How To Start A Bullet Journal (& Finally Get Your Life Together)
For as long as I've attempted to be a productive human being, I've searched for the perfect planner. It's safe to say that I've tried them all at this point. From customized options with $50+ price points to the more cost-effective brands. I've had notebooks embossed with my initials, because personalization was supposed to inspire productivity, or so they told me. And when that didn't work, I took the more direct option and grabbed a book that bluntly told me to get ish done right on the cover.
At the end of the day, those planners all ended up in some nook or cranny of my office or apartment, half-used and soon-to-be forgotten. There was nothing wrong with the books themselves. All planners, as long as they have some of the basic functionality (i.e: a place to write and store your life's happenings) are perfect as they are. The thing we're really searching for, the one missing piece to finding that perfect, productivity-encouraging system, is really more about a lifestyle match than it is the books themselves.
In a lot of ways, the search for the perfect planner resembles the hunt for the right partner. Someone could be a great person and have tons of amazing qualities, and still not be what you're looking for. I'd found tons of great planners, but none of them were exactly what I needed, when I needed them. It wasn't them, it was definitely me.
I'm a natural-born planner. Nothing makes me happier than the satisfaction of crossing something off of a list. Nothing soothes me more than taking all of the jumbled thoughts in my head and getting them down on paper. Lists are how I make sense of the world around me. Writing things down has always made them seem real. And yet, finding a tool that could meet me where I was seemed impossible. Until, I found the bullet journaling system.
Created by Ryder Carroll and described as the analog method for a digital age (if you're wondering what my love language is, it's this), bullet journaling has become my productivity saving grace.
How To Start A Bullet Journal
The Basics Of Starting A Bullet Journal
Writer Amber Burns/xoNecole
All you need to become a bullet journalist, as they're affectionately called online, is a notebook and a pen. That's it. Any notebook of your choosing will work just fine as long as it's something you can carry around with you (you're about to dump your life into it, you'll want it on-hand) and durable enough to withstand being carried around. Most bullet journalists opt for a dot grid notebook as it allows for some guidance without sacrificing flexibility. The pen should be one you can write with comfortably.
If you search "bullet journal" on Pinterest, Youtube, or Instagram, you'll be overwhelmed with stunning notebooks, artistic spreads, and perfect handwriting. I'm here to let you know that none of those things are required to bullet journal! Again, just a pen and a notebook. That's what we're working with.
Once you have those items, your bullet journal can become what you need, when you need it. There are some basic, core "collections," (a term that simply refers to any entry in your bullet journal), but the possibilities are endless.
Setting Up Your Bullet Journal: Your Key
The more you use it, the more your journal will become exactly what you need. But when you're first getting started, there are a few core collections you should set up right away. The first being your key.
A key does exactly what it sounds like: defines what each symbol, or bullet, in your bullet journal means. In my notebook, solid dot indicates an incomplete task, a dot with an 'X' through it means it's complete. An asterisk indicates a note or random thought and an open circle is an event. Having these clearly defined symbols makes it easy to dump everything on a list and be able to quickly glance at what needs to be done or where you need to be on a given day.
The Set Up: Your Index
The next collection you'll set up is your index. An index is essentially a table of contents for your bullet journal. This is where you'll log any new entry into your notebook and will stop you from ever wondering where you wrote down that great idea, shopping list, or phone number. Some notebooks come with a premade index ready to go at the front of the notebook but you can easily create one yourself if it doesn't. Label the top of the page index, then title an area to write the page topic and page number.
Setting Up Your Bullet Journal: Future Log
After the index, most journalists use a spread called a future log. A future log does exactly what it sounds like: helps you log and plan future events and tasks. There a million ways you could set this up, but here's an easy approach: split a page in your notebook into three even sections.
Each section should contain one month of the year. You can write out a mini calendar to reference each day of that month. Now, repeat this page so that you have each month of the year written down. Once it's all set up, you can start plugging future events. Birthdays you know you want to remember, vacations, appointments, etc. When you sit down to plan out each month, you'll flip back to your future log and migrate any task you have listed under the current month onto your monthly calendar.
