Writing Wednesday: Simplified Bullet Journal Part 3: Planning (or not) in your Bullet Journal

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The number one frustration I see with Bullet Journal users is how to use it as a planner. All the time I see online people asking questions like, “How to I plan appointments in my Bullet Journal?” “What if I have an event 6 months from now? Where do I write that?”

I’ve seen people hand-draw month after month, or week after week in their notebook. I’ve even seen people give up the system entirely because they are so fed up with hand-drawing planner pages in their book.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret: the original Bullet Journal system was not meant to be used as a planner.

This doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t use it as a planner, because people definitely do. But if you are sick of trying to use your Bullet Journal as a less-than-functional planner, maybe this will help you feel better.

BUT! I hear people say, what about the monthly planning pages?? They have always been part of the Bullet Journal system. But if you watch the video detailing the original Bullet Journal system and listen carefully starting at 1:37, you will hear him say, “As you log events, add them to that month’s calendar page. Over time it will give you a solid overview of what happened month to month.”  The monthly page is meant to be a record of events that happened, for easy reference. It’s like an index for events.

In this podcast at about 20 minutes, they discuss the fact that the Bullet Journal system is not meant to be a planner for forward planning. Ryder Carroll himself (the creator of the Bullet Journal) uses an online calendar for planning, which he talks about at minute 21 in the same podcast. He then talks about some hacks for future tasks, but he says the Bullet Journal system is not designed for scheduling, it’s a capture tool. (The entire podcast is excellent, he talks about how he got started with the Bullet Journal. I especially like when he talks about his frustration with other more structured systems and how he got disappointed when he missed days, which he starts talking about around 5:30.)

So if you’ve been feeling aggravated with trying to plan in your Bullet Journal, now you know why! I’ll say it again: the original Bullet Journal system was meant to be a capturing method for organizing your notes as you take them. It’s a capture/ recording device.

Again, that doesn’t mean you should never use your Bullet Journal as a planner. In fact, lots of people like to draw (or print and glue) planning pages in their Bullet Journal so they can use one book for planning and recording. That’s fine.

Personally, I prefer to use a separate planner so I can plan the whole year in one book. I use 3-4 notebooks per year, and I don’t want to have to re-write future plans multiple times all year.

I have, in the past, drawn weekly planning pages in a notebook so I could have all my planning and recording in one bound book. I didn’t do it again because 1) hand-drawing weekly pages gets really tedious really fast, and 2) I only had space for a few months of planning pages in my book, so future planning was a constant problem.

Here are some ideas for planning with your Bullet Journal:

  1. You can draw the months or weeks in yourself, as mentioned above. If you do this, I recommend drawing your weekly pages at the beginning of your book, freeing up the rest of your pages for Bullet Journaling.
  2. You can use a monthly or weekly pocket size planner with your Bullet Journal, tucked into the back pocket of your notebook. That way you can still work out of one book, without having to draw weeks yourself. This also gives you the advantage of being able to use more than one notebook in a year without having to re-draw your weekly pages.
  3. You can use a separate planner (electronic or paper), keeping your planning independent from your Bullet Journal. This is what I prefer. All planning goes in my planner, all recording goes in my Bullet Journal. This keeps their purposes separate so I never have to wonder which book to look in to find what I need.

If you do decide to hand-draw planning pages in your book, I recommend keeping it as simple as possible. One year I drew weekly pages with the days as vertical columns, and that took ages because I had to measure each column individually. It’s much easier, and faster, if you use lined pages and draw horizontal lines along the printed lines. That way you don’t have to measure, you just count the number of lines to get the spaces the right size.

Below is an example of a simple weekly layout (drawn in a Compact size Habana notebook), made by just drawing two horizontal lines across both pages, and a vertical line to separate Saturday and Sunday:


Here is an annual overview I drew in the very back of the notebook:


Again I recommend drawing your planning pages at the very front or very back of your book, freeing the rest of your pages to capture and grow organically.

So if you are feeling frustrated trying to use your Bullet Journal as a planner, now you know why. You can turn your notebook into a type of planner, you can slip a planner booklet into your Bullet Journal notebook, or you can use a separate planner (paper or electronic) for your planning.

I hope this has helped answer some questions about planning and Bullet Journaling!

Look for Part 4 in the Simplified Bullet Journal series Wednesday June 22nd!

10 thoughts on “Writing Wednesday: Simplified Bullet Journal Part 3: Planning (or not) in your Bullet Journal

    • Hi Mary, it depends. If you use a planner booklet in the pocket of your Bullet Journal notebook, you can have your planning and Bullet Journaling in one. I use separate books for my Bullet Journal and planner. Usually I take my Bullet Journal with me everywhere and my planner only when I know I’ll need it.

  1. Hi — great post. Quick question: are you still using your Bullet Journal for daily pages/to-dos, even though you’re using a separate weekly/monthly planner?

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