First, I’d like to thank Ryder Carroll for creating and sharing this phenomenal system. It has changed the way that I process information and has increased my productivity. August 2015 marked my 1 year anniversary of using the bullet journal.

My Bullet Journal story

I actually first tried out the bullet journal when Ryder shared it in August 2013; I heard about it from a Lifehacker article. But, after about a month, I couldn’t wrap my head around some of the concepts, so I went back to trying out different systems and apps. I searched and searched, until one day I was browsing Pinterest for ideas and I came across a link about the bullet journal that led to a post on the Google+ community. It was there that I was introduced to the many wonderful tweaks others were coming up with. I realized the true potential of the system and how I could modify it to work for me. That was a huge turning point for me.

I spent a couple of weeks peering in awe, reading as many posts as I could find about the bullet journal all over the internet. I noticed a lot of people remarking about the Leuchtturm 1917 as their notebook of choice because it already has an index and numbered pages. The version most often recommended was the dotted grid. ‘Dotted grid?’ I thought. I’d never heard of such a thing and was immensely curious to try it out as alternative to graph grid, which I am not a fan of. I hightailed it to the nearby art supply shop that sold them, picked up one of the sample notebooks, opened it, and gingerly ran my fingers across the pages. It was love at first sight. I rewatched the video, reread the website, and dove into it that night. I’ve been using the bullet journal ever since. Before the bullet journal, I spent more time shuffling tasks between apps and systems than getting them done. I’m happy to report that that list of tasks has shrunk down considerably thanks to the bullet journal.

Presently

Over the past year I have tried out dozens of techniques and ideas as well as gone back and forth many times with the original bullet journal system in pursuit of the best way to manage it for me. It is a constant flux of adding and subtracting elements in order to reach the level of organization I need. I’ve set it up in such a way to have the level of detail I crave while making it simple enough that I’ll continue to use it. It’s a constant work in progress and that’s part of the fun.

Along this journey I have kept principles of the framework such as the index, numbered pages, bullets, signifiers, and modified nearly everything else about it to make it my own. Over time I have more or less figured out what I like and what works for me. The gist is, I create simple, yet detailed, layouts to complement the bullet journal.

At first glance

At first blush, you’ll notice tabs . I place these on pages I frequent.

Kim Alvarez Bullet Journal Cover

 

Inside the front cover

This is a handy place to store sticky notes and information I reference. Some of my signifiers are ideas from others.

2 Front cover

Blank pages

I take advantage of the extra blank pages at the front of the notebook by placing big grid sticky notes I reference often. They’re handy because I can move these ongoing lists from notebook to notebook.

3 Blank pages

Index

On the blank page there’s a sticky note with TV shows I’m currently watching with the name of the show on the left and notes on the right that includes what episode I’m on or when it airs again. I place a number next to the ones that are airing next in the order they are airing. I use pencil to update the notes.

I split the index in half by collections and dated entries such as daily, weekly, or monthly pages. I didn’t used to index dated entries but I have since found out that it’s necessary when I’m looking for a specific day.

The marks to the left of the indexed entries indicate: x = not using, ✓ = useful, – = notes and thoughts. These are signifiers exclusive to the index that help me when reviewing the notebook.

4 Index

Month overview

I tried out a grid month view for August and fell in love with having a month on one page with plenty of room for notes underneath. This is the only place I color-code with colorful Slicci pens. I’ve used the same color-coding scheme for calendars for over two years now, so it helps me to visualize my calendar in the same way as I have it in Google Cal. I enjoy the original month log as a way to write down snippets of what happened over the month so I can get a snapshot of what happened in more detail than the month grid allows me. On a separate spread, I keep a sleep and allergy log as well as tasks for the month.

5 Month6 Month tasks

Weekly overview

I set up a weekly overview according to what I want to accomplish that week. I also place tasks that I probably won’t be able to get to until some other time during the week. I experiment with this layout the most and I find that in general I like having day boxes with plenty of room across the top and a generous amount of room underneath for tasks.

7 Week

 

Daily log

This is the heart of the bullet journal in my opinion. This is where I spend the majority of my day and where the system really shines for me. I use the original bullets. I use a checkbox for tasks, open circle for events and appointments, and dot for notes. If it’s an event, I don’t place the time next to it; if it’s an appointment, I place the time next to it. This is my favorite part about the bullet journal because I can use as much or as little room as I need to each day without wasting any space or feeling cramped.