The index and future log are truly the only year-round collections you need in your journal. Of course, you can get creative and add other collections based on your goals or focus for the year. For example, if you're hoping to read more books, make a collection to track the books you want to read. If you're working towards a specific money saving goal, create a collection where you track how much you're spending versus how much you're saving. If you're trying to go vegan, split a page into four equal parts and label them breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack. Then write down meal ideas for each category that you can refer to when grocery shopping. The possibilities are truly endless.
Now that you're all set up with those core collections, it's time to start planning your months and weeks. This is where all of those productive puzzle pieces really start to fit together. Like anything with bullet journaling, there are a million ways to set up a month, but here's a simple, straightforward way to get started.
Turn to a fresh page and write the current month at the top. Then, write all of the days of the week down the page with the letter of the day of the week next to it. This page is now a vertical calendar, where you can write appointments, tasks, important dates, etc. Turn back to your future log and add any important dates from there onto this calendar. If you're using your bullet journal for both work and personal life, write the days of the month down the middle of the page instead, creating two columns. Now, use one column for work and one for personal.
The next blank page will be a future log. Unlike the future log we made at the beginning of the notebook, this one is specially for the current month. Here, you can throw in all of those random tasks you know you should get to each month, but that don't have specific deadlines for, like cancelling a membership or buying a birthday gift. As you plan your weeks and days, you'll flip back to this page and start scheduling them out.
Just like your yearly set up, you can add whatever relevant collections in your monthly set up that you want. A spending tracker, reading tracker, meal planner, or even a daily gratitude log.
Habit Tracker For Your Bullet Journal
One spread that's especially popular is a habit tracker. These are great for tracking the habits that you're either hoping to establish or ones you want to kick. Just make another vertical calendar and then a list the habits you're tracking down the side of the page. After every day, put an "X" on the day that you successfully completed that habit.
Even more important than logging tasks or thoughts in your bullet journal is using it daily to reflect, track, and plan. Set aside a few minutes at the end of the day to review how it really went. Are there tasks you didn't do that you should migrate to the next day's list? Or maybe they can be migrated back to your future log? The more time you spend with your journal, the more you'll realize how much more in tune you're becoming with yourself and your own habits.
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Amber Burns is a writer, producer and vlogger who creates content for women looking to live balanced, organized, and fulfilled lives. You'll likely find her with a book in one hand and a latte in the other. You can follow and engage with her on social @byamberburns and connect with her online at www.byamberburns.com.
This was first evident more than a decade ago when she quit her job as the corporate executive of a Fortune 500 company during a Periscope livestream. “I’m not sure if there’s an alignment of [our] future trajectory. I’m going to work for myself. I'm promoting myself to work for myself,” she said at the time before flashing a smile at the viewing audience. As she resigned on camera, a constant stream of encouraging messages floated upwards on the screen.
By 2021, she’d fashioned her work as a corporate consultant and her personal life with her husband and three adopted daughters into a reality show, She’s The Boss, for USA Network. This year, she released the New York Times bestselling memoir Nothing Is Missing, written as she was in the process of getting a divorce and dealing with her eldest daughter’s struggles with substance use.
Convinced that there’s no way the 39-year-old has achieved all of this without intentional strategic planning, I asked her about it when we spoke less than a week before Christmas. I’d seen videos on social media of her working on 2024 planning for other brands, and I wanted to know what that looked like following her own year of success.
She listed a number of goals, including ensuring that the projects she takes on in the new year align with her identity “as a Black woman, as an African woman, as a mother, as someone who has lived a [rebuilding] season and is now trying to live boldly and entirely as themselves.” But, I was shocked by how much of her business planning also prioritized rest.
Despite the bestselling book, a self-titled podcast, and working with numerous corporations, Walters said she’s been taking Fridays off. This year, she doesn’t want to work on Mondays, either.
