So if you’re ready to get started, let’s do this!
BULLET JOURNAL FOR BEGINNERS
Everyone has different reasons for starting a planner journal. I love hearing everyone’s stories about what led them to their first bullet journal. There are a number of reasons you might start bullet journaling.
- Love making to-do lists
- Want to track habits and goals
- Need a planner that’s more personalized
- Want a creative outlet that helps them relax
- Like to journal but want to add a bit more to it
- Want to track parts of their lives
- Love having a record of what’s happened in their lives
These are only a few reasons and you don’t even have to have a reason to get started! For me, I started because I could never find a planner that worked exactly the way I wanted it to. Now I also use it to track my mental health. I also like the creative outlet it gives me.
WHAT IS A BULLET JOURNAL?
Before we get into the nitty-gritty, we need to talk about what a bullet journal actually is.
Bullet journaling is a system that was developed by Ryder Carroll. It’s basically a journal that combines a variety of elements to act as a planner that helps you focus and be productive.
According to Carroll, the Bullet Journal method is about the art of intentional living.
It’s a sentiment that really speaks to me and is part of why I enjoy developing my journal each year. You can learn more about his methodology by visiting the bulletjournal.com website or buying the book.
In my own words, a bullet journal is an analog organization system for your whole life. Literally, everything!
But on most days, it serves its purpose similar to a planner, but with a lot more flexibility and options. It’s a place to keep track of to-do lists, to-buy lists, to-read lists, and all the other lists you can dream up. It’s a place to jot down events that are planned 6 months from now, like family reunions, birthdays, business trips, and weddings.
It can also be a place to write down memories, inspiration, ideas, and day-to-day observations.
The Bullet Journal can be a creative outlet or it can strictly be kept as a time-management and organization tool. Hence, the flexibility. Honestly, it’s anything you want it to be.
Chances are, if you’re reading this, you have seen bullet journal pictures floating around the internet, or have a colleague or family member that uses one. So, you’ve probably seen how different every journal can be. From the minimal to the over-the-top scrapbook style.
That could also be why you’re here. Because, with all the creativity and flexibility floating around, it can be hard to grasp the actual concept and gain the benefits of using this system if you are trying to weed through fifty-eight thousand pictures of colorful collections on Pinterest and picture-perfect planner pages on Instagram.
Let’s start with some bullet journal basics based on the system designed by Ryder Carroll.
BULLET JOURNAL TERMINOLOGY
There are some terms you’ll want to be familiar with as you get started with your bullet journal. I use them a lot throughout my posts on this site and it’s easy to get confused if you don’t know what we’re talking about!
Bullet journaling is a system that was developed by Ryder Carroll. It’s basically a journal that combines a variety of elements to act as a planner that helps you focus and be productive. I happen to think it’s one of the best ways to get organized. (If you’ve ever struggled to find a planner that really meets your needs, you should definitely try setting up your own bullet journal!)
Bujo is a shortened form of BUllet JOurnal. (Some people love this and some people hate, but there it is!)
A4, A5, B6, etc
These refer to various sizes of notebooks that are often used for bullet journaling.
There is no blood actually involved with bullet journaling. At least not very often if you’re careful with your scissors and anything else you use to cut!
Bleeding refers to when the ink from your pen or marker bleeds through the paper and gets on the next page.
It can be really frustrating.
A collection is just that — a collection of information from a particular subject. The term might seem a bit confusing for a bujo newbie but it is essentially a collection of related data from a particular topic.
If you want a general list with over 150+ collection ideas, check out these Bullet Journal Collection Ideas!
There are no rules on how or where to add collections. In my first two journals, I added collections at random. When an idea came to me, I added it to the next free page. One way to do this is to add your planning pages to the front of your journal and reserve the back for collections.
A common misconception is that you need to add certain collections. Not everyone is a big reader, so you don’t need to add a ‘books to read’ page if that doesn’t fit your lifestyle. Stick to things you will use, and things that make you happy.
DOT GRID NOTEBOOK
A notebook that features rows and columns of dots instead of lines. It’s the type of notebook that is used my many bullet journalers.
An event is something that occurs on a specific day. Think birthdays, anniversaries, etc. They are date specific, unlike a task, which can be done on different days. Events can also include meetings, business trips, dates, doctor’s appointments, etc.
While events can be moved, they are often scheduled in advance to be on a specific day, and possibly at a specific time, like a doctor’s appointment. Events can be scheduled/written in, in advance, or you can write them in after they occur.
Your future log is similar to a year-long calendar at-a-glance. It’s where you can jot down events that are a month or six months away. It’s a great place to keep important dates like birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, dentist checkups, etc. Then, later on, you can easily flip back to your bullet journal index to find out when a specific event is happening.
It also makes setting up your monthly logs a little easier. Instead of having to remember what important dates you have coming up for the next month, you can easily flip to your future log and then transfer any important dates to your monthly log.
Ghosting is related to bleeding. It’s not quite as frustrating… well, maybe it is.
Ghosting is when your pen or marker can be seen when you look at the back of the page. It’s not as bad as bleeding where the ink goes all the way through but it does leave a visible shadow.
GSM refers to the thickness of the paper in your notebook. The smaller the number, the thinner the page. The larger the number, the thicker the paper. People have different preferences and use them for different things.
The Bullet Journal Index belongs on the first few pages of your journal and is where you will write down the topics you add as well as their corresponding page number. It’s basically the table of contents for your journal.
(I’ll mention here that not everyone numbers their pages or uses an index, but the index is part of the original bullet journal concept. Over the past few years, I’ve pretty much abandoned using one.)
The Key is the page or area where you list the symbols that you use throughout your bullet journal. It’s often in the front of your notebook with the Index.
You can also use a key on your tracker pages when you set them up.
The layout or spread refers to the pages you make in your notebook. You’ll hear people talk about a few common spreads:
- Monthly Spreads/Layouts
- Weekly Spreads/Layouts
- Daily Spreads/Layouts
This is another word for layout and spread.
The monthly layout is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a spread of two pages that layout your month, a lot like a calendar.
Your monthly log has two main components: a calendar and a task list.
