It’s what you do every day that changes you. From authors like Cal Newport to podcasters like Tim Ferris to motivational speakers like Tony Robbins, generally everyone always mentions that the key to excellence is building good habits.
When I was fine-tuning how to build life-long habits, I came across the Bullet Journal. I’m all about small changes for large impacts and this system was exactly that for me. I’ve been using it for just over a year and a half and can see improvements throughout my professional and personal life.
Note: I do have to apologize for the lack of imagery in this post. My intentions were to publish with spreads but due to a random series of events (and poor planning), this didn’t happen. You can find some pictures in the announcement Twitter thread.
A Bullet Journal (or any journal) is an under-rated tool for better decision making and habit building. My journal takes my big dreams and forces me to break them down into daily habits. It also forces me to review things repeatedly to ensure I stay focused.
I started using my journal for work-related tasks but now it also monitors my social life, my bodybuilding goals, and ideas for creative projects. Over time it has evolved to become my second brain.
Below I’ve detailed how my journal is laid out. It should be enough information for you to get started on yours.
People in the BuJo community call the way you lay out a particular page a spread. My journal uses the following spreads:
Dailies are my To-Do lists and they follow the basic Bullet Journal guidelines for daily entries. I write them in the morning and they list the top three things to do that day (sometimes just one).
There’s a few other things I do that are unique with my dailies. I would not attempt to integrate this right away into your own journal:
Dailies help me focus on what’s important, define what’s the minimum for a successful day, and keeps anxieties about “not doing enough” at bay.
As you use your bullet journal you will find you prefer different spreads for different areas of your life. I don’t use weekly spreads for my work but I do use weekly spreads for my main hobby.
Since I don’t need to make daily decisions for bodybuilding (it’s more of a consistency sport), I keep workouts tracked on a weekly basis and include a weekly review to keep note of any changes in body composition or sensitivities to food. This is generally how I pick up on trends.
My monthly spread tracks my social outings, happy moments, competition numbers, and lists my low-priority tasks.
I live a social life despite being fairly introverted. I need time by myself in order to feel “balanced” so I try not to go out twice in a row or more than twice a week. The lines on the left next to the dates mark the weeks of a month and it makes it easy for me to ensure I’m not over-extending myself.
My happy log covers the next three pages with three bullets for each day. I originally tried a gratitude log but I got too repetitive so I started listing the things that made me happy. It gives me the same warm fuzzies and keeps me positive.
The next pages are bodybuilding focused: detailed tracking of my measurements, diet plans, and macro targets to ensure I’m hitting my body recomposition targets during off- and on-season.
All these pages end with a review where I note things to adjust in any my plans, bullet journal revisions, and an overall review of how the month went.
The key to my bullet journal are my indexes. Some people find that the issue with a daily bullet journal is that “important things” get lost in the daily spreads. I solved this by creating indexes at the front of the book.
I have an index for blog ideas, product ideas, and books I want to read. As I’m writing my dailies, if I feel I’ve written down something I would later want to reference, I write down the main subject and the page number of the daily in the associated index.
This keeps my floating ideas together and I can always reference the original thought in my daily spread.
When I got a handle on my foundational spreads, I started doing one-off special spreads to force myself into a new way of thinking or encouraging me to change my mindset.
I’ve done the following spreads for fun:
I tried the following spreads but they didn’t work out:
Your journal is yours so you should only do what works for you. I would advise you don’t spend too much time looking at the #bulletjournal hashtag if you know you get distracted easily by what others are doing.
Clarifying what you need from your journal and writing them down in the front can help you stay focused. I use my bullet journal to:
If a spread isn’t doing one of those three things, I don’t use it or keep it.
When you’re starting the only spread you should have is a daily spread. Try it for about a month and then start adding in other things one by one. Once you feel comfortable with a new spread, try adding another one. This will keep you from being overwhelmed too quickly.
Your journal will eventually morph into something unique and you’ll find yourself not being able to part with it. My journal comes with me everywhere and I don’t start a day without it.
You can buy a Bullet Journal from the creator of Bullet Journal or you can use whatever you want. I use a Leuchtturm1917 Whitelines Dotted Paper A5 notebook, write with Muji 0.5mm Black Ink Ball Pens, and keep a tiny ruler in the back flap of the journal.
The journal I use has non-distracting grey grid paper and I like the orange band that keeps it closed. It also comes with labels for archiving your journal after. I like all these things.
Don’t overthink it.
It’s your journal. Do whatever you want. If you don’t know whether or not it’ll work, try it until you know.
Don’t overthink it.
Browsing instagram may give you some ideas. I always use a moment like this to revisit why I was creating a new spread or what I was trying to achieve. It’s okay to change spreads halfway or ditch a spread if it’s not working for you. Life will change. Your journal should change with it.
Don’t overthink it.
It’s a journal. It’s okay to mess up… I have entire pages crossed out from failed spread experiments. I simply flipped the page and continued on.
Oh, and: don’t overthink it.
↩︎  If you're interested in learning more about creating good habits, I recommend these books which cover habits, practice, and learning: “The Power of Habit”↗︎, “Deep Work”↗︎, and “Make It Stick”↗︎
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