It’s a little bit crazy to think that 2020 is coming to a close. I think a lot of us are thankful for it! If you’re thinking about starting a bullet journal in 2021, I encourage you to do!
Make it a bit easier and less overwhelming by following a few basic tips.
HOW TO START A BULLET JOURNAL 2021
If you’ve been browsing for bullet journal ideas, you’ve probably noticed Instagram packed with intricate monthly spreads and cover pages.
And, it’s also a common time for people to start thinking about their New Year’s Resolutions. One of the top 10 most common New Year’s Resolutions is to ‘organize your life’.
This is when many people turn to Google and Pinterest to find organization methods like planning systems and, of course, the bullet journal system.
At first look, the bullet journal may seem intimidating. Using these five basic tips, I hope you will be less intimidated by bullet journaling for beginners in 2021!
5 Tips for Starting a Bullet Journal in 2021
This post is definitely catered to beginners and those who are just hearing about the bullet journal system. If you’ve spent some time on Pinterest researching the topic, you might be a bit confused about where to start or how to proceed.
This is normal and with all the collections pages and bullet journal ideas floating around, it can feel like a whirlwind of options you have to choose from.
I want this guide to not only help you start a bullet journal, but also keep your bullet journal and enjoy the time you spend in it. Starting a journal should be a fun experience. Hopefully, these tips will help it go more smoothly.
1. Start With a Good Journal
This is honestly one of the most important pieces of advice on the list. It may seem insignificant if you are just starting out, but the journal you choose is going to play a huge role in whether or not you like bullet journaling.
Getting the wrong journal could mean:
- Inks bleeding through
- Not enough pages
- Flimsy covers that won’t protect your pages
- You end up not wanting to create anything due to poor paper quality and the above-mentioned issues
Starting with a good journal right from the start will give you peace of mind and set you up for success in your bullet journal. You won’t have to worry about spending an hour or more on a spread to find out it bled through to the other side of the paper.
Now, the hard part is distinguishing what a good journal is. What makes a journal or a notebook good quality? Below are a few questions to help you decide.
- What size will work for your lifestyle and what you want to create? A5 (roughly half-letter), B5 (a little bigger than A5), or Full Letter Size.
- Is the color of the paper important to you? Are you okay with off-white paper or do you want bright white paper?
- What types of mediums do you think you will use in your bullet journal? Pens and markers, watercolors and calligraphy inks?
- How long do you want your bullet journal to last? Most people I’ve spoken to say that a standard journal with around 170 pages lasts them 6 months.
- What is your price range?
- Do you prefer hardcover or soft-cover?
- Is cover color or additional add-ons (pen loop, elastic closure, interior pocket, etc.) important to you?
To help you find a bullet journal that matches your specific needs, I have written a thorough guide for a number of top journals below.
2021 Bullet Journal Notebooks Reviews and Specs
The notebooks below are listed in order of quality (in my opinion). Be sure to pay attention to the details and specs of each notebook to see what fits your needs. The pros and cons are not black and white. What I might think is a con might be a pro to you.
I’m going to go ahead and put this at the top of the list. For 2020, I used a SeQeS A5 Dotted Journal (160gsm).
While I’m trying a different journal for 2021 (just to get experience to share with you), I would use the SeQeS again and again.
Mine was the blue journal with the squirrel on the front, but they have a variety of designs including astrological signs!
Here is what I loved about this notebook:
- Thick paper (rarely did a pen or marker bleed through)
- Lays fairly flat as you can see in my 2020 Youtube Plan with Me videos
- Has a little pocket in the back
- No page numbers (I prefer not to have them)
If you’re looking for an affordable notebook with thick paper to prevent ghosting and bleeding, I highly recommend trying SeQeS Dotted Journal!
I’ll be interested to see how my new journal (an A5 160gsm from BUKE) compares for the new year. I’m all about trying the affordable options to see how they perform!
