My not so pretty bullet journal

Confession. My handwriting is not good. It was so bad in primary school that I had extra handwriting lessons. They did not help. It’s legible, these days. It’s not good and it is definitely not pretty. And I don’t care.

Based on past interest, Youtube suggested bullet journal videos for me to see and they’re all about how to make yourself a PRETTY bullet journal. In the comments people ask: I am hesitant to start with bullet journal, because making it pretty seems like so much work!

It’s a logical question when there are so may bloggers and vloggers out there sharing just how pretty they make their bullet journals. However, it misses the point of the bullet journal completely.

The bullet journal is not about making it pretty – that’s just people showing off. The bullet journal is about efficiency. Pretty and efficient are not at all in the same category.

So to counter this ‘pretty’ trend, I’m using pictures from my own bullet journal. I’ve edited out some privacy sensitive stuff, but you’ll see my original cross outs and messes as well as that weird handwriting.

What is a bullet journal?

My regular readers will be wondering what I am blabbing on about. So here’s a recap.

In this digital world, people are finding out that paper still works best for some things. Taking notes for instance. As a math tutor I used to say to my students that I think on paper, and it’s true. You really should use paper when you want to figure something out. You know, the kind which requires an actual pen or pencil: taking notes, connecting dots, brain storming…

In addition: when you write something down, it clears your short term memory. That will help you do better on other tasks.

I know, because I tried both methods. I bought the first iPad that came out and took all my notes on there, for a while. But now I take my notes on paper again. It’s faster, more efficient and it’s better for remembering things.

Bullet journal takes this major psychological insight a step further. It is organised use of paper as a way to organise your life.

People use bullet journal for:

  • a calendar
  • to-do lists: I’ll get to that later
  • keeping track of good intentions
  • taking notes on projects
  • any type of list

Personally I don’t use the bullet journal for my appointments and schedule at all. I use Google Calendar and it syncs to my phone and tablet and it’s great.

I do use Bullet Journal for:

  • to do lists: I’ll get to that later
  • gratitude journal free style (an example of a collection)
  • notes on projects (called collections)
  • various other lists (called collections)

How does the bullet journal work?

Bullet Journal Index
Bullet Journal Index

The main genius of the Bullet journal is that it’s organised.

You fill it chronologically: no advance organising into sections or anything like that. First the index, then the Future Log, then Monthly log for the month you’re in. Then anything you want from a specific notes page to a to-do list for a project to a Daily Log. Anything that isn’t a ‘log’, is called a ‘collection’.

Check out the Bullet Journal website for the original instructions.


Above you can see my index-page (right) and the codes I use.

I won’t go into the codes, as I find they’re not quite optimized for me just yet. If I find readers like this topic, I may go into it more at a future date.

The index is very important, because it means that whatever notes I take in my journal, I can always find them again. It works, because you number the pages in the journal, or you buy one that already has numbered pages.

Organising by TIME:

Future Log, Monthly Log, Weekly log, Daily Log

The future log is at the start of the journal. It’s a way to plan several months ahead. I found I needed a whole page for each month, but some people use only a section of a page.

Organising by time turns out to be very useful. On any to-do list there are things that need to be done soon and other things that can wait. There are also things that seem very important today, but that turn out to be less important tomorrow.

The traditional to-do list dumps them all in one place. The Bullet Journal has several ways of helping your organise them.

One of those ways is the future log. It’s a spread of a few pages which you divide into a few upcoming months. You can simply decide for yourself where which ‘to do’ should end up. I found that most of mine ended up in the two upcoming months (July and August).

Monthly logs are meant to be started after the previous month ended. It is basically your overview page for that month. You add your weekly and daily logs in the pages after that, as needed. I also find myself making two-weekly to-do lists. You know ‘do before…’.

The traditional bullet journal includes planning activities. Personally I use Google Calendar for that (app+widgets+online on pc). I hesitate to recommend creating your calendar in a notebook from scratch: I have never believed in undated planners or agenda books and I can’t see why I should change that position. So if you are the type to have a physical planner still, I recommend you use it as your basic bullet journal. Here’s how.

Carry Over

Carry over: that's the arrows next to my to-dos.
Carry over: that’s the arrows next to my to-dos.

Carry over is the other genius bullet journal invention. Traditional to-do lists just linger. You know. At some point you have done the main things on the list, and then you leave it.

With Bullet Journal you deal with every one of the ‘to-do’s:

  • You check off anything you did.
  • You cross out anything you’ve decided NOT to do.
  • You CARRY OVER things you still do feel you need to do, to the next list.

There are codes to help you do that in a clear way, but I won’t go into that here. Again: check the original website.

The point here is that with each to-do you make a decision. And you can make a new to-do list, based on the to-do’s on your monthly log and anything else that crops up and anything carried over from the previous list.

I’ll be adding a ‘to do at some point’ list in my next journal, because some things just keep getting carried over. Too important to cross out, but not important enough to do today. Hopefully I will get to them at some point.


While my Bullet journal is mostly about to-do’s, I also use it for organising my thoughts on specific topics. These are called ‘collections’. They get a specific page in the journal and of course the page gets a mention in the index.

A popular one that I also sort of do is a gratitude journal. This can be dated, but I like it as a simple list. It’s a list of things I’m grateful for and looking at it makes me happier. Every once in a while I add something new I’m also grateful for.

I’ve kept a sleep-journal for a while to figure out how many hours of sleep I need. I seem to be needing less than I used to, but how many hours? I still don’t really know, unfortunately.

As a blogger I also keep a page of writing ideas. For instance, below you can see the page I made in preparation for this blogpost.




Threading has been added to the bullet journal system by fans. It means that when a page within a collection is full, you can ‘thread’ it to the next page in that collection – which doesn’t have to be the next page in your journal. After all, you fill it up from left to right.

Here is an example. It’s page 40 in my bullet journal and it refers back to page 38 and forward to page 42. Both those pages have notes related to page 40.

This makes it easier to find stuff on a theme or within a collection.

What you need

All you need is a journal and a pen or pencil. I like a journal which light lines or even dots so that nothing distracts from the writing. I picked the ‘Bekking&Blitz’ journal shown here for the lovely cover. In addition it has a nice elastic band for a pen. Most of the images on this page are from that notebook.

2016-08-04 14.35.07For my next bullet journal I bought the notebook that has become fashionable for the bullet journal: Leuchtturm1917. Here are some reasons people love it:

  • Numbered pages
  • Index section built in
  • Several bookmark ribbons (2 in mine)
  • Dotted pages available (though they also have blank and lined pages).
  • Pocket in the back
  • Higher paper quality than the cheaper notebooks, so that it works with most fountain pens.
Dotted pages, numbered.
Dotted pages, numbered.

Why I love my not-so-pretty bullet journal

My bullet journal finally gives me an excuse to indulge in my love for pretty notebooks like the one shown here.

My bullet journal helps me organise the many projects I am involved in.

My bullet journal keeps my head empty enough to live my life.

When I don’t need it, I can just avoid my bullet journal. The system does NOT require daily maintenance. It’s there when I need it.

Not so pretty, but very useful - my bullet journal
Not so pretty, but very useful – my bullet journal