Over time, I learned that placing too many tasks on my daily page leaves me feeling overwhelmed, guilty, and unproductive. I now place only the tasks I think I can realistically get done when I plan my day. As the day goes on and I think of more tasks, I take a moment to think about whether I can realistically get that task done today. If I can, I’ll place it on my daily page; if not, I’ll place it on my weekly or monthly spread. I place it on my weekly if I want to get to it sometime during the week; otherwise, I place it on the monthly to do at a later point. Now I have less tasks to migrate on a day-to-day basis and I feel happy with the things that I accomplish.

I place a checkmark next to the page number to indicate that I have migrated all of the tasks from that page. This gives me some wiggle room in case I skip a day or two of migrating tasks and it saves me from having to flip back through all of the pages to check for open tasks.

8 Daily

Future planning

Something I struggled with for a long time was figuring out where to place something for tomorrow or some other time without adding it to the current page. So now I turn to one of three methods:

  • I grab a sticky note, write the date for tasks at the top, and write down the tasks. When that day rolls around, I place it on the page.
  • If it’s something happening this week or next, I flip to my weekly pages. If it’s for this week, I write it on one of the date blocks. If it’s for next week, I write it down in the next week block.
  • If it’s happening beyond the next couple of weeks, I flip to the monthly overview and write it down in the notes section.

Collections

Collections are one of my favorite components of the system. I experiment and add collections as I think of them. If the page turns out to be a dud, I place an X next to the page number to indicate it didn’t work out. I have collections that range from notes and blog post article ideas to detailed project action lists. Here are a few of my favorites:

Dinners

The dinner log helps me keep track of dinners and encourages me to cook dinner more often with meal ideas on the side. This also makes meal planning easier by providing a place to see a few favorite meals and new recipes I’d like to try out.

9 Dinners

Food log

I use it to record food after the fact. It is based on the meal plan log devised by Ryder. The second spread includes a section to note any foods I suspect I may have a sensitivity to.

Gratitude log

Since I tend to be prone to bouts of depression and anxiety, this helps to keep me optimistic. Each night before bed, I reflect on good things about the day and write down 5 things I’m grateful for.

Waiting on

This page is beyond helpful. If I’m waiting for a response of any kind, I place it here. This page is not tabbed because it’s at the beginning of my bullet journal and it’s easy to flip to.

12 Waiting on

How to Bullet Journal like Kim

  • Either the night before or morning of, I ask myself, ‘What will make me feel the most accomplished?’ and jot down only a few that I think I can realistically get done. I also migrate tasks from the day before that I didn’t get done and want to do today.
  •  At the beginning of the day, I check my morning routine and log my sleep.
  • I check the month overview to see what’s going on and grab tasks I can realistically get done today.
  • I check the week overview to see what’s going on and grab tasks I can realistically get done today.
  • I check off tasks, events, and ideas throughout the day.
  • I jot down tasks, notes, and ideas as they arise throughout the day. If I can do the tasks today, I place them on today’s page, if I can’t I place them on the weekly or monthly overview.
  • As I think of new needs, I’ll sketch out a layout idea on a sticky note and flip to the next page to try it out. I tab it if I flip to it constantly. If the idea is a dud, I place an X next to the page number to indicate that it did not work out.
  • As the day goes on and I think of ideas I’d like to try out the following month, I place it on a sticky note on the current month’s overview.
  • If I feel anxious, I flip to the next available page and write out some thoughts.
  • At night, I update my food and gratitude logs. I also do my evening routine.
  • Each week, I reflect on the week before, create a new layout, migrate tasks, and cross out any irrelevant ones.
  • Each month, I review what went well, migrate tasks, and cross out irrelevant ones.
  • Repeat.

Kim’s Gear

About Kim Alvarez

Kim Alvarez is the creator and writer of tinyrayofsunshine.com, a blog about the Bullet Journal, productivity, planning and other creative pursuits. She lives in San Diego, CA and is currently working on opening up an Etsy shop with products that will brighten up your day! Tinyrayofsunshine.com
  • neoprime33

    Oh, this is so awesome! Thx for sharing Kim! I bet this is back on our community page too. 😉

    • Thank you for stopping by to check it out! 🙂

  • Dee Martinez

    Awesome show and tell, Kim 🙂 love the different logs you keep – going to have to start implementing some of those in my bullet journal.

    • Thank you, Dee! Those logs keep me sane hehe. I’m excited to see what you do with them! 🙂

  • Kate Hodges

    I love your bullet journal. My heart skipped a beat when I saw the grid post it notes. Where do you get those?

  • Wow, this is incredible! Thank you for sharing…now if I can force myself to do it.

    Love pen + paper but always afraid of losing my notebook.

