If you're alive right now with access to the Internet, chances are you've seen this latest productivity craze known as a “bullet journal.” Bullet journals are, for the most part, freaking amazing tools that would have saved me a lot of time and frustration
thirty a few years ago. I myself have been using the paper-and-pen form of a bullet journal since 2015, and it has completely changed my life. Okay, maybe not my life — but it's certainly changed the way I organize it. And, yes, I do believe that pen-and-paper methods of tracking and planning still have a place even today with so many people tied to their digital technology. However, I cannot deny the convenience of having a digital bullet journal. So, I am going to show you how you can create a digital bullet journal using a free service called Evernote.
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What is a Bullet Journal?
I have always been a lists and planners person. To-do lists, task lists, goals lists…you name it and chances are I had it on a list somewhere. But, my problem was that the planners out there, well, sucked. They always either had sections I didn't need at all (mileage trackers, inventory trackers), or their daily agendas were completely restrictive (who only lives from 8am to 8pm?). At one point in time I bought three different planners, ripped out the sections of each that I needed, and stuck them together in a binder. And while I used that binder and it suited my needs, what a waste of money (not to mention how bulky it was). So when I discovered the bullet journal system, it didn't take long (one 4 minute video) for me to hop on that bandwagon.
First, I am in complete control (and what control freak wouldn't love that?). I choose exactly what I want to track, exactly what I want to include, and what I want to exclude. Ideas, motivation, word count tracker, plot development worksheets, habit trackers, plus to-do lists and events schedules. And the best part is if I can't get to something to scratch it off my list — I just reschedule it. Completely forgiving, no pressure, and no need to feel like I've failed just because I couldn't do it all.
Why use a Digital Bullet Journal?
So, if pen-and-paper bullet journals are so wonderful, then why bother to create a digital bullet journal? Well, I'll tell you, it didn't dawn on me that I would even use a digital bullet journal at first. Until I forgot to bring my journal with me several times within just a few weeks. That's when I realized — I love my pen-and-paper bullet journal, but I'm much less likely to forget my phone than I am to forget my journal. Especially those times I'm running out the door trying to make sure my toddler has everything she needs. And by the time I'd get home, I found I was still scraping bits of scrap paper from my pockets looking for blog post ideas, events, and obligations that I had scribbled down and needed to transfer to my bullet journal. And, inevitably, several ideas were lost.
Having a digital bullet journal has changed all that. I still keep my pen-and-paper bullet journal, but adding the digital aspect has helped me keep more organized when I'm away from my journal. And although I still use both, I know plenty of people who would lean heavily on a digital bullet journal (so much so that they would likely stop bothering with a pen-and-paper version all together).
Cons of a Digital Bullet Journal
I'll tell you, one of the major draws of a Bullet Journal is in the colorful and creative ways you can create headlines. People go all out, buying fun pens and learning how to draw them in and filling their journals with doodles. And it is a lot of fun. I'm going to show you in this tutorial how you can create banners to use in your digital bullet journal, but it's not going to be the same as your hand drawn masterpieces.
This didn't really bother me all that much as I tend to be more on the minimalist end of the bullet journaling spectrum — I like my lists and my simple headlines with some washi tape along the edges to separate the sections and that's about it. But for those of you who put a lot more thought and planning into your headings and doodles, the digital bullet journal may not work out quite as well.
How to Create a Digital Bullet Journal
To create a digital bullet journal, you're going to need a few things:
- A free account over at Evernote.
- The desktop client for Evernote (some of these steps can only be done in the desktop client — not on the web interface).
- A free account over at PicMonkey (if you want to use banners in your journal).
- A basic plan of what you want to include.
Step One, set up two new Notebooks.
Log into your Evernote account and create a new notebook. You can name it whatever you like, but for simplicity's sake for this tutorial, I have named this one “Bullet Journal.”
Obviously, this is the notebook that you are going to use to house your Digital Bullet Journal. The second notebook is simply to house your templates. So name that something appropriate, such as “Templates Library.” If you don't feel like creating things like calendars and the like on your own, go out and search the Internet — there are all sorts of calendars and to-do list templates available for you to download. For us, we are going to use the Templates Library to create a template for the Monthly Log (you'll see why in a minute); everything else we are going to create directly in the Bullet Journal notebook.
