Hello! I’m Elena, also known as @mightierthan on Instagram. I’m very honored to be sharing a peek into my notebook here on the Bullet Journal blog. I owe a big thank-you to Ryder Carroll for developing this system and sharing it with all of us. Another thank-you is due to the vibrant community that has developed around the Bullet Journal.

MY BULLET JOURNAL STORY

Bullet journaling came to me at exactly the right moment. In April, 2015, I was a first-year law student, still figuring out how best to get myself organized. I had always been a fan of writing things out by hand, and I was a faithful devotee of paper planners, but I didn’t feel like I was capturing everything that needed to get done. Events, appointments, and assignments would go into my planner fairly reliably, but other things got lost in the shuffle. An idea for a longterm project would be stored with the best of intentions in my iPhone Notes app, never to be seen again. A to-do list would be scribbled onto a Post-It and promptly buried at the bottom of my bag, excavated only months later. I experimented with a few different planning systems, but nothing ever stuck.

Meanwhile, my combined love of writing and analog things had led me to discover the world of fountain pens. One evening, while I was researching fountain-pen-friendly notebooks, I stumbled by chance on a Lifehacker article describing the Bullet Journal system. I felt like I’d won the planning lottery. This was exactly what I’d been looking for but didn’t know how to articulate: an easy, flexible system for unloading your brain and capturing whatever life throws at you. I jumped right in that very night and never looked back.

A second revelation occurred when I discovered that a whole Bullet Journal community had cropped up on Instagram, YouTube, and beyond. I was amazed at how many different ways there were for people to make this method their own, from the most minimal of versions to the most decorative. With a healthy dose of inspiration, I started to develop a bullet journal style of my own.

WALKTHROUGH

Monthly
Elena's @mightierthan Bullet Journal Monthly Log

We’ll be going through a typical month in my bullet journal. Here’s the first spread for the month of September. On the left side is the classic Bullet Journal monthly view, where the date and days of the week are listed vertically, and the major event taking place on a given day is written alongside it. On the right is a habit tracker, an idea I got from the Instagram community. I list the habits I want to cultivate on the vertical axis of my tracker, and the days of the month on the horizontal axis. Every day that I manage to Do The Thing, I get to fill in the square. It’s surprisingly satisfying. A half-filled square means You Tried It—for example, drinking some water but not my full daily amount.

Waiting On & Braindump

Waiting on and Braindump Collections in Elena's @mightierthan Bullet Journal
The next spread of the month includes a Waiting On list and a Braindump. The Waiting On list can be used to gather anything that is awaiting a response or action from another party—for example, I might make a note that I’m waiting to receive comments from a professor before I can begin the next draft of a paper. These days, the list is mainly used to track the arrival of my online orders (typically supplies to keep my cat Hermes living in the manner to which he’s become accustomed). The Braindump is a repository for tasks that aren’t day- or week-specific but should probably get done during the month. This is similar to the monthly tasks list in the original system.

Weekly

Bullet Journal Weekly Log by Elena @mightierthan
Over the past few months, I’ve phased weekly spreads into my notebook. They’re not part of the original method, but I find them very helpful for looking ahead at my week, keeping track of multiple events occurring in one day, and staying on top of recurring weekly tasks and homework. I also list the three or four projects I want to focus on moving forward that week.

Daily

Bullet Journal Dailies by Elena @mightierthan

Dailies are the bread and butter of the system for me. Every day I write down the month, date, and day of the week and then begin a running tally of tasks that need to get done either that day or in the next few days. I also like to integrate journaling into my dailies.

Key

Bullet Journal Key by Elena @mightierthan
I organize the tasks in my Braindump, weeklies, and dailies with context labels, which are similar to signifiers in the traditional Bullet Journal system. Once I’ve logged a to-do, I’ll decide what kind of a task it is, or where it needs to get done, e.g. a phone call, something that requires a laptop, an online order, etc. I will then add the appropriate context label next to the task. The idea is that if I have an hour of time and I’m in the mood to make some phone calls, I can scan down my list of tasks and knock out anything that has a “C” next to it in one fell swoop. I got this idea from Getting Things Done, by David Allen.

