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Bullet Journal Basics

July 22, 2017

The bullet journal is an analog system, meaning you don’t need anything more complicated than a notebook and a pen or pencil. While it’s very customizable, and you’re certainly welcome to change things around, in this article, I will walk you through the setup for a traditional bullet journal as first introduced by Ryder Carroll from Use it as a starting point, get comfortable with the basic system and then change it from there.

You’ll need a notebook, a pen, and a little bit of time to get started. The type of notebook you use is up to you. The traditional style is grid or dotted paper, but I find even ruled or blank pages work just fine.

The Key

The first page of your bullet journal will include your key. This will record the shorthand you use for your bullet entries. Here’s the traditional codes used. Feel free to add to it, or modify it as needed. In a later post I will offer some additional codes I find useful for writers.

. (Dot) Task

X Completed Task

> Migrated Task

O  Event  (circle)

^ Appointment (triangle)

– Notes (dash)

The Index

Your next two to four pages will be set aside for indexing. This will allow you to quickly find any collection, or get to a particular month. Title each page as an index page and move on to the next section.

The Future Log

With the original bullet journal setup this is a two page spread that records the coming 6 months. Many bullet journalers find it helpful to use a more traditional yearly calendar instead. This is a great place to record birthdays, anniversaries, or block out vacation time. Add or note the page number and record your future log in your index.

Monthly Logs

Start each month with a monthly log. Here you’ll record appointments and due dates. You can use a grid layout, or use one line for each day of the month. While this isn’t where you’ll track most of your tasks, the monthly log will come in handy for those times when you have an appointment or to note an important event.

Daily Logs

The daily log is where you’ll spend most of your time in the journal. Start a new section each day and record anything important for the day. Make your list of tasks and cross them off as you get them finished. Make notes of anything important you need to remember throughout the day as well as appointments as they pop up. Everything gets logged in the daily log for speed and ease. From there you can move it as needed to the monthly or future log, or migrate it to a different day.

Migrating Tasks

At the end of your day, or first thing the next morning it’s time to review your tasks and cross out and migrate anything that isn’t checked off. For example, if you didn’t get around to doing laundry today, draw an arrow through it and add the task to today’s daily task list. If you noted an appointment that came up yesterday, move it to your monthly list and draw an arrow through it in yesterday’s list. If something no longer applies then cross it out. Your goal is to deal with each entry from your daily list by completing it, migrating it, or crossing it out.


The final part of the puzzle is collections. These are basically thematical lists you make that aren’t date related. A perfect example is a list of books you want to read. Start the list on the next blank page. Title it and start jotting down the books you want to read. Make a note of the page you’re on and add this collection to your index page. Now when you want to add a new book title to this list, or reference it to see what you want to read, you can easily find it via the index.

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