Bullet Journaling to Organize Your Translations and Your Life

By Riccardo Schiaffino,
CTA member

March 19, 2019

What is a Bullet Journal?

The Bullet Journal® (or BuJo®) is a pen-and-paper organizational and note-taking system that lives at the intersection between to-do list, daily planner and diary. It was invented by Ryder Carroll, a New York designer.

You can find a clear video tutorial on the Bullet Journal website, while the simplest written description of the system I have found online is WTF Is A Bullet Journal And Why Should You Start One? An Explainer, by Rachel Wilkerson Miller and Ellie Sunakawa.


I won’t explain here the whole system in detail (check the links above, instead), but rather how I use it to keep track of my work and other activities: The best thing of the bullet journal is that it is a very flexible system, which you can easily adapt to your own needs.

I have used a modified form of the bullet journal for about three years now, as part of my system to keep organized. In addition to the records I keep on my computer I needed to have something tangible, on paper. I use my bullet journal to have a list of the various things I will have to do in the future, as well as a more detailed view of what I have to do, and actually do, every day. I say “have to do and actually do,” on purpose, because these things are some time not the same, there are things I have to do or that I have scheduled to do that don’t happen on that particular day, and other things that I had not planned that get added during the day. The important thing, for me at least, is that I get a record at the end of the day, of the various things I have done. At the same time, I also get to see which were supposed to happen, and didn’t. This helps me plan for the future.


Next to each item, there is a symbol (the “bullet”); here I have diverged from standard bullet journal usage. I use a square for each activity, so that an empty square means an activity planned but not yet performed. Each day, as I start that activity, I draw a slash through it, to indicate that work on that activity was started for the day, and when I complete the activity I add an ✖.

Bullet Journal Figure 1
Figure 1 – To-Do Symbols


At the end of the day, any square that remains blank, then means an activity that I had planned but that, for some reason, I didn’t do. If a task remains uncompleted at the end of the day, it may be migrated to a later day.

Bullet Journal - figure 2
Figure 2 – Migration Symbols


If that activity is something that is no longer relevant, I follow the bullet journal normal practice, and cross it out.

Bullet Journal - figure 3
Figure 3 – Activities that are no longer relevant

Color Coding

I also color-code the information I put in my journal: yellow for administrative tasks (such as answering emails, recording new projects, and such,) red for production tasks (translations to do or to edit, in short, projects that I will eventually bill to a customer,) blue is for university activities (teaching or developing a course,) and brown for personal activities.

Bullet Journal - figure 4
Figure 4 – Color Coding – 1


Also, each time I deliver a project, I mark it on the corresponding day with a green box, so I have a visual tally of how many projects I deliver per day, or per week or per month. A partial delivery is marked by a gray box.

Bullet Journal - figure 5
Figure 5 – Color Coding – 2


If you use a bullet journal for organizing your translation work, in addition to your daily logs (figure 6), you can devote a “collection” to a list of your customers (figure 7), or maybe a page per customer, on which to list the projects done for that customer (figure 8).

Bullet Journal - figure 6
Figure 6 – Daily Log
Bullet Journal - figure 7
Figure 7 – Clients
Bullet Journal - figure 8
Figure 8 – ACME projects


I find that bullet journals are great to keep our day to day activities organized, but personally I don’t yet use them for long-time planning, although there are in fact various techniques for that suggested by Ryder Carroll, bullet journal’s inventor.

I am not a naturally organized person, and keeping the journal helps me make sense of the things I want to do each day. Also, keeping my daily tasks all in the same place, no matter whether they are for work, for the university or personal, helps me see better what each day’s load is really like. And the various colors I use help me see at a glance whether the work I do is balanced or if anything is taking up too much of my day.

This is only part of my system. The rest are my time logs, which I keep in Toggl, and various other detailed records of the projects I work on, which I keep for accounting and invoicing purposes.

Riccardo SchiaffinoRiccardo Schiaffino is a CTA member and president of Aliquantum. He has been working in the translation business for over 30 years, both in Italy and in the US. Riccardo holds an MA in translation from Trieste University in Italy, is ATA certified, and teaches translation at the University of Denver and at Metropolitan State University in Denver. His blog About Translation has been running since 2004.