Weekly logs (or weeklies) are spreads made for a specific week of the month/year to track tasks and events. Generally, this is a one to two-page spread that is added after the current monthly log.
Weeklies were not one of the original modules in Ryder Carroll’s Bullet Journal system. However, they have become quite popular with the majority of the bullet journal community. I assume a lot of people consider it a vital part of the bullet journal.
In a weekly log, all seven days are viewable on one or two adjacent pages. You specify a specific area of space for each day where you can add entries. Think of it like a calendar that you have zoomed in on. You have zoomed in on a specific week and can see every event and task within that week.
The daily spreads (or dailies) are where you get to add your daily to-do lists. The topic of your daily log will be the date. The content within that date includes your tasks, events, and notes for the day. You can rapid log here as the day goes on, and you can also pre-plan for the following day the night before.
This refers to transferring information from one page of your journal to another.
When the month ends and you go to set up your next monthly log, look back at the previous month and find any unfinished tasks. Analyze them and decide if they are still important. If the task no longer needs to be completed, strike it out with a line. If it is, you can move it to your new monthly task list. You can also use this process in your dailies.
Migration is also used to move events and tasks from your future log into your monthly log. When you start a new month, check your future log for any upcoming events or tasks and then rewrite them in the corresponding dates in your monthly log.
Migration in the process of looking back at your previous month’s open tasks, reevaluating them, and then moving them as you feel necessary.
A note is a bit of non-actionable information that you want to remember. This could be used to note that the college campus is closing a week before Christmas, or that your mom called and left a voicemail.
Remember, that you are rapid logging, meaning you are using short objective sentences. So, when you do write down a note, make it brief. Later on, you can expand on the idea on a different page.
Rapid Logging is a technique using bullet points, short objective sentences, and signifiers to log information. The information comes in the form of Tasks, Events, and Notes. Each of those bits of information is signified by a different style of bullet.
Signifiers are icons that represent types of events in your bullet journal.
- “•” signifies a task
- “O” signifies an event
- “-” signifies a note
The best thing is that you can use these signifiers or come up with your own system! That’s the true beauty of the bullet journal system. I actually don’t use these specific bullet signifiers at all in my journal. I tend to go a bit more creative to fit my theme.
A task is an actionable item. For example: “do laundry”, “call the doctor”, and “pay rent” are all tasks because they are all items that require action. Think of tasks as your ‘to-do’ list. For many people, this is probably the most commonly used bullet.
Because tasks are so frequently used and are actionable items, they get extra signifiers.
- “X” represents a Completed Task
- “>” represents a Migrated Task
- “<” represents a Scheduled Task
Theme refers to any of the design elements you might include to tie your pages together.
Many people use different themes for each month of the year. My Plan with Me videos on YouTube have a lot of examples of great themes for beginners!
Threading is when one or more of your collections use various pages in your notebook. These are often in different places in your journal.
Collection threading helps organize your notebook by letting you flip to the page where the next part of the collection is located. You’ll do this whenever you want to refer to or continue a collection of pages from another part of your bullet journal.
All you do is make a note of the page number after whatever you’ve written in your notebook.
For example, if you set up a collection of “100 things to do in 100 days” or “40 things to do before I turn 40” you won’t want to keep redoing it on different pages of your journal. So when you put something on your calendar, you can reference the page the collection is on.
You’d write it as:
Task (page #)
So an example might be:
Trip to Alaska (23)
So you could refer back to the collection from your spread.
A tracker is a chart or graph that you can use to track anything you want!
Some of the most popular things to track include:
- Steps Per Day
- Paying Down Debt
- TV Shows Watched
- Movies Watched
- Books Read
That’s just a very short list and you really can track almost anything you want to see in visual form in your notebook.
BASIC BULLET JOURNAL SUPPLIES
If you’re getting started, it can feel very overwhelming. If you’re addicted to pens like I am, it can be even worse.
WHAT DO YOU NEED TO START A BULLET JOURNAL?
All you really need to start a bullet journal is a notebook and a pen. Those are the most basic of supplies. While many people use a dot grid notebook, you could start in any notebook you have if you want to practice!
But most people start with a bit more than that. I’ve got some recommendations in this section. Near the bottom of this bullet journal guide, I also have some budget recommendations for those who want to start off with a good set of supplies but are on a budget!
A lot of what you buy will depend on who you are, what you like, what inspires you, and what you use your bullet journal for.
BULLET JOURNAL NOTEBOOK
There is no one specific notebook that you have to use to start a bullet journal. You can use an old-lined journal you have lying around, a composition notebook from Walmart, or a binder with loose-leaf paper.
Before you start shopping for your notebook, think about a few things:
- What is your budget?
While I mention budget, I want to also say that there are some very good notebooks available without breaking the bank. I have been using some lower-priced notebooks for the past few years and have been very happy with their performance.
- What size notebook do you want to use?
- Do you want to use a dot grid notebook? Prefer lined? Graph paper? I recommend starting with dot grid because it’s easier to set up your layouts.
- How thick do you want the paper? I prefer a thicker paper because I use a lot of markers and don’t want them to bleed.
- What color paper do you prefer?
- Do you want your notebook to have the pages numbered?
- Do you want a pocket in the cover for extra things? How about a pen holder?
- What color cover would you like?
Some of these questions may seem silly and not as important as others, but there are so many notebooks out there that anything helps when you’re trying to narrow it down.
I’ve done a huge comparison of some of the most popular notebooks but also have a few short reviews below.
Leuchtturm1917s are the most popular, and they are highly sought after in the bullet journal community. You can pick one up on Amazon for around $20 in the USA, plus shipping and handling.
It has a beautiful and minimalist design that makes it appropriate for all occasions, including professional career settings. It also has a lot of very nice features that you won’t find on your standard notebook. They include:
- 249 dot grid pages with 8 perforated pages in the back
- Hard, durable cover
- Numbered pages
- Built-in index
- Tons of color options
- Elastic closure band
- 2 ribbon bookmarks
- Paper pocket on back inside cover for receipts, notes, etc.
- Sticker labels for archiving
- Thread bound, lay-flat design
- Acid-free paper
There are only a couple of noteworthy negative aspects, but they are definitely worth knowing before you purchase an LT1917.