Meals & Groceries

How Elena of @mightierthan meal plans in her Bullet Journal

This is my version of a meal plan. My eating schedule can be a little unpredictable. Instead of assigning ahead of time what day I will cook which meal, I keep a list of the groceries I have in my fridge, the meals I can make from those groceries, and when things will expire. On days when I find time to cook, I can check to see what’s expiring soonest and I will prioritize making a meal with those groceries. After I make a certain meal or use my groceries up, I get to fill in a square.

Projects

Project Collection in Elena's @mightierthan Bullet Journal
Periodically, I create a list of longterm projects that I’d like to complete within the next three to six months. This is also an idea from <i>Getting Things Done</i>, which defines a project as anything that involves finishing two or more tasks in order to be considered complete. I made this particular list in August, and it’s still going strong several months later. As you can see, it’s a jumble of school-related and personal projects, in no particular order. Here I experimented with separating out ongoing projects that I want to remain aware of, but that won’t ever be complete. I review my projects list every week or so and move my projects forward by adding the next action item required for each into my current Braindump, weekly, or daily, as appropriate.

A FINAL NOTE

Bullet Journal changes over time by Elena @mightierthan
I leave you with a photo of how my style has evolved over time. I love that my bullet journal is entirely my own. It doesn’t have to look a certain way, and if my needs or tastes change it can easily change with me. For now, using fountain pens and cursive brings me a great deal of joy and motivates me to use my bullet journal. At the end of the day, as long as you can read your own writing and get cracking on your tasks, you’re in business. That’s the real beauty of it.

TOOLS OF THE TRADE

Notebooks Elena of @mightierthan uses to Bullet Journal

One thing I love about the system is that you don’t need any particular materials to get started – absolutely any notebook and writing instrument will do. Because I knew I wanted to use fountain pens in my bullet journal, I stuck to journals that take well to fountain pen ink. My first bullet two journals were Midori Travelers Notebook lined refills. This year, I succumbed to the Leuchtturm 1917 craze and was instantly hooked. I use an A5 black squared Leuchtturm notebook, which comes with a pre-printed index and page numbers, as well as two bookmarks. True luxury.

Tools Elena of @mightierthan uses in her Bullet Journal
For the main writing in my bullet journal, I use a well-loved Pilot Vanishing Point, always inked with Noodler’s Heart of Darkness. For the colorful headers, I switch up a fountain pen and ink combination every month—in November I’m using a Levenger True Writer, inked with Rohrer & Klingner Alt-Goldgrün. To fill in squares for completed tasks, I use a black Sakura Pigma Micron 08 felt-tip pen. Finally, my handy brass ruler, purchased on Amazon, helps me draw straight lines.

Thank you so much for reading. I hope you have a happy and productive month.

About Elena

Elena is a law student and cat attendant, originally from the D.C. area. She enjoys red lipstick and a good book.
  • Jolie Luu

    I got huge inspiration from this. I absolutely love your braindump system. I’ve been trying to incorporate braindump in my bujo but it never works. I think it’s pretty clever to have a initial letter to categorize the tasks.

    xo,
    Jolie
    Joliecious.com

    • Elena

      Thank you Jolie! The braindump really helps me feel like there are no loose ends bumping around in my brain and causing background stress. And I’m glad you liked the idea of context labels!

  • Jeanne Chauffour

    Elena – What a wonderful, well-written, and instructive piece! Thank you so much for sharing your daily rituals as well as tips to improve productivity and organization. You’re making me consider picking up a bullet journal practice for my post-grad-school life 🙂 Keep inkin’ away!

    • Elena

      Thank you so much for your support, Jeanne! And I very much endorse a foray into the bullet journal world – I think you would enjoy it!

  • Dana Haupt

    I keep my Bullet Journal on the minimalist side, and your weekly was a great inspiration to include one in my journal as well. I knew I would have to add one in eventually if I were to keep everything on track. Your’s seems right up my alley, and being copied into my journal as we speak!