Archer & Olive
This company and their notebooks are at the top of my list because they truly hit all the benchmarks of a superior notebook. In fact, they may be the only notebook that offers a brilliant white paper that is bleed proof. Additionally, they offer
- Bright white paper
- 160gsm paper
- Linen hardcover with minimalistic foil design
- Pen loop
- Elastic closure
- Interior pocket
- Two ribbon bookmarks
- Lay-flat design
- Some variety in colors
- Lots of design variety
- Available in A5, B5, and B6
- No page numbers
- Unavailable from many retailers.
- More Expensive ($35+Shipping)
Scribbles That Matter Pro No-Bleed
While I can’t personally vouch for Scribbles That Matter, yet, I have done my fair share of research on the notebooks. Just recently, they released a pro notebook with premium 160gsm no-bleed paper. According to multiple reviews, the paper is whiter in comparison to the older versions with a cream-colored paper.
*Note: This is the PRO version with 160gsm no-bleed paper. If you find an older version of the notebook, it may not have these same specs.
- 150+ numbered pages
- 160gsm paper
- Pen loop
- Elastic closure
- 2 ribbon bookmarks
- Interior pocket
- Lay-flat design
- Available in A5 &B5
- Some variety of colors
- Built-in index and pen test
- Not bright white paper
- Mid-range $21-$25 (plus free shipping with Amazon Prime free 30-Day Trial)
|A5 Dotted Journal by Scribbles That Matter - Bullet Dot Grid Notebook - No Bleed Thick Fountain Pens Friendly Paper - Hardcover with Large Inner Pocket - Iconic Version - Teal||Prime||Buy Now|
|A5 Dotted Journal by Scribbles That Matter - Bullet Dot Grid Notebook - No Bleed Thick Fountain Pens Friendly Paper - Hardcover with Large Inner Pocket - Pro Version||Prime||Buy Now|
|B5 Dotted Journal By Scribbles That Matter - Bullet Dot Grid Notebook - No Bleed Thick Fountain Pens Friendly Paper - Hardcover With Large Inner Pocket - Charcoal||Prime||Buy Now|
|B6 Dotted Journal by Scribbles That Matter – Hardcover Dotted Notebook Diary with Thick Paper for Lesser Bleed throughs and Ghosting - Charcoal||Prime||Buy Now|
After using a TUL for months, I’ve really come to appreciate it. This notebook does not come with dot grid paper, but you can order some from Etsy.
The TUL Discbound System is so flexible and forgiving for those who aren’t fans of commitment.
You can add and take out pages as you desire. Change the size of the discs to increase capacity. And you can rearrange pages after creating them.
If you are interested in having a discbound journal like the TUL, I encourage you to read this post.
Also, you can get printed 120gsm dot grid paper for the TUL here. Select Size 6 (Junior) for Junior notebook and Size 8 (Letter) for US Letter notebook.
- Flexible organization
- Sturdy cover
- Beautiful pebbled leather finish
- Ability to change out paper
- Never have to buy a new notebook again; just the paper
- Pen loop
- Interior pockets
- Ability to buy paper refills that fit your needs
- Available in Junior (A5) or Letter size
- Expensive startup ($30+ for notebook and additional $10-$15 for paper)
- Discs can get in the way when drawing
I have used multiple Leuchtturm notebooks. While I no longer think they rule the bullet journal world, they are still among the best.
Their longstanding reputation for consistent quality notebooks definitely sets them apart from many new businesses popping up and not paying attention to quality control.
- 249 numbered pages
- 80gsm cream paper
- Blank table of contents
- Elastic closure
- 2 ribbon bookmarks
- Interior pocket
- Available in A4, A5, Pocket
- Tons of color options
- Affordable ($20)
- Some reviews mention ghosting
- Cream-colored paper
(Not So) Funny Story: I used to swear by Nuuna and recommend them to everyone.
However, I no longer recommend them as they changed their paper quality to a Munken Paper that ghosts and bleed with every marker on the market.
