Bullet Journal: Lessons Learned in 6 Months

I've officially been a bullet journalist for 6 months! Here's the 6 lessons I've learned in 6 months with my Bullet Journal.

Six short months ago, I opened up the first page of my brand new Leuchtturm1917 dot grid notebook and began my very first Bullet Journal. What I didn’t know at the time was how much of an impact this “little” system would have on my life.

I’ve always loved planners, but often found myself sticking with them for one or two months, and then reverting back to my unorganized ways. The Bullet Journal system is the first “planner” that I have been able to stick with, and the first system to really “click” with my needs and my way of life.

To celebrate my first 6 months as a bullet journalist, I’ve decided to entertain you with the 6 things that I have learned in my first 6 months with my Bullet Journal. Ready? Let’s go!

I've officially been a bullet journalist for 6 months! Here's the 6 lessons I've learned in 6 months with my Bullet Journal.

1. KEEP IT SIMPLE

When I first started my Bullet Journal back in August of 2015, I was like a kid in a candy store. Over and over again, I found myself on Pinterest or in the Bullet Journal Junkies group on Facebook just looking for more list & collection ideas to incorporate into my Bullet Journal.

Fortunately for me, I realized pretty quickly that all I was doing was crowding my Bullet Journal with a bunch of “noise”. Did I really need all of those lists or did I just want them because they looked so pretty in other people’s Bullet Journals?

Although I still look back fondly on some of those early lists and collections, I decided to move forward with what was actually useful. I was going to keep it simple.

2. CONSTANT REVIEW IS KEY

If you were to sit down and flip through my Bullet Journal, you would find review spreads sprinkled throughout my pages. I believe strongly that nothing is ever set in stone.

One of the things that I love about the Bullet Journal system is its flexibility. Is something not working for you? Ditch it! Is something making you more productive? By all means keep it, but also think about how you can make it even better!

I haven’t been a stickler about sticking to a weekly or monthly review. But I have found that when I take the time to analyze my system from time to time, I am the better for it. My productivity increases, and my Bullet Journal slowly morphs into the perfect system for me.

Here’s an example of one of my review pages:

Here's a little spread I did towards the end of 2015 to decide what was working for me in my Bullet Journal, what I wanted to get rid of, and what I wanted to try next.
This is a little spread I did towards the end of 2015 to decide what was working for me in my Bullet Journal, what I wanted to get rid of, and what I wanted to try next.

3. DEVELOP YOUR OWN SYSTEM

Piggy-backing on the review process is my focus on developing my own system. The way I look at it, the whole purpose of the Bullet Journal is to create a planning system that works for you.

According to Ryder Carroll, the inventor of the Bullet Journal:

“The Bullet Journal is a customizable and forgiving organization system. It can be your to-do list, sketchbook, notebook, and diary, but most likely, it will be all of the above. It will teach you to do more with less.”

Over time, my Bullet Journal has morphed and evolved into a system that is completely my own. Ryder’s original method of rapid logging tasks and thoughts is still alive and well within my pages, but ultimately it has become a living, breathing entity of its own.

My Bullet Journal System
I love Ryder’s original method of rapid logging and signifiers, but I’ve also added elements of my own to make it truly special and functional to me.

4. GET INSPIRED BUT MAKE IT YOUR OWN!

One of the main aspects that drew me to the Bullet Journal was not having to follow any pre-set layouts or guidelines. In other words, the ability to make it my own.

I love to find inspiration from others as much the next person, but I also like to take those ideas and transform them in a way that works for me.

The way I see it, if I’m just constantly copying other people’s layouts and spreads, I might as well just be using a pre-printed planner. And that is not what the Bullet Journal system means to me. To me, the Bullet Journal equals freedom.

Here are two examples of ideas that I have borrowed from others, and how I have adapted them to work for me:

I just LOVE watching my monthly memories page fill up in my #bulletjournal each month! Huge thanks to Kacheri @passion.themed.life who gave me the idea a few months ago ☺️ It's always one of my most cherished pages each month!
My Monthly Memories page.
My Gratitude Log, originally inspired by Kim at Tiny Ray of Sunshine
My Gratitude Log. Originally inspired by Kim at Tiny Ray of Sunshine

5. MISTAKES HAPPEN – OVERCOMING PERFECTIONISM

Oh, the dreaded mistakes! I’ll be the first to admit that I suffer from perfectionism from time to time. One thing that the Bullet Journal has taught me is how to let go of the reigns a little bit and accept that mistakes are a part of every day life. We are all human here, after all.

