12 things I learned in my first year of using the Bullet Journal

12 .You probably don’t need all the collections you think you do

When you’re starting out, you’re probably mystified by the idea of collections. It can be exciting to want to add collections such as books you want to read, movies you want to watch, etc.

Unless you spend a year in one notebook, chances are your Bullet Journals will be high-turnover and you might be wondering whether these collections need to be migrated and carried over every time. The short answer is ‘no.’

Instead, continue to add to the lists in the original notebooks and perhaps place a page tab so that you can easily locate them again when searching for these collections in your previous notebooks (you could also go by the index, but the page tabs give an indication of continuity with pages that are still purposeful). Another option is to give them a permanent home either in a separate notebook where you keep collections that don’t need constant attention such as the ones mentioned. Note that you probably don’t need to carry these collections around with you, either, in case you were thinking about carrying a notebook like this along.

The concept of ‘collections’ in the bullet journal is a generous term that project tasks, sketches, and journaling fit under, but it doesn’t mean any of these need to be migrated to a new notebook.

The collections that should be in your notebook are those that are truly relevant and meaningful to your life in some way.

This can include quotes, project tasks, household cleaning, budgeting, gratitude, food log, notes, and others.

Also note that you don’t need to have any collections at all if you don’t want to.


Focus on creating collections that serve an immediate purpose in your life. When you get a new Bullet Journal, migrate the remaining relevant open tasks from pertinent collections.

11 .Keep in mind the word ‘log’ in the system.

The monthly and daily logs both act as a way to log what happened. When we think of what is contained in a month, we think towards the future and what will happen; same with the day, we think about what will happen during the day. With the Bullet Journal, the system takes into consideration that real life happens and not just what was planned on may want to be recorded.

As the day goes on, write down noteworthy things that happened such as a pleasant interaction you had with someone else, the new recipe you tried and how it was, what your thoughts are on, and such. This will create a treasure trove of memories to flip back through over the years.


Try to think of your bullet journal as your capture device with your daily log as a real-time record of it all. Each night reflect on the most significant things that stood out to you and in a short snippet log those in the month log. This will give you an excellent overview of what happened that month.

10 . Invest in a nice notebook to house your memories.

Take some time to leaf through notebooks and read reviews of the notebooks you’re interested in. Consider contacting online retailers to ask if they’ll send you a page sample so you can experience it for yourself.

Investing in a nice notebook will set a tone of longevity. It means that you’re actually invested in preserving your memories. It may take a couple tries to get the notebook you like. Once you find the one you like writing in and holding in your hands, it can become a great comfort to leaf through the pages you’ve written in and created all on your own.

That’s a wonderful treasure to hold. I’d preserve those memories in a nice notebook that’s already set up for the Bullet Journal such as the Leuchtturm1917, specifically the official Bullet Journal one. The extra nice thing about getting the official one is that if you’re ever in a situation where you’re describing what the system is to someone, you can flip to the pages at the back and explain it to them a bit better.


Investing in a nice notebook indicates that you’re committed to using a notebook that will safely house your memories, which you can take take comfort in the beauty of. This is a wonderful keepsake full of your life’s adventures.

9. Design: Add touches of personality

This is a simple thing I learned early on that I love about the Bullet Journal. Because it is essentially a framework you can place in any notebook, you have to write the date each day. The way I was writing the day got old real quick, and I have found a fun interest in making the headers and dates of my Bullet Journal look nice. Trying out new things, even as simple as writing the date differently each day, builds a sense of ownership and provides a creative outlet. It gives it a touch of personality and if you like how you’re using it, then that’s ultimately what matters the most. Add some design elements that make it completely catered to your liking. I like to mainly write in black ink with bits of colorful headers interspersed throughout.


Add simple design elements to personalize your Bullet Journal and make it your own.

8 . Productivity: think about the next step.*

Sometimes when life demands a lot of us and we write down a lot of tasks, we get bogged down by the sheer number of tasks on our list. If this happens to you, instead of looking around the internet, searching for how to be more productive and get more done (ahem, me), think about the next thing that you could get done from that list.


Ask yourself what is the next thing you could do to move forward. Pick one and get that done. Spend little time deciding, and just do it!

7 . When you add things to the system, you’re inviting complexity.

Throughout our Bullet Journal journey we probably think of new things to add to it for whatever reason and we excitedly get going with it. We see what someone else is doing and we emulate or tweak it to our liking. At some point you might feel frazzled and overwhelmed, disinterested, put-off, or stressed. If any of these ring true for you, consider paring down all of the new elements you added, rewatch the videos, carefully go through the website, and start anew. I’ve done this a few times in my journey and it has helped me to realize what is important and relevant versus what is “too much.”


If something feels amiss, pare down to the basics and rewatch the videos here and here.

6 . Focus on simplicity.

This is similar to the point above, but is worth mentioning in another way. If you create layouts, think about how much time you’re willing to invest and make them as simple as possible. I’m known for being one who draws up layouts in her Bullet Journal. As useful as these may be, sometimes they can be a time-suck and generate wasted time. Because it’s important for me to have information laid out within the structure of a layout, I need it to be detailed enough to include what’s important to me, but simple enough that I’ll want to make it over and over again. This takes some experimentation to get the right structure for you if you go this route, but it’s worth it in my opinion.