    • Elena

      I had the same experience: I held off on weeklies for quite a while, but I like the redundancy of the weekly calendar (prevents those pesky meetings from slipping through the cracks) and having a place to list weekly chores and assignments. I’d love to hear how it works out for you!

  • Dawn Paoletta

    I really appreciate the way you maximize your space, use primarily words and integrate your journaling into the dailies. Thank you for sharing. I like your style and the primary black and white look…it appeals to me. Very inspiring!

    • Elena

      Thank you, Dawn! I’m so glad you liked it. I was pleased to be able to squeeze April–Dec. 2016 into one Leuchtturm; I’m hoping I can fit a whole year in my new notebook.

  • amesville

    Wow, I definitely wasn’t this on top of things when I was a law student. Kudos.

    • Elena

      Aw, shucks! I credit this system with keeping me sane these past three years.

  • This is amazing! Don’t you find that it takes more time making it look good then actually doing and planning the work?

    • Nicole Look-Christensen

      I’m not sure what your point is with this comment. This is just about as minimalist as a Bullet Journal can get.

      • I mean by making it look so good. It must take a lot of time.

    • Elena

      Thanks, Giacomo! The focus for me is always planning – I’m a busy law student, so my priority is to get things done. I do like to keep things clean and readable, and I’m lucky to have naturally neat writing. Cursive headings take a few seconds longer, but no spread has ever taken me more than five minutes to set up, and the trade-off is worth it: I’m more likely to actually use my bullet journal if I have some fun with it. Hope this helps!

  • I want your handwriting! Beautiful!

    • Elena

      That is too kind, thank you!

  • Charley Reay

    Thank you Elena! Since I use a midori, I’ve been looking for something to add into my monthly spread to replace the calendar, and your ‘waiting on’ list is it! As a writer I need to keep track of my submissions, and I also need to keep track of online orders and stuff so I think this will be very useful!

    • Elena

      Thanks Charley – I’m so glad you found that useful! I think it’ll work great for keeping tabs on submissions.

  • Elena

    I’m so very very flattered! I’m delighted you enjoyed it.

  • Verena Hoch-Correa

    Thank you Elena. I recognized a lot of GTD by David Allen in your Bullet Journal pages. I’m pleased to see this, because it’s exactly what I’m trying to do too. GDT in a Bullet Journal. I found it difficult to adapt the different GDT task lists to the Bullet Journal. Eventually got to a solution. I have the huge list with all task and projects at one place in the Bullet Journal. In the monthly and weekly task lists I have the Focus list, with the tasks I want to focus on. I’m still experimenting, but I think it’s starting to work for me.

    • Elena

      I’m very happy to hear you could see the GTD coming through! Your method sounds great. I love how the flexibility of the bullet journal makes it possible to experiment with different ways of implementing GTD.

  • Chinoiseries

    Thank you for sharing your beautiful bullet journal!

  • Debe L

    I really enjoyed seeing your journal. You ARE very organized with it! I also agree….your cursive rocks!

  • Shana

    I love how you combine bullet journaling, GTD, and actual journaling. I’ve been trying to find my flow with bujo for the past few months so it’s so cool to see your evolution! Thanks for sharing!

  • RWood

    This is one of the first layout’s that makes perfect sense for my kind of work. Thank you so much for posting it! I’m a fountain pen person too, so I love what you’ve done with it. Thanks! Off to revamp my bullet journal!

  • Anzi

    This is so far my favourite layout. I like to keep things simple and organised, and your journal really resonates with me. I love the to-do lists and the layouts. I have also kept a weekly layout, otherwise I would be completely lost! Thanks for this, I will definitely adapt some of your ideas into my own Bullet Journal.

  • Vinstor

    Is that blue marbled pen the Levenger? It bears a striking resemblance to an antique Esterbrook.

    Great ideas and beautiful penmanship, by the way. Thanks for sharing.

  • Anandi Raman Creath

    In a sea of artsy but not practical “layouts” all over IG, Pinterest, etc. your writeup is *fantastic* and functional. I am going to try out so many of the things you mentioned. Thanks so much for sharing!!