Writing Wednesday: Simplified Bullet Journal Part 1: Notes and Tasks

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This is the first post in our new Simplified Bullet Journal series. I’ll have a new post every week to help you get started with Bullet Journaling in a clear, easy to use, highly productive way.

If you are new to the Bullet Journal system, you might feel overwhelmed with the enormous amount of information online. At first glance it may seem complicated and difficult. This is the opposite of its purpose.

The Bullet Journal system was created by Ryder Carroll, who used it for many years and found it helped him organize his notes, and life in general. So in 2013 he generously shared it, for free, with the world.

In its original form, the Bullet Journal system was elegantly simple and extremely effective. Fundamentally, it is a way to organize your notes as you write them, then index them so it’s easy to find what you need later.

In the beginning, it was very simple. Then people started adding their own methods. This is part of what makes the Bullet Journal system so universally successful: it’s easy to adapt it to your needs. But as the system caught on, more and more people posted their adaptations and additions online until it became an overwhelming sea of information. And as with many paper planning systems these days, you could be forgiven for thinking it’s all about decorating when you search for images.

No, the original system was all about simplicity and productivity. The new generation of Bullet Journal is still very effective, and people do enjoy adapting the system to their needs.

But I am going to take you back to the basics and show you how to get started with the Bullet Journal system in a simplified and easy-to-use way.

First of all, use whichever notebook you like. Be sure to choose something you can take with you: the point of a Bullet Journal is to have it with you all the time as your capture device for everything that comes at you all day. No matter what type of information comes your way, you’ll be able to organize it as you write it on the page.

Number your pages, and create an Index. Now here’s where I differ from the original system: Write your Index in the back of the book. That way you can use as many pages as you need for your index.

Write the date at the start of each new entry. I like to start a new page every day, because I write a lot. Some people might prefer to write the date right under the previous day’s entry. Either way is fine.

What makes the Bullet Journal system so effective is you don’t have to think about where to write different types of notes or how to differentiate them. You just get them down on the page as quickly as possible. This is called Rapid Logging and is the backbone of Bullet Journaling. As you write your notes, you use symbols to indicate which type of note it is, thus organizing your notes as you go.

Bullets and Signifiers: These are what allow you to organize your notes as you write them. They are little symbols you draw at the beginning of a line to indicate what type of information you are writing.

Use whatever bullet symbols and signifiers are meaningful to you, but these are my suggestions to get you started:


       [ ] Task  A task to be done is indicated by a square. When the task is in progress, fill in half the square. When the task is completed, fill in the square completely. If the task becomes irrelevant, draw a line through it. If you need to forward the task to a different day, draw an arrow in the box and indicate where the task went.

  • Note Use whichever symbol you like best for a note: a dot or a dash.

      * Important Use an asterisk or exclamation point, whichever catches your eye more.

      —-> Arrow When I have follow-up information or actions, I draw an arrow under the note or task and write my follow-up notes there. For example if I had a Task to “Call Sarah about order,” under that I would draw an arrow and write the result of the phone call (order was shipped yesterday, tracking number XP79436).

O Event This is for any event that is not associated with a time. For example, “Gave Harvey his heartworm pill.”

12:30 Appointment (Or whatever time your appointment is). Use times for appointments you have that day. I also circle my appointments so they really stand out on the page.

And that is all I use for my signifiers. I’ve found the more symbols and signifiers you use, the more complicated and slow your system gets. You want to keep it light and streamlined.

As you use your Bullet Journal you may discover you need more symbols to indicate other things. Feel free to add what you need. I recommend drawing a Key (as in the photo above) for quick reference to your symbols. For example if you want to add a specific signifier for meeting notes or for your food diary, you can create your own symbol for that. Whatever you do, make your symbols quick and easy to draw or write. You don’t want to spend time artistically drawing a symbol, you want to be able to get it on the page immediately so you can get your notes written. Remember, Rapid Logging is key.

Write your notes, using bullet points and signifiers as you write, so you know what type of information you are putting down on the page. In my example below, you can see I have a Task (as indicated by the square) that is partially completed (half filled). Under the task I have written a Follow Up note: I’m waiting for Mel to call me back. After she has called me back, I will check off the arrow (completed) and will fill in the square (completed).


For each page, write the topics and their corresponding page numbers in your Index so you know where to look later to find that information. For example if you have meeting notes on pages 12, 13, 14, 22, 23 and 27, you will write in your Index: Meeting Notes: 12, 13, 14, 22, 23, 27. Later in your book if you write more meeting notes, just add those page numbers in your Index. This allows you to take notes on anything as it comes at you, and write it directly onto your page in your book without thinking about where to write it.

I DO NOT recommend writing in days ahead. This will constrain the amount of page space you have available on any given day. You may find you only need half a page one day. Another day you may find you use several pages for meeting notes or other topics. The beauty of the Bullet Journal is that it grows organically, and becomes what you need when you need it. I will have a future post on planning with your Bullet Journal. But the bottom line is, don’t write in days ahead of time. Capture information as it comes at you, and get it down on the page. It’s interesting to see how your Bullet Journal develops over time.

That is the very basic principle of Bullet Journaling. In my next post in this series I will go into details of other features of the system. But if you never do anything else beyond what I have outlined above, you will still have a very effective and efficient note-taking system.

Look for Part 2 of the Simplified Bullet Journal series Wednesday June 8th!

4 thoughts on “Writing Wednesday: Simplified Bullet Journal Part 1: Notes and Tasks

  1. Thanks for another great post, as always, Laurie!
    I’ve never tried using a Bullet Journal, but I could see myself giving it a go in the future. Thanks for a great reminder of the original system as I was finding people’s pictures of all their decoration a bit confusing…

  2. Excellent! As you point out, much has grown up around the BulletJournal and heading back to the beginning is a step in the right direction.Thanks, Jim

  3. Good post Laurie. I find by using the ‘kiss principle’, it is very effective. It is hard to use as a forward planner, but works very well with something such as a Excompta Journal 21 which I won in a give away on this blog early this year. (Thank you). Naturally it works well with ring type binders also, and enables one to keep both bullet journal and diary together.

    You are doing a great job with this blog Laurie, I enjoy it!!

    • Thanks so much for your kind words Crofter, I’m so glad you are enjoying the blog (and your Journal 21!)!

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