How to Start a Bullet Journal (Step-By-Step Tutorial)
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What is a Bullet Journal?
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Curious about how to start your first bullet journal? It’s easy, so let’s get started. All you need is a pen and a notebook of some kind to start a bullet journal.
How to Start a Bullet Journal
Are you someone who struggles to stay on top of things? Is your schedule all over the place, and does it stress you out? I used to be like that. In fact, most of my life was spent in a state of confusion and frustration because I couldn’t plan to save my life. No planning system ever worked for me, and it left me in a heap of sticky notes and half-used journals. The thing that finally turned me around is the bullet journal system. In this post, I’ll show you what the bullet journal is, how to start a bullet journal, and why it’s the solution you need to get organized. Yes, this is real! Are you ready to have your socks knocked off?
Okay, so first things first – what is a bullet journal? In a nutshell, it’s this awesome note-taking/list-making/groundbreaking productivity system that is entirely customizable and serves your needs specifically. Take a quick minute and watch this video to hear how to start a bullet journal straight from the mouth of the genius creator of the system, Ryder Carroll. You can also check out this huge ultimate guide about everything bullet journal!
How To Start A Bullet Journal: Step-By-Step
This simple step-by-step guide will show you how to start a bullet journal today.
- Gather your supplies. You don't need anything fancy to get started, but having the right supplies can help you stick with it. All you really need to get started is a pen and a notebook, everything else is just extra.
- Create an Index. An Index is simply a place where you can keep track of all of the pages you include in your bullet journal, similar to a table of contents. To create a basic index, all you need to do is create two columns. In the right column, write "page" on the left write "page number." Now, as you create pages, you can fill out your index. You can learn more about creating an index here.
- Create a Key. A Key is one of the simplest pages in your bullet journal. It is simply a place for you to keep track of all of the different symbols you use in your bullet journal and what they mean.
- Create a Future Log. Your Future Log is a place for you to plan for things that are not coming up immediately. This is the perfect place to include things like birthdays, anniversaries, vacations, big project deadlines, or doctor's appointments made in advance. There are many ways to make this spread, and you can see more here.
- Create Your First Monthly. Next, you want to create your first monthly spread. This can be as simple or as complicated as you like. There are two common formats: calendar or list. Either works well for beginners, you can learn more about creating monthly setups here.
- Create Weekly and/or Daily Logs. Weekly and Daily logs are the heart of any bullet journal, but what they look like can vary significantly from person to person. You can also choose to combine them into one page or use both independently. You can learn more about Daily logs here, and learn more about Weeklies here.
- Update Your Index: Your Index only works if you keep it updated, so go back and make sure to include all of the pages you've created.
- Customize Your Bullet Journal: There are a ton of different types of bullet journals out there. Some are fancy, and some are simple. It's up to you what form yours will take, but remember to make it yours. One of the best things about the bullet journal is how flexible it is, so don't be afraid to adjust it to fit your needs
- Use it Daily: If you want the bullet journal system to work for you, you need to be sure to keep it updated. Making a habit out of using your bullet journal is the easiest way to make it stick.
Index - If your journal does not come with pre-numbered pages, I recommend you take the time to write page numbers in the corner or color-code your bullet journal.
Done, Not Perfect - Don't worry about making your bullet journal perfect. Done is always better than perfect.
Experiment - These are just the basic spreads you need to start a bullet journal, but there are tons of other pages you can create. You can see a bunch of suggestions here.
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How To Bullet Journal – Further Explained
If you are anything like me, you have a bunch of ideas, doodles, notes, lists, and other nonsense tucked away in all kinds of places. You might use a dot grid notebook, your phone’s calendar, Post-It notes in your pocket (paper ones or digital desktop ones), and task-oriented apps on your phone to try to keep all of these things sorted. At first glance, these systems work a bit, but they just don’t really do the whole job. You need something that can keep track of everything in the past, present, and future – not five systems to cover all your bases.
My crutch? Journals. I love journals. I used to be guilty of buying all kinds of notebooks, journals, and sketchbooks to hoard on my shelves. I would do one of two things – use ten pages before I moved on to the next thing, or never write in them at all because I was terrified of ruining the beautiful blank pages. Even when I tried to use a blank journal for a planner or note stash, I just couldn’t make it work. It always felt like a temporary patch.
When I discovered the bullet journal, my heart skipped a beat. I knew that moment that the bullet journal was going to be exactly what I needed. But then I had to wonder – how to start a bullet journal and make it work for me?
What You Need To Start A Bullet Journal
While there is a wide variety of bullet journal supplies on the market, one of the most wonderful things about the bullet journal is that you don’t need much to get started. In fact, you only need a pen and a notebook.
