Keep it Simple: Make Bullet Journaling Work for You
Most people skip the basics, like rapid logging in your bullet journal.
I have ADD and memory issues. I’ve tried many tools over the years to help me remember my life. Bullet journaling was one of the first tools that really ‘clicked’ for me and I’ve been using it for around four years.
For the uninitiated: bullet journaling is a simple method of organizing your life, a productivity system, and a journal all-in-one. You can start with just a notebook and a pen. Because it is so adaptable, some people go overboard trying all the pieces of the system without mastering the basics. Rapid logging is one of those basic things.
It’s just a way of writing notes as you go through your day — part to-do list and part a running stream of consciousness.
Rapid Logging will help you efficiently capture your life as it happens so that you may begin to study it.
Ryder Carroll, Creator of the Bullet Journal, Author of The Bullet Journal Method
Rapid logging really is the key.
Rapid logging bypasses the effort of most endless to-do lists. By taking short, fast notes throughout your day. You can get all the things out of your head and in one place, instead of lots of different places. As you become familiar with the way it works, you’ll add items as they come to you, any time of day.
It’s ‘rapid’ for a reason: you’re removing emotion from any event, impression, note and everything else you rapid log. Stripping these items down to concise phrases helps you move quickly while writing them down.
Don’t worry if you have trouble with this. I am still terrible at writing things down and stripping all the extra words. But then again, I’m a talkative person. It’s part of my charm.
The mechanics of rapid logging.
Rapid logging is writing notes throughout your day, doing it quickly, and organizing what you’ve written. There are four key parts of rapid logging: page numbers, topics, bullets (what you write), and signifiers (if you use them.)
Page numbers are important because this is a system, not a random notebook, and you might want to refer back to notes or collections you’ve done before.
- You can buy notebooks with page numbers, or just hand-number the pages of a notebook you already own.
- Before I became a notebook snob, I regularly spent a few minutes numbering pages on my cheap notebook. It worked just as well for me.
Topics are how you label your pages, sometimes just the date or sometimes the name of an event or a collection of ideas.
Your bullets (tasks, events, and/or notes) have set symbols so you can tell the difference between them at a glance. These are the symbols initially shared by the creator of bullet journaling, Ryder Carroll.
Remember, be concise with the bullets you write. You’re trying to take emotion out of this part of your bullet journal. This helps objectively log it as something you want or need to do or something that’s already happened.
I use the default dot and include a few words about the task — pick up laundry, finish service report, etc. When you have completed a task, you can “X” it off, if you need to do a task another day (called migrating), you can use a right “>” carrot.
Sometimes you need to write more about a task, so you can jot more notes right there underneath it, or you can write up more detailed notes on the next open page.
I’ve tried several iterations on the task bullet and have found nothing as easy to use (and quick to use) as the little dot.
Events usually use an open circle. Events are just date-related things, either scheduled appointments or parties, or events that happened through the day you want to note — signed a contract, etc.
Again, you are jotting down a few words, not a diary entry. You can write more details on another page (or after your daily log).
Notes highlight things you might want to remember and can include facts, ideas, thoughts, etc. When I get phone calls throughout the day, I use notes to jot a quick reminder about them. When one of my kids has a seizure, I write the time, what type, and any details I need to remember for the doctor.
While these work well for quick notes throughout the day, if I want to create notes for a lesson or meeting, I usually do those on a separate page.
Signifiers emphasize important bullets.
Use signifiers on the lefthand side of your bullets to draw attention to important notes and things you want to act on. You can use a “*” to give a task priority or an exclamation point “!” for things you want to act on — mantras, ideas, insights, etc. I use an eye or lightbulb sometimes to mark things I want to research more.
Use it sparingly. If everything is a priority, nothing is.
Ryder Carroll, Bullet Journal Website
Daily Logs and Monthly Logs
There have been months when I didn’t worry about any kind of additional logging; I just did my rapid logging every day and it suited me just fine. Essentially, my rapid logging became my daily log.