“Old” Kara would have freaked out over the tiniest mistake, ripped out the page, and started to cry because her pretty new notebook was ruined!

“New” Kara? She’s totally chill about it. Messing up a word, drawing a line a little wonky, not spacing things out correctly… those are every day occurrences. Messing up an entire page? Yeah, that happens too. Guess what I do? I put a giant “X” through that sucker and turn the page.

I often post pictures of my mistakes on Instagram because I think there is too much “perfectionism” in the Bullet Journal community sometimes. I want you to know that even though I create some pretty pretty spreads, there is a lot of trial and error that goes into my pages. For every beautiful photo, there is inevitably a mistake to go right along with it.

Here are a few examples of my [big and little] mistakes over the past six months:

Bullet Journal - Heres some "oops" pages for ya!1. Look closely behind that washi tape ;)

2. I think that was supposed to say Christmas? Anyway, I didn’t like it :)

3. That’s how it’s spelled right? Ohhhhh…..

4. Very first word I wrote in October was putting my dad’s birthday on the wrong date. Oops!

Bullet Journal - Heres some "oops" pages for ya!5. Gotta love those stray lines…

6. Border/doodle attempt gone horribly wrong. Yes, it’s still there looking all blegh!

7. Wrong day of the week, anyone?

8. There are officially two #30’s on my 52 week money challenge page… more money saved right?

6. ONE NOTEBOOK IS NOT ENOUGH (for me)

Although I love the concept of “one notebook”, it doesn’t work for me. I currently use three notebooks on a regular basis, and am even considering adding a 4th one to the mix! After working out of one notebook for the last 5 months of 2015, one thing that I longed for was a way to separate my “planner” and my “collections”.

After a lot of brainstorming, I came up with the following system:

Notebook #1: My Daily Bullet Journal

This is my go-to Bullet Journal, where I plan out everything that is going on in my life on a day-to-day basis.

This notebook houses my daily tasks, my future log, and the personal collections that I refer to on a regular basis (monthly tracker, gratitude log, wish lists, etc.). There really are no rules when it comes to my daily notebook. If I want to track it, it goes in here.

Notebook #2: My Blog & Business Bullet Journal

I won’t bore you with too many details on this one, since I already wrote a 2,000+ word blog post about it right here, but this notebook (as the name implies) contains everything having to do with my blog and business.

There are no daily task lists here (I like keeping just one main to-do list in my daily Bullet Journal). This notebook is less decorative because when it comes to business… well… I mean business ;)

Notebook #3: My Marketing Creativity Journal

Just last month, I quit my day job as a waitress/bartender, and began working for my favorite creative business consultant, Lisa Jacobs. My official title is “Operations Manager”, but my role is ever changing and growing.

Essentially, I help her wherever she needs me. Assisting with client work, social media scheduling, content creation, and more. While I love this new role in my life, I quickly realized that I would need a separate notebook to keep track of everything that I do for Lisa on a daily basis.

This notebook houses meeting notes, client call notes, content outlines, and the like. Everything that has to do with her business goes here. I love that it is all self-contained here and does not bleed into my personal or business journals.

Notebook #4: My Brain Dump Journal

Ok, so this notebook does not exist yet. However, I love the idea of a Brain Dump (or as some call it, a Mind Sweep). The idea is to just sit down with a pen and paper and write down all of your ideas in rapid succession without worrying about organization.

I have a “Brain Dump” page in my daily Bullet Journal, but I keep finding myself rationing out the space that I have left and not using it to its full potential.

My Brain Dump journal will essentially be a long, never-ending list of ideas. Ideas that could potentially end up in any of my other notebooks. When I’m planning out my tasks each night, I’ll take a look at my Brain Dump and see if there is anything that can be migrated over to my current to-do list.

