Bullet Journal Symbols: Taking Your Bullet Journal Key To The Next Level

bullet journal symbolsIf you’ve started your bullet journal, you’ve probably wondered what bullet journal symbols you should use in your key. The symbols you use in your bullet journal key let you codify different items in your tasks to quickly identify where you’re at with tasks.

The Genius behind bullet journal symbols

When I first came across the concept of bullet journaling, I was like “great another journaling how to, whoop-de-doo”. Then something caught my eye…

It was how they took the symbols and then modified them to keep track of how things progress. Why does that matter? One downside to paper journals over digital is that you can’t “edit” things. This comes into play when you want to monitor a to-do list.

Before I started with my Bujo, the best you could hope for was a checkbox . If left blank it was incomplete. If checked it was done. But what about other states of completeness? It was only an either-or option.

The way the bullet journaling approaches it, you can neatly “edit” the symbol to have multiple states (which we get into down below) by adding to the base symbol. It was simple, elegant, functional and looked good at the same time.

Here’s an example of how your base symbol is modified as you need it:

basic bullet journal migration symbols

Using Bullet Journal Symbols To Make The Most Of Your Key

Bullet journals are a great way to bring some intentionality to your life. By using a tool like a bullet journal, we can begin to master how we spend our time, stay focused on the important things, and keep important items at the forefront. Like any system, the bullet journal is just one way to manage your time. Continue reading our post on how to manage a busy schedule using a bullet journal.

What is unique about a bullet journal is it’s more than just a way to organize yourself, it gives some structure to common ways we like to organize that, in my mind, really helps you master your productivity. The system helps address a lot of the shortcomings of a paper planner over a digital solution while giving you the tactile feel of a journal or planner.

Basic Bullet Journal Symbols

basic bullet journal symbol

The most common symbols are To-Do, Started, Completed, Canceled, and Migrated. It’s important to note that your To-Do symbol is your “base symbol” meaning you start every item with that and then it’s modified to your needs.

  • To Do: The starting symbol often a dot, circle, or square.
  • Started: this is something that you have begun work on, but it’s still in progress.
  • Completed: A task that you have finished. Who doesn’t like checking things off your list!
  • Canceled: Sometimes you decide something doesn’t make the cut for your limited time.
  • Migrated: When you have an item that you didn’t complete, but moved to a new to-do list.

How To Figure Out What Bullet Journal Signifier Is Right For You?

bullet journal signifier

The power of bullet journaling is that it’s very flexible and customized to your needs. With that said, it is just a matter of figuring out what is right for you. Below I have a lot of bullet journal symbol examples for you to get inspiration from, but before that, a few words on figuring out what’s right for you.

1 There is no one right way

A bullet journal is just as unique as you are. Its flexibility means you can build a Bujo that’s right for you. It can be tempting to see what others do and copy them – I’m certainly guilty of spending hours looking at stunning spreads on Pinterest too – but in the end, find what works for you and don’t feel like there is one right way.

2 Experiment with different symbols

There are many different ways to do symbols. Most often people start with a base symbol of a dot, a circle or a box, but you find what works for you. I have my own unique way of doing things that won’t work for most folks. The great part about bullet journaling is if you try something, you can switch it up each time you migrate your tasks forward. That means you can try new things weekly/monthly until you come up with the perfect mix.

3 Start simple, then layer in more

When people start, they often go overboard with symbols thinking more is better. This is definitely a place where we want to use only enough to cover 90% of cases. Too often people start making complex symbols in their journal for edge cases, things that only happen a few times vs every day. Start with things that you use every day, then expand as certain needs start coming up over and over again.

Bullet Journal Symbol Ideas

bullet journal symbols ideas

Appointment Symbols

Events should use a unique signifier that stands apart from your normal symbols so that it’s clear they have a specific time and place that they need to occur in. I tend to use the little clock symbol because I use a base symbol of a dot. Then I add the two little clock hands from that dot, then circle the whole thing. That makes it clear when it’s an appointment, not just a task because I purposefully don’t keep a lot of meetings, so it’s important to make it really obvious when I need to be somewhere.

Migrated tasks symbols

A core part of bullet journaling is how to migrate tasks. Below is a little gif I made to show how migration works. The genius part of this is when you get most of the things on your to-do list completed, you can migrate them forward to a new weekly spread to start with a cleaner list. This lets you focus on the remaining tasks that you need to complete.

Important Tasks symbols

A list of tasks is great, but a list that is prioritized is even better. Symbols that let you highlight important items on your to-do list are a great way to manage this. While I think digital organization options have an edge here (you can reorder lists easily) you can use these signifiers in your Bujo to keep an eye on what is important and then reorder when you migrate tasks later on.

Canceled Symbols

When you’re trying to get stuff done, it’s often the case that it’s just as important to know what you aren’t going to do vs what you will do. Saying “no” is a powerful time management technique that you should take seriously. You can use these for to-do list items or events. Just remember these are for things that are no longer going to do, as opposed to things that will be migrated. The latter are things you still want to do, just not now.

Ideas Symbols

Sometimes you just need to get something out of your head and onto paper so you don’t forget it. That’s what these are for. I find that if an idea is floating around in my brain and I can’t focus on what I’m doing because I’m so enamored with the idea, writing it down somewhere safe lets me move on. So if you want to keep track of things, use these bullet journal symbols to keep track of your next brilliant idea.

bullet journal ideas symbols

Communications Symbols

How often have you though this “oh shoot, I meant to email ____” or “I really need to call ____ and ask them about”. That’s what these symbols are for. Keep in mind these are symbols for later in the game once you’ve honed in on your basic bullet journal symbols, but if you’re someone who does a lot of correspondence these might be perfect for you.

bullet journal communications symbols

Work Specific Symbols

When it comes to the work we do, there are some specific things we do very often. For me it’s writing blog posts, creating an email blast, or posting on social media. All these things come up a lot for me and so they derive their own specific symbol. Here a few examples of other symbols you might use in your work.

bullet journal work symbols

Bullet journal symbols for life

Work-life balance is important so don’t just think about how your bullet journal can be used for work, but also for your life outside of work too. Think about the big things you spend your time on and also what your main goals are. For me it’s time with family, working out, and reading a good book.

miscellaneous bullet journal symbols

Using Colors to further organize your bullet journal key

We can add another layer of organization. If you’re like me I wear a few hats. For some people, they like to break out work between different clients, for family life vs work life, or different major projects.

However you decide to codify your key, using a standardized set of symbols for your lists adds another layer of organization to any page in your bullet journal!

Download the Complete Bullet Journal Symbol Guide as a PDF.

Your Turn!

  • What symbols work for your bullet journal?

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