MENU

How To Bullet Journal: The Ultimate Guide To Getting Started

YoumayhaveheardoftheorganisationaltechniquecalledBulletJournalingasawaytogetyourto-doscalendarsandsomedaymaybelistsundercontrolsIfyoudliketostartbulletjournalingbutdontknowwheretobeginthenthisguidecoversallthebasicsfromwhatyoucanuseabulletjournalforandterminologytoequipmentyouneed
How To Bullet Journal - The Ultimate Gudie To Getting Started

You may have heard of the organisational technique called “Bullet Journaling” as a way to get your to-dos, calendars and someday/maybe lists under controls. If you’d like to start bullet journaling but don’t know where to begin then this guide covers all the basics from what you can use a bullet journal for and terminology to equipment you need.

This is quite a long post and you can use the content list below to jump to the sections you’re interested in. If you want to read this guide at your leisure or keep a copy in a safe place then you can access a free PDF copy by entering your name and email address below to sign up to my newsletter (you can unsubscribe at any time).

If you have any comments, questions or suggestions then I’d love to hear from you – add a comment in the form below the article or send me a message using the website contact form.

Article Contents

Introduction

Bullet Journals (or “Bujos” as they are fondly called) are the in-thing at the moment. You can’t move on Instagram or Pinterest without seeing a picture of someone’s beautifully designed journal, but what is a bullet journal exactly?

Simply put, a Bullet Journal is a flexible paper-based organisational system that allows you to manage your calendars, tasks, someday/maybe lists and notes all in one place.

The Bullet Journal was developed by Ryder Carrol, an American designer who, after several years of “trial and error”, came up with the Bullet Journal system as a way to get organised and keep his task list under control.

First impressions of a Bullet Journal may lead you to think that its sole purpose is to showcase the artistic talents of its owner but it’s actually an incredibly versatile system that can be adapted in almost infinite ways to fit your organisational style – and you don’t have to decorate it in an elaborate fashion if you don’t want to! In fact, the Bullet Journal was originally designed to be as minimalistic as possible so you are able to focus on its contents.

What Can You Use A Bullet Journal For?

How you use your Bullet Journal is really only limited by your needs and your imagination. Some uses of Bullet Journals include:

  • To-Do List
  • Goal Setting & Habit Tracking
  • Calendars/Schedules
  • Journaling (duh!)
  • Scrapbooking/Memory Keeping
  • Someday/Maybe Lists
  • Reminders (lending lists, medical details)
  • Budgeting

This isn’t an exhaustive list; the flexibility of the Bullet Journal system means it can be used for pretty much anything you can think of.

What Makes Up A Bullet Journal?

There are a few pages that all Bullet Journals should ideally have (although due to the nature of BuJo’s this isn’t set in stone) and we’ll be discussing each of these in greater detail later, but briefly, these pages are:

Key

This is a guide to what all of the bullets and signifiers mean in your Bujo.

Index

Like it sounds, this is a list of what content is on what page so that you can find the content you need quickly.

You can make the index as simple or as complicated as you like as long as you can see what page the content is on that you’re looking for. Some Journals come with a pre-printed index where you write your content against individual pages, or you can group pages together if you’re formatting your own index.

Future Log

This is a list of events in the future like tasks with due dates or appointments. There is a future log as a separate page as you may not have drawn up the relevant monthly or weekly pages to note these items on.

It also allows you to see an overview of what you have coming up so that you can manage your schedule effectively

Monthly Log

The Monthly log gives you an overview of your month tt a glance which will contain all of your appointments and date-specific tasks (some people may split the task list out into a separate section if they have a lot of tasks to complete).

Weekly Overview

Items from your monthly log will be moved onto a weekly log. It will contain appointments and any time-sensitive tasks you may have. The layout you choose will depend on how many appointments you have – for example you may be able to fit your week on one page but if you have a lot of appointments and time-sensitive tasks you may need to do it over two pages. You might also add goals, and notes to this view as well.