- The pages are not bright white; they are a cream color, which can be off-putting for some people.
- While you can buy a pen loop for your LT1917, it does not come standard with one.
- The paper is 80gsm, making it slightly thinner than other comparable journals. Some people are really bothered by ghosting, where your writing shows through on the other side of the page without actually bleeding through. I will say, almost every pen I’ve used has some ghosting in the LT1917. So, it’s something to keep in mind if you plan on purchasing an LT1917.
SCRIBBLES THAT MATTER
The Scribbles That Matter notebook continues to gain popularity in the bullet journal community and there are a number of reasons why.
- 185 dot grid pages (recently announced they are increasing to 201 pages)
- 100gsm paper, which is thicker and more resistant than the LT
- Hard, durable cover
- Lots of color options
- Ivory paper
- Built-in Index
- Numbered pages
- Key code page
- Included pen test page
- Pen loop
- Elastic closure
- Cover pocket for receipts, notes, etc.
- 2 ribbon bookmarks
- Lay-flat design
As far as features go, the Scribbles that Matter notebook actually has more than the Leuchtturm1917 for the same price, like the pen test pen test page, and key code page.
One complaint I have seen most frequently is that the cover is too unprofessional. But that was resolved with the Scribbles That Matter notebook with plain cover!
MORE BULLET JOURNAL NOTEBOOKS
- Moleskine: The Moleskine notebooks are another popular option for bullet journaling. They are slightly smaller than A5 size, but they come in Lined, Dotted, and Squared pages. They are typically a little cheaper than the Scribbles TM and LT1917, and they can be found in certain big box stores like Target.
- NUUNA: I have two of these, and I love them! They have beautiful cover designs and thick ivory pages. The dot grid spacing is smaller than the other journals mentioned, coming in at 3.5mm in comparison to 5mm. It’s also slightly larger than A5 size by about 1/2″ on the top and sides. They are stunningly beautiful, but they lack all the additional features of the LT1917 and Scribbles TM. There are no bookmarks, closures, pockets, indexes, or page numbers. But if you want a really pretty, unique journal, this is a fun option. You can sometimes find them on Amazon.
- Rhodia Webnotebook: This notebook has 192 pages of 90gsm ivory paper, an elastic closure, a ribbon bookmark, and is marketed as being fountain pen friendly. The Rhodia is slightly cheaper than the LT1917 and Scribbles TM.
- Discbound Dot Grid Journal: A discbound journal is the next notebook on my wishlist. You can rearrange the pages, take pages out, or add additional pages if needed. Currently, there aren’t a lot of options for these, but if you do a search on Etsy, you will find a lot of unique cover designs that include dot grid paper and a laminated cover. I personally love this floral one and this coffee one.
For more notebook recommendations, check out these posts:
Here is one of the lower-priced notebooks I have used recently and enjoyed. I’m currently using the BUKE notebook and used the others two the past few years.
BULLET JOURNAL PENS
For everyday use, I have a few black pens that I absolutely love. All of them are fineliners. I have a hard time making my writing look neat with ballpoint pens, so I only have one recommendation for those, and it’s not at the top of my list.
- Staedtler Triplus Fineliner– I love everything about these pens. The ink is a rich black color. The nib is .3mm, which is a great size for writing in your dailies or weeklies. It’s also a nice size to doodle with, as long as you aren’t doing ultra fineline art. They are long-lasting unless you push down really hard when you write, in which case the nib pushes up into the pen. But the ink lasts a long time, and they are an affordable option for anyone who’s just starting out and wants to test out pens.
- Sakura Pigma Micron– This is another of my go-to pens. You can pick up a variety pack that has different nib sizes for under $20 on Amazon. This pack includes 005, 01, 03, 05, 08 and a brush pen. The variety allows you to play around with different line widths and gives you a chance to decide what size you like best. I usually use a 03 in my journal, but when I’m drawing boxes or banners I’ll use an 05.
- Papermate InkJoy Ballpoint– If you prefer to use a ballpoint pen for your day-to-day writing, the InkJoy pens by Papermate are a great option. I feel like they are very reliable and don’t dry up too quickly, the ink quality is good, and the color is actually black, instead of a dark gray. They’re smooth to write with and they are super affordable.
- Staedtler Triplus Fineliners– These are by far my favorite colorful pens to use in my bullet journal. It isn’t necessary to add color or have colorful pens to get going, but if you prefer to add color, these are wonderful for the price.
- Stabilo 88– The Stabilo pens are another of my favorites, and I use them regularly in my journal. They are a little less expensive than the Staedtlers, but have very similar colors. The nib on these is .4mm in comparison to the .3mm nib on the Staedtlers, so they are just a tiny bit bigger.
Recently I have been doing a lot of experimenting with lower-priced pens. You can check them out in the Plan with Me videos on The Petite Planner YouTube channel.
- Tombow Dual Brush Pens– These are my weakness! They are incredible. I have the bright pack, the grayscale pack, and the pastel 18 pack currently, and I use them all on a very regular basis. At first, they can be daunting but they have incredible colors, especially in the pastel pack, and they are long-lasting. A guy in a Facebook group I’m in recently shared that he had found his Tombows for over 10 years ago in his basement and they still worked. So, although they’re a little pricier, they are worth the investment.
- *For a more affordable option, you can get this pack of 48 dual tip brush pens. If you do get them, come back and let me know how they are. I might have to snag a pack.
- Tombow Fude Pen-For basic black brush lettering, these are my favorite brush pens. I found these much easier to use and get used to than the dual tip brush pens. They offer a little more room for error. They’re also great for just day to day writing, and make signing your name really pretty.
BASIC BULLET JOURNAL SUPPLIES
- A six-inch ruler
- A pencil and an eraser
HOW TO START A BULLET JOURNAL
Once you understand the different types of pages you might use and have gathered your supplies, it’s time to start your bullet journal.
If only it was that simple. There are some very common fears when starting a bullet journal and no matter how experienced you are, you might find yourself dealing with them.
The fear of starting a bullet journal is real.
“How Do I Get Over the Fear of Starting a Bullet Journal?”
