Bullet journals - my basics

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Ok, it's that time of year where people start thinking about planning for the next year.  There are about 500 different planners out there and many of them are excellent, if they suit your needs.  If you find that your needs are not met by any of the planners you can find out there, you might want to consider a bullet journal instead.  

 The trouble with bullet journals is knowing where to start.  There is a ton of amazing resource out there that can help, but if you just want a couple of hints and tips, then hopefully this will be a good begin.

I would always start with a good quote.  It doesn’t have to look pretty or perfect or beautiful, but it’s there to keep you inspired and on track with your goals and how you want to live your life.

Next, have a think about what pages you want to have at the beginning of your journal.  I’d advise adding an extra 2 or 3 double page spreads to keep spare for when you decide that there are pages you would like but that you just hadn’t thought of at the start of the year.

Some of the front pages that people like include:

  • Future Log.  I never used mine in my first 3 bullet journals so have ditched it, but on thinking about it, I may include it in my next one.  I was using it over a couple of pages, but actually a Year To View page would probably be quite helpful.
  • Index.  I find this really helpful when I do actually keep it up to date.  It’s great to be able to dive in and look for where my notes on, say, Chemistry Calls are.  If you have pages that you regularly refer to, consider using some tab stickers to keep track of them.  I’m personally not a fan of any that stick out because they just get bent, but I like the ones that fold over the edges.  
  • Key.  This is something I never bother with anymore as I don’t really use any particular code for how I put my notes in, except anything that is a to-do has a box to colour in when it is done.  However, if you have plans to use the full kind of ‘started, migrated,’ etc codes then a key is a great idea, but do it as a flip out.  Just write it on a spare piece of paper and stick it onto one of the end sheets with some washi tape.  This way you can flip it out as you are writing and not have to be opening and closing your book to the front and then to wherever you are again.

Monthly spreads.  I really, really, super-dooper LOVE my monthly calendar stickers that I get from Daisy and Divine (Daisy's awesome calendar stickers).  Not only are they practical, I love the bright colours (she does do them in a pastel version too) and I especially love the fold-over tab so I can easily see where in my journal my months change over.  I always put these on the front page of my month, along with my goals.  This works well with putting a review of the previous month on the opposite page, so you can see what worked well/what didn’t work as you’re working out what your new month will look like.  I think the review is the page least used by most people and is actually the page that is the most useful.  We’re always wanting to get onto the next month, but that time spent reflecting and looking at what you actually did and why is the best time you can spend.


Weekly spreads.  After about 3 years of using bullet journals, I have two go-to weekly spreads.  My absolute favourite for a busy week is my dutch doors spread.  I love that there is room all around for my to-do list, tasks for next week, my goals and my week at a glance.  By cutting out parts of the middle pages, you create space for each day of the week, which I need for a busy week, whilst still retaining the ability to see a lot of things.  I love to add my lessons and wins on this spread because it is easy, when really busy, to stop reflecting as we’re just busy completing things.  If I have a simple week coming up (for instance when my to-do list pretty much consists of WRITE THAT FINAL ESSAY!), then I like to just use the week at a glance on the right-hand page and then the left for my to-do list.


A quick note on habit trackers.  I want, I really do want, to be a person that fills in habit trackers.  I have made several that even look quite pretty by my standards.  And then somewhere between day 10 and 15, I stop doing them.  They become a pain in the bum.  I’ll still do (or not) the habit, but I don’t track it.  For a while, I thought this was not good.  I mean, I’m a coach, right?  I help people instigate new habits and habit tracking is a really great way of doing it.  But for me, it just doesn’t work!  And this is the whole point about bullet journals.  You have to figure out what works for you and what doesn’t.  If something doesn’t work for you, see if you can adapt it to something that does.  And then give it up.  Find an alternative.  That’s my advice.  Life is too short to worry about why you can’t commit to filling in a habit tracker.

How to fill in your weekly spread.  Ok, yeah, I know that you know how to write down appointments and stuff.  BUT it would be totally missing a golden opportunity for me not to mention that old analogy about the college professor and the jar with golf balls.  (You know the one?  Professor fills a large jar with golf balls and asks students if there is any more room.  They say no.  He puts in lots of small pebbles then asks if it is full and they say yes.  He then adds sand and asks if it is full now.  They say yes.  [It might have been a slow class…] He then pours in a pint of beer.  Moral of the story is to not fill your jar up with the unimportant small things first and to make sure that your big, important things are in first.)  So when you’re writing down your week, make sure that you’re putting in the things that relate to your goals FIRST before you fill your week with things that matter less.

And finally, the golden rule of all bullet journals.  Be prepared for it to be messy, scrappy and totally, totally UN-Instagram worthy.  You want it to work for you, so you’ll scrub things out, start new pages and just make mistakes until you find what works for you.  (Oh, you’ll still carry on making mistakes, obviously, just fewer of them.)  Remember, your journal is there to aid you in your organisation, not to become another thing that you HAVE to do.

Angharad Boyson

Founder and Head Coach, bright rebel coaching ltd

I am a coach who specialises in helping people live fearlessly with passion, purpose and balance. After 17 years in the Royal Air Force, I was ready for a change. But I wasn't really sure what that change was. Qualifying as a coach has taught me a lot about how my self-worth isn't tied up in my occupational identity, that living passionately and with purpose doesn't have to mean working every single hour and that I can feel fulfilled, happy and whole without working 60+ hours a week. It's not an exaggeration to say that my life is very different these days! I work with clients to: Establish your goals and understand what changes you would like to make. Identify why these changes are important to you. Create an action plan to make positive and unambiguous change at mindset, cognitive and behavioural levels. Predict obstacles and how to overcome them. Increase your self-awareness so that you naturally begin to coach yourself. I’m an Associate Certified Coach with the International Coaching Federation, hold a Masters in Occupational Psychology, trained with Barefoot Coaching, enjoy triathlon training, vanilla lattes and movie time with my 6 year old daughter and my husband. I am currently based in Canberra, Australia (so do come and follow bright rebel coaching on IG if you'd like to see some photos of the gorgeous scenery here)! I do face-to-face coaching as well as audio-visual coaching and a limited number of workshops and webinars on holistic topics such as wellbeing, resilience and goal-setting.