Daily Log (Dailies)

These are plans and tasks you have for the current day, it may also include a section for noting down your thoughts on the day’s events, the weather and other items you’d like to keep track of (medicine, mood etc.)

Collections

A section containing similar subjects, for example, a list of books you’d like to read, a to-do list of project specific tasks, or a list of favourite recipes

The Bullet System And Signifiers

Bullets are, unsurprisingly, at the heart of the Bullet Journal system. Each stage or activity is represented by a different style of bullet which is joined by a “signifier”, another notation that gives extra meaning to the content or bullet.

The style of each bullet you use is entirely up to you – that’s the beauty of the system, however, the icons you choose should be clear, concise and easy to remember so that you can quickly add a task, and then quickly determine that tasks type or status at a glance.

“Traditional” Bullet Journaling uses the following symbols:

Signifiers are then added to give additional information about a task, again you can choose any system you want but the “Traditional” Bullet Journal signifiers are:

Your own style of signifiers could be anything you want, letters, symbols, coloured dots, it doesn’t matter as long as the bullets and signifiers are meaningful to you.

The one important factor in choosing bullets and signifiers is that they must allow you to quickly write down (or log) your events and tasks. Rapid logging – being able to note down your tasks and events quickly – is at the heart of the Bullet Journal system so it’s important any notations you choose fit in with this core concept.

How To Set Up Your Bullet Journal

There are many ways you can set up your Bullet Journal. Some people write out their Monthly Logs just before the start of the month and then go through and set up each week and day in advance. Others will set up the month and then write out their weekly spread on the day before that week starts and their Daily Log the night before that day.

How you go about it is up to you, how you want your journal to work and how much time you have available. If you’re stuck for time during the week, you may want to devote an hour on a Sunday to get your weekly and dailies set up. If you’re a morning person and have plenty of time, you might set up that day whilst you’re having your morning coffee.

The system isn’t set in stone either, you could set up one month in advance and then the following month you may decide to go week by week – it’s whatever works easiest for you, the idea is to simplify the process so you can get your tasks down, not force you into a rigid system that you end up hating and stop using after a couple of months.

When you get your first notebook (more on those later), there’s something like a sense of being overwhelmed at the possibilities, and a fear that you’re not going to be as “pretty” as everyone else or that you will mess up the first page. Don’t panic! This feeling is completely normal and you’re certainly not alone in this!

The beauty of the Bullet Journal is that the flexibility allows you to try many different styles all in the same notebook. Unlike a pre-printed planner where you are stuck with the layout provides, a Bullet Journal allows you to try different styles and methods on a monthly, weekly and daily basis. This means you can truly find out what works for you – and if you’re not sure you can always make a mock-up on a scrap piece of paper first to see how it will work.

Perhaps you’ve been using a particular style of monthly calendar and decide it’s not working – no problem, change it! Feel like a vertical rather than horizontal layout this week? Why not give it a try?

Decide after a couple of months you need to track business expenses? Go ahead and add it in!

You don’t even have to use all of the sections, it might be that you have a lot of appointments and want to see an overview for the month, in that case, you can drop the weekly view. Have a lot of tasks that run over several days? Drop the dailies and stick with a “To-Do” collection or add them to your weekly page.

The most important element of a Bullet Journal is that it allows you to organise and track your events, tasks, and any other items you want to keep tabs on in a way that you are happy with, and that the system you’ve chosen is easy to maintain and update.

Finally, don’t be put off by all of those pretty journals you can find on Pinterest and Instagram (in fact I’d go as far as to recommend you don’t even look at them until you’re comfortable with your own system). Remember, this isn’t a competition, a Bullet Journal is as unique as your fingerprint and you don’t have to have a perfectly decorated spread in order to be organised.

What Are Spreads And Collections?

You may hear people mention spreads and collections when they’re referring to their Bullet Journals. Don’t worry, it’s not something super-complicated or secret!

Spreads

Simply put, a spread is two facing pages in your journal. A lot of people use a “Weekly Spread” – that is weekly layout spread across two pages – as it gives them room to have a calendar for the week and well as listing tasks and notes.