This is a question that gets asked a lot. Whether it’s your first bullet journal or just a new one for you, sometimes it can be hard to start something new.
Let me start by telling you why this question is so common. If you have searched for ‘bullet journal’ on Google, Pinterest, or Instagram, you know that there are about 50 bajillion images of artist-like journals. It’s intimidating. Looking at journals with absolutely stunning calligraphy and creative layouts makes you doubt your artistic abilities. This is 100% normal! It’s practically second nature to compare ourselves to others. So, it’s no surprise that we get a little worried about not measuring up.
Here are some tips to help you get started, no matter where you are in your bullet journal journey.
REMEMBER WHY YOU STARTED
Remember the purpose of keeping a bullet journal and why you wanted to start one for yourself. You want to be more productive or more organized or both.
Keep it simple. Get a really good grip on the basic structure and start there. Figure out what pages work best for you. You don’t have to have fancy pages full of award-winning art. Remember to keep it easy and that it doesn’t require any level of artistic ability. But, it’s also flexible enough where you can spice it up later when you have the confidence to do so.
DON’T COMPARE YOURSELF
It’s human nature to compare ourselves to other people. While that is still true, there are some limitations. You know that person you follow on Instagram who has a feed packed with 250 photos of their gorgeous bullet journal? Well, that person has probably been doing it for a year or more.
The point is, you can’t compare your Chapter 1 to someone else’s Chapter 20.
Everyone was a beginner at some point. It takes a lot of practice, patience, and consistency to become really good at something. So, look up to those people for inspiration. Borrow ideas from them. But don’t sit and allow yourself to become upset because your first page doesn’t look like theirs.
For a little motivation, here is my first bullet journal compared to now. A little over a year, a lot of hours were spent sitting and practicing lettering and doodling, and a fair amount of frustration later.
You don’t have to start on page one in your brand new notebook. You can use other paper to plan out what you think you want to do in your notebook.
Or start with a pencil and sketch out your plans. Even after doing this for years, I still use a pencil to sketch everything out first!
STOP ASSUMING YOU WILL FAIL
For many people, planning systems have been a huge letdown. We’ve all been there. December rolls around and you buy a chic planner and some cute pens. You make it halfway through January and you lose motivation. Then your new planner you were so set on using is in a drawer in your desk collecting dust.
Don’t go into bullet journaling thinking it’s going to be a total bust. Be excited! Find your passion, whether it be lettering, doodling, writing out journal entries, creating trackers and collections, etc.
This isn’t a system with a fixed structure. You can use it every day, every week, twice a month. Use it when you want. Set it up how you want. Just don’t go in with the mindset that it’s not going to work for you. Planning is a routine you have to keep up on and be committed to. But if you stay consistent, it will become a habit, and hopefully one you can enjoy and look forward to.
GET SOME STENCILS AND STICKERS
A lot of people’s concern is that they can’t draw, doodle, or they have bad handwriting. Well, if you are absolutely set on having a creative journal from the beginning, you can make it beautiful without drawings or brush pens. With the help of Amazon and Etsy, there are some great tools for bullet journaling.
- Planner Stickers: You don’t even need to write out the days of the week with these stickers. Plus you can get numbers, water trackers, and so much more. There’s just about every font you can imagine, and they are very reasonably priced.
- Washi Tape: It comes in 5 billions colors and patterns, it’s cheap, and super easy to find. You can get it online, at your local craft store, and even some big box stores like Walmart and Target. It’s a great and super easy way to add some flair to your bullet journal without drawing.
- Stencils: Did I mention Etsy is the shit? It really is. You have to check out these bullet journal stencils. It makes it super easy to add boxes, icons, lettering, and even entire layouts.
- Stamps: These letter stamps are on my wishlist. You get the stamps and this block and then you can create awesome lettering without a single pen stroke. My next Amazon order will contain these because I think they are the coolest. Get some!
USE WHAT YOU HAVE ON HAND
Okay. Time to get really really real. I’m a part of quite a few Facebook Groups for bullet journaling. I have a pretty active Instagram account. The one thing I always see is people asking for suggestions on notebooks and pens. In all fairness, I’ve written posts about my favorite supplies.
But, these suggestions in no way dictate what you must use. A lot of people don’t want to start until they can ‘afford a nice notebook and pens’. This is really just an excuse.
Don’t get me wrong. I love my LT1917 and Staedtler Pens. But, my first bullet journal was a lined journal from Shopko, and I had three or four different colored pens to use in it. You do not need any fancy supplies to start.
A dot grid journal is not necessary to start. You don’t have to use a Leuchtturm1917. If you do want a dot grid notebook, there are cheaper options, like this one. There are cheap color pens. And if you don’t want to buy these items, that is 100% okay! Start with a composition notebook or a regular lined notebook and a BIC pen you stole from the bank. Back to the first point. It’s all about the purpose of the system: productivity.
You can start with any supplies that you have or that you can afford.
If you’re feeling stuck on starting a new notebook, don’t be afraid to skip ahead to pages you feel ready to work on.
And don’t get caught up in what you think your bullet journal has to have in it. It’s yours and it’s all flexible!
For example, I go through phases where I use weekly spreads and where I don’t. So you can flip through my old journals and see that not all of the months are even laid out in the same way across the same year.
EASY BULLET JOURNAL PAGES TO START WITH
If you need some ideas to get you going, try some of these pages to start with:
These are some pages that can be fun and also give you the opportunity to be as creative as you’d like to be.
PRINTABLE BULLET JOURNAL PAGES
Printable Bullet Journal pages can be used to put together an entire bullet journal or just to add to your notebook. They’re one way to add the artsy factor you might be craving without having to be able to do fancy lettering or doodling.
You can get printable bullet journal sets in my Petite Planner Printable shop.
You can also find free bullet journal printables:
CAN YOU START A BULLET JOURNAL IN THE MIDDLE OF THE YEAR?
Absolutely! I’ve seen this stop some experienced bullet journalers. In a perfect world, you would use one full notebook each year. You wouldn’t need extra pages and you wouldn’t leave your notebook with a quarter of the pages empty.