This notebook doesn’t have to be new, nice, or fancy in any way. Any old journal or notebook will do the trick. The bullet journal might even be the perfect way to use those half-used journals that I’m sure you have sitting around. That can help take the pressure off you to make your bullet journal perfect so you can focus on making the system work for you.
If you do want to purchase a new journal to help you get in the mindset of planning, then there are a ton of journal brands that you can choose from. I personally prefer the ever-popular dot-grid Leuchtturm 1917 with the page numbers and ribbon bookmarks. You might also like to check out Moleskine or Rhodia journals – both of which I have tried and enjoyed. You can check out the My Supplies page to see a bigger list of supplies that I love if you want to look around! However, I just want to remind you that you don’t need to buy an expensive new journal from a craft store. Literally, any notebook will do.
There are a million options when it comes to pens. Everyone has their own preferences when it comes to weight, ink, color, brand, etc. So in essence, this is totally up to you. I’m just going to suggest some of my favorite pens to get your creative juices flowing!
To bullet journal beginners, I would recommend that you keep things pretty simple. Find one good pen, pencil, or set of pens that you can write with every single day comfortably. One great option for that is the Pilot G2 series of pens, which are extremely affordable and easy to find in stores. If you want something with a larger color range, perhaps you want to consider the Staedtler Triplus Fineliners or Paper Mate Felt Tip Pens. Both are easy to write with and come in a wide variety of fun colors.
Another alternative is a fountain pen. I used to think fountain pens were for ultra-fancy calligraphy, but there are plenty of options that are cheap and extremely fun to write with. Seriously, you’ll be itching to write in your bullet journal every day with a fountain pen. If you’ve never used a fountain pen before, the Pilot Varsity set is just what you need. Or if you want something a bit fancier without a huge price tag, then you’ll love the Pilot Metropolitan fountain pen!
Bullet Journal Basics
There are a few things you need in your bullet journal to get started. Let’s cover some of your bases to give you inspiration, so you can get started in no time flat!
Bullet Journal Key
The first thing you want to consider is a key for what signifiers you want to use in your bujo. Carroll suggested some symbols (such as squares, dots, and dashes) that you might want to use, or you can create your own, like different patterns or fonts for your handwriting! Whatever the case may be, you want to make sure you remain consistent, so you don’t confuse yourself with unclear notes.
Another addition to your bullet journal is the monthly entry. Your monthly log serve as a wide-view lens as you plan your life. Some typical things that you can find in this spread is some kind of monthly calendar or list of dates, along with a place to write your monthly goals. This is one that I personally enjoy jazzing up with watercolors, hand lettering, and all kinds of artwork. You don’t need to go all out like this, but if it’s fun for you and helps you come back to using your bullet journal, then please be my guest!
Dailies and Weeklies
Something that you need to keep in your bullet journal is a place to write down all your daily to-do lists. This can take place in the form of a daily or a weekly spread. Basically, it’s the ground level of your bullet journal. All your regular day-to-day notes, scheduling, and task management happens here. There are a million ways to set up these entries, so it’s a matter of trial and error to find the one that fits you the best. I started out with daily logs and worked my way up to weeklies when I realized that I preferred that layout. It’s totally up to you!
Bullet Journal Collections
Once you’ve set up your monthly and daily spreads, then it’s time to start exploring the wonderful world of trackers and collections! There are so many topics to choose from, including a gratitude log, a habit tracker, a mood tracker, or a future log, to name a few. I can’t possibly get into it all here. There’s so much to talk about! Instead, check out the post below:
Start Your Bullet Journal Today
This organizational system was a lifesaver for me. It helped me develop from a stressed student into a full-time blogger and creative maven. If it weren’t for the amazing bullet journal method, I’m certain that I would still be a flailing, frustrated mess today. So if you’ve been searching for the right organization system for you, then look no further. You have found the perfectly flexible, adaptable, and fun system to take care of all your needs. Grab your journal and start your bullet journal today to start working toward your goals with productivity and purpose!
Thank you for the comment!
Hi, I am going to start BuJo but I was thinking if we could use cut nib and round tip markers?
I can’t see any reason why not! If you’re unsure, you can always create a test page for new pens on the last page of your journal. Have fun making your bullet journal!
I do not have a dotted notebooks, so is it OK if I use a lined notebook?
Of course! You can use whatever you have on hand and/or whatever you like best!
Yes you can! Absolutely!
You can use any typeof paper you like/you are adjusted to ?