Create your Future Log
The first thing most people include in their bullet journals is an index or a table of contents of sorts — but we're going to skip that for now. The first thing we want to include is our Future Log. So, add a new note:
For the Future Log, all you really need is to list the month's names. Use as many as you like. You can also insert divider lines to separate the months if you like.
To Use: This is going to be where you log future plans. Things like conventions, book releases, NaNoWriMo. You can also list your major goals and deadlines. At the end of the month, anything you have not marked as “completed” you can decide whether or not to move it to the next month. Then, delete the entire month (so your next month is at the top of your log) and keep going.
Create your Monthly Log Template
After the Future Log, most people like to include a Monthly Log, which gives us a closer view of our month and weeks. However, we don't want to have to create hundreds of these. So rather than simply creating a new notebook, we want to head over to the second notebook I told you to create, the Templates Library, and create a new notebook in there.
And, I also want to use a nice banner at the top of these notes…so let's do that.
Next, head over to PicMonkey and create a new design:
Select your background color (I will be choosing “Transparent”):
Then, click on “Overlays” (the Butterfly icon in the menu):
And scroll down until you see the Banners. Then choose whichever banner you want to use (most of the banners are available with the free account; if you want to use one of the fancier banners, you'll need to upgrade your account to one of the paid levels. To me, PicMonkey is completely worth the money — but it's not required for this by any means).
Choose the banner you want, and you'll see it appear in the center of your canvas. To resize it, use your mouse to click on one of the edges and simply drag it outward. You can also change the color of your banner (hello branding opportunity).
Once your banner is the size you want, go back to your basic edits and select “Crop” so we can get rid of all the extra background you don't really need.
You'll see in the editor window you can adjust the crop dimensions by dragging the edges with your mouse. Get them close to your banner so you have very small margins around it, then click on “Apply”:
Next, we want to add some writing on top of the banner. Click on the “Text” icon (the large “Tt”)
PicMonkey offers you a rather large variety of fonts to choose from — even for free. But what I really love about PicMonkey is that you can also use your own fonts, so for branding purposes, this is genius. To use one of your own fonts, simply click on “Yours” and select the font you want to use:
After you click “Add Text” you'll see a text box appear on top of your banner directly in the center. Set your color (the default will be set to black) and type in the name of the month. To resize the writing so it fills the banner, click on one of the edges and drag it outward (just as you resized the banner earlier).
Once the banner is exactly how you want it, save it as a png (if you haven't yet signed up for an account with PicMonkey by this point, it will ask you to create your free account before allowing you to save the design).
After it's been saved, go back to your design, highlight the text, and replace it with the text for the next month (all sizing and formatting will remain the same, so you won't need to reset anything):
You can also use this method to create any other banners you might possibly want to use in your bullet journal. Once you're done, you can leave PicMonkey and head back over to Evernote.
Go back to your Templates Library and find the note you create to be your Monthly Log Template. To upload your banners, find them on your computer, and then drag and drop them into the note:
Once all twelve banners have been uploaded, you can fill in the rest of the information for your Monthly Log. Primarily, you will want to list the days (starting with “1”):
And, if you like, you can also add dividers between the days to give more separation (this is mostly useful if you tend to have more than a few things to schedule on most days):
And that's it — your Monthly Log Template is done.
To Use: At the beginning of the month, use the desktop client (either Windows or Mac, this will not work on the web interface) and go into your templates library, then right-click on the Monthly Logs Template and select “Copy to Notebook”:
When prompted, select your Bullet Journal notebook:
Then rename your template to “Monthly Log”
Then, simply delete the banners you don't need:
You can have more than one monthly log in your bullet journal notebook — just be sure to change the title accordingly (July Log, August Log, September Log, etc). And you can add in the days of the week as you need to. What I like about this method is that it makes the template so reusable. Instead of having to create all new notes every time you need a new monthly log, simply copy your template and delete the unnecessary banners and you're done.
Use your monthly log for your mid-sized goals (for example, if your Future Log includes an ultimate goal of releasing your new book in December, then your monthly logs will include the smaller goals to help get you there, such as editing, proofreading, contacting reviewers, cover art, etc.).
