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Bullet Journal #2, The Initial Setup

I’m thrilled that you’re still with me on your Bullet Journal Journey. The time and attention you are dedicating now will provide years of positive results. (If you missed my first post on bullet journaling, you can read it by visiting here.)

You will, however, experience some trial and error as you set up and test your Bullet Journal organization. It is the most important way you can make this tool useful, so do not feel compelled to make decisions too quickly. For these first few weeks, maybe even months, you will likely need to make continuous tweaks to how you organize.

As I mentioned in my first post, you need to inventory the kinds of lists and calendars you keep. Do you keep a grocery list on your desk? A monthly wall calendar or a weekly to-do list on a white board? Thinking about how you already organize your calendars and activities will inform how the Bullet Journal method can best work for you.

Here are a few great resources to review before you get started, if you didn’t have a chance after the last Bullet Journal post:

So, you’ve got your beautiful Bullet Journal sitting in front of you. Those crisp, white pages and pristine cover are just waiting to be filled! I love this moment. In fact, I’ve got a brand new teal Leuchtturm sitting on my desk as I round the 200th page of my current journal, just waiting for that moment!

Initial Steps

  1. Write your name and phone number somewhere in the first few pages.

  2. The beginning of your Bullet Journal will have a few lined pages. This is where you build your index. While it may seem like a bit much right now, you’ll be glad you indexed once you’re on page 150 and you want to look back at your packing list from the previous season’s vacation!

  3. Number your pages. Start with at least 50 pages.

  4. Learn and develop your own signifiers. I don’t use all of the traditional symbols, but I do use a few religiously. It may be helpful to write out your own key to refer to as you get used to using this system.

  • Bullet or Square: a to-do item

  • X over the bullet or color in the square: complete

  • Arrow to the right: indicates incomplete and move to the next time period (week or month)

  • Strikethrough: indicates that this is no longer needed or necessary

  • Star: important

Organizing Your Calendar

In this post, I'm also sharing how I organize the calendar portion of my Bullet Journal, though this also pulls in elements of the kinds of lists I keep. I find that I learn best from examples, even if they are just to help me generate my own ideas. Feel free to try and adapt my method for what works for you.

Annually - I keep several lists that I generate at the beginning of the year, and then refer to throughout the next 12 months. I do not, however, create one giant annual calendar with a list of important dates and activities. In a future post, I will share more background on the lists I create to organize and inform my upcoming year.

Monthly - As is common in the Bullet Journal community, I create a monthly calendar spread. On the left page of the spread under the month heading, I write a M, T, W, T, F, S, S in the first column, and the corresponding numerical date in the second column. I then go through and write any appointments, birthdays or holidays next to the number (which I pull from an Outlook calendar that I use for both work and personal events). Then, I take a photo of this page, and email it to my husband. He reviews this page, and emails me back any activities that I am missing. I’ve heard wonderful things about Google calendars and such, but every time I write this monthly list out, I identify things I miss. This works well for us.

On the right hand page, I make my To-Do List--a list of tasks that need to be completed during the month. This might be anything from scheduling a dentist appointment to registering for soccer.

Weekly - Now it gets fun. My weekly layout took a while and some research to reach full effectiveness. This is also where you will need the graph or dot grid paper, as opposed to just a lined journal.

As you can see, there are no peacocks, patterns or pretty colors here. It’s purely functional. However, if that’s your thing--go for it!

The left hand side of the page is set up for daily tasks and appointments. I find that the limitations of the journal size which allowed for only five lines per day actually works pretty well. Between meetings and surprise urgencies, I can realistically knock out approximately five significant tasks per work day. It works to have a smaller space for weekends, because I don’t typically list out daily tasks on those days. The tiny little boxes in each corner under Appointments are to log my workout minutes for the day.

The right hand side took some time and testing to get right. This is where a quick inventory of the lists you keep floating around will help inform. I’m always jotting down items I need to order online or pick up at the store, so a Shopping List made sense for me. The To-Do List at the top is where I move items from the monthly To-Do List to the weekly To-Do List. If I’m taking Notes during an important phone call, I may jot them down in the notes section for the week so I can refer back to them a few weeks down the road. Food can mean grocery lists or meals for the week, and sometimes both. Finally is the What Went Well list. I’ve toyed with Gratitude and Positive Quotes in this area, but they just weren’t my thing. Somewhere I read about the idea of noting What Went Well each week, and this provides the best perspective and tone for starting each week. If anyone knows where this concept came from, please let me know to offer credit!

I set this section up every Monday morning. I typically go through my Outlook, Evernote, flagged emails and the previous weeks remaining tasks to generate my initial list, and then fill in as the week goes along. Most Bullet Journals come with two ribbon page markers. I leave one on the month and one on the week.

So, until the next installment of the Bullet Journal Tuesday Morning Tidy, enjoy testing and exploring your monthly and weekly layouts. Good luck to you, and feel free to contact me with questions or ideas!

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