But this doesn’t always happen and sometimes you might find yourself needing to start a new bullet journal in the middle of the year.
You can start a new notebook easily. You can transfer pages like your index and key pages or you can just jump right into your monthlies and weeklies with the new journal being a continuation of the one you filled up!
HOW TO SET UP A BULLET JOURNAL
While you have the freedom to set up your planner however you want, there are some things you can use as a bullet journal cheat sheet when you’re setting up your first bujo or a new one.
WHAT GOES IN A BULLET JOURNAL?
This bullet journal setup guide can be a checklist that might help you get past your fear and take the first step! These steps will help you learn how to bullet journal in a few simple steps! Follow these steps to cover the basics of what goes in a bullet journal.
Get out your notebook, a pencil, and your pens. If you have a ruler and an eraser, I recommend getting those out as well.
If you’re starting with any other supplies, get out all of the bullet journal supplies you plan to use. It’s easier to keep rolling once you’ve started if you have everything you need.
1. BULLET JOURNAL INDEX PAGES
The bullet journal index pages can help you organize the rest of your notebook, so they are a great place to begin.
If your notebook doesn’t have numbered pages and a premade index, you can do this on your own. If you aren’t using a notebook with a pre-designed index, be sure to allow 3-5 pages at the very beginning of your notebook for your index.
The index page is just what you’d expect — a list of the names of pages in your journal and their corresponding page numbers. Every time you create a new page, give it a corresponding page number and record it in the index. Then, use the index pages to help you find what you’re looking for when you are trying to find an old page in your bullet journal.
Label the first two pages as “Index.” I often leave the first 3-4 pages for Index pages. As you add more pages to your notebook, you will add them to your Index pages so it will act as a table of contents for your whole notebook.
You don’t have to record everything on the Index pages. For example, you may not put each weekly or daily spread on the Index. You might do your monthly pages, your collections, habit trackers, and any other personal pages you create.
This can be one of the most resourceful places in your bullet journal. Once you have added a topic/collection to a specific page, flip to the index and write in the topic and the page number it’s on. That way, when you are further into your journal and need to reference a specific page, you can go to your index, find the topic, and then flip to the appropriate page number.
This is one of the easiest ways to get started in your bullet journal.
2. BULLET JOURNAL KEY
Some people put their key as the very first page of their bullet journal. I tend to put it after my Index because I like being able to flip to the front of my notebook and have easy access to the Index pages.
The Key can be a very simple page. It can be a box with the signifiers you plan to use. If you’re not sure what you plan to use, you can always start with the basic ones mentioned in the glossary section of this post. You will develop your own preferences and possibly even your own little icons to use!
3. FUTURE LOG
The future log is typically placed at the front of your journal and then used to note events and tasks in the future.
How far in advance are these events? Well, that’s up to you. You can use the future log to note anything that’s happening after the current month. If you have a dentist appointment in May and an eye exam in June, log the eye exam in the future log. The dentist appointment will go straight into the monthly log because you have that month set up in my journal.
At the end of every month, you can flip to the future log for reference. Then migrate anything from the future log to the new monthly log.
More than likely, you will reference your monthly log more frequently than your future log. It keeps things organized and also helps you remember the event because you’re forced to rewrite it. Practice referencing and migrating tasks and events every month. It will become a habit, and in turn, better prepare you for the upcoming month. There will be no surprise that it’s your turn to bring treats to the office if you wrote it in your future log and then migrated it to your monthly log.
WHAT GOES IN THE FUTURE LOG?
In forums and Facebook groups, I see a lot of questions surrounding the content of the future log. A lot of people are under the impression that if you don’t have frequent business meetings, you won’t use a future log. Honestly, it’s 100% up to you how often you use it. But, from the perspective of a work-at-home mom, it can be a very useful resource for everyone.
Some examples of things you might write in your future log include:
- Car registration renewal
- Quarterly insurance payments
- Property tax payments
- Doctor/dentist/optometrist appointments
- Important dates at kids’ school (first day, last day, early release, etc.)
- Sporting events
- College dates (exam dates, last day of the semester, etc.)
- Business meetings
- TV series premiers
- Community activities
- Baby showers, weddings, etc.
- Child vaccination dates
- Pet vaccination dates
For more ideas, check out bullet journal future log ideas for setting up your pages.
SETTING UP YOUR FUTURE LOG
There are a few different layouts you can utilize depending on your preference. But, before you design a future log just because you think it’s pretty, take into account how much you will be using it.
If you are going to be adding a lot of tasks and events, don’t leave yourself with only two or three lines for each month. However, if you like seeing your entire year at a glance, you may want to stick with an open face, two-page spread.
If you are following along with BulletJournal.com’s standard guide, you will have four pages. Each page will have three months on it, with a small snapshot of the monthly calendar and then room to the side for entries.
- Pros: There’s a decent amount of room for entries with this layout. It’s easy to set up because there isn’t a lot of dividing the page into small sections.
- Cons: This spread doesn’t allow you to see the entire year at a time.
This version of the future log has grown in popularity on Instagram and Pinterest. Much like the horizontal layout, it often only allows for six months per spread. And it uses a total of 4 pages. However, I think it’s possible to create the vertical layout and fit all 12 months on an open face spread. You would just divide the two pages in half and have six months on top and six on the bottom [see image below]. But, this wouldn’t allow you as much room for entries.
- Pros: Using the full length of a page, this layout allows plenty of space for tasks and events. It’s also a very simple spread to setup and easy to reference.
- Cons: Like the horizontal layout, you aren’t able to see the entire year at a glance. Also, the columns are narrow, which means only a few words will fit on each line.
I haven’t previously seen a future log that looks like this. But, people have used similar layouts for birthday trackers. This was a design I came up with while trying to figure out a way to see the entire year on one page, and still have enough room for multiple entries. While it’s appealing to those who are more artsy, it has its flaws, too.
- Pros: It’s an attractive design that gives you a shot at the entire year on one spread.
- Cons: There’s not as much room for tasks and events as compared to the horizontal and vertical spreads. Also, it’s more time-consuming and difficult to set up because you need a compass.