“A lot of us think we work hard until retirement hits. I want to progress towards retirement,” she said, noting that she’ll check in with herself around March to see how successful this plan has been. The goal, Walters said, is to only be working on Tuesdays and Thursdays by sometime in 2025. “It is intentionally building out what I know I would like to have happen and not waiting for exhaustion to be the trigger of change.”
"A lot of us think we work hard until retirement hits. I want to progress towards retirement... It is intentionally building out what I know I would like to happen and not waiting for exhaustion to be the trigger of change."
Walters said the decision to progressively work less was partially in response to her previously held notions about her career, especially as an entrepreneur. “When I first started, I thought burnout was a part of it,” she said. “What I didn’t realize is that even if you’re able to bounce out of burnout or get back to it, there’s a cumulative impact on your body. If you think of your body as a tree and every time you go through burnout, you are taking a hack out of your trunk, yes, that trunk will heal over, and the tree will continue to grow, but it doesn't mean that you don’t have a weakened stem.”
But, the desire for increased rest was also in response to the major shifts that occurred three years ago when she was experiencing major changes in her family and realized her metaphorical tree was “bending all the way over.”
“One of the things we have to recognize, especially as Black women, is that there is this engrained, societal, systemic notion that our worth is built around our productivity,” she added. “That is some language that I think is just now starting to really get unpacked.” In recent years, there’s been an increased awareness of achieving balance in life, with Tricia Hersey’s “The Nap Ministry” gaining attention based on the idea that rest, especially for Black women, is a form of resistance. Even online phrases such as “soft life” and “quiet quitting” have hinted at a cultural shift in prioritizing leisure over professional ambition.
"One of the things we have to recognize, especially as Black women, is that there is this engrained, societal, systemic notion that our worth is built around our productivity."
If companies are lining up to consult with Walters about their brands and products, then women have been looking to her for guidance on starting over since she invited them to livestream her resignation 12 years ago. As viewers continue to demand more from content creators in the form of intimate, personal details, Walters has navigated her personal brand with a sense of transparency without oversharing the vulnerable details about her life, especially when it comes to her family.
The entrepreneur said she’d been approached to write a book for several years and was initially convinced she was finally ready to write one about business. “I started to do that, and then I went through my divorce. When that happened, I said, why would I write a book telling people to get the life that I have when I’m not sure about the life that I have,” she said.
Instead, she decided to write Nothing Is Missing and provide a closer look at her life, starting with being born to immigrant Ghanaian parents (“You need to know my childhood to know why I’m passionate about entrepreneurship.”) through the adoption of her three daughters and eventual divorce. Despite her desire to share, however, she said she felt protective of the privacy of her family, including her ex-husband.
When discussing this with me, Walters said she was reminded of a lesson she learned from actress Kerry Washington, who released her own memoir, Thicker Than Water, just a week before Walters’ book release. Washington’s memoir grapples with family secrets, too, specifically the fact that she was conceived using a sperm donor and didn’t learn about it until she was already a successful TV star. While Washington reflects on how the decision and subsequent deception impacted her, she’s also careful to hold space for her parents’ experiences, too. “A lot of things she said was that she had to recognize where she was the supporting character and where she was the main character,” Walter said.
This is something Walter worked to do in Nothing Is Missing when discussing her daughter’s struggles with addiction. “I was very intentional about making sure that I did not reveal more than what was required,” she said. “If I say something about someone’s addiction, I don’t need to go into the list of the substances they used, how they used them, what I found. [I don’t need to] walk into a room and paint a picture of what it looked like for people to understand.”
Walters said some of the most vulnerable moments in the book barely made a ripple once it was released. She was extremely nervous to write about getting an abortion, she said. But no one has asked her about this in the months since the book was released. Instead, people have been more interested in quirkier revelations, such as the fact that she once appeared on Wheel of Fortune.
“I have bared my soul about this thing I went through in my youth that has changed me for people, and people are like, ‘So how heavy was the wheel when you spun it?’” she said, chuckling. “It just goes to show that people never worry about the thing that you worry about.”
