How to Bullet Journal, Part Two: Rapid Logging, the Key & the Index

This is Part 2 in a series. Check out Part 1! It has a great list of stuff you’ll need and want.

So you have a whole bunch of new stuff for this whole “Bullet Journal” thing. But what do you do with it? What really is a Bullet Journal?

Like I said in the first post, it’s a system, created by Ryder Carroll, that keeps all the things you have swirling in your head and put them into a single place.

“Great! That’s what I want! How do I do that?”

Rapid Logging

Well, you write things down in a notebook.

No, I’m not kidding. It’s that simple.

Rapid is defined by Merriam-Webster as “marked by a fast rate of motion, activity, succession, or occurance.”

Logging is defined as “to make note or record of: enter details of or about a log” (also, cutting down trees, but that has nothing to do with this)

So we are making a note or record at a fast rate of motion. We’re writing stuff down quickly.

Then why did it confuse you for so long?

Good question. It wasn’t the writing things down that confused me. It was the way the system is organized that had me confused.

So, how do you organize all the swirling chaos of on the page into a simple system?

It all starts with The Key.

The Key

My keys to the kingdom (or at least to my BuJo!)

The Key is the basic way you organize your list. You add a small mark and when you look at your list again, you’ll be able to quickly tell what you need to do.

The current Bullet Journal system is based on a simple dot. A dot is your basic “to do”. And for reasons that I can’t explain (but will say that I know I’m not alone) it was what really confused me.

The old key used a square. For me (and thousands of others) it makes sense. So that’s the system I’m sharing. If you prefer to check out the dot system, head over to the “Getting Started” section of the Bullet Journal website.

The Square

The square is a simple little thing. Yet it’s the most powerful tool in the key.

Most of the things in you will write down on a daily basis will probably be something you have to do. The square next to the item will indicate that you have to do this thing.

Wait. Wait. Wait. Jacqui, that’s a box. Like a check box on a to-do list.

Oh, you noticed that did you? Well, you’re right. It’s a check box. It’s still a major part of the system, whatever you call it.

Now, let’s say you have a to-do labeled “read Jacqui’s blog post about Bullet Journaling.” You would draw a box next to it. But what happens when you read my post and have completed your task?

You check it off.

No, I’m not kidding. Yes, it’s that simple. Remember, we are trying to go fast and when speed is the key, simplicity is best

Great, so I have a checked off box. But what if I don’t complete it?

Ah, good question. But then I have one for you! Did you start it? If so, fill in half the box instead of checking it off. It shows you that hey, I’m part way done reading Jacqui’s post about Bullet Journaling.

Let’s say you didn’t though. You just totally forgot to read my new post. And now, at the end of your long and tiring day, you realize you didn’t do it but you still want to. What do you do?

Well, you draw a greater than symbol. You remember, from elementary school?

Jacqui, that’s just an arrow head.

Oh, look, we’re both right again! The main goal of this symbol, whatever you call it, is for you to remember to do it the next day.

But what if I do part of it and want to remember to do it the next day?

Use both the halfway shaded box and the arrow! Easy, right?

Fine, I know how to carry things over and how to make sure I mark them off. But what if it gets totally cancelled? What if I decide never to read another one of your blog posts again?

First, I really hope you don’t decide to never read another one of my posts. But let’s say something really does get cancelled and it isn’t going to happen. You put an X over the box. Or run a line through that item. Or if you really want to, you can slap a cancelled (or snarky cancelled) sticker over it and call it a day.

Circles and Lines

So, now we’ve established how to make a box for to-dos. But your life isn’t just to-dos, so let’s cover the next two symbols in our key, the circle and the line.

The Circle

Circles are for events. What’s an event? Anything happening that day that you need to remember and is time specific. Have a doctor’s appointment at 10:30? That’s an event. Meeting with Cindy about eggplants at 2? Also an event. A full day at Go Wild, the annual planner conference held by Wild for Planners? Also an event. If you have to be at a certain place at a certain time, it’s an event and it gets a circle.

Some people like to use a triangle for a specific appointment (like meeting with Cindy or the doctor’s appointment) and a circle for more general events. I don’t, but it’s an option if you’d like!

The Line

Boxes are for to-do list stuff. Circles are for events. But what if you need to remember something and it doesn’t fit into either category? The UPS guy delivering a package from Amazon doesn’t require me to do anything. I also don’t have to home at a certain time to pick it up. It’s just something I want to remember. That’s where a line comes in.

Lines are for notes. Anytime you want to remember something, you make a note and you use a line. Amazon package coming? Add a line. The Cavs won the NBA Championship and you cried tears of joy and watched the parade on television the next day? It gets a line. The Indians lost the World Series to the Cubs in the 10th inning of the 7th game and you cried the other sort of tears? It gets a line. Your favorite planner group hits 30,000 members? Well, I made an entire page for it, but if you’re sticking to traditional Bullet Journaling, it also gets a line.

