How I Make Bullet Journaling Work for Me

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It seems like everyone and their cousin is bullet journaling or has tried bullet journaling these days. I know many who have tried but got quickly overwhelmed. Where to start? What to do? When you give me a clean slate, I stress myself out and never get started. I need guidelines. Structure. I don't bowl without bumpers.

Who am I kidding, I don't bowl.

Anyway, it can be hard to get started, I totally get it. There are a bajillion other articles that are way better (and artsier) than mine (seriously, I wouldn't be shocked if Pinterest has its own bullet journal subdomain), but I've been asked about it more than once, so I thought I'd share what I do. As an added bonus, none of my pictures will make you hate yourself by seeing gorgeouslayouts you'll neverachieve in your wildestdreams. What you're getting is a pragmatic look at a practical journal that is simple, duplicable, scalable, and not time-consuming. Let's dive in.

The Tools

For starters, dot grid is a must for me. The dots are there when you need them, but also easily slip into the background and don't cause too much of a distraction. Kind of like a really old dog. Mainly sleeps and doesn't run around and bark like crazy anymore. But perfectly suited for snuggles when I wants them.

Anyway, here's the notebooks I love:

They're great, lightweight, and thin. A great mix of just about everything I like in a bullet journal. You'll see a bunch of pics of the inside for reference below. And they have a million different sizes and configurations (dots, lines, squares, etc).

If you're the kind of nerd who's curious about the pen I use (me. I'm that kind of nerd), I've been using this little gem ever since Brad recommended it in his AfterWords.

Key and Index

The start of most bullet journals is always going to be a key and an index. This can be an incredibly useful tool to include in your journaling extravaganza. I always start with one. And then stop keeping it updated after a couple weeks. Seriously, who has time for that?

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"But Cameron, without an index how do you keep track of where things are?"

Great question, whoever you are. And I'll get to that. Don't ruin the suspense.

I do try to stick to my key, but I often think of a better way to do it, so I change it up. And that's okay, it's my bullet journal. I can do that.

My current set up is just 4 things: a single dot (or bullet or whatever) for a task. A dash for a note. A right arrow for a forwarded task (easy enough to turn the dot into that). And an X for a finished task (again, easy enough to do from a dot).

A forwarded task means, "I see this task, but why do today that which I can put off until tomorrow."

Those are the basics for me.

Monthly Overview

I'm all business. I dive straight into the monthly overview of whatever month I'm in. Often people start with goals and frilly feel-good things. And that's fine. There's a spot for those. For me, this is about being productive, so let's look at a month.

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It's important to take the concepts I'm sharing about and make them work for you. No one likes a copycat. Change the order around. Add stuff. Take stuff away you won't use. Don't work for your bullet journal; make it work for you.

So above is basically my month at a glance. These are the highlights. Most things in my phone calendar make it up here. I like to be able to quickly see what's coming up. This is a pretty spartan affair, but I like it that way. The only design and composition choices I've made are purely practical: The far left is a letter for the day of the week. Then the date next to that. I divide the page horizontally on Sundays because I'm American.

I try and keep this updated as things pop up. Unless we're in the last week of the month, then I stop thinking about it and stop updating it. It's good to be honest with yourself, right?

Weekly Overview

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This is the real bidness for me. I make one of these for each week. Each day of the week is represented, except Sunday–for a couple of reasons: I like to rest a bit on Sundays. What's better than a Sunday nap? Also, with 6 days, I can put 3 days on each page and it's symmetrical and sates my perfectionism. So sue me. If you need Sunday, do Sunday. I'll often fold Saturday and Sunday together. Maybe I should make it say "Weekend" in that last slot.

Anyway. I list out what I know is coming up. This is my to-do list. I try to not sleep if there are hanging bullets on a day. If I need to, I can forward them. Dashes, of course, are appointments or need-to-know kind of information, like if a blog post is scheduled for a certain day. Keeps my brain from getting all mushy.

Monthly Goals

Again, this can go wherever works best for you. I'll usually make up each week at the beginning of a month, and then add monthly goals after I've seen where things land. This probably fits better before weekly stuff, in retrospect, but hey, you do you.

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I don't set dates unless I absolutely have to. I like to think of it more as philosophical objectives. And, to be quite honest, I often forget this page exists.

Long-Term Goals

This is a home for goals as I think of them. I may not necessarily have something specific in mind for when to make it happen, but I'd very much like to not forget it. Long-term goal it is. Again, just a list here. Nothing crazy. Nothing too Pinteresty. In fact, I won't even waste the bandwidth on a picture. It looks just like the one above, but with different words and stuff. Also, not a puppy.

I'll also sometimes call these my "untimed goals" because I don't have a date in mind. It's just for reference. Because real life isn't perfect and orderly.

Deadlines

This one is a little meatier. This is where I really try and challenge myself.

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I'll often break some of my monthly goals or long-term goals into smaller tasks, and set deadlines for those tasks here. I'll also try to include large tasks, like draft completion deadlines for books, release dates, etc. This is where I try and help myself stay on track. I'll usually fill in some tasks on my weekly list from this deadline list.

I have a couple different styles for this, but the one I find working best for me is the one pictured above—a simple inline calendar. (That's empty because I just started it on a new page. It'll fill soon enough.)

"Sticky" Info/Miscellany

The final type of spread I typically use is what I call a "Sticky" page. This is essentially reference material. It can look like anything. I'll usually try and find something that works for whatever specific piece of information I might need to store. It's kind of like an offline reading list for hot tips.

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For example, I recently re-evaluated my social media strategy and decided to more strictly regiment my plan. It's more natural, relevant, and scalable. It's also way less time consuming because it takes the guesswork out. Probably a whole other blog post on that later, but in short, that's an example of a reference page.

Another might be a rubric for writing powerful blurbs. This is checklist I'll need to revisit multiple times, so I include it here to have on hand and review as needed.

I guess this category of page is most like a modern Rolodex. If you don't know what that is, well, stop being so young, I guess.

Organization Hack: Paper Clips

I mentioned earlier that I usually start an index page, but quickly lose track of it. I've found that the most efficient way to navigate my bullet journal is with paper clips. I keep one in my current monthly overview, one in my current week, one on my deadlines, and one on my most referenced sticky page. This technique is obviously not scalable, and probably not suited well for the more hardcore users, but it fits my fast-paced style pretty well. I don't have to shuffle back and forth or keep track of page numbers much, and I like that.

So there you have it. How Cameron does the bullet journal thing. I don't claim to be an expert or enlightened. But I do feel like my method is perhaps a little more approachable and practical for busy people. If it works for you, let me know in the comments!