This layout is a great option if you want to see your entire year on one page and use the adjacent page for your entries. Personally, I like the look of this layout, but think it lacks enough space for events and tasks. To allow yourself more space you could do a similar layout but with only six months.
- Pros: You can see every day of the year on one page. It’s can be very minimalistic and fairly quick to set up.
- Cons: Trying to fit twelve months’ worth of events onto one page is going to be difficult, and it doesn’t leave you a lot of room.
4. MONTHLY SPREAD
Once you’ve set up your Index and Future log, you’re ready to jump into the first monthly layout.
Since you can start with any month you want, you can just jump right in. If you prefer your planner to follow the school year calendar, you can have your bullet journal start in August! It doesn’t have to start in January!
This can be done in a vertical fashion (this is more traditional by Ryder Carroll’s bullet journal system) with about one line per day of the month. You start with a 1 near the top and ending with the last day of the month (30 or 31 for the most part) at the bottom. Then, each day is also noted with the first letter of that day of the week. So, if the 1st is a Monday, you would add a 1 and then an M next to it, so it would look like 1M, and then the 2nd would look like 2T, for Tuesday. You continue this pattern for all days of the month.
This leaves you about one line of space for each day, so this area is suitable for events and higher priority tasks. Also, the monthly log is used as a reference page, and not a place to keep your daily to-dos.
The task list on the adjacent page and is composed of new tasks you need to get done in the month, and possibly old tasks from the previous month that didn’t get finished and have been migrated. Again, this isn’t the place for your daily to-dos, but more of a reference area for the bigger tasks you need to accomplish for the month.
You can also set up your monthly spread as an actual calendar. If you follow my Plan with Me videos on YouTube, you’ll see that this is the way I prefer to do my monthly layouts.
My monthly spreads are the ones that I use the most in my bullet journal. I prefer a calendar layout with extra open space for notes like goals for the month, To Do lists, and other reminders to myself.
5. WEEKLY SPREADS/DAILIES
Once you have your monthly layout done, you can decide on how you approach the rest of the spreads. On the pages that follow the monthly log, I do a weekly page.
In a weekly log, all seven days are viewable on one or two adjacent pages. You specify a specific area of space for each day where you can add entries.
Think of it like a calendar that you have zoomed in on. You have zoomed in on a specific week and can see every event and task within that week.
If you want to go even deeper into your days, you can do daily spreads. When setting these up, I would do one weekly layout followed by the dailies so they all stay grouped together.
It’s not recommended to add daily logs far in advance because you will find that some days are busy and have quite a lot of rapid logging, where other days are don’t require much room at all.
You decide what goes in your daily log, and it’s hugely dependent on your normal day-to-day routine.
If you go back to the zoomed-in calendar reference, think of this as zoomed to the max. Dailies can be drawn out in advance, but I don’t recommend it. Instead, you would make a new daily log for the next day after filling in all of your entries on the current day. This allows you to add as much or as little information as you like.
The flexibility of dailies is probably one of their most appealing aspects.
SHOULD YOU USE WEEKLIES AND DAILIES?
This is purely a personal decision. But how will you know what you need if you haven’t used either or are just starting your bullet journal? There are a few questions you can ask yourself:
- What kind of information will you add to your logs? Are you only going to be writing in big events, bills that are due, holidays, birthdays, or perhaps large work-related tasks? Do you want to include a daily menu or make personal journal entries about the day? Draw up a sample day, and add tasks and events that you would want to add to your logs. Add anything else you would want to note in your journal for the day. Is there a lot? Is there very few?
- How much time can you dedicate to planning? Obviously, the system in its entirety works best when you are consistent. But, I can’t pretend that some days my bullet journal gets pushed to the wayside. Be honest with yourself. Will you use it every day, or would you be more likely to sit down during the weekend to pre-plan your week all at once?
- What is your overall goal with your bullet journal? This relates to the first question. Are you looking to be more organized and productive? Are you trying to reach a fitness goal or tracking mental/physical health? These questions may help you decide what you want in your weekly or daily logs, which can, in turn, help you decide which is best for you.
The most relative question from above is probably space-related. Will you have enough space to use only a weekly spread and still get all of your information?
The other two questions are important. But, you can make daily logs without dedicating a bunch of time to them. They don’t need to be fancy if you don’t have time or the desire to make them fancy. They just need to be labeled with the date. That’s it. So, unless you know that you won’t be using your bullet journal on a daily basis, time shouldn’t be a deal-breaker.
As for your goals, you can always incorporate your goals into collections rather than weekly or daily spreads. You can stick to basic tasks and events in your daily and weekly logs.
It’s all about flexibility. You can always try using daily logs for a week and see if it works for you. If not, you can drop them. Or you might use them one month and not the next! It’s your bullet journal!
MORE BULLET JOURNAL IDEAS
Once you’ve got the basic bullet journal pages, you can work on more pages based on your goals. This is where you can dive deeper into collections, different kinds of trackers, and more.
There are a few pages I include in all of my monthly setups.
HABIT TRACKER & GOAL TRACKER
Habit tracking is a general term used to describe the task of keeping yourself accountable for tasks or goals each day throughout the week or month. These tasks and goals are completely personal to your overall goals and priorities. You don’t need to include anything that’s irrelevant to your life just because someone else is tracking it.
You can learn more about Habit Trackers and get some ideas and inspiration.
I track about three habits each month and I usually do a one-page tracker page as part of my monthly layout. That’s just what works best for me.
Some people add things like exercise or sleep into their habit tracker, but you can also do trackers dedicated specifically to a particular habit or goal too! This works great for financial goals, physical activity goals, and other health goals.
Another tracker I use each month is a mood tracker. I usually set mine up as an anxiety and depression tracker specifically. Once again, the beauty of the bullet journal is that it’s easy to tweak pages to fit your specific needs.
These are great pages for adding your theme. For example, if you wanted to have a floral theme for your bullet journal, you could draw a flower for each day of the month and color them in to match your daily mood. You could also do one flower with a petal for each day of the month.
But you don’t have to go for a cute theme. You could do a grid or circles or something very simple.
A gratitude log is simply a place where you write down what you are grateful for every day. Some people choose to just write one thing, but you can write as many gratitude entries as you wish.