Collections

A collection is a group of related items on one page, spread or multiple pages/spreads. Think of a collection as a bucket for all of your thoughts on a particular topic. For example, I have collections on:

  • Movies I’ve seen at the cinema this year (I need to track if I’m getting value from my loyalty card)
  • Who I’ve lent DVDs to
  • Series I want to watch on Netflix
  • Blog post ideas

A collection can be on any subject you like and it’s not limited to list formats either, you can come up with themes for each page like movies cans, popcorn containers, spirals – If you can think of it, you can use it!

A collection keeps all related thoughts together so that they are easy to find and avoids duplication of content and makes it a lot easier to manage the things you need to keep track of.

How Do You Reconcile To-Do Lists And Notes With Collections?

The whole idea between the Bullet Journal is to allow you to rapidly log tasks and thoughts that pop into your head at random times. If you were having to move around from collection to collection, searching in the index to find the right pages, in order to add something down in the right spot not only would this take forever you’d soon lose your train of thought and would forget what you were supposed to be logging.

Migration

The best way to rapidly capture your ideas is to set up a “Master Collection” where you note down everything that pops into your head regardless of collection type or context. This allows you to get all of these items out of your head and onto paper before you can forget them.

You can then go through your master list at your leisure, migrating (moving) items from the master list to the relevant collection, you can also re-evaluate the tasks whilst you’re doing this to make sure it’s something that you really want to do, haven’t already done or delegated to someone else.

Whilst you can choose when to process your master list, I wouldn’t leave it too long for a couple of reasons. Firstly, if you leave migrating items from your master list to a collection then the master list is going to get HUGE! This will then put you off going through the list as you’ll view it as unmanageable and too much like hard work.

Secondly, you won’t be able to keep track of your tasks. You won’t know which are ones that are relevant to, say, the grocery store. You won’t know what tasks rely on completing something first, and lumping them all together will make it difficult to prioritise your tasks.

In the Getting Things Done methodology, David Allen advises having a weekly review where you go through all of your collected items and process them. You can review your items daily if you’d like – I certainly wouldn’t leave it any longer than a week though or your list will get out of hand.

What If I Don’t Get Something Done This Month/Week?

If you don’t manage to complete a task, don’t worry! You can simply migrate the task from the current spread to a new Monthly or Weekly log, or collection.

You also migrate tasks from the future log to your new monthly or weekly log, enabling you to keep track of items that were longer range but are now current.

In the example above, you can see that the first task has been migrated (I also add extra arrows through the task itself so I know I don’t have to focus on it anymore.

What Do You Do When You Fill Up A Page Or A Notebook?

If you have a lot of items in a collection then you will find yourself needing to move to a new page to carry on noting items down.

Because of the static nature of a notebook (unless you’re using a ring or disc-bound system), you can’t always continue the collection on the very next page, instead of having to move several pages forward in your journal.

Threading

“Threading” is the process where you link several pages of related content together even though they may be in different parts of your journal.

Your index will give you an overview of what page a particular item is on, but if you’ve flicked to a page, it’s a pain to have to go back to the index, figure out what the next page will be and then turn to that page and that’s where threading comes in.

For example, if I’m on page 42 and there are other pages of this collection before and after this page, I’d list the previous and next pages next to the current page.

The above photo shows a rather simple example and shows that the current page (8) is continued on page 9.

This way I can see the next page without having to flick through the journal or index searching for the page I need. You can also add previous pages to your thread as well to make it easier to flick backwards and forwards through your linked collections.

Threading can be used at an even more granular level to provide complete control over your task list and projects.

If you’re setting up your daily task list, you’re bound to refer to a project that has its own collection. In your task list you’d simply put the appropriate page number next to the task.

That way you can keep your task list brief and to the point, but provide additional reference information if needed.

Keeping your task list succinct and not bogged down with too much detail is key to being able to scan down it to see what needs to be done most urgently or is next.

Finally, threading can be used to link back to your previous (or other) notebooks so you can refer to past collections and keep your reference materials without having to migrate it to a new notebook, taking up precious space and your time.