Hi, I recently have wanted to start blogging too, but I was just wondering, what website did you use to first create your blog? Was it Weebly? Thank you!
Hi, I actually used Wix, but I do not recommend them. You can read more about how I started my blog here: https://littlecoffeefox.com/start-creative-blog/
Lovely post! Just wanted to ask if I’ll be able to use a bullet journal as a diary as well – for instance, to write down my thoughts each day – and also if you have any suggestions on how I can execute this well and efficiently.
Of course, one of the best parts of the bullet journal is the ability to customize it to fit your needs.
Hello, Ms. Shelby. I am a high school student with a very hectic and busy schedule. More often than not, I am frustrated due to my lack of personal time for recreational activities. I once enjoyed drawing and writing poetry, and I still do, but I just never had the time to pick up my hobbies again since I have too many requirements at a time. Despite the lack of time, I decided that I wanted to start a bullet journal. I got a dotted notebook and it sat on my shelf for weeks because I was so intimidated and didn’t know how to start. Then, I searched online and found this post (blog?) and read through it. It is extremely helpful. I also looked through your other resources/posts and also found those to be very helpful as well. I would just like to say thank you for sharing your information. :> Currently am starting my journal for 2019 (even though it’s nearly 3 in the morning.. but I am a night owl) and I think that after drawing inspiration from your posts, it’s going to look great.
How exciting Sabie! Here’s to a great year and wonderful journey ahead.
So I totally thought I was the only person in the world who shamelessly collected beautiful journals and then just got stuck bec I either didn’t know how to make use of them, used like 5 pages before shoving it aside, or – my favourite – not wanting to mess up the beautiful pages with my not so beautiful handwriting! And then I came across your blog, and you just get it! My friend got me into the bujo world just last week, and I immersed myself in late night google searches immediately. Before sleeping that night I’d ordered a new journal on Amazon Prime, and patiently waited all next day for it to arrive. I’ve been using my journal for 5 days, and I already feel a million times more productive than I’ve ever been in my life – and that’s saying something! I came across your page just today as I was looking for more inspiration on how I can expand and diversify, and yes pretty up my journal, and your blog is just what I’ve been looking for. It’s a breath of fresh air, and you should be very proud of your work here. Thanks for the inspiration! You’ve got a new subscriber. 🙂
What an exciting journey you’ve begun Sarah! There is so much more you’re going to discover as you continue journaling.
Can I write only monthly to do list instead of daily to do list?
Sure! Whatever works for you! The bullet journal is meant to be adjusted to your needs.
This is such a lovely post, Shelby!
I love the idea of a bullet journal and have always been planning to do one but haven’t gotten around it yet. Your article just reinforced this idea to actually set aside a time and do it since I already have the materials needed.
I’m gonna see what it can do for my entire productivity since I am planning a whole month of activities to accomplish. thanks for some of the awesome ideas!
Give it a try and I bet you will LOVE it, Lanie!
I attempted to start a bullet journal. I started with monthlys and little lists here and there. I tried to do the “typical” journal structure and then threw it all out the window. I’ve already got a new journal for next year and I’m getting ideas. The questions I had is about how many pages to skip. If I do a couple pages for that month then how many pages do I skip before another collection? What’s your best advice for that?
I’m afraid I’m not understanding your question, Danielle! Are you asking how to make sure you have enough pages for collections and all your plans for a single month? It sounds like you’re trying to set up more than a month in advance, which is forcing you to decide how many pages to keep in a month. Personally, I don’t do more than a month in advance, so I use as many pages as I need before I set up the next month. That means there’s no guesswork involved! But if you want to do that, that’s totally fine. I’d then suggest you either keep your collections in a separate collections journal (see this post for more on that: https://littlecoffeefox.com/2017/09/05/3-reasons-collections-journal/ ). Or if you’d rather keep it all in one journal, keep your collections in the back of your journal and your plans in the front, working your way to the middle until you’re out of pages. That way you can keep them all separate and not have to guess how many pages you’ll need with collections. Also, if you’re waiting until January to start you bullet journal back up, I’d highly suggest you read this post ( https://littlecoffeefox.com/2017/01/23/how-to-start-a-bullet-journal-middle-of-a-month/ ). I hope that helps!
This is lovely. I have a question though. the first picture, pages Level 10 Life and Level 10. What is that? Do you talk about that anywhere? That’s what first drew me to this article because I was interested in what that was.