To top it off, their notebooks cost more than all of the notebooks listed above.
2. Don’t Buy Supplies Just to “Fit In”
My level of embarrassment when I tell people how many pens and markers I own and how many I actually use is enough to make me want to crawl in a hole. Okay, not that bad, but it’s not a comfortable conversation.
There are tons of ‘influencers’ pushing specific brands and markers on Instagram. You’ll see big names plastering ads on their feed. But, here’s the real tea…
There are usually 10 other options that are less expensive or better in quality.
I found myself in the trap of buying new markers and pens just to be part of the ‘cool journaler’s club’. Then I would test them out and put them in my marker file never to be touched again.
Because they weren’t what I really wanted or would use. So, the moral of the story is to find supplies you love and invest in those.
Until you have found your footing with what makes you happy, start small. Try Crayola Supertips as an alternative to Tombows. They have a wide variety of colors, can do brush lettering, and have good payoff for the low price point. Another great affordable option for brush pens is Arteza.
Here are some of my favorite (more affordable) pens and markers I’ve used.
Rather than buying 50 rolls of washi tape, buy 1-2, or a cheaper set so you can figure out if washi tape is your thing or not.
I know a ton of people like it, but I own about 60+ rolls and use a strip or two a few times a year. I’m guilty of this myself!
Recommended Beginner Bullet Journal Supplies
This is not a concrete list that you have to get in order to be successful. Rather, a recommended list of bullet journal supplies for you to consider. As long as you have a notebook and a pen, you are golden. All the other stuff is extra and should come at a time that makes sense financially and that is something that will really fuel your desire to create.
- Black Fineline Pens: Black fineliners were among one of my first purchases when I started bullet journaling and I haven’t looked back since. I’m a huge fan of Faber Castell Pitt Artist Pens and Tombow Mono Drawing Pens.
- A Ruler Set: You can purchase an individual ruler anywhere for less than $1. When I first started out, I used the edge of a DVD case because I couldn’t find a ruler and leaving the house with a toddler was something I avoided at all costs. But, if you can splurge an extra couple dollars I highly recommend getting a ruler set with different drawing tools like circles, squares, etc. This set includes circles, squares, and rectangles.
- Coloring Supplies: This is where you have to make some tough decisions. Markers, pens, colored pencils? The choice is up to you. And there are tons of brands that range drastically in price. So find one that works for you. As I mentioned, I love Tombow Dual Brush Pens, but they are on the pricey side. A great budget-friendly option is Crayola Supertips. And the great thing is that you can get them just about anywhere.
3. Just Start on Page 1
So often, people message me on Instagram and Facebook and I swear I can hear the panic in their messages. They just bought this new journal and have been so excited about bullet journaling… BUT they are too scared to start. Or they don’t know where to start or how.
I tell them, “start on page 1”.
It sounds simple and like I’m blowing off their panic. I’m not. I understand the anxiousness that comes from starting something and setting high expectations. And the one thing I have learned that has helped me get past those moments is to start at the beginning.
You don’t have to have it all figured out right away. In fact, most of us don’t have it figured out 150 pages in. So, start with page 1. Once that index or future log or whatever you want to create is done, that starter’s anxiety will slowly start to diminish.
Here are a few great ideas for the first page of your bullet journal
- A quote. Pinterest is an excellent source of quotes. Find something that embodies what you are working towards this coming year and put it on the first page in your journal.
- A word. I don’t remember seeing is as frequently last year, but picking a word of the year is very motivational and empowering. Choose a word that represents your goals, desires, etc. Scroll it on the first page and look at it whenever you need a reminder of why you are on your journey.
- A piece of art or a pattern. Get that starter’s anxiety out of the way with a piece of hand-drawn or painted art. Another fun way to start your journal creatively is with patterns. You can check out this post for pattern ideas to use in your bullet journal.