For example, if you go through a journal every six months you don’t want to spend the majority of your time repeatedly copying content from notebook to notebook.

To refer back to previous notebooks, or to cross-reference between multiple current notebooks, you can give them some form of unique identifier for example “1”, “2”, “3” etc. or put coloured dots on them so “Red” could be for home, “blue” could be for work, or you could even combine the two systems – “Red 1” for example.

When you’re referencing other notebooks in your collection you would then list the notebook number and page:

In the above photo of my to-do list, you can see that the final task “F/H Related Posts” can be found in the Yellow (Y) notebook number 1 on page 40. You can add colour coding to the page too if that will help you find the information you need quickly.

How you number, letter or colour code your notebooks is up to you – there’s no “one size fits all” solution, go with what makes most sense to you and you’re most comfortable with. You can change the system but just make sure you can still keep track of all of your previous notebooks so don’t go removing all of those coloured labels all of a sudden!

[how-to-bujo4]

Bullet Journal Equipment

First, let’s get one thing straight: you do not have to go out and spend a fortune on fancy books, pens, stickers and paraphernalia.

Have a rummage around in a desk drawn and I’m sure you’ll find a notebook and a pen works. That’s it, you’re all set to BuJo!

I’d highly recommend using an existing notebook while you get started so you can figure out what works and what doesn’t, what collections you need, how whether you’ll be using a future log, monthlies, dailies and weeklies. If you go out and spend a tonne of money on a “posh” notebook you’ll be wary of making mistakes or changes.

There are also a fair few different styles of notebooks so it’s worth your while to check out whether you prefer lined, dotted or grid paper – print some different styles out to see which paper-type works best with your style of BuJo here.

You’ll also need to consider the size of journal that you’d like to use. The smaller the journal, the more portable it is, the larger the journal the more space you’ll have for your spreads. Confusingly, different brands also have different names for their sizes of journals. The Milligram Blog has a great article on all of the different page sizes and journal sizes you may come across and it’s well worth a look at before you rush out and buy something.

Don’t feel that you have to be tied down to a bound notebook either. I am a bit fussy when it comes to keeping items of a similar nature together so I like to put my Netflix, Movies and Amazon Prime collections together which would require a great deal of planning in a regular notebook. Instead, I’ve opted for a ring bound bullet journal (I use a planner based on the Classic Happy Planner with my own custom inserts for some sections and Levenger discs) but you could easily use a standard ring folder or Filofax as well.

Once you’ve found a system that you like and got a feel for the size and type of BuJo you want to use you can start to step it up a gear!

Below is a list of equipment that I see regularly recommended on various Bullet Journal Groups I belong to, I’ve also added a few of my own personal favourites to this list too.

Please Note: The following list contains affiliate links. You will not be charged any extra for purchases made through these links but I may make a small commission which allows me to keep this site running.

Notebooks

The Official Bullet Journal Notebook

It wouldn’t be a list of Bullet Journal notebooks without including the official one! This journal comes with dot grid 80gsm paper so ghosting will be minimal. It also comes with a nice key page, index, page numbers and 3 bookmarks.

Leuchtturm1917 Classic Hardcover

The Leuchtturm (see how to pronounce it here!) is the go-to journal of Bullet Journalers. The paper isn’t as thick as some other brands (it’s 70gsm so it will ghost quite a bit). It comes with its own printed index and numbered pages which are a great time-saver. It’s also available in a variety of colours and paper styles (ruled and grid as well as dotted) in a variety of sizes as well as a soft cover version as well.

Moleskine Classic Hardcover

I’ve been a fan of Moleskine’s for years (see how to pronounce it here – sort of!) – in fact, I’ve been using one as a form of bullet journal for over 10 years! The paper is 70gsm (the same as the Leuchtturm) and it comes in a variety of sizes and styles, although the colours range available isn’t as large as the Leuchtturm.