    • Thank you, Chad! Write your name in the front cover just in case and welcome to the awesome world of the Bullet Journal! 🙂

  • Lisa Lancelot

    I love your ideas Kim! What size is the Leuchtturm journal you use? The medium size seems too small, I’m currently using an almost 8 x 10 World Traveler by Eccolo, and it is a little too big. Can’t seem to find a size that is just right! Any suggestions?

    • Thank you so much, Lisa! I use a medium-sized Leuchtturm1917 which is about 5.5 x 8. Or 5.71 x 8.27 if you want exact measurements (; I find it’s plenty spacious to give me the amount of room that I need. 🙂

    • Lisa Lancelot

      Thank you Kim! I will give it a try!

  • harry

    Great system! Very inspiring.

    • Thank you, Harry! I’m happy you like it 🙂 It’s definitely been – and continues to be – trial and error, but I’ve mostly settled into a comfortable groove I enjoy.

  • Leapops

    Thanks for sharing Kim, I’m always looking at how to make my Bujo more useful.

    • The Leuchtturm1917 are quite awesome! Thank you, it really is all about making it your own to work in a way that you need it to 🙂

  • Amy

    Just started my Bullet Journal, it’s a work in progress but I’m loving it nonetheless. I was wondering what you used for the beautiful blue titles. Thanks for the post!

    • That’s the beauty of it! Welcome to the awesome world of the Bullet Journal! For the blueish titles I use a fountain pen inked up with Sheaffer skrip green ink, which is actully more of a teal. 🙂

  • Mari

    In your weekly overview, what do you use the box above “next week” for? Thanks a lot for sharing all of this!

    • It varies. Sometimes I use it to place meal ideas over the week, a quote, habit tracking, projects & action steps, or anything else I need a greater focus on for the week 🙂

  • DinaClare

    Oh gosh, that “waiting on” log is going to be a lifesaver for me, I just know it.

    • It has been working for me for months now! Love it, I hope it works well for you too! 🙂

  • Montica

    Thank you so much for sharing the detail. I am seriously new to bullet journal and wondered how do you decide how much room/pages to give each section or tab like the Food Log and Dinner?

    • Hi, welcome to the awesome world of the Bullet Journal! 🙂

      The food log is similar to this one: http://bulletjournal.com/weekly-food-log/ except I log food after the fact (and no shopping list). I wouldn’t recommend setting any pages aside when you’re new to the Bullet Journal. Instead, add collections as you need them. Think of it as you would a regular notebook, when you get an idea for a collection flip to the next available page and go from there. Some beginners experience frustration trying all sorts of things at the beginning, so I’d recommend adding as you go. At least for a while 🙂

      When I first decided to log my food in my Bullet Journal I’d been using it for half a year or so. I used one page with a week’s worth of room for the meals (as shown in the article I mentioned), then I found out after a period of a month that I didn’t like having the weekly food logs all over in my notebook – your mileage may vary. It’s more useful to me to have the whole month’s worth of food logs in one place which take up about 3 1/2 pages. This is what it looks like: https://instagram.com/p/6WFNSDirtl/?taken-by=tinyrayofsunshine. The Dinners log takes up a spread (which is two facing pages) since I’m only tracking dinners there. Other logs such as Gratitude take up a specific amount of room, I add more or less room when I first set them up depending on how many entries I want to log that day. For the gratitude I like to log between 3-5 things, so I’ll usually set up the log with space for 3 or 5 entries 🙂 I attached an image as an example. Other logs I set up tend to follow the same idea as the gratitude log because this is the perfect format to write down what I need to, easily scan, and most importantly, be able to set up over and over again each month due to their powerful simplicity. These logs are modeled after the Month Log – it’s incredibly versatile. I hope this helped 🙂 Have fun with it!

  • Td Thomas

    Trying to decide between this Bullet Journal method, and a software program method that automates many of the tasks.
    Up to now (five decades), I have relied upon a paper system, but have never found it optimal for retrieval later.
    Whereas, software programs seem to have search capabilities, that a paper notebook system doesn’t.
    Am I wrong to feel that a software program exists—somewhere—that is more conducive to my needs?
    Please, any advice on this would be gratefully received!
    Thank you!
    P.S. I tend to just write down thoughts as they come, with little to no order on the page. I have also used shortcut symbols, to identify topics, but over time, these can change as I forget which symbol I was using for which topic…Help!

    • Hi TD, it will always be up to you what you decide to try out. The Bullet Journal is a beautifully simple system that maintains a level of order and organization that gets out of your way and allows you to jot down those thoughts in an organized way through the use of the bullets, index, collections and allows you to focus on what you need to get done right now through the month and daily task pages.

