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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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 Getting Things Done, 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
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
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. 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 the Author:
Elena is a law student and cat attendant, originally from the D.C. area. She enjoys red lipstick and a good book.