Mother Earth Living

Starting a Bullet Journal and Using it Long-Term


Beyond Bullets (Ulysses Press, 2017) by Megan Rutell, is for anyone who likes bullet journaling. Rutell has found new and creative ways to use all of the pages of your journal. Find out what else you could be adding to your journal from all of the great ideas and photos that Rutell has shared.

Map Out First Pages (Sticky Notes)

Before you write anything in your journal, take some time to consider your intentions. The front of your notebook is a prime location for important or frequently used pages. Give them some thought.
Some people want their scheduling pages up front where they can access them quickly. Others prefer to work through the journal, creating monthly logs as the need arises. Goal-oriented people like their goals right up front. Creative types might want an inspiring illustration. It is completely up to you.
Here’s one possible order for opening pages:

  • Table of contents (index)
  • Fun doodle page to set the stage
  • Dates to remember (holidays and birthdays)
  • Long-term (annual) planning pages
  • Important addresses
  • My planning routine

Try marking your first few pages with sticky notes as a practice run. As you flip through, you’ll be able visualize the initial flow of your journal and move your sticky notes around. Once you’re happy with the order, write out your pages. This technique can also relieve first-page jitters as you break in a new notebook.


Keep an Index

An index or table of contents is one of the simplest ways to find your pages quickly. This works best in bound notebook systems where the pages aren’t moved. If your notebook doesn’t have an area for indexing (some journals come with one already printed), you can save two to three pages in the front or back of your notebook for this purpose.

Instead of listing every page in your table of contents, save space (and time) by listing important or unique spreads. Try setting times in your routine to update the index, or make it part of a planning checklist. It may not be the most exciting part of journaling, but don’t underestimate its power. Many people skip over this step only to discover it could have saved them time and frustration.

Use Separate Booklets or Sections

Indexing is great for finding anything and everything in your journal, but what if you like grouping similar pages together? If you use a refillable notebook, you can segment it to avoid keeping an enormous amount of information in the same place. In school, you probably had separate notebooks for each subject. Dividing your life into categories can make it easier to focus on one thing at a time.

In a traveler notebook, for example, you can assign separate booklets for scheduling, school or work, lists, collections, trips, special projects, and so on. Since all booklets are held together in the same notebook cover, you still get the convenience of an all-in-one notebook. Dividers, tabs, or booklets be used for the same effect in a binder or disc-bound system.

Categorizing Pages (Labels)

This is one of my favorite methods for locating information in my journal. Let’s suppose you want to find all the pages dealing with health and fitness. In a standard bound notebook, rearranging pages is not an option, but you can still create categories that let you group pages visually. Here’s how it works:

  • Create a color code and attach it to the back cover of your notebook. It will act as a guide for where to place each color on your pages.
  • Fold a colored sticker over the edge of the page you want to categorize, keeping it lined up with the same color on the guide.

When you want to find all of the pages in a given category, you can fan through the journal to spot them quickly. You can assign the page to more than one category if needed.
Colored markers or pens also work instead of stickers. For that matter, you could flag the pages with different washi tape patterns. The function is the same. The goal is to break the journal into categories, but the physical pages stay in place, so there’s no need to make corrections to the index. It is a very intuitive technique once you get it set up.

Long-Term Planning

Keeping a long-term planning page in your journal will give you a bird’s-eye view of your life. You’ll be able to see projects coming from months away. When everyone else looks around and says, “Wow, that snuck up on me,” you’ll already be organized with an action plan and time to spare.

This phase of planning can be fairly general. It is meant as a holding place for projects and appointments until they deserve more detailed attention.

Drop Zones

Drop Zones, as their name implies, are designated spaces to collect events and projects. Use this layout as a complete long-term planning setup or to supplement another long-term planning layout. Depending on how much space you want for each month, you can fit two, six, even twelve months on a two-page spread.

Let’s pretend it is April, and you are making vacation plans with friends. You all decide to go on a road trip the second week in June. Since it’s only April, you haven’t made your June monthly page yet. Until then, drop the road trip in your June Drop Zone.

Since each box is an open area (no assigned spots for dates or location), you have some flexibility in how much space you devote to each item. Maybe you don’t know the exact date or location yet. That’s okay. Drop a note as a placeholder and you can add more details when you move the note to your June monthly planning page.

For people whose schedules require more precision, this method might not work on its own. For example, if you need to know that November 14 falls on a Wednesday, you’ll have to make some adaptation (such as adding a small calendar next to each Drop Zone). However, it could still be useful for planning individual projects throughout the year and identifying crunch points.


Advantages of Drop Zones:

  • Easy to create and understand
  • Can track multiple months on one page
  • Flexible and broad

Disadvantages of Drop Zones:

  • Tasks and events in a given month are not necessarily listed chronologically
  • Does not provide a view of dates and days of the week
  • Not ideal for people who need detailed planning far in advance

Column Method

This is my personal favorite long-term planning method, and it is very simple to create. The setup is a little more involved than Drop Zones, but you can still create an entire year of planning in a few short minutes.