Here’s a peek at what my current Brain Dump page looks like:

Bullet Journal: Brain Dump


Although 6 months doesn’t seem like a very long time in the grand scheme of things, it amazes me to think about how much I have learned. Both about planning in general, and about myself.

Through constant review I am continually tweaking and improving my system. I can’t even imagine what my little Bullet Journal will look like in another 6 months!

MY BULLET JOURNAL SUPPLIES:

How about you? What has the Bullet Journal taught you? Let me know in the comments below!

Kara Benz
Kara Benz is the artist and author behind Boho Berry, where she inspires her readers to lead a more centered, fulfilled, and inspired life. Kara also runs a successful sticker shop on Etsy – Boho Berry Paperie.
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  • My bullet journal is basically for personal collections, trackers and brain dump right now, because I already purchased a pretty academic planner for the year, but I’ll definitely try it to plan next Fall. I already use Google Calendar as my ‘backup’ planner, so it shouldn’t be too difficult :) Concerning my blog, I still prefer using Google Drive and Evernote, but who knows…!

    Thanks for sharing your experience!

  • Joanna

    I already purchased a planner from a kickstarter because this was the year I was to get organized. I hadn’t even heard of a bullet journal until a couple weeks ago. I have applied some of your ideas to my current planner, but looking at possibly doing a full on bullet journal next year. Thanks for your post.

  • Before getting my own Bullet Journal (which was super inspired by your one month update post!) I depended a lot on apps and software to organize myself. Post-bullet journal, I realized that I love the downtime with just a pen and a notebook and planning out my day, scheduling tasks, or just doing a review of the month! It also helps that you can’t “switch off” what you write on paper ;)

    Tori

  • Lindsey

    How do you find time to actually fill out your journal and decorate it?

    • Camilla Sanver

      I don’t know about you, but I need my “doodling/planning/journaling” breaks throughout the day to clear my mind and be able to tackle the next set of things I should be doing. Three minutes here, five minutes there. Decorating is especially good if I am momentarily blocked. It frees my mind for a few moments and suddenly…woosh, I know just what to do.

      I don’t think so much about finding time to journal and decorate as I think about the need to do so much like I need to exercise. It keeps me sane. If I did not journal…well, I’ve tried that, when I thought life was too busy, and let me tell you temper tantrums in the class room as a teacher is not a good thing. :P

      • Yes! I’m right there with you! I’m lucky that I work from home, so if an idea or creativity strikes me, I’m able to pause for a few minutes and get it out onto paper :) Love it, Camilla!

    • For the most part Lindsey, I set aside time in the evening just before bed and in the morning as a part of my morning routine. You can read my full breakdown of my planning routine here: http://bohoberry.wpengine.com/planning-routine/

  • Raylene Debattista

    Trying to get back into bulletjournalling…tried for 2weeks last year but keep it up! I’m so motivated by the fact that you’ve been at it for 6 months and its going so well!
    Also, if you need any hints re: Europe, do let me know (raylened on instagram) I’m here in Malta (a tiny island you can access by plane for several places or ferry from Sicily) and have been around the continent :)

  • Ruby Naz

    I just started 1-2 weeks ago! Borrowing layouts from others but I know eventually I’ll learn what works for me and create some of my own systems. I’m so excited. Thank you for sharing…learned a lot from you!

    • Thanks Ruby! That’s the best way to start… keep trying different ideas and you’ll soon find what works for you, what you want to add, and what you might want to leave out :) Welcome to the Bullet Journal community! :)

  • Mary Anne Shew

    I too use multiple journals — too much for one book, or at least one I could carry. :-) And what you call your Brain Dump I call my Idea Journal. I started my Idea journals on paper, switched to Evernote, and now I’m back to paper. Thanks for all of your inspiration!

    • Aw, thanks Mary Anne! I find it just makes it easier for me in the long run to know where to find things if that makes sense?

  • So, I have my daily bujo, my blogging bujo, my writting bujo (not to be confused with my journaling bujo, because that’s it’s own thing.. I journal every day random whatevers, and my writing bujo is dedicated to my writing, because that’s what i want to do when I grow up .. ish. It’s complicated ;) ). Oh, I also have 3 Cashies or however you spell them inside my cover were my daily bujo and writing bujo live, that house my blog ideas, writing ideas, and long term collections.. and I have a handwriting prectice bujo. Umm.. what? I’m thinking of starting a Common Book. I think I have a problem.

