What to put in a Bullet Journal

"All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone."
- French philosopher Blaise Pascal

"All of the difficulties in Bullet Journaling stem from the writer's inability to put words on an empty page."
- Pen specialist and Bullet Journal practitioner Tom Oddo

We can all appreciate how aesthetically pleasing and satisfying it is to look at someone else's Bullet Journal. But, when it comes to sitting down to write in our journals, how do you feel?

Are you struggling to keep up with the habit of habit tracking? Are you embarrassed that your journal doesn't look as neat as others you've seen online? Do you feel like it's a chore that you don't have the time for? If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, I promise this post will bring immeasurable value to your journaling practice.

I encourage you to journal daily to benefit your mental health, improve creativity, and fulfill your life's ambitions. Bullet Journaling, in particular, has the potential for being your "second brain" and is an important tool that many professionals use in their day-to-day work.

Read on to explore how to use Bullet Journaling for personal development. Find out what to put in your journal and start filling pages today.

What is a Bullet Journal?

For the newbies who might be hearing about Bullet Journaling for the first time, it's a pen-and-paper recording and organizational system founded by Ryder Carroll. It's ingenious in its simplicity and flexibility. Think of it as an external hard drive for your brain. A Bullet Journal isn't a specific notebook or app (although there are such things available). Any journal can be a "Bullet Journal" when you apply the principles and basic framework of the Bullet Journal method.

How to start a Bullet Journal

There are many videos, online resources, and articles that describe the initial setup of a Bullet Journal. I, too, wrote a blog post on the topic back in 2017. Although it's helpful to see someone demonstrate how they use the journal, it's too easy to get sidetracked and fall down a rabbit hole of "Plan with Me," "Bullet Journal Setup," and "Journal Tips" videos available on the internet.

The quickest way to get started is to purchase a copy of the official Bullet Journal made by Leuchtturm1917. Ryder Carroll worked closely with the German stationery company to develop a dot grid notebook optimized for Bullet Journaling. It makes a great first Bullet Journal because it includes a printed startup guide.

So, now that you have your dedicated journal and good pens for journaling handy, what's next? How do you begin to fill in your various logs, habit trackers, collection pages, and so on? What will you be journaling about?

To help get the pen flowing, I present five questions to thoughtfully contemplate as you attempt to pour yourself onto the pages of your Bullet Journal, especially if you're considering journaling for mental health.

What is important to you?

We all have deeply-held values. They may not be obvious. It's not like we have them tattooed on our forearms (Okay, maybe some of us do). However, we know when we've acted in alignment with our values and we know when we've transgressed them. If something brings more color and fulfillment to your life, then it is likely rooted in a meaningful value.

Identifying your values takes effort and introspection. If you need help finding examples, check out Brené Brown's list of values from her book Dare to Lead. Once you have several, list them in your journal to remind yourself, "this is what I stand for." This prevents us from losing touch with ourselves as we encounter requests and obligations from others.

Then, write a personal mission statement that expresses your values and how you will abide by them. Call it a "manifesto" or a "mantra," if you please. It creates a relationship between all of your values and how they manifest into practical actions you will take.

For example, one of my values is "creativity." So, part of my mission statement is "to create informative, entertaining, and empowering content as a writer and marketer."

What do you want to achieve?

Humans have needs, wants, and aspirations. What do you need to feel whole? What do you desire? Since you've defined your dearest values, you should have a good idea of where to start.

The goals being set should align with your mission statement and values. If they don't, ask why. Is the goal someone else's? Is it one that cultural norms have forced upon you? If you can't relate a particular goal to your values, you will probably not succeed in achieving it. And, even if you did, you would have climbed the ladder to find it was leaning against the wrong wall.

As a productivity tool, Bullet Journaling is an effective way to organize long-term goals by breaking them down into bite-sized tasks. For this purpose, you could keep a habit tracker that relates to your goal.

For example, if you value wellness and set a goal to work out every day of the week for at least 20 minutes, then you can mark off a daily habit tracker each day you meet this micro-goal.

Collection lists can also be useful in achieving your goals. If your goal is to read 30 books in a year, you can have one page that lists all the books you read and another page for all the books you want to read next.

Where do you need more focus, organization, and clarity?

Life is confusing, complicated, and messy. Our brains can only handle so many pieces of information at a given moment. So, it's understandable when so many of us report feeling overwhelmed and overstimulated. Our brain's processing power isn't able to keep up with the flood of input at our fingertips.

The Bullet Journal's analog system allows you to focus your mental energy without being distracted by notifications, alerts, and ads. It allows us to focus on what's important without being distracted by other people's agendas. Writing in a journal is like turning the dial on a pair of binoculars - it brings the view into sharp focus.

So, where in your life could you use more clarity? What room inside your head could use tidying? Writing allows you to take inventory and survey your current situation. Once you have a clear idea of what needs to be done to clean up, you can set a plan in motion to address the issue. Each step of this plan is to be scheduled in your future, monthly, and daily logs.

Who do you want to be by the end of the notebook?

This question is akin to the obituary writing exercise - only less morbid. You are the only one who holds the pen to write your story. Who do you want to be by the end of that story? Having a clear idea of the person you want to be will help drive you toward your goals and the values they represent.

If someone were to pick up your completed journal and read it from cover to cover, would they see someone who struggled for all the right reasons? Would they see the person you think you are? Would they see that you lived up to your expectations? Did you honor your core values?

What makes a good day great and a bad day miserable?

Consider the past several days, weeks, months, or years. Go as far back as you can accurately recall. Think of the most memorable days that stand out for their positive feelings. Why were they great days? What contributed to their greatness? Find several examples of amazing days, they don't have to be 10/10, they can be 7/10 or higher, and seek the similarities among them. How do these days connect with your values?

Then, think of the most notoriously bad days - days that deserve zero stars if it was possible. What made them so miserable? What kinds of feelings did you encounter? What happened to cause the bad day? How do these days conflict with your values?

Taking inventory of both the good and the bad, write what you could do to add more positive aspects of good days while attempting to limit or diffuse the stimuli that lead to a bad day. Look at your weekly schedule like an experiment. Try adding a habit that is usually present on a great day. Also, find ways to insure yourself against the potential downside of a bad day. True, you won't be able to predict a major catastrophe. But, it pays to be prepared with an umbrella for rainy days.

Final thoughts on what your Bullet Journal should contain

As you begin (or continue) your journey with the Bullet Journal system, I encourage you to remember two things above all else: 1. That the Bullet Journal system is flexible and meant to be tailored to your work and life habits. Just because some YouTuber's journal layout looked gorgeous doesn't mean you should do yours the same way. 2. Your journal will contain imperfections and mistakes. If they are an accurate reflection of our minds, our journals will have sloppy handwriting, misspellings, wrong dates labeled, entire sections scratched out, and awful-looking doodles of puppies. Embrace it. Love it. Learn from it.

To recap, when you're looking to fill the content of your Bullet Journal, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What is important to you?
  • What do you want to achieve?
  • Where do you need more focus, organization, and clarity?
  • Who do you want to be by the end of the notebook?
  • What makes a good day great and a bad day miserable?

Answering these questions should help determine the content of your journaling and help you focus on what matters most...to you.

I hope that these questions help get your pen moving. If you have any follow-up questions or would like to see more creative writing content, don't be shy! Send us an e-mail. We'd love to hear how this article impacted your daily writing routine.

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