that happened that day:
- People I spoke to
- If I went to the coffee shop, what I had whilst I was there
- If I tried anything new
- Started/finished any books or TV shows
- If I played a video game and how long for
- Any podcasts I listened to
Daily logs can include as much or as little information as you like. Ryder Carroll calls it rapid logging because these really should just be short bullet points. I try to keep to this but do often go into more detail than is probably necessary.
But I like to have as complete a record of my day as possible — that is what is most useful to me.
The Bullet Journal Method Book
If you want greater detail on how to use a Bullet Journal and its benefits, I cannot recommend Ryder Carrol’s book enough. It was one of my favourite books of 2021, and it goes into much greater depth on the reflective practice to get the most out of your BuJo.
The Official Bullet Journal Website
The official Bullet Journal website and The Bullet Journalist blog has a wealth of information that can help you craft the Bullet Journal that best serves you.
If you spend enough time on YouTube, you’ll find plenty of inspiration from other Bullet Journalists.
A good introduction comes from the Bullet Journal channel: How to Bullet Journal.
A couple of good videos on Bullet Journaling I like from Elsa Rhae & Barron: Minimalist BULLET JOURNAL Guide // How to Begin a Bullet Journal and MINIMALIST Bullet Journal UPDATE // How I Journal NOW + Reviewing 4 Unique Planners.
For a much artsier setup: AmandaRachLee’s 2022 Bullet Journal Setup.
If you liked this post and don’t want to miss future updates, you can keep up with everything I do by subscribing to my newsletter.