Instead of a calendar, you will create a list of dates. Deadlines or appointments go next to their corresponding date. Place up to four months—or fewer if you like more space to write—on a two-page spread. Repeat this setup until you have a full year. Near the end of the year, you can always add additional long-term pages to extend your planning view.


Advantages of the Column Method:

  • Easy to set up and understand
  • Creates a designated space for each day of the year
  • Can schedule appointments long before monthly pages are created
  • Allows for date and day of the week to be visible in long-term planning

Disadvantages of the Column Method:

  • Not as useful for people who prefer traditional calendar view
  • Not as flexible for events or projects with no set date
  • Limited space for writing (can accommodate one to two appointments per day)

Depending on your aesthetic tastes, you’ll be able to dress this method up or down. Both journals below use the Column Method, but the artistic choices make them look very different. Again, it’s the underlying structure that determines the function, not the decorations.


Skinny Columns

This method combines elements from the last two. Skinny Columns retain the flexibility of Drop Zones, but the layout looks similar to the Column Method.

With the journal turned vertically, divide each page into six equal columns. The long layout gives you more lines to work with (as opposed to the small boxes in Drop Zones), but there aren’t any pre-filled dates.

Unless your scheduling needs are very light, this format will probably not fulfill all your long-term planning needs. I find it most useful as a supplemental planning page to track birthdays, holidays, and important recurring events each month.


Advantages of Skinny Columns:

  • Entire year is visible on a two-page spread
  • Easy to set up and understand
  • Flexible

Disadvantages of Skinny Columns:

  • Space is limited (abbreviations may be necessary)
  • Not ideal for people who need detailed planning far in advance
  • These pages will be rotated ninety degrees from portrait pages in the journal
  • Does not provide a view of dates and days of the week

Long-Term Planning Wheel

The Planning Wheel takes a completely different approach to planning. Unlike most familiar calendars, this one uses a circular layout. This unconventional format creates a striking effect that appeals to journal users with an artistic spirit.

The example in the photo uses the colors of the rainbow to separate months visually, but this spread is just as effective in black and white. To create this layout, use a compass (a standard compass or circular helix stencil, like the one listed in Chapter 2) and section it into thirty-degree wedges. The wedges hold birthdays, holidays, and important recurring events. The boxes surrounding the wheel are for ongoing scheduling. Use these as temporary Drop Zones. They will hold events or projects until you are ready to move them to a monthly planning page or elsewhere in your journal.

This layout is a great example of how everyone plans differently. For some people, this format is too unconventional to be useful. However, others will feel it is ideal because it is unconventional. Give it a whirl and decide for yourself.

Advantages of the Long-Term Planning Wheel:

  • The entire year is visible on a two-page spread
  • Has designated space for important dates as well as Drop Zones for on-the-fly planning
  • Visual elements draw the eye and encourage active planning

Disadvantages of the Long-Term Planning Wheel:

  • The unconventional layout may not appeal to linear thinkers or those who prefer simplicity
  • Does not provide a view of dates and days of the week
  • Odd shapes can make writing more difficult
  • Space is limited (abbreviations may be necessary)
  • Not as simple to set up as other methods. The circular layout requires a few tools and more time to create

Stacked Monthlies

The last option this book covers for long-term planning is a method, not a specific format. Some feel that moving tasks from long-term planning to monthly spreads is too cumbersome. It is possible to write everything in the appropriate monthly page from the beginning.

Draw all twelve calendar months (or the monthly planning pages of your choosing) at the very beginning of your journal. Now, you can use premade monthlies throughout the entire year. No matter where you are in your notebook, you’ll flip back to the front when you need to see your monthly schedule. You can mark the current month with a ribbon marker or paper clip to make this easier.

Advantages of Stacked Monthlies:

  • No need to move events from long-term planning to subsequent pages
  • Detailed planning is possible for every month of the year
  • Preserves flexibility of remaining pages in the journal

Disadvantages of Stacked Monthlies:

  • Monthly pages do not occur throughout the journal in chronological order.
  • You’ll flip back and forth in the journal a bit more

If you create monthly memory pages, gratitude lists, or self-assessment pages throughout the year (mixed into the journal), these will be separated from your planning pages (at the front of the journal)

This is not a comprehensive list of all possible methods for long-term planning. Make adjustments to these, or experiment with your own layouts. You’ll discover the precise combination that works for your unique life.

More from Beyond Bullets:

• Habit Trackers and Health and Wellness Journal

Reprinted with Permission from Beyond Bullets by Megan Rutell and Published by Ulysses Press.

  • Published on May 3, 2018
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