The Ultimate Guide to Starting a Bullet Journal
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Welcome, you guys, to The Ultimate Guide to Starting a Bullet Journal! This is probably one of the most requested blog posts I’ve ever done so I hope you have note taking supplies and a warm beverage to get you through this. Seriously, go ahead and do yourself a favor and bookmark this page now because you’ll want to refer back to it, it’s that good! Future you will thank you, trust me. So, you’ve seen bullet journals all over Pinterest, Instagram, and maybe even YouTube. You’ve landed on this blog post so I’m going to assume that you have at least some interest in starting a bullet journal. BUT if for some reason that isn’t the case or this is your first time truly looking into bullet journals, you might be asking yourself: what is a bullet journal?
What is a bullet journal?
The Bullet Journal is a method of planning that was originally created by Ryder Carroll. Carroll was looking for a way to streamline both his focus and productivity. It essential is the logging of various tasks, notes, events, etc. all in one place. The Bullet Journal has evolved over the years to incorporate a mindfulness methodology helping us all to live our lives more intentionally (isn’t that we’re always saying we want in our Instagram captions these days?). If you want to learn more about The Bullet Journal from the source, I highly recommend checking out the official website. There is so much good information there on the history and original method for bullet journaling. The great thing about bullet journals is how personal they are. So the remainder of this guide to starting a bullet journal includes my personal experience and preferences!
Why I Started My Bullet Journal
I stated my first bullet journal because I was tired of paying the ridiculous prices for planners that don’t even fit all my needs. On any given day, I was carrying around a planner and approximately 5 different notebooks filled with different crap. Why would anyone do that to themselves when they could bullet journal? SO I fell down the deep YouTube rabbit hole that is bullet journaling videos and fell in love. I was so afraid that mine would just be a hot mess because all of the ones I’d seen so far had been beautiful and practically works of art but I soon learned that the beauty of starting a bullet journal (aside from being able to completely customize it) is that it really doesn’t matter whether you’re artistic or not. I mean, take a look at the original bullet journal and you’ll see that it looks nothing like what bullet journaling has evolved into because of Instagram and Pinterest. So if you’re thinking you can’t start one because you can’t make it pretty, then leave that excuse at the door, my friend!
What do you need to start a bullet journal?
The items required for starting a bullet journal is probably my second most asked question aside from how to actually start a bullet journal. In short, you literally only need a notebook and a pen. You don’t even need a fancy dotted notebook (though it does make things a little easier to set up). If you’re like me and are one of those people that likes to dive in headfirst to things like bullet journaling then here’s the list of everything I use when it comes to starting a bullet journal:
A Notebook - My go-to for bullet journal notebooks has been the Leuchtturm1917 dotted notebook. I like these notebooks because they’re setup to be used specifically as bullet journals. I also like that you can get them at Barnes and Noble which is really great if you are also like me and can’t wait two days for Prime shipping from Amazon. While this is a popular choice among bullet journalists, it definitely isn’t the only option out there! If you’re looking for more affordable options, swing by your local Michaels craft store of just pick up any old dotted (or even grid) notebook from your favorite store or Amazon.
A Pen - I use two types of pens when it comes to my bullet journal. First, any old regular pen that’s you’re favorite to write with. I choose a different type of pen to use for writing notes, jotting things down in calendar portions, or actually journaling because when you’re only using one type of pen, it can be a bit overwhelming to look at. Also, the pens I use for creating my spreads aren’t necessarily the cheapest so the idea of wasting ink writing just doesn’t sit well with me. I literally just use your basic BIC Ultra Round Stic Grip pen for the majority of my writing because they’re cheap to buy and bulk and I just like the way they write on everything. But like I said, any kind of pen will do! The other type of pen I use is the Pigma Micron 05 with a .45mm tip. You can get these in packs from Michaels and though they’re pricey, Michaels is always running some kind of coupon deal for 50% off. I didn’t start out using these in my bullet journal but now that I’ve started, I’m never going back. I have it on my list to pick these up in a few different sizes as well for variety.
A mechanical pencil - You’ll want one for planning out your spreads.
A big eraser - Helps to remove pencil lines once you’ve applied ink.
A ruler - I can’t draw a perfectly straight line without one, can you?
Tombow Dual Brush Pens - The Tombow Dual Brush Pens are great for adding color and if you’re into calligraphy but they’re definitely not a MUST HAVE in my opinion unless you’re really into calligraphy. I have two different sets and I hardly use either of them because I prefer the next item way more.
Zebra Mildliners - Usually if you see any type of color highlighted in my bullet journal spreads, it’s been done with the Zebra Mildliners. I’ve had each of the sets for like three or four years now (before I even started bullet journaling!) and I love them so much. If you want to splurge a little, I highly recommend these, they’re probably my most used bullet journal supplies other than my pens.
Crayola Super Tip Markers - If you’re not wanting to spend quite so much money or again, just can’t wait for that Amazon Prime shipping, pick up a pack of the Crayola Super Tip Markers at literally any store. So many bujo users rave about these guys because of the different ways the tips can be used!
Scotch Tape Runner and Refills - If you’re looking for that scrapbook style of bullet journaling like what I do, you’re definitely going to want to add these to your cart ASAP. I tried a few different ways of sticking stuff in my journals until I found these and let me tell you, they’re a game changer. One swipe and you can stick literally anything into your bullet journal!
