There is no shortage of calendar and to-do apps out there. All of them are competing for your attention on every platform imaginable. More likely than not, no one app or service is ever going to be perfect for you, unless you design your own productivity system.
With the use of a digital notebook like Evernote, a journaling system called the Bullet Journal, and no coding experience whatsoever, you can create a completely tailored organization system for yourself.
What is the Bullet Journal?
Described as an “analog system for the digital age,” the Bullet Journal is all about taking your organization system out of your phone or computer, and putting it in a completely customizable, handwritten notebook.
To create a bullet journal all you need is a plain notebook and a pen. You can use a lined, squared, or plain journal — whatever works for you. This system created by Ryder Carroll, a digital product designer, allows you to select which elements of the Bullet Journal system you want to use. Since Bullet Journals are all about being flexible, you could always digitize it using Evernote or even Microsoft OneNote.
— Just Eilidh (@Just_Eilidh) April 10, 2016
The advantage to using this system, rather than a store-bought planner or an online or mobile app is that you have complete control. Often when using apps or pre-printed journals, I find myself wishing I could tweak certain elements. This way, you have the ability to create your own planner from start to finish. With the Bullet Journal system, if there are certain elements that don’t appeal to you, you can alter them, or just remove them entirely.
What follows is a brief introduction to Bullet Journaling and a guide to how to create a Bullet Journal using an online notebook like Evernote. This method would also work with other digital notebook services like the tabbed layout of OneNote, and you could theoretically even do it using a series of notes saved in a folder on your computer — but that will lack a lot of the convenient features and accessibility that using Evernote will afford you.
Essentially, Bullet Journal fans create their daily, weekly, or monthly calendars in a plain notebook. Rather than buy a pricey planner that includes types of calendars that they’re not going to use — they are creating their own organizer.
You can use it as a way to organize your entire life, for daily stuff like meal planning, or a blog post publication schedule. The Get Started section on the Bullet Journal site explains the whole process, but let’s look at it in brief here too.
How Does It Work?
Any Bullet Journal is built around a simple organizational system. The basic framework is made up of modules.
The Bullet Journal consists of four main sections or modules:
- The Index
- Future Log
- Monthly Log
- Daily Log.
Depending on your personal needs, you can choose which of these modules to use or any you would like to add. You can also mix and match modules.
The Index is your contents page. It tells you where in your journal you can find the rest of your sections.
The Future Log is a list of tasks or events that you can schedule months in advance. The screenshot below shows the recommended layout for the Future Log. You can see there are various symbols used to categorize the items listed, which we’ll get to later.
The Monthly Log is a list of tasks or events tied to a specific date within that month or tied to the month as a whole. The suggested layout consists of a page with the month’s dates listed one after the other and another page with a list of tasks you have planned for that month.
The Daily Log drills down even further. Here you can list tasks and events as they relate to specific days of the week. These are the items you are likely to list at the beginning of the week or at the start of each day. If you really want to consider getting super organized, you should make these lists each evening before you go to bed, preparing for the next day.
Now to fill up those sections. Your Bullet Journal is used to do what is called “Rapid Logging“. Rapid Logging consists of several components, that fall into a hierarchical structure:
Topics and Page Numbers: Think of the topic as your header. The header will be determined by which module you are using, as you can see in the screenshots above.
Bullets and Signifiers: Within each page, you can use short sentences to log tasks, events, and notes. The Bullet Journal uses a series of hand drawn symbols or bullets to signify each type of logged item.
• = Task
X = Task Complete
> = Task Migrated (In other words, you moved the task to another day. At the end of each week or month, you can review your tasks, and see if there’s anything that hasn’t been completed and move it to the next month. Using the “migrated” symbol is a good way to keep track of how much you’re actually getting done compared to what you planned to do.)
< = Task Scheduled
O = Event
– = Notes (Pieces of information you want to remember but don’t have the urgency of a task or event.)
As the nature of your tasks change (migrated, scheduled, done) you can change the symbol on the same list. If a task is no longer relevant, you can just cross it out.