Another example is signifiers. In the beginning I had dozens, had trouble keeping up with all of them, and most didn’t matter on a day-to-day basis. I’ve since pared down to using only a handful or so that give my bullets further contextual meaning.


Think about the amount of time you’re willing to spend and whether what you’re adding is actually benefiting your life and making you happy.

5 . Each notebook has a life of its own.

What I love most about cracking open a new notebook is knowing that it is a new opportunity to store my memories and reflect life as it is true for me in the moment. It develops alongside me and I can cherish all the lessons I’ve learned and look back on the experiences and thoughts I had at various stages of my life. It’s great having something that keeps track of it all for me and develops alongside me.


Find comfort in knowing the legacy you are creating within the pages of your notebooks. Each notebook represents a slice of your life, a book you’ve created all on your own!

4 . Look in past notebooks for old themes and ideas

As many beautiful memories as previous Bullet Journals have, there are also many experiences in those pages that have some nugget of wisdom to learn from. The wonderful thing about writing things down on paper is the neural connections that are formed to increase the rate of remembering these mistakes. But, we’re also visual creatures and as such need to be able to see things to see how they’ve changed and developed over time.


Leaf through your old pages and review what worked and what didn’t work. Bring back experiments that went well, and learn from what you didn’t like.

3 . Keep the concept of “use the right tool for the task at hand” in mind.

The Bullet Journal is great, but it cannot give you reminders to feed your dog or take your medications. As much as I tried in the last year, I kept taking my allergy pill at different times each day. It wasn’t until I gave in and set a reminder on my phone that I started taking it consistently. At first, I was apprehensive about setting a reminder because I don’t like my phone making noises at me. But, something needed to change since my allergies tend to flare up. So, I gave in and downloaded an app (didn’t want to clutter up Google calendar with a simple reminder) to remind me to take my allergy pill. Now I take it at the same time each night, no longer spend an extraneous amount of mental bandwidth worrying about it and possibly taking it too late.

In this scenario, having a reminder app alert me to take my allergy medication was the best thing instead of relying on my Bullet Journal to remind me.

Do you need to be reminded of an event in three months? Use an online calendar. Write a novella-sized journal entry each day and burn through your otherwise task-based Bullet Journal? Use a dedicated notebook to journal in. Taking 4 classes at college? Use a dedicated notebook for each course and use the Bullet Journal to track tasks for all of them.


Use the tool that makes the most sense for what you’re working on. Think about what you need the Bullet Journal to do for you and use it alongside other tools for maximum productivity.

2 . The system only works if you work it.

If you continually search for ideas and redo things you’re going to find yourself wasting a lot of time and not actually getting anything done. Keep it simple. Trust how it’s laid out and give it a try exactly as shown, at least once, for a set amount of time. I suggest a month or two at the very least. Keep in the mind the importance of migration and you’ll be well on your way to a better Bullet Journal experience.


Review your notebook throughout the day and get things done. Each night, reflect, log noteworthy things in the month log, and migrate and strike-through what isn’t worth doing or rewriting.

1 . Use it the way that YOU need to.

Think about this one very carefully.

Do you want it to help you be more productive? Do you want it to also help provide a space for reflection? Do you want to log your food? Create a system that makes sense for you and what matters to you.


Above all, make the Bullet Journal work the way you work. Take some time to learn the system and try out the framework exactly as laid out. As time goes on, you’ll find what you like and what you don’t like.


Focus on today

Unlike other productivity systems, the Bullet Journal holds a big emphasis on doing. It is not a system that has you dump in all of your tasks, then reshuffle them to all the different contexts. Instead, it’s a system that has you think about what’s important and relevant right now in your life and jot down the tasks you want to get done for the month. Then, each day, it asks you to quickly jot down the tasks that come to mind and grab a few from the month tasks list. Next, it’s up to you to work on them. If you’re having trouble figuring out which one to start on first, ask yourself, “What do I need to do right now?” and do that. Place an asterisk for priority to help you focus as you’re working through your task list. Signifiers are optional and can unwittingly serve as a form of procrastination as they add context. Use signifiers** sparingly and intentionally.

Each night, look over your daily log and strike out any tasks that don’t matter, migrate to the next day the few that do matter, and migrate to the month tasks list the ones you will not do tomorrow. Migration is the strongest component of the system because it forces you to be intentional about your time and what you’re willing to invest it on.


Focus on doing. Write down tasks as needed, do what you can and let go of what you won’t do by striking it out. Be intentional with what you migrate.

What have you learned from using the Bullet Journal?

*The concept of a ‘next step’ is something I remember from GTD, it’s an excellent tip that works well in the Bullet Journal.

**Signifiers are symbols that give the bullets further significance. As a recap, the bullets are the checkbox/dot for tasks, dot/dash for notes, and open circle for events.

Notebook used in the header image:

Leuchtturm1917 medium dot grid.

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