Whether you’ve been using a bullet journal for years or have recently transitioned from using printed planners, you’ve likely been at least a little daunted by how much time it can take to set up your spreads and plan. The most frustrating part for me, by far, has been the need to have consistent, evenly spaced layouts without spending loads of time measuring each page or counting the spaces in the grid. If I wasn’t consistent about setting up my journal ahead of time, of course, I wouldn’t use it as the optimized planning tool I’ve designed it to be.
I recently shared an Instagram story about this problem and my solution to it! (I’ve posted it to the Journals highlight reel on Instagram for posterity.) I thought I would take a moment to break down the steps for creating your own spread templates, and share a few more time saving tips for getting the most out of your bullet journal!
Make a Stencil Template for Your Bullet Journal
1. Define the bullet journal spreads which you set up the most.
Do you do monthlies and dailies? Are there weekly spreads? Are there biweekly reviews or other spreads that create the framework for your bullet journal? Is it worth doing a template for your future log, various media lists, and goal setting spreads? Flip through your current bullet journal as well as past journals to determine which spreads you make the most. These are the ones you’ll want a template for!
2. Measure a page in your bullet journal and mock up the template!
Ensure you have a firm handle on how the spread is organized first! Are you placing stickers/writing information to create borders for rows or columns? Will you center stickers/information at the top or bottom or middle of a box? Are you aligning the stickers/information on the left or right? Whether you’re designing your template digitally or manually, it’ll be helpful to have a generalized grid created on your document so you can be sure the template turns out the way it is meant to!
Mock up the template digitally.
I used Cricut for this project, but you can obviously use any digital design program! I began by making a rectangle with the exact measurements of my bullet journal pages. Based on a measurement of the date stickers I use most, I created a circle of approximately the same size in my digital design. I duplicated it and roughly placed these where I normally place the stickers in my bullet journal. I used the “align” and “distribute horizontally/vertically” tools to get even spacing.
Mock up the template manually.
With a piece of paper cut to the scale of your bullet journal pages, or using a sheet torn out of it, make light marks to approximate where you’ll put stickers/information. Then use a ruler and place darker marks based on even spacing by simply counting along the ruler. If your bullet journal has a dot grid, ruling, or square grid, you can of course do the same by counting the spaces. Erase any light or stray marks and voila!
4. Cut out the stencil!
If you’re using a Cricut, all you need to do now is ensure that the shapes comprising the stencil are set to “Cut.” Within a few button presses, you’ll have a template ready to go! If you don’t have a Cricut, simply fold your paper in the center of the shapes you made and use a pair of scissors to carefully cut out half of the shape, bisected along the midline. Should the template wear out over time, you can simply trace it onto new paper and remake it!
Other Time Saving Tips
1. Use stickers intentionally.
I use weekly spreads primarily, and there’s a lot of information contained there. To save myself time using my planner, I use stickers to highlight important information or grouped information. Borrowing an old planning/prioritizing adage, stickers are used to visually define my “big rocks”. These items are paramount, (either highly important or highly urgent, if not both) and often things that the rest of my planning and scheduling must accommodate.
Lets say I need to curb subscriptions, for example. I’ve become fatigued with the emails I receive and the recurring expenditures on things that don’t add much value. It’s not an important thing, but certainly something to fix right away rather than spending time thinking about. I’ll place a sticker in my bullet journal and jot down the subscriptions I think our household can do without. Now they’re all in one location, handy for whenever I have the time to log into various accounts and unsubscribe. Any appointments and high priority tasks/projects for the day also go on individual stickers.
This serves the added purpose of helping me leverage unexpected free time! After finishing something early, rescheduling an appointment, or coming to a natural break in my workflow, I look to the planner. The stickers immediately draw my eye to any big picture projects or goals I’m working on and I promptly know where I should channel my energy in order to live my life to its fullest in those moments.
2. Use squares to measure task progress rather than recording each small step.
This is a tactic that echoes the original framework of bullet journaling where the “bullet” used on the list of tasks signifies the task category. This categorization serves to free you up to record information in the exact order you think of it while staying organized. This isn’t a revolutionary tip by any means, I believe its a favorite of many hybrid bullet journal users everywhere! If you haven’t heard, I’ll let you in on it!
Something like “send invitations” is actually more of a project than a task. Assuming the invitations have already been designed, you still have printing, addressing, and then dropping them in the mail. Rather than listing all of those inane steps in my weekly view, I put “send invitations” next to a square, which I shade in once progress is underway and the mini project nears completion.
3. Determine what tasks are actually part of a routine.
Similar to the project tip I just mentioned, consider which tasks you record in your bullet journal which are actually part of a routine. Sure, you may record “skincare routine” or “gardening routine” but what if that, and a few other tasks, can be combined into an overarching self care routine which is scheduled every morning?
Consider the moving parts of your day and week which are often repeated. You track spending and pay bills, check the oil in your vehicle, change the linens, review homeowners’ association bulletins, and run a cleaning cycle in your dishwasher once a week. Instead of having all of these tasks separate, collapse them into a weekly home maintenance routine. Define this routine elsewhere in your bullet journal or resource journal, and then schedule the routine for Sunday afternoon.
Planning Isn’t the Goal; Productivity, However, Is.
Bullet journaling can be a hobby. Some people love making lists, and some people love expressing creative urges in the pages of their notebooks. Whichever your approach, I hope these tips will enable you to spend less time putting things into your planner, and more time actually strategically planning… if not also doodling and playing with stickers!