Most gratitude logs kept in bullet journals are either weekly or monthly. This means that you either have one layout for the entire month or you add your gratitude log to your weekly spread.
Next, you can choose to approach this layout more minimalistic or more artistic. The choice is very personal and things such as time, confidence, and ability may play into your decision.
The other option is to keep a gratitude journal completely separate from your bullet journal. In this case, you would not even need to create a spread. You could simply abbreviate the date and write your entry either in sentence or journal form or in brief statements.
WISHLISTS AND OTHER LISTS
Wishlists are a fun way to keep track of things. They are an easy way to keep track of different things.
There’s really not a right way to put together a wishlist page in your notebook. They can be general wishlists or specific lists for holidays. Maybe even gift planning for your family for the holidays or a birthday coming soon.
They can be straightforward lists or you can get creative. I’ve seen some amazing ones done with doodles of the items on the wishlist and it was inspiring.
You can also do a want versus need wishlist.
Some other list ideas include:
There are no rules on how or where to add collections.
One way to organize your collections is to add your planning pages to the front of your journal and reserve the back for collections. The other option would be to add them as you go through your notebook and record them in the Index.
A common misconception I see is that you need to add certain collections. Not everyone is a big reader, so you don’t need to add a ‘books to read’ page if that doesn’t fit your lifestyle. Stick to things you will use, and things that make you happy.
Along the same lines, collections can be something you will only use once or twice or something you will use throughout the life of your journal. If it’s something that’s important to you and will be helpful, add it in.
Here are some bullet journal collection ideas that are broken up into lifestyle categories to help you decide which may be useful for you.
- Semester schedule
- Credits tracker
- Testing dates
- Names, phone numbers, and email addresses for professors
- Homework tracker
- Study block schedule
- Student loan tracker
- School/daycare contacts
- Emergency contacts
- School schedule
- Growth tracker
- Milestone tracker
- Shit my kid says
- Immunization records
- Kids’ wishlist
- Meal planning
- Master shopping list
- Cleaning schedule
- Recipe tracker
- Vacation packing list
- Bill tracker
- Favorite family-friendly movies
- Date night ideas
- Favorite restaurants
- Sex tracker
- Fertility/period tracker
- Questions to ask your significant other
- Work schedule
- Paydays throughout the year
- Policy changes
- Project tracker
- Coworker birthdays
- Work-related events
- Work-related expenses
FITNESS & HEALTH
- Weight loss tracker
- Meal plan
- Home workouts
- Running log
- Clean recipes
- Motivational quotes
- Workout schedule
- Hiking spots
- Period tracker
- Fitness goals
- Symptom tracker
- TV Series tracker
- Movies to watch
- Board game winnings
- Restaurants/arcades/parks/theaters to visit
- Concert log
- Books to read
- Songs to download
- Podcasts tracker
- Events in your city
- Sports brackets
- Breweries/vineyards visited
- What I wore
- Nail polish swatches
- One line about your day
- Marker/pen swatches
- Self-care activities
- Weather tracker
- When did I last…
- Password tracker (not recommended if you carry your bullet journal around with you)
- Master to-do list
- Instagram follower tracker
You can almost create a page for almost anything you want to record in your bullet journal. So while it’s very useful for getting organized and being more productive, it’s also a great place to record memories and keep track of things!
BULLET JOURNAL FAQS
WHAT ARE BULLET JOURNALS GOOD FOR?
Bullet journals are great for anyone looking to be more productive or more organized but have found that traditional planners don’t work well for them. You can track and plan things on an annual, monthly, weekly, and daily level, if desired. You can track things like goal progress, habits, and mood. You can also track reflective thoughts such as gratitude all in one bullet journal planner.
It’s a system that is easy to customize to meet your needs!
WHAT SIZE SHOULD A BULLET JOURNAL BE?
This is personal preference but the most popular bullet journal size is A5.
It’s big enough to give you enough space to do custom layouts and still has room to write. But it’s also a very portable size as well. It’s a good pairing of size and useability.
WHAT IS THE BEST BULLET JOURNAL NOTEBOOK THAT WON’T BLEED OR GHOST?
A lot of the answer to this question is a completely personal preference. It will depend on what pens you are planning to use and how much a little ghosting bothers you. There are a lot of people who complain about the Leuchtturm1917 because of the ghosting. They do ghost with Stabilo 88s and Staedtler Triplus Fineliners. But, it remains a very popular notebook.
So it really is all about what you like to use.
Pay attention to paper weight when selecting your next bullet journal. The LT1917 has 80gsm paper. Scribbles that Matter and Essentials Dot Matrix both have 100gsm paper. Keep in mind, you do not need one of these notebooks to succeed. If you have a favorite notebook or find a notebook with thick paper that you just love, use it.
I prefer notebooks with heavier paperweights. My current BUKE Notebook is 160gsm paper. The notebook I used before the BUKE was the SeQes notebook which also has 160gsm paper. I use a ton of markers in my bullet journal so having thicker paper is what works best for me.
THE BULLET JOURNAL SYSTEM IS SO OVERWHELMING. WHERE DO I START?
The basic bullet journal system is very simple. The internet has made it overwhelming with an abundance of artistic spreads and trackers.
If you are just starting or questioning where to start, you must have a look through BulletJournal.com. Ryder Carroll, the creator of the Bullet Journal has laid out a very easy-to-understand guide to the system. It will give you all of the information to get you started.
While I can’t stop you, and you’ve probably already done it, I highly suggest you avoid searching for bullet journals on Pinterest, Instagram, and Tumblr. Until you have familiarized yourself with the standard format, all those extras are just distractions from the functionality of the system.
If you still feel overwhelmed and confused after going to the Official Bullet Journal website, I created a list of bullet journal alternatives and compiled them in a blog post. You can check it out here. These are formatted similarly to a planner, but they aren’t pre-dated and many of them have room to add extra pages, trackers, notes, etc.
WHERE CAN I FIND DOT GRID NOTEBOOKS?
Ah, the elusive dot grid. My go-to is Amazon.