You can add further context to your bullets with signifiers:
* = Priority
! = Inspiration
eye = Requires research or discovery
These are the basic building blocks of the Bullet Journal system. You can tweak it as you need. If you prefer a grid for your Monthly Log, there’s no reason not to do that:
As you can see from the screenshot above by Taz + Belly, the Bullet Journal really lends itself to a blog post scheduling system.
While it’s meant as an analog system, there’s no reason you can’t use this system with a digital notebook like Evernote. There’s an argument to be made for using this system digitally — if you’re anything like me, the digital version will be neater, you’re less likely to forget it at home, and migrating tasks will be a little bit easier. And it also becomes completely searchable.
So how do you go about doing it?
Turning an Evernote Notebook into a Bullet Journal
Modules Become Notes: In Evernote, create a new notebook called Bullet Journal. You can then create an individual note for each module listed above: Future Log, Monthly Log (one note per month), and Daily Log (one note per week.) You could also create an Index, linking to the other notes in another note, but this isn’t entirely necessary since Evernote by its very nature is already well organized.
The Future Log is easy to replicate by separating each month with a line.
With the Monthly Log, it would probably be easier to just use the dates and leave out the days of the week. This way you can use an Evernote template to create a new log for each month. You could also create a table to make it a little bit more organized. The first column would be for events and tasks tied to a specific date and the second column could be for overall planning for the entire month:
The Daily Log, like the Future Log is easy to replicate. Be sure to include the date at the beginning of the week in your note title.
Bullets are Replicated: As you can see in the screenshots above, for the most part, you can replicate the hand-drawn bullets used in the traditional Bullet Journal. Rather than have to mess around with the formatting nightmare that will come with using actual bullets, just copy and paste this symbol: •.
As the nature of the task or event changes, you can just delete the original bullet and use the > and < symbols, a capital O, and either use strikethrough when you want to cross out an item, or simply delete it. (To access strikethrough on Evernote, go to Format > Style.)
The only symbol that will be impossible to replicate is the eye. You could use a capital ‘I’ as an alternative, or any other symbol of your choice. You can use the Character Map on your PC, but that’s not always a snap to use. You can format with color “codes” of course.
You could also use the checkbox feature on Evernote for new tasks if you prefer.
Tags: Another organization tool that Evernote brings to the table is tags. You can tag items with corresponding notes: weekly, monthly, or the name of the month itself. That way you can pull up all the notes from one specific month if you need to. Once you’ve finished all the tasks on a specific note, you can also tag that as complete. Conversely, notes with unfinished or open tasks, can be tagged incomplete. With the tagging system, it’s easy to search for specific types of notes.
With Evernote’s advanced search feature, you could also limit your search to a certain range of dates to get an idea of your two-week forecast, for example.
Saved Searches: Now that you’ve established your search parameters, you can save searches for quick access. Just go to Edit > Find > Save Search.
Taking the analog route, instead of using Evernote, it also opens up a lot of creative possibilities. There are a lot of advantages to using a paper planner, and people who use the analog system take their journaling to a whole other level.
Take a look at Maria Garrido‘s Future Log, for example, in which she has used a color coded system and a little calendar for each month. (If your handwriting isn’t the greatest, you could always print these little calendars out and stick them in the journal:
Here are a few great examples of creative Bullet Journals we came across on Instagram that might inspire you, whether you use the analog or digital system. In the first example, you can see the types of information that can be included in your daily log — your water intake, weather, and mood:
The nice thing about a completely tailored system is the ability to include quotes or inspirational messages that mean something to you:
Here’s an example of how to incorporate a nice looking meal plan and shopping list into your Bullet Journal:
And how to use a Bullet Journal to track goals, in this case, those that relate to health:
A photo posted by SamSam (@happiescrappie) on
Are you inspired enough?
For more tips and tricks, check out how to use Evernote’s secrets to remember everything and how to turn your journal into the perfect productivity planner.
If you want to move away from Evernote, consider these note-taking apps to create beautiful bullet journal spreads.