- Key Page: Where functionality and productivity begin. Create a key page for your bullet journal with different checkboxes for tasks, events, reminders, ideas, etc. You can even color-code it!
- Index: Sometimes the easiest way to start is with a simple header and some columns. Just add some vertical lines for page number, the title of the page, and anything else you want to keep track of here and then add a header in your style choice.
4. Do a Pen Test Page
My pen test page is usually just a random page at the back of my journal that I scribble on with different markers and then jot down the name next to the scribble. Many people have legitimate pen test pages that are nicely laid out or made creative with doodles.
It doesn’t matter which method you gravitate towards. But, I highly recommend that you create a pen test page to save yourself grief later on.
Since switching to the new–and flimsy Nuuna, I have experienced my fair share of heartbreak. Being in a rush to create something and not testing a pen beforehand has left me with large spots that have bled through and ruined the page behind it. Don’t be like me.
Another reason to make a pen test page is to see the true color of a pen or marker in your notebook. Depending on the color of the paper and the actual marker will determine what a specific color looks like. The caps are not always an accurate reflection of the color on paper, so it’s wise to test ahead of time.
Here are some quick tips for creating a pen test page:
- Test different colors. Some colors tend to be more saturated and ‘wet’ than other colors. Reds are typically a culprit of bleeding through.
- Make different strokes. Use a fast stroke and slower stroke. For lettering you might move your pen quickly, but when coloring you may move slowly, allowing the pen to stay in the same place longer.
- Label your pen tests. This might seem obvious, but I know I have been in a hurry and not labeled my test marks, which resulted in having to retest. This will also help you pick colors for a theme or spread later on.
- Don’t put your pen test on page with an important page behind it. Again, this may seem obvious. But, you don’t want to end up with a bunch of bleed marks on your important spread.
5. Learn How to Fix Your Mistakes
I don’t think I’ve talked much about this in the past because I’ve always said, “just roll with it.” But, I’m aware that not everyone wants to roll with their mistakes.
In fact, as I was just drawing my November 2019 calendar, I messed up a few of the lines and it was driving me crazy. So, rather than roll with it, I decided to fix it.
There are a number of simple ways to fix a mistake. Take note of a few of these methods before starting a bullet journal in 2020 to save some frustration down the road.
How to fix mistakes in your bullet journal:
- A White Pen. For small mistakes, this is a pretty solid option. It won’t completely cover up larger mistakes and you may be able to see some color show through. But, overall I think having a white pen on hand is a great way to counter mistakes. I really like the Gelly Roll White Gel Pen and the Uniball Signo.
- Washi Tape. For larger mistakes or mistakes made in a header, washi tape works wonders. Be sure to use a darker colored washi to cover dark ink. Lighter washi tape can be used but may require two strips to totally cover the mistake.
- Paper and Adhesive Tape. One of my favorite methods for covering up larger mistakes or areas of bleed-through is cutting a single page from the back of my notebook and then cutting it down to fit over the spot and taping it into place. Try to line up your dots to create a seamless finish. I use Tombow Mono Adhesive as it’s permanent, easy to apply, and won’t leave you with edges that are lifting.
- Coloring Page or Printable. If it’s a really large mistake that can’t be fixed with one of the methods above, you can print out a coloring page in half-letter size (close to A5) or a bullet journal printable and glue or tape it directly over the page.
Help for Starting a Bullet Journal
When I first started bullet journaling I wanted to be right up there with the big dogs. I was dead set on creating perfect doodles and amazing brush lettering.
But, I was trying to teach myself from Pinterest and other bloggers and Instagrammers.
Later down the road, when I gained confidence and felt like I had found my footing in the creative side of bullet journaling, I decided it was time to help others quickly accomplish what took me over a year. So, I made a few different online courses for those who want to speed up the creative process.
If this is you, check out my list of online courses here. All come with lifetime access and a 30-Day Money-Back Guarantee if you aren’t satisfied.
And if you have any questions before enrolling–or about anything in this post, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me via email or social media.