You can find the post here on Level 10 Life:
I’ve read a few of your posts and we sound like very similar people regarding our perfectionist tendencies, fear-based procrastination and chaotic-creative’s approach to paper-based brain-wrangling systems! Notebooks have never worked for me in the past either, but this whole ‘bullet journal’ system is unlike anything I have encountered before and I’m excited to give it a go. (Also, I get to buy new pens. Always a winner). It seems to have totally transformed the way you organise yourself and measure/enhance/discipline areas of your life and you give me hope it can do the same for me. Your posts are really encouraging, reminding me that it’s ok to screw up sometimes – it’s not the end of the world and ‘done’ is better than perfect!
Love and gratitude from a burned-out creative
Tash, new pens are ALWAYS a win! Welcome to the world of bullet journaling- I think you will like it here.
I started out doing a bullet journal to organize my work schedule and record stuff in a journal. After trying numerous layouts (using suggestions from you and Boho Berry and others), I came to one layout that worked well for me. I then tweaked this layout for another couple of months to get what I wanted. I had been using several types of books as the foundation for my journals. However I was drawing everything by hand.
I looked around and found a 14 month planner in 8 1/2 by 11 inch format with a two-pages-per-week spread and a monthly calendar/notes (with 3 mini-monthly calendars – last current-next) spread which was similar to what I had settled on. The left side of the weekly spread has daily divisions, which I split in half and how have an appointments column and a journal column. On the right I created at the top a weekly tracker type of column for memos to write (a big part of my job), a narrow column divided into Priorities, Waiting for/Follow up, Next week, and Horizons. This is about 2/3 of the page. At the bottom, I have a weather table and a weekly tracker divided 30%-70%. Using this pre-printed format takes me half the time to make up a weekly spread. At the front, I use the pre-January pages for an index, and some key collections. At the back, I have used the Notes pages to create an addendum of collections pages, which are indexed on the index pages.
This is a minimalist type of guy’s journal set up for my specific needs at work. I include personal evening and weekend activities in the weekly calendar (I work 8-4, M-F). However, I also have a personal bullet journal – I keep them separate by choice. I leave my work bujo at work so others can see the data in the calendar as needed, but I carry the personal bujo everywhere, including to work. Without the bullet journal concepts, I would not have been able to create this unique work-specific bujo tailored to my unique needs. It saves me several hours per week and keeps me on track. And it only took me about 6 months to set it up.
Thanks to all the bujo-ers who share their ideas.
It sounds like you’ve got quite the tailored system, Bill! That is truly fantastic. Your level of customization is exactly what is so incredible about building your own planner from scratch. There’s nothing like having a system formed perfectly around your own life and needs. Thanks so much for sharing!
So inspiring! I’ve been looking at folks’ bullet journals for a long time. It looks so neat
But what when your handwtiting is terrible? And I mean terrible , my partner often don’t understand what I write. T__T I also think I don’t have enough going on in my life to keep a journal? I don’t work, nor study, nor have kids. Heck, I rarely get out of the house. Anyway, I’ll be stalking your page a little 🙂
Don’t worry about your handwriting, Lynn! As long as you can read it, it doesn’t matter if it’s chicken scratch or the fanciest penmanship. Besides, you’ll find that writing so regularly will likely improve your writing over time.
And if you feel like you don’t have enough to do or track in your bullet journal, then you’re thinking about your journal too narrowly! It doesn’t just have to be used for schedules and tasks. Use it to cultivate your dreams and figure out your big goals! The bullet journal is a great way to identify exactly what you want out of life so you can start making significant strides towards those goals. I’d suggest you check out this post (http://littlecoffeefox.com/2017/04/23/how-to-find-your-passion/) to get your creative juices flowing for how to use your bullet journal for dreaming instead of planning. There’s so much potential in a blank page, so don’t feel restricted to only using it for one purpose 😉
Thank you for your great posts 🙂
I have a question about perfection. I´m a bit confused about the Key / signs. Visual I would like to put a line across the task-sentence, when the task is done.
For me the pages looks perfect with this signs, but visual I will not easy see what is done or not. For me it looks like a new list of tasks.
Anybody feels like me?
Thanks so much, Anne! First of all, I would say don’t let perfection get in the way of a good system. You can see my thoughts about perfection here. And if you want to check out my post about the bullet journal key, you can read it here. I use boxes that I fill in when I complete a task, and it gives me the satisfaction when I color it in as well as giving a clear signal that the task is done. Maybe that’s the solution you’re looking for! My advice would be to experiment a bit over the next few weeks and play with different icons to see what you like and don’t like. I hope that helps!
I am a 59 year old still trying to figure out this adult thing! I love, love, love your website and your ideas. I have been so frustrated with how inflexible planners are for years. I am thrilled with this and YOUR site sparked me to do my 1st Bullet Journal.