The Basics of Bullet Journaling
The Bullet Journal Key is also something I don’t find myself using very often which is funny because the elements in the bullet journal key are kind of the whole point of the system. With my 2019 bullet journal, I’m trying to get better about actually using a key but I think it’s important to remember that you don’t necessarily have to use each of the elements in the key for exactly how they’re supposed to be used. For example, I like crossing tasks out when they’re completed. In the original bullet journal key, a line that is crossed out means that something has been cancelled, is not longer relevant, etc. Don’t be afraid to tailor your bullet journal to exactly what you need!
A bullet journal, at its core, should include each of the following items these items are called collections and basically just are a sum of everything in your life. Make sure to remember that your bullet journal is completely customizable so if something here doesn’t work for you or you don’t find yourself using it, feel free to leave it out!
The Index is pretty self explanatory. This is the list at the front of your bullet journal where you list everything that is actually in your bullet journal. I don’t find myself using the index too much but if you want to come back to something say, a year after you’ve completed that bullet journal, it might be worth having.
The future log is essentially your yearly planner. To create a future log, you’ll just simply mark off enough room for each month providing ample space to write any events that you might have scheduled for the year already or to jot down as plans come about outside of the current month. There are all different ways to layout a Future Log. Each month, when you’re setting up your bullet journal, you’ll want to refer to the Future Log to see what events, tasks, appointments, etc. need to be migrated to your current month.
Your monthly log is your planner for the month. If you’re going the basic route, your monthly log is just going to include a calendar page, designed to give you a look at the entire month, and a task list or page. The Monthly Log is really one area where you can go crazy with adding in as little or much information as you want. Want to track specific goals or statistics for the month? The possibilities for customization with your Monthly Log are truly endless. If you’re not sure where to start, take a browse around Pinterest or Instagram for some inspiration.
You’ve probably figured it out by now but your daily log is for day-to-day use. You typically set up a daily log the night before or the morning of because you never know how much space you’re going to truly need for each day. Use your Daily Log for tasks, events, and notes for each day, journal entries, highlights and much more!
Other Bullet Journal Collection Ideas
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What are my top tips for starting a bullet journal?
I don't know if I’ve mentioned it (because this post is so dang long) but I'm on my third bullet journal. Over the past two years of bullet journaling, my style has continued to evolve and change with pretty much each new spread. That being said, I had no idea what I was doing when I started my first bullet journal. By now, though, I think I have enough experience that I can actually offer some solid advice on starting a bullet journal (aside from the basics we talked about above). Here are my top tips for starting a bullet journal:
Start with a simple, minimal style
When you’re looking for bullet journal inspiration, it can be so easy to get caught up in how pretty some of the fancier layouts are. If you’re truly new to using the bullet journal method, my number one piece of advice is to start out with simple and minimal layouts until you get the hang of actually using a bullet journal. A bullet journal should be first and foremost functional so make sure you’ve got it setup and working for you and then add the creative piece into it later! I was definitely overwhelmed when I started my first bullet journal so I think starting with more simplistic layouts definitely would have helped me in the beginning.
Plan with pencil first, then ink
Planning my spreads with pencils (or even using a ruler) was definitely NOT something I was doing when I first started out. You can totally tell the difference between my three notebooks of when I started actually planning, penciling, and using a ruler. It’s way easier to fix a mistake when you’ve done it in pencil and then trace it with ink so don’t be one of those, like me, and just use pen or marker for the first four months of your bullet journal.
Try out different spreads
The great thing about starting a bullet journal is that you can constantly change things. Don’t be afraid to try out different spreads for your monthly or even daily logging! I’m pretty sure I’ve only ever done the same weekly/daily spread two weeks in a row. If you see a spread that you like, try it out! If it doesn’t work for you, move on to the next one. Some people may be able to use their bullet journals as a full blown creative outlet while others may prefer the more traditional rapid logging and minimalistic layouts
If something doesn’t work for you, ditch it!
There have been so many moments where I’ve looked at a spread and liked the layout but not needed every single piece of the layout. What works in a monthly or weekly or daily layout for someone else might be different than what you particularly need. For example, I don’t have any type of work assignments or homework assignments so those would be things I would tailor to my own needs if I still wanted to use that specific layout. Spreads should be flexible! So even if something works for you one week, like, say you need a full spread for writing notes for the week, you might not need it the next. Just keep that in mind when you’re planning out the spreads for your bullet journal and don’t box yourself in too much to using one type of spread!
Don’t be afraid of making mistakes
I think the main reason people hold themselves back from starting a bullet journal is that they’re afraid of making mistakes or that they won’t be able to make a bullet journal look good. I definitely had that same fear but once I sat down and actually started my first bullet journal, I realized that it didn’t matter if all of my lines were straight or if my handwriting was perfect. Using a bullet journal should be all about YOU and your own productivity, focus, and intentionality. Remember, just because bullet journals are all over Instagram, Pinterest, and Tumblr doesn't mean you have to share yours with the world so stop letting that fear of starting a bullet journal hold you back!
My 2019 Bullet Journal Setup
More Resources for Bullet Journaling
If you have any other bullet journal tips or questions on starting a bullet journal that you want answered, leave them in the comment section! I’d love to help as many people start bullet journals this year as I can! Happy journaling!