Herlitz A6 Notebook

This is my current notebook of choice. Unfortunately, it only seems to be available in this size in hardcover format in Europe but it’s an exceptional notebook. There’s hardly any bleeding through the 96 pages, and it comes with a really handy pen loop that seems to be missing on other notebooks. Plus, the added bonus is that’s it half the price of the Moleskine! There doesn’t appear to be a dot version but as I love squares I’m more than happy – I just need to decide between this and my Traveller’s notebook for next year (although I already know the Herlitz will fit in the back pocket of my work trousers which is a must!

Rhodia Black Webnotebook

The Rhodia has some of the heaviest paper out of all the notebooks weighing in at a in impressive 90gsm so if you’re planning on doing a lot of brushwork or watercolour then this is the notebook for you. There are a few colours available in the Rhodiarama range, as well as a smaller A6 and a soft cover version.

Mambi Classic Happy Planner

The advantage of the Happy Planner is its flexible nature. Thanks to the disc system, you can move pages around and add and remove them as you want. The calendar pages that come with the Planner are printed on 120gsm paper so there is very little bleed.

One thing to note is that if you’re looking at adding your own pages, I wouldn’t recommend the Mambi Happy Planner Punch. I had one and it could just about cope with 3 sheets of paper and jammed if you tried to punch card. Whilst more expensive I’d recommend the Levenger Punch or the Arc Punch which will do much better in the long run.

Filofax A5 Finsbury

The Filofax brand was one the sign of an 80’s Yuppie but then turned into the ultimate late Eighties/early Nineties organisational tool. Their modular nature means you can add pretty much anything to it – and most paper needs (and weights) are covered with a variety of inserts available.

The one thing that may put you off is the price – I think in this case you’re paying for the brand name so it may be worth checking out alternatives like the Kikki K, Websters and Carpe Diem if you’re looking for a ring-bound solution.

Travelers Notebook – Midori/Fauxdori

You may have seen the names “Midori” and “Fauxdori” in various Bullet Journaling groups on the internet or on Etsy. They’re essentially the same product but “Midori” is the main brand and the “Fauxdori” (or anything “dori”) are copies that are usually a lot cheaper than the original.

A traveller’s notebook is essentially a cover (usually leather) with some strands of elastic inside that allow you to hold a number of notebooks (You can view more about Traveller’s Notebooks here). The advantage of this system is you can swap notebooks in and out as needed, and you can have different styles of paper in each notebook so you may have a lined notebook for notes, square grid for goal trackers and a blank notebook for sketches.

After the initial expense of purchasing a Midori or a Fauxdori the inserts can work out quite reasonable in price or you can even make your own traveller’s notebook inserts with a little effort.

Pens

Pigma Micron Fineliners

A lot of Bullet Journalers swear by the Pigma Micro Fineliner. They’re available in a variety of thicknesses so you’re bound to find one that suits your writing style. There’s very little bleed or ghosting (unless you use a very lightweight paper) and they’re also waterproof once dry so if you’re super clumsy and keep knocking drinks over these may be the answer!

Staedtler Fineliners

These pens are great for the variety of colours available. There is a little bleed with them on 70gsm papers that I’ve noticed but if you’re doing fine work and not pressing too hard then you should be okay!

Papermate Inkjoy

These Gel Pens are fast drying and available in a variety of fun colours. There’s little bleed but from the reviews I’ve seen ghosting can be quite bad on lighter-weight paper. With the pens being gel-based they write very smoothly but you will need to watch for smearing (especially if you’re left-handed).

Pilot FriXion Erasable Gel Pens

These pens are quite unique in that they’re erasable gel pens! If you make a lot of changes (or mistakes) then it may be worth considering using these as your go-to writing pen. One thing to bear in mind is that the ink disappears with heat so don’t leave your Bujo in the car on a hot day or you may find all of your words have erased themselves! Don’t worry though, put your journal in the freezer (seriously) and it should all come back!

Stabilo Point 88-46

This is my pen of choice for writing down my to-dos. It writes really smoothly and dries quickly, there’s also minimal ghosting. The barrel is hexagonal which may take some getting used to but once you do I think it gives you extra control over the pen. It’s available in a variety of colours and several thicknesses.

