Bullet journals; not just for show

I’m a sucker for a good set of organizational skills. Like a child, or a dog, I like routines and structure that work like compasses.

Something that really helps me stay efficient even when I don’t really feel like it – and especially when I don’t know where to begin – is neatly going over my lists. These lists are all found in my trusted bullet journal.

A bullet journal is a calendar you write yourself, giving it codes and functions you can appreciate. It can become as complex and decorated as you’d like, or you can keep it simple and to the point without much ado about nothing.

Of course you can use a store-bought calendar – and if you don’t use a calendar, you should – but if you’re even slightly into arts and crafts, make your own bullet journal. It’s a lot of fun, and you can personalize it so your calendar is everything you need it to be. It doesn’t have to be grand, flawless and immediately on Instagram – the point is that it works for you.

Personally I like more minimalist styles, mostly because it saves me time – one month’s design take between two and four hours to plan and draw in any case, and that’s a simple design. Another reason why I like to keep it simple is because it helps me keep my thoughts decluttered. What I love about minimalism is that it’s all about cutting the crap. When it comes to planning my time, I like to stay efficient, but that’s just my preference.

Oh, and I had to use my phone’s camera, so I apologize for the sub-par picture quality.


You don’t need to invest huge amounts of money in fancy felt tip pens and the latest line of vegan Moleskin notebooks (is that even a thing?) to keep your own bullet journal, but I do recommend spending enough money on the notebook to make sure you get one of good quality, since it’s going to be in frequent use. 

I actually do use a Moleskin journal, since the one I got as a Christmas present from my brother and his girlfriend was too big for my taste (sorry guys!).

There are options of notebooks with dotted, lined and clear pages – dotted ones might help you keep your designs neat. I get annoyed at the dots, so I’ll just arm myself with a ruler and a cup of coffee and get down to measuring margins and columns by hand.

For the planning of the pages, I first sketch with pencil – lightly, though, you don’t want them to leave marks on the finished page. For the actual design I prefer some kind of light black ink pens. What kind of pens you use really don’t matter, it’s your bullet journal. Use crayons and coffee if you’d like. It’s your choice.

Basic pages

If you Google “how to start a bullet journal”, or something of the sorts, you’ll likely find three basic pages: a yearly and monthly review, and a key. The yearly review is a yearly calendar where you can mark major events, while the monthly review corresponds in the same way. The idea of the key is to train yourself to use certain symbols and signs and therefore make your bullet journal clearer.

I don’t use my key. Quite honestly, I forgot I had it. I use basic bullets for everything, and I move them around with arrows. If something’s done or moved, I’ll just scratch it out from its original listing.

Monthly structure

These are far more important than those fluffy Instagrammable pages in the beginning, since these are made for everyday use. Unless you’re blessed with limitless creativity, you’ll probably look around the web for inspiration on designs and themes (Pinterest is infamous for its flawless template aesthetics). 

Here’s what the first months of 2019 will look like:

Bullet journal January template
January monthly view
Bullet journal April monthly view template
Bullet journal April monthly view

After testing the waters, or the ink, I found what kind of design goes with my flow. It’s a, surprise surprise, simple style with some variation and little decor. I’m not a fan of thick, clunky texts and too bright colors (and God forbid, too many colors). 

For instance, the designs pictured below is from earlier this year, and although they’re cute, they’re also impractical and time-consuming to design.

A recurring monthly theme or color is fun though, not only because you can personalize it so easily (and draw if you’re bored), but also because it helps you divide the months, making the months more distinguished and easily recognizable. 

I’ve usually added some to-do lists, space for notes or habit trackers. I rarely use that space though; it’s nice to have in the beginning of the month, in case you know of some events or dates you need to pay more attention to, but you can mark important dates directly in the monthly calendar, and then return to them in the weekly spreads.

Bullet journal April weekly view template, inspired by honeybees
April 2018, the bee and honey-theme
Bullet journal, habit tracker pine tree design template
Habit tracker, pine tree template

It’s all about tastes. I’d like to remember to use the habit trackers, but they’re easily forgotten. Also, despite wanting to hold on to routines, it can be hard to keep up with your exercise goal during a particularly busy time at work or school, or for some other reason. Ultimately, habit trackers might haunt you a little in case you’re not keeping up with them.

However, if you’re into adding a spending tracker or keeping tabs on how much water you’re not drinking, go ahead, that sounds great. But it might be a good idea to add the habit tracker in the weekly spread in that case, since you see it every day that way.

Weekly spreads

I like to keep my weeks neatly spread out over a page or two, but the full week visible on those pages. That way, the weekly schedule is easy to oversee. Personally, I prefer to have both the date and the weekday visible (and I’ll add the current week at the top right corner in 2019, which I’m excited about. I know, I need more excitement in my life.)

The great thing with minimalist designs is that while they’re simple, they’re very versatile, and I’ve noticed that I work with a lot of post-its. I’m a slut for post-its. 

This is why the particular spaces for notes, reminders and to-do lists are pretty useless in my case, since I jot everything down on post-its and then move them around as I need to. Once I’ve got the daily, weekly or monthly to-do list finished on a post-it, I copy the tasks into the pages sooner or later, and then cross over items as I complete the tasks. It’s very satisfactory to be able to cross stuff over. Kind of like popping bubble wrap.

At the end of each month, I have a review-section where I briefly reflect on what happened and what I achieved. It’s nothing to take too seriously, but it’s another great way to help the memory (which isn’t getting better with age, I’ll tell ya). 

Also, it’s kind of fun to go through all those months at the end of the year, and make a more complete summary of the past year. 

Random pages

Just for the hell of it, I have added some pages only for decoration’s sake. They fulfill no other purpose than that they’re products of my vanity. And it’s so much fun to draw with a really good felt tip pen.

These are so called recreational pages. You can add or subtract as many as you’d like. They’re fun though. Slightly neurotic girls who love to organize their surroundings just wanna have fun.

There’s always time for quotes and flowers

I also have these really nifty pages. I have one where I’ve collected some passwords to web pages and services I rarely use but might need. I have one where I’ve neatly jotted down my student-life budget, and that’s been really helpful – I have everything from income limits to tax rates on there. It’s really sucky to look over those things, but it kind of helps to know they’re there.

Having and using a bullet journal isn’t rocket science, and I highly recommend that everyone uses one (unless your spouse uses one so frequently you really don’t need to bother). Drawing and designing is fun, great for dexterity and works therapeutic wonders as well. 

I’ve noticed I can be a little too caught up on details, and that I might obsess a bit too much over the exact margin or the smudge on that one page in August I still haven’t gotten over. At some point in your life you must learn than try though you might, you can’t do everything overtly perfect. You must learn to live with the smudges.

It takes 21 days to make or break a habit. They go by really fast once you’ve drawn them yourself. I think everyone should try.

*Disclaimer: although the pictures and the bullet journal are mine, I can’t take credit for any originality in artworks. The lovely artists who actually came up with the works have become anonymous due to the internet, I’m afraid. If you feel I’ve used a design of yours without permission, let me know and I’ll give you full credit.

One thought on “Bullet journals; not just for show

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