PSA: Bullet Journaling Is the Productivity Tool You Never Knew You Needed

Updated 04/26/18

I was introduced to bullet journaling for the first time through a college friend. My friend, recognizing in me someone equally as type A as herself, asked, "Have you ever tried bullet journaling?" "No," I replied, shifting my eyes to conceal the guilt from years of picking up journals and planners only for them to end up buried at the back of drawers and under beds, forgotten. Her bullet journal, however, was unlike any I had kept before. It was filled with secret symbols, calendars, grids, and was covered with stickers—intriguing.

Bullet journaling has built a devoted fanbase (now including myself) who have affectionately coined the term bujo in reference to it. Bullet journals are a low-commitment way to keep track of completed tasks while tracking what one hopes to accomplish. So what is bullet journaling exactly? It's somewhere between a diary, a to-list, and a daily planner. Keep reading to learn how to keep a bullet journal in five simple steps.

how to bullet journal
Brooke Testoni

Use a Symbol Key

bullet journal notebook
Sarah Sherman Samuel

As you list bullet points of goals and ideas you'll track in various sections of your journal (don't worry, we're discussing each of those next), you'll want to create a key of symbols that will be used to mark each task as complete, in progress, or migrated. Every task will contain a bullet point, but the symbol the bullet point takes is up to you. Typically symbols are used as follows:

O: Symbolizes an event.

—: A  dash is reserved for notes, whether it be an idea or a thought or observation.

X: A task that is complete.

>: A task that has been migrated to a different date.

*: An asterisk can be used on a note or task to represent something of special significance.

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Create an Index

bullet journal key
Sarah Sherman Samuel

Bullet journals rely on an index, which means the journal you keep will have to be numbered, whether by hand or with a journal that includes numbered pages. Don't worry—it isn't nearly as formal as it sounds. You can log whatever you like in your index, depending on what's important to you. Let's say you want to keep track of the progress in your morning routine. You would write "morning routine" in your index and next to it record the page numbers in your bullet journal where this subject crops up.

Pretty simple, right? You can add new topics in your index whenever you like, whether that's a monthly ritual you create or a log you produce once and never add to again. The topics you include in an index are entirely personalized depending on what's significant to you.

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Keep a Future Log

how to start a bullet journal
Coco Lapine Design

A reminder of our goals and what we want to accomplish can be the most helpful aspect of keeping a planner or journal. This is where the future log comes in use. Simply put, it's a calendar. To put it together, map out six boxes, three on each page, in grids. In each of these write down the next six months. Within these boxes, you can keep goals for these months, as well as significant events. You can also keep logs of other long-term projects you'd like to manage that don't fall into specific dates, like a log of books you want to finish.

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Maintain a Monthly Log

bullet journaling ideas
Jen Kay

At the beginning of every month, you'll set up a monthly log that consists of two pages: one will be a calendar overview of the month, and the other page will be a task list. For the calendar, don't worry about creating a grid. Instead, make a list of each day along with the day of the week each falls on. The task list will work the same as your future log. You can list important occasions and to-dos and update symbols as the month progresses.

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Get Detailed With a Daily Log

how to bullet journal
Jen Kay

The daily log functions the same as monthly and future logs, but is more granular. Include the date at the top of each page. Below, rapid list any tasks or goals you have for the day, and update your log as the day goes along. Create daily logs one by one so you have plenty of space to write out tasks as they come up. If there's something you want to write more extensively about, move to the next page and write it out as you would any journal entry.

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This story was originally published on March 20, 2017, and has since been updated.

Curious to start your own bullet journal? Keep reading to see an editor's take on how she kept a bullet journal of her own.

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