Create your Daily Log
The daily log is super easy to create: just be sure that the dates in the title match up to the days of the week. And once again, you can use dividers to help give your some separation:
To Use: As you might have guessed, the daily log is to help track and organize your daily agenda or to-do lists.
Now to Create the Fun Stuff
Of course, if bullet journals were all about daily, monthly, and future logs, then there'd really be no point in them, right? You can find agendas and planners for that. What really makes the bullet journal special is in all the little extras that you can create and include. So let's go ahead and create a couple of those little extras that you might think about including in our bullet journal (this is not going to be an all-inclusive list, obviously; but it should give you some ideas. By all means, feel free to use these as a starting point for your own special extras).
A list for Blog Post Ideas:
This one is pretty straight forward… Create a new note inside your Bullet Journal notebook and title it “Blog Post Ideas” — then simply keep a list.
You can even stick with the traditional Bullet Journal bullet points legend, if you like:
A Social Media Content Planner
Here, I created one to use for Facebook — but really, you can create a new log for every social media channel you're on. (And in the case of Facebook, you can even have one per page and per group).
Create your note, then insert a table. Down the first column, type in the days of the week; and along the top type in your primary categories (remember, you want to plan out your content so you are interacting with your readers more than selling to them, so keep a good mix of post types to help you do that).
Create a Habit Tracker
One of the major draws toward a Bullet Journal is the ability to create and maintain a “Habit Tracker.” Any habit you are trying to build into a routine (or cut out of your routine) can be logged easily every month.
For this, you are going to need to use the desktop client for either Windows or Mac because of the size of the table you'll need to create (you can create a table using the website, but you will be restricted to only 6 x 6; and for this you want 16 columns x up-to-you-many rows.
So, go into your desktop client and in your Templates Library notebook create a new note titled “Habit Tracker.” Click on the icon for inserting a table and select “Table Properties.”
Then choose the number of columns and rows you want. You'll need 16 columns (one for the list, and the others for days 1-15 of the month). The number of rows is up to you depending on how many habits you want to track. You can always delete unnecessary rows later, so start high:
Along the top, skip the first column, and then type in the days of the month. In the first column, start listing the habits that you want to track:
Highlight the entire table and change the alignment to “Center”:
For tracking, we are going to add in checkboxes throughout the table. Simply click in the center of each square on the grid, and add your checkbox:
When you're done, copy the entire table and paste it just below, so you'll have two tables in the same note.
Change the dates in the second table, and you may need to add in another column for those months with 31 days. And that's it, you're done.
To Use: Simply check off the days you successfully completed the habit you're trying to build or break. At the end of the month, go back into your templates library and copy a fresh copy of the habit tracker over to your bullet journal notebook, adjust the dates along the top and change around the habits (adding new ones or deleting old ones as necessary), and start tracking again:
Create your Index Note
Now, remember earlier I said we were going to skip the Index for a bit? That's because we want to add it last, after all your other sections have been created.
To create your Index, go into the desktop client (again, this feature does not work in the web interface) and open your bullet journal notebook.
Highlight all of the notes inside the notebook:
You'll see the collection of notes floating in your main window. Click on “Create Table of Contents”
Evernote will create a new note inside your notebook titled “Table of Contents.” It chooses the order of your notes based on whatever order they happen to be sorted in by default at the time you highlighted them. I wish there were a way to manually sort your notes inside a notebook, but unfortunately Evernote still does not support that feature (no matter which interface you use). But with some ingenuity, you can force it to change the default order. Working back to front, go into each of your notes and make a small change. Evernote will then sort your notes by modified date, meaning the last one you edit will appear on top.
Then rename your note to “Index.” If you want, you can also rearrange the list of links inside the Index, simply cut-and-paste and place them in the order you want them to appear.
And you're done!
Congratulations on your new digital bullet journal!! Now, whenever you're on the go, you can easily add tasks, check off your habits, stay motivated, and even add to your lists easily using Evernote's mobile app. And with just a few minutes at the beginning of the month to copy any templates or change around a few dates here or there, the overall maintenance of this bullet journal is going to be super easy (and just think, you won't have to continue buying those paper journals, unless you're like me and still really want to use them, too).
What sorts of sections will you be placing into your new digital bullet journal?