  • That wasn’t the question though, was it (laughs).. what I have learned, is that it’s ok to try new things, and to not like them. Last month I tried out a weekly spread, for two weeks, that had a variety of different features that I thought I would really love; goals, a weekly menu, a list of things i needed to do for work, for my college classes, at home, etc. What I realized after using it for two weeks, was that I didn’t refer to it often enough to keep it up. I have a monthly menu page, and also that info on a white board in my kitchen. The menu page helps me to make my grocery list when I’m at my computer or at work or wherever.. and not in my kitchen. Having that info on a weekly spread just felt redundant. Similarly, last month I started using a calendar spread to keep track of my school assignments which mimics a white board calendar I have in the office I share with my husband (where I do my school work). I write what I’m working each day on in my dailies anyhow.. so that also felt redundant. Having the info on that calendar spread lets me work ahead if I’m not at home, and also lets me plan my next day if I’m working on my bujo somewhere other than my office. This week (am I writing a novel yet?).. I tried a new thing that I already don’t like, and it’s just Monday.. that I won’t be doing again, that once I set it up I realized I wouldn’t like probably, because it reminds me of a pre-printed planner. I like the elements of it, and I like the idea of having the weekend as it’s own thing instead of Sat/Sun separate.. but I tried to fit the whole week on 2 pages (it worked).. but it feels cramped and like I said, I could have bought a preprinted planner and just decorated it if I ws going to go this route. So I won’t be doing it again next week, but I will carry over some of the parts of it that I did like, which are variants of things I tried last month that I liked and had tried for the first time. Also, in each of my bujos (see previous comment).. I do my headers in a different style.. but my daily is the only one that I am currently changing month to month.. until I settle on “my” most loved one. I’m not there yet.. maybe by the time I hit my 1 year bujo anniversary in early fall.. but I don’t feel like that will be the case either. LOL

    • Haha Beth! I love your novels…. please don’t EVER stop! :)

      Those small (or big) tweaks are what makes the bullet journal system perfect for me. I’m constantly adjusting and fixing and nit-picking haha!

  • AnariaLaurelin

    I too am a perfectionist, and it was to my horror that on my first spread– the months in the year– I had written April, May, June, August. I had just gotten my journal in the mail that day and I had already ruined it! But since there was nothing I could do about it (whiteout was the wrong color for the pages), I just left it. Letting that mistake go really helped me, and now when I add 36 days to a month or misspell something, I get a twinge of annoyance but can move on. I’m glad to find I wasn’t alone in grappling with this!

  • Alicia

    I’ve just had my Leuchtturm1917 delivered to my office. I’m so excited to start my Bullet Journal. I don’t feel creative at all but love colouring books so I’m hoping I can just go with the flow for this too. I’m also a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to how things look, are laid out too so I’m also helping this can be a mini letting go tool as well. Also I’ve seen on your Europe stuff you maybe considering a visit to Edinburgh if you need a guide or any hints/tips please get in touch with me ;) I moved here 6 years ago & it’s just a beautiful city! Thanks again for sharing so many wonderful ideas!

    • Hi Alicia! Thanks so much! I’ve moved my Europe trip back to next year due to some scheduling issues, but Edinburgh is a MUST for me… Would you mind shooting me an email so we can stay in touch? It’s kara(at)bohoberry.com

  • Taiya Turgeon

    Oh, how grateful I am that you have showed me the ways of the bullet journal! It really is a little book for you to just let your creativity run wild. My new pens (that you recommended) have arrived and my book is flowing with doodles and designs. Woo hoo! What you said about being a perfectionist really is true…the first time I spelled something wrong in my journal, I about crapped my pants and instantly wanted to throw it out. I’m looking at errors as a reminder of just being human from now on! You’re awesome, Kara!

  • Boglárka Budai

    “Old” Boggie behaved like “old” Kara, but now… “new” Boggie focus on progress not perfection. I’m grateful for You for Bullet Journal for my new path.

