Bullet Journaling - Your how-to guide

by Leanne Rhodes
Bullet Journaling - Your how-to guide

Written by Katelyn Geiger

Are you one of those people who get a diary or daily planner every year, fully intending to use it but then you never do because it doesn’t really work for you? It’s too rigid and boring. You just write in your daily tasks, maybe some events, but then you tend to forget about it and end up convincing yourself that it’s easier just to try remember everything you need or write events on a wall/desk calendar instead. So it sits there, most of it empty, until it comes time to get a new one for the new year and the cycle starts again. That’s definitely me.

Recently, however, I discovered bullet journals and my planning skills have improved. Bullet journals (referred to by some as BuJos) are a planning system created by Ryder Carrol. It’s a free form planner that allows you to arrange and include elements to suit your creativity and needs. This definitely appeals to me because it’s an easy, on-hand outlet for my creativity that I’ve never got from a more traditional diary. So even if you aren’t the person described above and you are already good at using your planner, this might be a fun way for you to change up your planner and bring more colour and creativity into your diary. All you need is an empty notebook, some pens and other colourful stationery like highlighters, pencil colours, paints, or washi tape. You can keep it to a single additional colour or just the colour of your pen if that’s what works best for you.

Any empty notebook can become a bullet journal; blank pages, lined, or dotted pages, depending on what you have available and what you like. We now have all of these available in our shweshwe covers! Many people prefer journals with dotted pages as it gives some structure (i.e. you can draw straight lines of the right length easily without using a ruler each time) but are still flexible enough for you to be creative. Blank pages tend to need a little more work and lined pages can get in the way of some artistic effects that you might be trying to create. It’s really a matter of personal preference though.

According to Carrol (the creator), a bullet journal, although free form, needs to include a few key elements but these can be designed to your desires. However, no one is going to arrest you if you decide to do things your own way and not include some of these things! The typical elements of a bullet journal include:

  • A key and an index
  • A future log
  • Monthly layouts
  • Daily/weekly layouts
  • Collections

But what does this mean?

Key and Index

A key is similar to the legend on a map that tell you what various symbols mean. In your daily planner you might use different symbols denoting tasks, appointments, events, or just notes to remember things. If this isn’t a system you use already it is useful to have a quick reference to remind yourself of what the symbol mean. Here is an example of one such key. You can use whatever symbols you like though:

The index is basically the same as having a table of contents at the beginning of a book. It helps you know what is where so that you can find it easily. Usually, you create your planner one week or day at a time and other collections may be scattered in amongst them as you create them. You’ll want to remember where your collections are and where each month/week/day starts so that you don’t need to waste time flipping through the whole journal to find them.


Future Log

This is a overview of your events, vacations, birthdays, and appointments for the year or a few months at a time. It’s useful to see the quarter or year at a glance so that you can quickly find and see what’s on your calendar without having to go to each week/month or flip through every day. As with everything in this system, it’s up to your personal preference. You might like to have everything for the whole year collected at the front of your journal so it’s easier to find and fill in as you go, or you might prefer to plan only two or three months in advance.

A year-long future log might look like this:

Monthly layout

This is an overview of your month. For many people it’s a type of future log where you include birthdays, appointments, special events, or holidays. For others it’s just a miniature calendar that shows you which date falls on which day and clearly separates one month from the next. Here are two examples:

Weekly or daily layouts

This is where you get specific about daily tasks, notes, shopping lists, appointments, or whatever you would normally want to include in your diary. As with traditional diaries you can choose a structure that shows the whole week on one double spread, or one day per page. Where it differs from traditional diaries is that you can change the layout as often as you like. Some people like to have a theme or colour that they carry though the whole month, some change it weekly, others change from a weekly layout to a daily one and vice versa depending on how much they need to include in that day or week. You can even skip a week if you’re on holiday or have nothing to write. The flexibility of an empty page allows you to experiment. 


This is the element with the most choices and personal preference. A collection is a place to store lists or trackers of various things. You can make it its own page or you can include mini versions in your weekly/daily spread. Some examples of collections are:

  • A birthday calendar
  • A habit tracker (you take note of various habits e.g. how often you exercise in a week/month, when you need to clean various parts of your house, how much water you’ve had that day, what your emotional state is every day for the month. Anything you might want to keep track of can be included here)
  • Lists – shopping lists, meal planning, a wish list or bucket list, personal goals, movies you want to watch, books that are recommended to you, recipes you want to try, things that you’re grateful for. Again, anything you want to put in a list can be put in a collection.
  • A brainstorm for a project
  • Your schedule for an ideal day – This sounds silly but really helps remind you of your goals. If your ideal is to wake up and start your daily routine at 6 am but you normally only get going at 6.30 or 7 am, seeing your goals for the day in front of you will push you to try harder to meet your goal. You can always leave it out of your next journal if you decide it’s not for you.
  • A memory log – To an extent the whole journal will slowly become a memory log, but you might find it fun to keep a log of interesting things that happen to you. You could restrict it to a holiday trip or conference if you prefer but you’ll probably enjoy looking back and remembering things you might not if you hadn’t written it down.
  • A budget or other financial planning like a savings goal.

To create a collection, just turn to the next blank page (don’t forget to write the page number in your index though!) or collect them all at the back of your journal. Some people like to put their collections in a completely separate journal so that they can continue adding to them over several months or years.

As you can see, bullet journals are incredibly versatile and personal. You can include or exclude anything you want. You can create different patterns or full artworks on each page. You can be simple and keep it minimalistic or fill it to the brim with colour and pictures. You can draw or you can stick things in. There are no rules! Have a look at our new range of dotted journals to get you started on your creative journey. You don’t need to wait for the new year to start a bullet journal!

Click here to get yours today!

by Leanne Rhodes

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