September 13, 2018

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If you’re on Pinterest, I’m sure you’ve come across something called “bullet journaling”. It seems like literally everyone is sharing their “spreads” and their “cover pages” for each month.

In fact, on Reddit, there’s an entire sub dedicated to Bullet Journaling.

What is Bullet Journaling?

Bullet Journaling is a method of rapid-logging tasks, notes, events, and appointments, developed by Ryder Carroll. He, like many of us, disliked the vast assortment of journals available with built-in layouts that don’t work for everyone.

bullet journaling top image

The only planner I ever used up completely was the one I got from my community college in the fall of 2009. I don’t know why that one, in particular, inspired me to use it every day, but I found that I really liked the layout. I also inadvertently built a habit around using it for everything, and then they changed it the next year.

For me, the layout change broke my habit, and from 2009 to 2017 I couldn’t find a journal I could stick with.

While browsing Pinterest, like one does when one is bored, I kept seeing those pins about Bullet Journals. Eventually, I saw so many of them that I had to figure out what everyone was talking about.

Bullet Journaling can be done with any kind of journal, but a lot of people default to the dot grid journal, which is what Ryder Carroll uses and also sells.

The beauty of it is how versatile you can get.

Even those with low or even no artistic ability (me) can easily create “spreads” inside, because the dot grid makes it easy to lay things out.

So I mentioned the year 2017.

I bought my first Bullet Journal (straight from the BuJo source) in May 2017 and started using it in June.

The first several pages are rough because I was figuring out what layouts worked and what didn’t. I spent hours scouring Pinterest for minimalistic ideas on how to do a habit tracker or even weekly and daily spreads.

Eventually, I decided on a monthly layout that I liked, and a weekly layout that seemed to work all right.

The problem arose with how I actually used it, though.

The idea of keeping ALL of my to-do’s in that thing felt daunting because my list of to-dos is more than a mile long. I found myself putting things off for days, even weeks, and disliked the clutter of crossing it off on one day and moving it to the next.

Carroll suggests eliminating a task that takes you more than a few days to complete, but the tasks I procrastinated on were things that I absolutely couldn’t eliminate.

I loved the idea of Bullet Journaling.

But I couldn’t seem to do it “right.”

I had to-dos on digital platforms instead of sticking them in the BuJo. Writing them down felt like a duplication of effort. And it probably was.

I found other ways of using the journal, like monthly habit tracking, weight logs, and freewriting for some Fanfiction stories that still haven’t been published.

Of all the ideas I found on Pinterest, I couldn’t effectively implement more than a few despite how much I wanted to use them.

I realized then that whichever way I used the journal was “right” because it was right for me.

bullet journaling daily spread

Change can suck big time

So it sucked, then, when I got my second journal–a cheap one from Amazon–that derailed me completely.

The cover felt weird, the paper was too heavy and stiff–meaning that the pages always stuck up straight or moved when I didn’t want them to.

The paper also didn’t like my pens–and the ink bled through when I didn’t want it to. The journal also came with a huge, awkwardly shaped pen that got in the way whenever I left it in the attached penholder.

In contrast, the journal made by Bullet Journal lays flat when open and the pages are the perfect weight and thickness.

For the journal that derailed me, I only used it for habit tracking and weight logs despite the high hopes I had for recreating my efforts with the first journal.

I gave up on it in June 2018 and bought another journal from the Bullet Journal website, and nearly cried with happiness at having another journal I could use to its full potential.

My biggest takeaway?

A few things, actually.

  1. The journal itself matters. I didn’t think the journal itself would be much of a deciding factor, but for me it really was. I might just be picky, who knows? The right journal is what I need to make Bullet Journaling work.
  2. No matter how you use it–as long as you use it–you’re using it the right way. It’s nice to take inspiration from other people on Pinterest but there’s no substitute for taking the damn thing and making it your own.
  3. You don’t need to be an artist to make it work. Ryder Carroll uses his BuJo in a very minimalistic way, as evidenced by his video on the Bullet Journal website. I can’t draw to save my life–but I’m able to color in squares pretty neatly. Rulers, stencils, and washi tape are my friends.