Tombow Brush Pens

If you want to draw some nice headers in your Bujo then the popular pen of choice is the Tombow Brush Pen which has a wide end for calligraphy style lettering, and a fine end for more detailed work. If you’re looking for a slightly cheaper alternative then Sipa Watercolour pens may be more appropriate – plus it comes with a handy blending tool so you can create cool watercolour effects.

Lamy Safari Fountain Pen (Medium Nib)

I used to have to write with a fountain pen at school. At the time I hated it, now I do miss it every now and again so after a lot of hunting around I settled on the Lamy. The Lamy Fountain pen is available with a variety of nib sizes (I currently have the medium which writes quite nicely but I think I’m going to get fine for my next one) and also inks in some fun colours (you can also buy a converter so you can use bottled ink and make your own colours up)

General Equipment

Pen Holder

It strikes me as odd that a lot of notebooks don’t come with a penholder attached! You can get a variety of pen holders from those that stick onto the inner back cover of your journal to a Metal clip with a leather loop or if you don’t want to spend any money you can make a simple pen loop out of cardboard or some elastic and a binder clip.

Carry Cases

You’ll soon start to build up a collection of quite a few pens, post-it notes and other bits and pieces that you’ll need to move easily from one place to another. I love my Everything Mary Deluxe Papercraft Organiser which fits everything perfectly and allows be to move my stuff from room to room easily and there’s no fear of dropping anything.

If you have a lot of pens that you’d like to keep organised then UTRO Pencil Holder can take 72 pencils and pens – the elastic may be a bit too tight to begin with but it does give eventually.

If you find yourself swapping bags quite often then check out a purse organiser (can be used in other bags too) that allows you to pull out all of your equipment in one go and move it straight to another bag.

Washi Tape

People either seem to love Washi Tape or don’t see the point of it. Washi Tape is a paper-based tape that (with care) can be removed and repositioned on your pages to give some extra fun and flair. It’s available in a few thicknesses but the most common Washi is 15mm. Make sure you check the thickness as you may accidentally order a thinner washi (usually 0.7mm) without realising.

Ruler/Protractor & Compass Set

If you want to get funky with your designs then a ruler, protractor and a compass set can be a great help. If you draw a lot of lines then you may want to invest in a substantial steel ruler that will fit into an A5 notebook.

Stencils

If you’re just getting started with Bullet Journaling, don’t have a lot of time to draw out your spreads, or (like me) are rather bad at being artistic then you might find a stencil set can help you start off your Bullet Journal designs.

Stamps

Stamps are a great way to get a consistent look in your journal without having to do a lot of repetitive writing. Month stamps will ensure you don’t make any mistakes with your numbering and you can even stamp your bullets and signifiers if you want to. The great thing about stamping is that there are loads of inks available and the only thing (apart from ink) you need are some acrylic blocks.

Wrapping It All Up

Wow, this has been a lot to take in, hasn’t it?!

I hope you have found this guide useful and that it’s given you an insight into what a bullet journal is and how you can use it.

As I said earlier, you’ll probably be tempted to go searching on Instagram on Pinterest for ideas – but be warned! It’s very easy to be put off starting your journal for fear that you won’t be as good as everyone else, it’s also very easy to try to use every collection you come across at the beginning – don’t!

My advice to you is just to start with the basics, if you start with too many collections you’ll have trouble keeping them updated and you’ll lose the motivation to continue. Also, you need to figure out how much time you can afford to (and want to) spend working on your journal. Some people have a couple of hours in the evening or at the weekend, others only a few minutes. Once you settle into your routine you can start to add to your journal and decorate it as you want.

Want to know the most important factor in Bullet Journaling? Consistency.

Yup, it’s simply consistency. Not great penmanship or great design skills, just make sure you keep everything noted down and then make sure you review everything regularly. That way you’ll stay on top of your tasks and appointment which, after all, is what a bullet journal is for!

Resources

Subscribe to our mailing list

Join Hundreds of readers who have access to exclusive downloads and content

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.