How to Start a Bullet Journal

How to Start a Bullet Journal

There are a ton of posts, blog, information out there telling you about bullet journaling. Just type #bulletjournal into Instagram and you’ll get hundreds of photos. Most of these photos will be elaborate notebook pages filled with drawings and colors. But you don’t need all that!! Here’s a no fluff guide to how to start a bullet journal. I’m all for pretty spreads and decorating it… you know what I love more? Productivity. Now I’m not trying to be negative towards all the people that use their bullet journal as a creative outlet. Instead, I just want to remind everyone what an awesome productivity tool a bullet journal is. This post will give you the basics and some ideas to get started.

The king and inventor of the basic bullet journal is Ryder Carrol. For those of you not familar with him, you can learn about him on the Bullet Journal Website. His whole system revolves around simplicity. The more complex you make your bullet journal, the less likely you are to use it. I highly recommend you keep things simple at first and get the hang of bullet journaling before you start decorating and creating fancy spreads.

As I like to simplify, a bullet journal (or any other planning system) needs to be able to handle 3 types of information:

  1. Things to do now
  2. Things I’ll do later or in the future
  3. Things I just want to keep track of … other

Where do you put all this info? Let’s break it down.

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Before We Get Started

Grab a notebook and pen. It can even be a pencil. (My favorite notebooks are Leuchtturm, but the Essentials by Peter Pauper Press make for an awesome starter if you just need something of high quality at a lower price point. While both of these options are hardbound, you can use whatever notebook you want. Side note about size: I like for my notebooks to be transportable but not so small I feel limited when writing. A5 is 148 x 210 mm or 5.8 x 8.3″ and I really like this size. Also, because A5 is standard you can buy an A5 of two different brands and they should be the same size. If you want something bigger or smaller — go for it! For pens, I’m partial to rollerball, specifically the Pilot G2. These pens come in a variety of sizes and colors. A notebook and pen are all you need to start a bullet journal!)

Your notebook is going to be where we put everything. The great thing about a bullet journal is it is totally individual. No two bullet journals look the same.

You have your notebook and pen, so what’s next?

Let’s Start a Bullet Journal!

The first step is creating a key. Think about how you want to denote certain things in your notebook. I would bet that you have written a to-do list before. Do you use dots or squares or dashes to mark your tasks? Come up with how you want to denote the different kinds of information you will put in your bullet journal. Tasks, events, and appointments should all have different kinds of bullets. You can create different types of signifiers to indicate details about the tasks, events, or appointments. For example, a task that’s super important might get an exclamation mark or a start next to it. Here are some sample keys. I like using boxes for tasks because of the satisfaction I get when I shade in a completed box. It’s also very easy to see what is complete.

Once you have your key established, you’re almost on your way!

You should number the pages of your notebook to help you stay organized. This is so important that I wrote a whole post dedicated to why you should number your notebook pages. Even though I learned this trick through bullet journaling, I use this for everything. All of my notebooks have page numbers.

The first few pages are your index. Just like and index of a book, your index will serve as a guide, telling you what information is on what page. This only works if you have numbered pages.

Now that you know how you are going to organize your information, let’s move on to task management.

Things for RIGHT NOW

On any given day, you probably have things you need to do. You need a place to write all this stuff. Enter a to-do list. I joke that my bullet journal is essentially a book of neatly organized to-do lists. To organize your to-do list, you can use daily entries or weekly entries.

Daily entries, also called daily logs, are where you write down your tasks, notes, and events as they occur. You use the bullets and signifiers detailed in your key. At the end of the day, you assess what you completed or didn’t. You take incomplete tasks and start a new daily log for the following day, adding these items. This process is called migration. Take a look at these two daily long samples below.

Here's a sample daily log from a great post about how to start a bullet journal!

You can see that at the end of the day, I didn’t make it to the grocery store, so I migrated this task to the following day. Migration provides an excellent opportunity to see how much you accomplish in a day. This process also ensures you don’t forget about a task.

How do I know if I should use daily entries or weekly entries?

I highly recommend everyone start with daily entries. As I wrote about in my post for starting a new job, its really easy to go from daily entries to weekly entries. When I was using weekly entries, even though they weren’t working, I kind of got stuck drawing it out each week and trying to make my needs fit into a weekly spread. With daily entries, you have a really good indicator of what you are accomplishing each day. Again, I split my personal and professional bullet journals. If I only had one bullet journal for work and personal, it would contain daily entries.

If you are looking for inspiration for weekly and daily entries, head over to my Pinterest. 

Future Tasks

Since the bullet journal system is so flexible and there are no pre-printed pages, you need to establish some sort of tool for your future tasks and appointments for the whole year. This tool is called the future log. Think briefly about how many appointments you have each month. Depending on how you set up your future log, some spreads allow for more room than others. (We will get to a monthly log soon!) Are you someone that wants to be able to write the actual appointment out? Or is just knowing that you have something and where to find details enough.

The easiest way to make a future log is to use a page for each quarter (3 months). You can just divide a page of your notebook into 3 sections and write the title of the month in each. As appointments come up, add them to these pages with the day and details of your appointment.

Future Log Spread for your bullet journal. This is a great post about how easy it is to start a Bullet Journal!

Again, you can be as artsy or minimalist as you want. The above is the bare-bones future planning. If you want to spruce it up, go for it.

Future Planning Spread for your Bullet Journal by The Paper Gazer
This is the future planning spread that I use in my bullet journal!

You can always add a mini-calendar so you can see all the dates (like in the pin above.)

The Monthly Log helps your organize your month. Like everything You make these as you go. The easiest monthly spread is just list the day and date down your page. Don’t forget your month name at the top! Next, you flip back to the information that you put in your future log and add it to the monthly log. You can also add anything else you want on here. For example, I add important deadlines to this and weekend plans. When I first started bullet journaling, I thought I would hate this layout. It seemed bizarre not to have a month “grid.” Committed to trying out bullet journaling, I gave it a try. Immediately, I loved it. It takes about a minute to set up. This past December I actually tried to draw out a grid month layout… I hated it and flipped to the next page and made my usual monthly log.

Tip: Do not be scared to mess up!! You can always cross it out or fix with correction tape. If that doesn’t work, flip to the next page!

Here's a sample monthly log from The Paper Gazer's post on How to Start a bullet journal. This post is great for learning how to bullet journal and has lots of different spread ideas!

Just like with the future log, there are infinitely many options for how to draw your monthly spread. Here are some pins for inspiration.

Bullet Journal Collections

The best part of having a bullet journal is that ALL OF MY INFORMATION IS IN ONE PLACE. I never need to look where I wrote something down. I’m wayyyy better at remember IF I wrote something down than where I wrote it. Now, if I wrote it down… It’s in my bullet journal.

All these pages of information are called collections. Say you want to keep a list of books you want to read. This list is a collection. Add it to your index. Anything you can think of, just add it to your bullet journal!

Summary

You now know the basics of bullet journaling. Do not be scared or intimidated by what is on the internet! The most important thing is functionality and having a tool that helps you be more productive. I highly encourage you to give it a try. Don’t forget to check out my post on preparing for the new year! If you have any questions or need any help, please reach out!

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Products Discussed

Always wanted to start a bullet journal but don't know where to start? Here's a great guide for beginners about the basics of bullet journaling. Lots of tips and spread ideas and inspiration. #bulletjournal #bujo

A great guide for How to Start a Bullet Journal. This post has good tips and spread ideas for your bujo!
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