  • Emily Scott

    I love seeing how your bullet journal system has changed over time and I’m excited to see where mine will go. I definitely agree with making your own system. That’s one of the best things about bullet journaling and why it’s replacing my “standard” planner: every day, every week, every month can be set up in a new way–in a way that is better going to serve my needs.

  • Emily Kate Burney

    I’ve been diligently keeping a bullet journal now officially for 30 days. Like you, I have tried dozens of pre-made planners out there- I’ve even created my own printables- but none of them stuck. I am absolutely (still) loving my bullet journal because of its flexibility where I can change it any time I like! I really like your idea of having your collections in a different journal than your daily entries. Lately, because I’ve been filling my notebook up so quickly, I’ve worried that when I start a new one that I’ll end up carrying my finished notebook with me anyway because I’ll want to continue to access my collections. Perhaps a cahier-type smaller notebook would be good for my collections. What type of notebook do you use for your collections? Is it the same size (as in number of pages) as your daily notebook?

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  • Katie M

    Hi Kara, I just wanted to let you know your blogs and YouTube channel have been super inspiring for me! I love your bullet journal tips, tricks, and techniques and I am so ready to switch from my DIY planner to a bullet journal. Thank you for sharing your amazing ideas and positive attitude with everyone! :)

  • I only discovered your blog and YouTube yesterday, but so far I’m loving your work! Your planners give me such inspiration! I adore the idea that organisation (not naturally one of my strongest suits… lol) and creativity can meld into a single, beautiful tome of productivity!
    I’m starting my journey into bullet journaling today after being inspired by your videos, and as an avid list maker/notebook hoarder I am quite excited to see how this streamlines my current many notebook system!
    Thanks so much for the great tips and resources, keep on being awesome x

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  • Ashley

    Hi Kara!! I just got a bullet journal from Goulet Pens (yay!), and I’ve been using the Sakura Micron 08 (0.5mm) pen. However, it keeps bleeding through! I used a Sharpie pen fine and Staedtler non-permanent waterproof as well, but they both bleed through. Do you have any tips on keeping the pen from bleeding through or other pen recommendations?

    • Rachel Parry

      Maybe the Bic Intensity Fine? I just found them the other day and LOVE the colors, how they write, and no bleed through so far. I use a Moleskine, so I’m not sure of the paper in yours, but test them out. Hopefully they’ll work for you :)

  • Kara, I’m so glad I found your blog! I’ve always been a standard planner/agenda kinda gal, but I have to admit seeing your posts (I believe I saw your Instagram first though) inspired me to try a bullet journal system. I haven’t even touched my planner at all this year! Your posts are full of inspiration for me to continue using mine, so thank you!

  • Rachel Parry

    Hi Kara! I have gone back and forth from bullet journaling to traditional pre-printed planners for years. I tend to stick with one for about 6 months and then switch because I miss the other style. I’m not sure if I’ll ever stick with one style exclusively, but that’s the beauty of planners…it’s just paper :) We can pretty much do whatever we want :) I love your style, and you’ve inspired me to try new lettering and ideas in my BuJo. I currently just use one, because I love to have everything all in one spot. Otherwise I feel like I have to carry all of them with me in case I need one. I work at a bank, so for privacy reasons, I can’t write down work tasks and carry it around with me, so I don’t use one for work. I find, for now at least, that everything fits into one.

    The one “struggle” I guess you could call it, that I have all the time, is the basic concept of indexing things – I just can’t get the hang of looking at my index to find something, so I just flip through the book. Or I use washi on the edge of the page to draw my attention to a frequently used page. Any tips on making the index an integral part of my book? Right now, it’s not even getting filled out all the time, because I just don’t utilize it.

    Thanks so much for your inspiration and ideas :)

  • Cait Sherwood

    The brain dump thing is what I am wondering about. That is HUGE part of my planning process. First I have a long unedited to-do list, which in GTD terms is my “inbox.” I capture the tasks there and organize them later. But free writing in the morning is a huge part of my mental organization as well. I do it similar to Julia Cameron’s morning pages, just to blow off steam or stress before my day begins. Often tasks show up in that free writing. So I wonder how to incorporate free writing into the bullet journal system? As it is now, I have a binder with sections. One of the sections is my inbox and my goal trackers, the next section is a diary of free writing.