      You brought up a few issues:

      – Search capabilities.

      The Bullet Journal maintains order with the Index, which should make it pretty easy to find what you’re looking for in terms of general pages. If you’re looking for specific terms and words…

      Some Bullet Journal enthusiasts like to use Evernote as accompaniment to the system and because Evernote has OCR, it allows you to search through your written text if you take photos of your notebook pages.

      If your notes are more general and you keep them in Collections (http://bulletjournal.com/collections/), then you might find more use with the index of the Bullet Journal and the Indxd.ink website which is a web app that allows you to index the indexes of your various notebooks so you can easily search across notebooks without having to flip through all of them.

      – Shortcut symbols sound similar to the bullets and signifiers that the Bullet Journal relies on. What’s beautiful about the Bullet Journal is that these symbols are both a guide and example of how you can use symbols to mean different things. Like you, I used to use different symbols to mean different things, but every few days would forget what each symbol meant. I recommend having a page where you write down a key to note down what each symbol means to you. The bullets recommended by Ryder are great because they allow you to jot down your tasks, events, and thoughts quickly. The main dot bullet is especially awesome because it can transform into another symbol in case you write something different. For example, the dot bullet “•” means task “X” means done, “>” means migrated, and so on. Check out this section of the website to learn more: http://bulletjournal.com/get-started/

      I think many of us have used paper in some way or another to process our thoughts. The Bullet Journal compiles a few ideas (Index, page numbers, bullets, daily lists) to bring them into a coherent system that maintains order while letting you write out your thoughts as you usually do, but organize them in a systemized way.

      Software is helpful in a lot of ways, apps and programs are ingrained in our every day lives. We all need different tools in our arsenal and no one tool can replace all others. Since you’ve been using analog systems for a few decades already I suggest giving the Bullet Journal a try. Join a community online like the G+ Bullet Journal community (https://plus.google.com/communities/109117749342179166498) to get more advice, support, and ideas on how others are using their Bullet Journal system. But please try out the original system as laid out first (watch the video for the easiest way to set it up and get started), and then add your tweaks as needed.

      I hope this helps! 🙂

      • TD Thomas

        Dear Kim,

        Thank you for your most kind and helpful reply to my inquiry!

        I really appreciate your feedback in this way.

        Given my preference and tendency to rely on paper, I am going to give the Bullet Journal a try.

        Is there only the one ‘Official’ Bullet Journal Notebook available to buy?

        Blessings,
        David

        • Hi David, yep, there is only the one beautiful official Bullet Journal notebook. It’s awesome! It has a little guide in there with the Bullet Journal system guidelines and a bunch of other nifty features that make it a wonderful notebook for the Bullet Journal system. You can use the Bullet Journal system in any notebook of your choosing, but getting the official one at some point is a great way to show your appreciation to Ryder for sharing the system 🙂

  • Mallory Anne

    Hi Kim – I have been trying out your set up, and I love the addition of the weekly spread to the monthly and daily spreads that were laid out in the original BuJo. That said, I struggle with how to differentiate what I put in my weekly spread vs my daily spread – I find myself duplicating tasks/events a lot. Any advice on how you avoid duplication? Or is that how you intended the system to work?

    Thanks.

    Mallory

    • Hi Mallory. Happy to hear you’ve been trying it out! Yep, that’s how I intended for it to work. The reason I added a weekly spread to begin with is because I found that if I only had a month tasks list, I would procrastinate on working on those tasks until the end of the month. With the weekly task list, I can grab a few of the tasks from the monthly and add them to the weekly to give me focus for the week. Then, each day I grab a few from the week and work on those. Thus, creating a funneling system that works to get the month tasks done in a broken down way. Hope this helps! Some days I work off of the weekly lists and don’t rewrite them onto my dailies and instead just check them off from the weekly list. Then, when setting up a new week, I check off what I did from the previous week on the month list – hope this makes sense! Thank you for the great question 🙂

      Rewriting is a great strength of the Bullet Journal system and I find that rewriting helps me to remember the tasks and that I want to do them. So, I think about them, and when I write and rewrite it helps push me into getting them done…eventually 🙂

      Also, you don’t need to rewrite all the things, only the things you want to focus on today from the weekly list. So if you know the event you have going on and don’t need to write it down today, don’t. Think of the daily page as your focus for the day.

  • Kristel Renn

    Where do you get the blue pocket thing you keep your key in? I love that idea. Or what do you even call it!

    • Hi Kristel! That’s a tiny envelope. Just open it and add tape to the back and it’s a handy way to keep your key or other handy bits in there 🙂