It is possible to find a dot grid notebook in a brick-and-mortar, but it could be a wild goose chase. Some people have found them in Barnes and Noble, Michaels, Joann’s Fabric, and other small craft shops. So, if you are up for a day of treasure hunting, go look through the stationery section of your local craft stores. Target is another possibility, as they do carry the Moleskine brand. However, your best bet is to order one online.
WHAT ARE THE BEST BULLET JOURNAL PENS?
This depends on what your goal is. Do you just need a pen for rapid logging? Will you be doodling as well? There really isn’t a clear-cut answer. But, the popular options include Staedtler Triplus Fineliners, Stabilo 88s, Faber Castell Pitt Artist Pens, and InkJoy Gel Pens.
The best advice is to try out a few different pens. You can do this for free at a lot of craft and stationery stores. They have displays for different pens and little notepads for testing. Try writing with a ballpoint pen, a felt-tip pen, and a fine nib pen.
You may find that you like the feeling of one over another. Don’t be afraid to step outside the box of the norm. You should feel 100% confident with whatever writing tool you have, and not just be using it because everyone on Instagram is.
HOW DO YOU STORE ALL OF YOUR BULLET JOURNAL SUPPLIES?
For small apartments, you could use something like a shoebox or small storage bin. But, you don’t have to buy anything to store your stuff. You can use an old coffee can or mason jar to store pens. I have a few metal candle holders that I found at Target one summer that work great for pens too.
A backpack or laptop case could easily be used as a place to keep your notebook and favorite supplies.
WHEN SHOULD I START MY BULLET JOURNAL?
You are welcome to start your bullet journal whenever you want. You could start with a monthly page for the current month and start your weeklies or dailies wherever you are in the month.
On the other hand, if you are slightly obsessive about perfection or accuracy, you can wait to start until the beginning of next month. Just start setting up some of your pages now, and then you will be ready to start when the first rolls around.
The point is that you don’t have to wait for a new year to start a new bullet journal!
HOW DO YOU GRID SPACE A BULLET JOURNAL?
When I get a new notebook, I usually turn to the back page and work on a quick reference spacing page for myself. You can see one way I do it in my journal grid spacing guide for the Leuchtturm1917 A5 journal.
I don’t always make fancy pages like that but it can be a fun addition to your notebook to help you get more comfortable with whichever one you’re using.
I also have a 3 piece ruler set that helps with spacing and makes it easier to draw my spreads. I highly recommend it for everyone, no matter what level you’re at! The ruler with the square shapes is clutch when it comes to setting up layouts.
HOW LONG SHOULD I SPEND ON MY BULLET JOURNAL EACH DAY?
I recommend spending a minimum of 10 minutes a day to think about and plan out your day. This is enough time to prioritize and gather all of your thoughts.
Like many other questions, this one is different for every individual. Depending on my day, I spend anywhere from 10 minutes to a few hours on mine. Now, don’t freak out! It is not at all necessary to spend that much time on your journal.
If you are set on having an ultra-artistic journal, you will need more time. So, decide how much time you have available, what your ultimate goal is with your bullet journal, and how much time you want to devote to it. And if anything changes, so can you. You don’t have to stick with the same system or timeframe if you find it’s too much or that you want more.
On the days I spend more time on my bullet journal, I’m usually setting up a monthly spread and using it as a creative outlet as well.
SHOULD I DRAFT MY BULLET JOURNAL SPREADS WITH PENCIL AND THEN GO OVER IT WITH INK?
I like to do it this way when making new spreads. It helps reduce that fear of getting started and fear of making mistakes.
If you find a layout that you love and are going to use repeatedly, you may not need to sketch it in pencil first.
But, again this is totally personal. If you are terrified of making a mistake, use a pencil first. But, you should also learn to embrace and accept that mistakes will happen. So don’t overstretch yourself just to make sure a spread is perfect. I can’t count the number of times I’ve sketched in pencil and then still messed up with the pen. It’s going to happen, and it’s okay.
HOW TO START A BULLET JOURNAL FOR UNDER $30
I like to share my bullet journal supplies I find that are affordable but also work well. As a bullet journal beginner, getting supplies can be exciting, but it can also be intimidating. So here are a few recommendations I have for getting a collection of supplies that will get you started without breaking the bank.
Please note that prices are always changing on Amazon so my math might not be perfect. But generally, you can get the supplies below for $30 or less (not including tax).
- Paperage Dotted Journal Bullet Notebook – usually ranges from $8-10 and I’ve enjoyed using this notebook.
- Sakura Pigma Micron Pen 03 – This is the pen I use most often and is a great place to get started.
- Crayola Broadline Markers (40 count) – This marker set will give you some good color options.
- 6″ ruler – You can free hand lines but I find using a ruler to be much easier.
Just grab a pencil from around your house and you’ll be ready to get started for under $30.
BULLET JOURNAL SUPPLIES FOR UNDER $50
If you have a little bit more to spend, I recommend all of the supplies above. Then add on some of these for a little extra to work with!
- 3 pack green rulers – I would swap this set for the small 6″ ruler above. I use the green ruler with square shapes every single month.
- Bullet Journal Stencil Set – This set has a lot of options in case you don’t feel confident in your drawing skills.
- Hi-Polymer Eraser – You don’t need a big eraser, but it makes life easier and the Hi-Polymer ones work the best.
- Washi Tape – Washi tape is a great way to add color to your bullet journal spreads. It’s very easy to use and the options seem endless! You can get solid colors or tape with prints on it. I love washi tape for holiday-themed spreads.
ONLINE BULLET JOURNAL COURSE
While it’s not necessary, most of the people I talk to got into bullet journaling because it allows for flexibility and creativity. I understand wanting to eventually have a bullet journal full of color and art.
Within the same conversation, I often hear people say they can’t doodle or do lettering. And that lack of confidence hits me in the feels, hard. So, I created an online bullet journal course that can help you become confident in your creative skills while learning how to create beautiful lettering, doodles, and layouts.
Want to know more about the Rock Your Journal course? Want to learn more about bullet journal ideas for beginners?
If you lack confidence in your creative skills and keep procrastinating on making “that one spread” or even starting your first journal, this course will help you push past that doubt, see your potential, and start creating spreads that you are eager to share.