Get Organized, Reflective, and Focused Through Bullet-Journaling

By Colleen Boff

Every so often, a person has a life changing experience. For me, this has been bullet journaling. If I could afford to quit my job and travel around the country to teach people about this system, I would—in a heartbeat. Bullet journaling is a paper/pencil system developed by Ryder Carroll, an Art Director and Interaction Designer living in Brooklyn, New York. In his YouTube video (, he describes bullet journaling as “an analog system that tracks the past, organizes the present and plans for the future.” He combines to-do lists, a calendar system and journaling. I happened upon this via a friend’s Facebook post and was mildly optimistic since I had been test-driving various organizational systems for years. I was one of those people that had a bunch of to-do lists sprinkled around my work office and on my kitchen counter, multiple calendars, and many failed attempts to reflect on my life through journals. I have been with bullet journaling for a year and a half and I love it.

Setup of my first bullet journal was a little intimidating at first but it includes these basic elements: an index (this is more like a table of contents), a future log (a two-page spread of all known dates/events for the year), monthly log (a two-page spread of goals and to do lists for the month), followed by a daily log (two-page spread for each week of the month), and collections (these are determined by you). In addition to these basics, I have added an activity log at the beginning of each month with dates listed in a column on the left followed by columns to the right for habits that I want to establish and track. This varies for me slightly from month to month. As a standard, I track my sleep and steps from my Fitbit, my water in-take, whether or not I went to exercise class, miles biked, servings of fruit and veggies and my overall outlook on life for the day. At the beginning of each month I also have a two-page spread for my gratitude log in which I jot down three items from the previous day that made me joyful or grateful. This has been a real attitude booster.

Collections follow the monthly calendar spreads. This is my favorite part of the system and it is highly customizable. Collections can be two-page spreads or multiple page spreads. Here are some examples of collections I keep:

  • Reading Log (I include author, title, page count)
  • Places Travelled (I include travel for work and personal)
  • Day Trips I Want to Take
  • Habits of Mind (e.g. “listen more, talk less”
  • Quotes (these usually come from the books listed in my Reading Log)
  • Interesting “Things” to Check Out (these are references made in readings or interesting books, shows, movies, apps, websites, etc. that people tell me to check out)
  • Doctor’s appointments for me and my dogs
  • Membership renewals
  • Dream Log
  • House projects
  • Writing ideas
  • Professional Reading Log
  • Savings Log (I saved a few dollars each week and by the end of the year I was able to give my husband $500 towards a new bike)

To dig deeper into this system, go to Ryder’s web page at http://bullet There is also an active online community with loads of ideas for collections and overall setup on Pinterest. When I first started, I bought a cheap notebook and tried it for three months to see if I would like the system. It took me several months to refine my journal and I still make small adjustments each month. Once I realized that I loved the system, I went all out and bought fun office supplies including my favorite pens and pencils in different colors, a little ruler and a snazzy pencil pouch. My favorite purchase though was a Leuchtturm1917 notebook with dots rather than lines and a secret pocket in the back ($20 or so).

This system centers me. I feel calmer, reflective, intentional and more organized in my personal and professional life with my trusty notebook.  Here’s just one way in which it has made a difference in my life. I kept losing my personal belongings such as my cell phone, my keys, even my purse one day! I grew so concerned about this that for a few months, I started to track this in my bullet journal through a collection labeled “Stuff I Lose”. I jotted down the item lost, along with the time and date. When I compared this list with my monthly activity log in which I track my sleep, I realized that I lost items in the middle of the week (when I was getting less sleep) and around 3:00 p.m. each time. Once I realized that, I set a goal the following month of getting an hour more of sleep each night and I made sure I took a walk, stretched or drank a cup of coffee mid-afternoon each day. Perhaps a coincidence, but I have not lost anything since establishing my new habits thanks to my bullet journal!

Dr. Colleen Boff is a Librarian at Bowling Green State University in Ohio.