Other Symbols

Both the Bullet Journal’s current key and the old key have a few additional symbols you may want to use. These tend to be symbols you add next to the ones above instead of using it on it’s own.

The Star

The star (either drawn by like you did in school or the more asterisk style) is for priority stuff. If you absolutely have to pick up your prescription today because you ran out of medicine this morning, you put a star next to your box. Have you been putting off calling Jeanette for a meeting but now you are down the wire? Put a star next to the box (yes, stars tend to go with to-dos.)

The Exclamation Point

Think of the exclamation point as your “Eureka!” moments. When something is really important or inspirational, you add an exclamation point. They tend to go with notes (so lines.) Both the Cavs and the Indians would get an exclamation point. So would “Do a blog series on how to Bullet Journal.”

Some people also use a heart, especially for more inspirational type things. So if you write down a new quote you love, you might add a heart next to it!

The Eye

If you are a conspiracy theorist (or a fan of Dan Brown novels or the second National Treasure movie) then the eye should be easy for you to remember. It’s all about things you want to look into, research, or examine more closely. Want to do research on the mysterious llama group the Illaminati? Draw an eye next to the line for a note. Curious about why I mention llamas and some of the other odd references in this post? Make a note to check Facebook planner groups and draw an eye next to it (hint: you can also read this!)

Color Coding

Some people color code. I don’t. In my mind it goes against the “Rapid” part of logging if I have to remember to switch pens every time I write something down. But since it is something that can help, I figured I would mention it.

Color coding is used to separate specific groups of items. Queen Mari, for example, color codes her items for her family. Her husband is one color, her son another. Even her cat has a color!

My friend Jackie has done color coding for her college classes. Each class has a specific color (like Anatomy 101 would be red, English 205 would be blue) so she could quickly see that her to-do box that is “Study Chapters 6-8” is in red, which means it’s for her Anatomy class.

So if you want to quickly differentiate items into groups, color coding might be incredibly helpful to you.

One More Thing

You may have noticed the numbers along one side? While those aren’t officially part of the key (or index) they are a helpful reference, so I added them with my key.

Many people (myself included) like to make their pages look pretty along with being functional. This actually requires math (first and second grade math, but still math.) Those numbers are a reference to how many boxes each page has, both across and down. Since I use a Leuchtturm 1917, the boxes are 38 down and 26 across one page (52 across for a full spread.) Now I know that if I want to make a title of a collection 5 boxes tall, I have 33 boxes left to write the collection below it (38-5=33. See, easy math!)

If you don’t have the L1917 (or have a different size than the a5), take a minute with a pencil and count the BOXES down and across. Yes, boxes not dots. It makes a difference. Then write it with your key as easy reference when you need to start doing math.

Great, a Key! What’s next?

That, my dear reader, would be the Index.

The Index

Nearly every reference book out there has an index. This includes your textbooks from childhood (or college years), the cookbooks you have lining the shelves, and your Bullet Journal.

The point of the Index is to quickly find something you wrote in your BuJo, especially things you will want to reference frequently. Queen Mari suggested that we don’t write down every single day of rapid logging in our Index because it tends to be tedious and clutter it up. I write all of my collections, my monthly layout and my weekly layout in my index. If I need something from a specific day, I at least have a general idea of where to find it, even if I have to hunt within a few pages.

The Leuchtturm 1917 already comes with several pages for an index. This saves me (and those of you who use it) the time and hassle of creating the pages. If you use a Moleskine or other notebook, you will want to set aside the first 3 or 4 pages for your Index. Label them Index, Make a row for your page number, draw a line down to separate it, and the rest of the space can be for your descriptions.

OK, so I have an Index, how do I reference stuff?

You see the number in the Index  (like page 1) and flip there! Or if it is multiple pages (like my Future Log, which takes up 4 pages total) you flip to the first one and then find what you need.

Oh, that is easy! But how do I know what page it is?

If you have an Leuchtturm, you will notice the pages are already labeled at the bottom. Hooray!!

But, if you use a Moleskine or most other notebooks, you will notice that this feature is distinctly lacking. Darn it! Instead, you have to physically write in your page numbers. It is best to write them in the lower corner closest to the outside of the page (like in a typical book.) Sadly, this tends to be a tedious job. I recommend only doing about 30 pages at a time. When you are ready to fill in page 31, write in the page numbers for the next 30 pages. Keep it up until you finish the notebook!

But how does it get from the page to the Index?

That part you have to do yourself. Every time you make a page that you want to include in the Index, just add it, along with the page number. If you tend to forget (like I have been known to do), you may want to put a reminder in your daily or weekly log to fill in the Index.

OK, so now I have an Index. I can find stuff. But I still haven’t actually started writing stuff down in my Bullet Journal! 

You’re right, we haven’t gotten that far yet. But that’s next! Part Three are going to start writing in important things. Specifically, we’re going to cover time: the present and the future!

Part Three is now up as well! Check it out!