Sometimes I need more structure — and you might, too. I have a simple daily log that adds a bit of structure to my rapid logging.
My current daily logs start with all my known appointments, meetings, and most important to-dos, then I draw a line under them and start rapid logging for the day.
Dress it Up? Experiment if You Want.
In the past, I’ve tracked many items: weather, glasses of water, food eaten. If you will remember to do them every day, go for it. I rarely remember to do them more than a few days in a row, so I don’t do them.
Some particularly organized people have habit trackers and other artistic stuff to track all these ‘trackable’ items. I tried them. They didn’t work for me. I work best with a very simple Bullet Journal. Every time I try to dress it up and do more with it, I end up getting frustrated and going back to the basics. Even though I have some artistic leanings, it doesn’t work when I try to combine my artistic side with my productive one.
Some people create their daily logs ahead of time. I don’t do that because I don’t know how much space each day will take. Sometimes I only log a few things for a day, other days I use a few pages.
Monthly logs are one ‘collection’ I create most months so I can see all my appointments and meetings at a glance.
On his site, Ryder Carroll suggests having a spread of two pages — a calendar page and a task page. I love the way the calendar page is organized and I use it extensively. I want to use the task page, but I rarely do.
Here’s a screenshot from his site. My own calendar pages look just like his; I’ve used them like this for years now.
Collections in your bullet journal are useful. Any collection of information on one page or across several pages counts. So your daily logs, monthly logs (and future logs, if you do those) count as collections.
But collections also include arbitrary information or lists you want to have in one spot. For instance, I have a “Books I want to read” collection and an “Important Odds and Ends” collection. My catch-all collection is that last one, and is where I put phone numbers, addresses, code snippets, and all kinds of other odds and ends I don’t want to lose track of, even if I don’t have a different (or better) spot to put them.
It’s easy to create a collection and then forget about it (ask me how I know!), so go slow and create the ones you will use consistently.
Indexes are Collections Too
Remember those page numbers? You can highlight special events, important tasks, associated notes, etc., in an index in the front of your notebook by jotting down the page number and a short description of the thing you want to index.
Don’t feel bad if you forget to add them to your index; I still forget. Thankfully, it’s a matter of a couple of minutes to add items to the index by flipping through the pages.
Carroll called different sections in the bullet journal ‘modules.’ They are how to organize the things you’re writing, and to keep track of things you want to remember, etc. Your daily log (with rapid logging!) is one of the modules.
Some people use all of these types of modules, and some people only use one or two.
These modules include
- The index — http://bulletjournal.com/get-started/#index
- The Future Log — http://bulletjournal.com/get-started/#index
- The Monthly Log — http://bulletjournal.com/get-started/#monthlylog
- The Daily Log — http://bulletjournal.com/get-started/#dailylog
I urge you to explore the site further if you are interested in bullet journaling. Each of the modules can be used as you need them, then added to the index so you can easily refer back to them. Or don’t use any of them aside from the daily log.
Are you making bullet journaling too hard?
Start simple and add elements to your daily practice a little at a time so that you consistently use your bullet journal. Don’t get bogged down in the details or the pretty pages you see all over social media.
Start with a daily log, whether you just use rapid logging or add a bit more structure to it. Then add in the modules and collections as you need and use them. If you find something doesn’t work for you, no problem! Just don’t do it next time around.
No matter what your needs are, bullet journaling is flexible and simple enough to help you.
- Getting Started on the Bullet Journal site — http://bulletjournal.com/get-started/
- Boho Berry’s Introduction, with her more artistic take on Bullet Journaling — https://www.bohoberry.com/category/bullet-journal/bullet-journal-101/
(Hers are pretty journals, but with a lot of functionality.)
- Great Bullet Journal reference guide and site to explore, Tiny Ray of Sunshine — https://www.tinyrayofsunshine.com/blog/bullet-journal-reference-guide
(Pretty, but functional. She expands on several core principles for using your bullet journaling for book notes, threading posts and notes, and more.)