    • Hi Cait! I totally feel you on wanting to incorporate free writing. My solution was to start a separate journal. I write in it every evening, whatever comes to mind… I did this because if I journaled in my BuJo, I found myself rationing the space available, limiting what I was writing to not take up too much precious planning space.

  • Cathie Grimm

    Your descriptions and pictures are extremely useful (and inspiring!)–thanks so much!

  • catgrimm

    Apologies if you’ve addressed this before but I was just wondering where do you write down “random ideas and thoughts” that come to you during your day? Do you have a sort of “scratch pad” for those-or do you put them in the brain dump journal. In “getting Things Done” lingo it’s referred to as “ubiquitous capture”. Thanks!

    • All of the random thoughts/ideas go straight into my Brain Dump notebook. That is where I can write whatever comes to mind without worrying about organizing things. :)

      • $2513419

        Ok great–that’s what I thought!

  • I stumbled upon the Bullet Journal and it led me to your website. It blew me away! I finally found a beautiful system that makes me excited to journal and plan at the same time! Unfortunately as I live in Malaysia, the Leuchtturm Note books aren’t available locally but a girlfriend in the US kindly said she’d send them to me. Yay!! I am excited to do the Rock Your Handwriting Challenge (I am a dentist with a terrible scrawl) and the Plan With Me Challenge. I couldn’t wait for the books to arrive so I’ve painstakingly (hahaha) drew up the February Tracker into my existing Planner and failed miserably to do what I said I was going to do. Keeping in mind what you had said in earlier posts to ‘be kind’ on myself, I have already prepared my March Tracker. Thank you, Kara for your inspiring posts and ideas.

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  • Victoria Buckley

    Really enjoying your lovely style and approach. Going to get started today ( somehow..still seems complex and easy to mess up). I like that you include your mistakes because of course they happen a lot. I had to teach my little daughters not to scribble out drawings they felt they messed up or misspellings. Now they can see the mistakes sometimes have a charm of their own. Or at least look better than a great black mess on top!

    • I love that, Victoria! What an important lesson to teach your children :)

  • BookChaiAndBackpack

    Hi Kara, I always wanted to create a Bullet Journal (didn’t know it was called that though) but didn’t know how. I buy expensive planners at the beginning of each year, get all excited about it, make a few entries and then, well, kinda lose interest eventually.

    Pretty Prints and Paper’s post led me to your blog and I’m glad that I’m here. Knowing that you started journaling just 6 months ago and are not only dedicated to it but also using it to inspire yourself to do more and better has inspired me in return. I’m going to pick up my this year’s planner and get started. Hope I triumph this time.

  • recklight

    Kara – Thanks for this and your other posts. I am looking at a Bullet Journal approach to planning and really appreciate the time you took to post about your experience.

  • Marcela Moraes Mendes

    This is so awesome!! So inspiring!! You are such an amazing artist! I have been wainting to have a journal like this for a while now and you deffinetely motivated me to start ASAP ! Congrats for the website and outstanding work!! xxx

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  • Sally

    Hi Kara, I’m new to all this but I just loved reading this article – your enthusiasm, ideas, honesty, flexibility, etc are so encouraging! I’ve been having fun making my first entries in my new bullet journal (complete with a mistake which I’ve managed to disguise!). I’m hoping the bullet journal will be exactly what I need to help me get more out of life and give more in life. So thank you. Sally

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  • Jennifer George

    You could use a cover in Midori travel notebook style to hold all those notebooks together. That is what I will be doing as soon as I receive my new notebooks. Etsy has a few sellers who can custom make covers to hold as many notebooks as you like.

  • Iffah

    Hi Kara

    I am just about to embark on my bullet journal. My question is, do you take your A5 notebook with you all the time? Thanks

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  • EHans

    In trying not to have a separate journal, I just blanked out two pages for my Brain Dump, then added them to the index. Then, when those are full, I’ll dedicate two more wherever those are and add those pages back to the Brain Dumb entry in my Index. May not be the best way to do it, but it does ensure I only have to carry one journal round with me.

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