The ‘done not perfect’ is the only reason I haven’t torn out the 1st creation (the Key). It is just a wonderful site and I wanted to say thanks!
That means a ton, Dennis, thank you! I’m so glad you have taken this philosophy to heart and jumped into the bullet journal world!
This is really helpful. Thanks a lot for the great tips. I’m really looking forward to starting my own bullet journal!
I’m so glad you think so, Simone! I’m sure you will love your bullet journal once it’s all set up. They are simply fantastic 🙂
This has been the most helpful post I’ve seen around. I’ve been trying to start a bullet journal for a while now, but haven’t had the chance. After seeing that you provided suggestions for supplies, I’ve finally decided to try it out on my own. All I was really looking for is what types of supplies worked for people – and no one really says that much.. so thank you!! I’m super excited about this. I track everything on my phone, but I do love writing and I always want to write my tasks, trackers, goals, etc. in a book so I really hope buju-ing will be fun!
I’m so glad it was helpful to you, Cathlyn! Supplies are definitely a very personal choice, but when you find the right ones – boy, you will feel the difference! I tried getting the cheapest stuff I could when I began, but my organization really hit its stride when I switched over to a Leuchtturm1917 journal. It made me excited to use it each day, and that was completely new for me! I hope you have fun beginning your bullet journal journey. I’m sure you’re going to love it!
I need someone sweet and helpful like Summer to help me with my BuJo.
She’s a bit more of a terror now that she’s older, but she’s still a little sweetheart! 😆
Hi Shelby! I came to your blog after seeing your post on the Daily Habit Tracker on Pinterest. (I’m so excited about starting it that I can hardly stand it! *Nerd alert*!) Anyway-that post led me to your Morning Pages post, and then I found this post about your Bullet Journal. So I need to know–are you using 3 different journals–one for the Daily Habit Tracker, one for your Morning Pages, and one for your Bullet Journal, or do you use the same journal for all three? I apologize if you’ve already covered this elsewhere. I’m just excited to get started because, I, too, have random little bits of notes and thoughts spread all over my world, and it’s driving me crazy!!! I need a system, and I like the sound of yours! Thank you in advance!
I’m so glad you enjoyed the posts! I currently keep my Morning Pages in a completely separate journal. BUT I do keep my habit tracker in my bullet journal. In every monthly spread in my bullet journal, I add a fresh habit tracker to fill up. I find that having several logs like that in my monthly spreads helps me tremendously. I hope that helps, and I couldn’t be more excited for you to find bullet journaling! I don’t know how I got anything done before my bullet journal. I wish you the best of luck in getting started, and please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any more questions as you begin. You’ll love it, I just know it!
Great post, helps a lot with getting to a point to start. I do have a question, I think related to this post, how you combine monthly and daily lists with other lists like your examples Holiday presents etc. Do you just flip until the next free spread or do you keep all month and day lists together without other stuff in between?
My feeling is that I think I would like to keep it separate but within the same journal, but no I don’t know how to achieve this. I hope you understand what I mean…
Cheers from the Netherlands,
Hello Miriam! I usually just flip to the next available blank spread and add new collections there. Occasionally I will add a collection the the end of my bullet journal so I can easily reference it, like my master grocery list and recipe bank. If you don’t want to keep collections with your regular planning activities, I know that some people keep an entirely separate notebook just for collections. The reason I don’t do this is because I know myself enough to know that I will probably never look at those collections ever again if they were separate. Perhaps that might be the perfect solution for you, though! I hope you have a wonderful holiday season as well, Miriam 😀
Hi, I loved this article. I am looking to buy a bullet journal and it has been harder than I thought to find one. Do you have any ideas of where I could find one?
I’m glad you enjoyed it! Finding the right materials can be tough. You can check out my supplies page here to see all the materials I use and where I got them. I hope you can find a bullet journal that’s perfect for you!
Maybe I’m just tired right now. It is late. But it seems hard right now. My mind is foggy and guess I need to come back to this again. I have all those bits off paper you talked about. not sure how to start. I have so many things going right now that I want to do.
Starting a bullet journal can be a big undertaking, so definitely take your time! In my experience, rushing into it is the best way to become overwhelmed. Take it slow and I’m sure you’ll find the best way to balance all the things in your life! Feel free to message me if you ever have any questions, I’d be more than happy to help!
Thank you for helping me see the possibilities for my journal – I have, as you guessed, a number of journals, composition books, etc, and not a clue how to make them useful. Thanks again, Elizabeth
They are so darn easy to collect, aren’t they? I’m glad you thought the post was helpful and wish you the best of luck with using those notebooks to their fullest extent!