The fact that I can change things up from day-to-day is pretty freeing. I actually broke away from my established habit tracking spread I used for several months and started a new type that looks like this.

bullet journaling habit tracker

I also, in a wave of delayed inspiration, bought a bunch of washi tape and stencils right after Amazon Prime Day ended.

The ability to get more creative with my pages makes me feel better about how I’m using the journal.

I’ve always liked the pins of what others do with their journals and oftentimes use them as inspiration for mine.

Here’s a list of things I’ve put in my BuJo:

  • Monthly spreads
  • Weekly spreads
  • Daily spreads
  • Habit trackers
  • Pen test pages
  • Freewriting pages
  • Notes from online courses
  • 90-day goal trackers (which failed)
  • 30-day challenge trackers (just getting started on this!)
  • Ideas for future Bullet Journals
  • Emergency contact numbers
  • Birthday & anniversary lists
  • Weight loss trackers
  • Daily mood tracker, known in the BuJo community as a “Year in Pixels”
  • Positive affirmations
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe movies in order

bullet journaling challenge tracker

Things other people have put in their BuJos

  • Master grocery lists
  • Master packing lists
  • Travel plans
  • Vision boards
  • Monthly cover pages (usually artistic in nature)

If It’s Not For You, That’s Cool Too

I’ll fully admit that the bullet journal method is not for everyone. Many people like to remain fully digital, others doubt their ability to stay consistent with the journal, and others just like having a planner that someone else designed.

If bullet journaling isn’t your jam but you still want to plan your life out using a physical planner, check out the Living Well Planner, created by Ruth Soukup.

In all honesty, I might try it in future years just to compare journal effectiveness. There’s also no harm in doubling up by using Ruth’s to plan your life and the BuJo for the creative side of things.

Another option, if you’re interested mostly in tracking your goals, is Nadalie Bardo’s Slay Your Goals Planner. It’s 60+ pages long, in PDF form. The PDF is fillable, or you can just print out the pages you need.

Check out my full review of the Slay Your Goals Planner here. I’m using this myself for my big goals.

The thing to remember is to find what works for you! 

There are affiliate links in this post. If you click through and buy something, I may receive a commission at no extra cost to you.

bullet journaling pinterest

About the author 


Life coach, author, podcast host, cat mom, wife, Ravenclaw, and semi-compulsive hiker living in the Montana Rockies.

  • Next Thursday (every third Thursday of the month) I have a link-up called Keep It Together all about planners, scrapbooks, etc. if you want to link this up there! I have a bullet journal that I got this year and I use it for entertainment purposes really – movies watched, books read, books I need to reads, monthly playlists. It’s fun and lets me a bit creative, even though I can’t draw to save my life. LOL I have a Happy Planner for actually to-dos, etc. which I also use as a way to keep track of memories.


  • I love seeing planner spreads no matter what kind of planner it is! I use a Happy Planner, but I like that the bullet journal is like a blank canvas where you can create anything you want.

  • Colleen, I enjoyed this informative piece. Liked that you shared which ones worked for you and which ones did not. You minded me of when I’d put a calendar up and use that for my exercise chart. I’m token oriented so I’d actually make sure I exercised because I wanted my star up there. Yes, there were real stars.

    While the whole Idea seems like one more on my already full list, I did like the reasoning behind it, and who knows maybe I’ll implement something later on.

    Oh and you’re right change does suck sometimes.

    Tweeted for you.

    • That sounds like the X-Effect for building habits! Marking off the days you do something so that you don’t “break the chain.” I have a few habit tracking spreads like that in my bullet journal 🙂

  • I love bujo but like everyone else, I can’t settle on a spread. What I ended up with is an organizer instead of a notebook. Sticky tabs to make different parts. I separated the blank paper and whatever notes I wrote down, I just take out the page and put it in the right section. I use the organizer for everything so this system settled well. But have to say reading your post makes me curious about using a notebook and exploring something more. ?

    • That sounds like a pretty good idea! You could try to do both the organizer and the bujo, just for different uses. I’ve spent a lot of time looking at Pinterest bullet journal ideas! The sky is the limit 🙂

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