With the success of Nothing Is Missing, Walters said she still isn’t planning to release a business book at the moment. But, as she navigates parenting a teenager and two adult children while also navigating a relationship with her new fiancé, Walters said she believes she has at least one or two more books to write about her personal journey. “There is sort of an arc of where my life has gone that I know I’ve got something more to say about this that I think is important, relevant and necessary,” she said.
In just three years, Walters’ life has undergone a major transformation. There’s no telling what the next three years will have in store for her, but it seems likely she’ll retain an inspired audience wherever life takes her.
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We get it: you’re a busy woman with things to do and places to be. From your demanding work schedule to tending to your little ones at home, we don’t blame you if making a fulfilling breakfast is the last thing on your mind. For decades, breakfast has been hailed as the “most important meal of the day,” and yet, it’s somehow the most forgettable.
According to a 2022 study, 35% of survey participants in the United States reported eating breakfast daily, while approximately 12% shared that they eat breakfast only a few times a month. Still, eating breakfast has a long list of benefits that shouldn’t be missed out on if we can help it.
Breakfast provides the body with the necessary nutrients and energy to kickstart your metabolism after a night's sleep and gives our body the opportunity to consume essential nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and fiber for the day ahead.
We all know that familiar feeling of fogginess that comes right before noon, but consuming breakfast can give us the fuel we need to reduce it. When we give our bodies the proper nutrition through breakfast, we can set ourselves up to experience better concentration and focus throughout the day. In this case, the right foods in the morning are essentially brain food.
With many of us making an effort to no longer skip breakfast, there has to be a way to fuel ourselves without it taking up most of the precious (and limited) time that we have in the morning. That’s why we’re sharing a guide to easy, “no-brainer” breakfast ideas that will take the mental labor out of what to eat in the a.m.
1. Greek Yogurt with Granola, Nuts, and Berries
2. Avocado Toast
Spread mashed avocado on whole-grain toast and sprinkle with salt and pepper for a simple and healthy breakfast rich in good fats. For an extra touch, add red onions, tomatoes, or a squeeze of lemon.
3. Instant Oatmeal with Pistachios and Cranberries
The older you get, the more oatmeal becomes a breakfast treat. But if you don’t have time to spend cooking your oats on the stove, opt for instant oats instead. Dress them up with pistachios and cranberries for added crunch and sweetness, and you’re good to go.
4. Banana and Peanut Butter Smoothie
If you’re looking for a sweet and filling breakfast in minutes, smoothies are the way to go. For this easy recipe, blend banana, peanut butter, and your milk of choice together to create a delicious and protein-packed breakfast you can sip on.
5. Pre-Made Egg Muffins
For the meal-preppers out there, you’re going to love this ready-to-eat breakfast idea. Whisk eggs into muffin tins and add veggies or cheese. Once they’re fully baked, pack them into the fridge overnight, and they’ll be ready to be warmed up as your portable breakfast option.
6. Overnight Chia Seed and Oat Pudding
Take the thinking out of your breakfast prep time and leave it to the magic of overnight refrigeration. Mix chia seeds and oatmeal with milk into a small container and let it sit overnight. When you’re ready to eat, add fruits and nuts on top for a simple, no-cook pudding loaded with omega-3 fatty acids and fiber.
7. Egg and Sausage Sandwiches
We know that nothing beats the feeling of getting a piping hot breakfast sandwich from your favorite restaurant, but why not make it at home instead? You only need eggs, sausage (vegan or turkey will do, too), cheese, and an English muffin, and poof, you've got yourself a protein-packed breakfast sandwich on hand. McDonald’s, who?
8. Potatoes, Cheese, and Spinach Eggs Scramble
The best way to reduce the mental labor that goes into preparing breakfast is to take all your favorite things and put them into one savory concoction. That’s why we love a classic egg scramble. Add your potatoes, eggs, cheese, and spinach into a skillet for a no-brained meal that’ll leave you feeling satisfied.
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