Breaking down the fundamentals of Bullet Journalism

Photo by Madeline McInnis

If you’re looking for a new way to stay organized and make memories this school year, you might want to try your hand at bullet journaling.

 A bullet journal, at its core, is a no-strings-attached way to track your life. It’s a mix of a to-do list, journal, scrapbook, notebook, sketchbook – or whatever else you may want to include.

 That’s the best part about it: there are no rules or set pages. You get to include exactly what you want to include.

The basic layout for a bullet journal is an index at the front, a monthly overview – typically a list of the day numbers and the day of the week they fall on – and spreads that outline daily or weekly tasks. Whatever you don’t complete, you can carry it on to the next spread if it’s important enough.

Depending on how creative you want to be with it and how much time you have to devote to it, there are some absolutely gorgeous setups you can take beyond the standard daily layouts and lists.

Some more popular add-ons that people often put in their journals are habit trackers, mindfulness charts and expense lists.

Depending on what you want to track, you can always adapt these ideas to map things like work schedules, grades or even when your library books are coming due.

If you’re looking for inspiration, try searching Instagram and YouTube for bullet journalists and “plan with me” sections. Some of my personal favourites are AmandaRachLee and Caitlyn’s Corner.

However, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with just making standard column layouts. With all the beauty and aesthetics of some of the journals you’ll see online, it’s easy to forget that a lot of these people are doing their bullet journals to show them off, not to actually use them.

My biggest tip for starting a new bullet journal is to keep it simple. Limit yourself to one colour of pen and a highlighter or marker for the first month or two. Skip the pressure and work your way up to the fancy spreads, if you even want to.

 If you start simple, you’ll be able to figure out what you actually need and want in your bullet journal, rather than getting overwhelmed with trying to make it look like what you see online.

Maybe you start a habit tracker and realize that it takes too much time to update it every day. If you’re focusing on the actual content instead of how it looks, you’ll be less prone to repeatedly doing layouts that don’t work for you.

That’s what bullet journaling is all about, after all. There are no lines or boxes to contain your needs.

 If you need space to draw, go for it. More of a list person? Check it off! This is your own creation and you are completely in control of what goes into it.

There’s also quite an elitist mentality in the bullet journaling community. Regardless of what you see on Tumblr, it’s really not necessary to own Mildliners or Tombow markers. You don’t desperately need a dotted Leuchtturm to write in.

If you don’t want to spend a lot of money, use whatever you have lying around. Even something from the dollar store will do. All you really need is a notebook and a pen. Use what you’re comfortable with and what you enjoy writing with.

It’s easy to get caught up in the mentality that your bullet journal can’t be functional or pretty without the best products, but it’s really what’s in your mind and what you put into it that counts.

Most importantly, your bullet journal never has to be perfect.

I first started a bullet journal in my first year of university, but I ended up putting it down because of the pressure I would put on myself.

If I missed a day, I would refuse to write down the current tasks until I had logged the ones from the day before. Eventually, I procrastinated filling in the days because I would have weeks to catch up on and it just wasn’t any fun anymore. 

In second year, I carried around three different agendas everywhere I went to track everything I needed. This year, I’m combining all three of those into one slim notebook designed to have everything I need – plus more of my own personality and flare.

Starting a new bullet journal going into third year, I’m putting less stress on getting it picture perfect. I’m focusing on what the journal can do for me and how I can use it to better my life.

 It doesn’t have to be – and shouldn’t ever be – a chore.

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