What is a Bullet Journal?
This is a free sample from my course, Artistic Planning For Beginners, on Foxsy.com. With a Foxsy membership, you can access this course along with 24 others on subjects such as watercoloring, creative journaling, hand lettering, drawing, and so much more. Take the first step toward making 2023 your year of creativity!
The bullet journal system can be a bit intimidating, but don’t worry! This guide has everything you need to get started today!
Perhaps you heard the words “bullet journal” and became intrigued. Perhaps your friend showed you theirs and it’s got you curious for more. Or perhaps you stumbled here and you have no idea what on earth this thing is and you’re starting from square one. Good news! You’re in the right place. I’m going to walk you through exactly what it is, where it came from, and what it can do for you.
The bullet journal method is a planning system created by New York based product designer Ryder Carroll. The bullet journal (or Bujo) consists of several key elements: the index, monthly log, daily log, collections, and a future log. This guide will provide an in-depth example of each of these elements.
Essentially, the bullet journal is a highly customizable planner system that allows you to plan for the future and track the past while making the most of the present.
Bullet Journal Guide Table of Contents
- 1 What is a Bullet Journal?
- 2 Terms To Know
- 3 Getting Started
- 4 Essential Supplies
- 5 The Basic Pages
- 6 Understanding Collections
- 7 Using Trackers
- 8 Minimalist or Artsy?
- 9 Dealing with First Page Fear
- 10 Finishing
- 11 Digital Bullet Journaling
- 12 Tips for Beginners
- 13 Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
- 14 What Is A Bullet Journal?
- 15 Who Invented The Bullet Journal?
- 16 What Do I Need To Start Bullet Journaling?
- 17 Is There A Best Time To Start A Bullet Journal?
- 18 What Are The Best Notebooks For Bullet Journaling?
- 19 What Are The Best Pens For Bullet Journaling?
- 20 Can I Bullet Journal Digitally?
What goes in a Bullet Journal?
While any blank journal can become one, not every planner in a blank journal is a bullet journal. There are lots of different planning systems that can occur in a blank notebook! This system has a few specific pages that set it apart (plus some extras if you want to spice it up – more on that later). For example, my watercolor planner is not a bullet journal because it lacks several of the elements of the system and adds a heaping dose of art. As long as you’re working with the system that contains the original elements laid out by Ryder Carroll, you’ve got a bullet journal!
It’s important to remember that your bujo is not a diary, but rather a form of planner system that is meant to help keep you organized and be more productive.
Terms To Know
There are certain words that you’ll hear as you begin digging into the bullet journal system. Here are a few important terms and what they mean!
One of the core principles of this system is the ability to move tasks forward to new pages. This is called migration. If you find that a task didn’t get accomplished and you still want to keep it on your to-do list, you migrate it to your current daily page to keep it relevant.
A spread is often said to describe the pages in a bullet journal. Most people tend to refer to two pages side by side as a spread. You often see monthlies and collections referred to as spreads because they sprawl across two pages.
A collection is a category page in your bullet journal that covers a specific problem or topic. This can take the form of a tracker, log, or simply a list. Collections allow you to better organize your bullet journal without worry about it getting too disorganized and scattered.
A tracker is a spread used to track certain information for a period of time. Trackers can span a week, a month, a year, or anything in between. There are unlimited types of trackers, but we’ll be covering some of the most popular ones below.
The word “monthlies” is just shorthand for monthly spread or monthly log.
“I love coming up with fun new themes for my monthlies!”
You might see weekly spreads or weekly logs nicknamed “weeklies”.
“I’ve decided to change up my weeklies format.”
In the same fashion as monthlies and weeklies, people often call daily logs “dailies”.
“I track several things in my dailies, like my meals and my steps for the day.”
Rapid Logging is the term used by Ryder Carroll for the act of quickly capturing information in a bulleted list. Essentially, when you sit down and quickly jot down your takes in your daily spread, you are rapid logging.
You might think that starting is complicated or difficult. Nope! Getting started is easy as can be. You just need the most basic supplies (which I’ll go over in the next section) and the willingness to make a few pages.
Which pages, you ask? You can begin anywhere! There is no right way to start.
You don’t have to go in any particular order. Pick whatever page excites you the most and jump in right there. Then add more as you feel like it. It’s easy to feel like you have to do things a certain way, but you are totally free to do whatever floats your boat!
What do you need to start? Before you run out and purchase a ton of stuff, I have some good news! You can start with pretty much any empty (or even half empty) notebook that you have lying around. And you can use any pen as well! If you want to use a fancier pen, then go for it. If you want to use a cheap pen that you accidentally stole from the bank counter, then that’s fantastic. Really, that’s all you need. A journal and a pen. You’re golden.
However, I have found that I am much more likely to use mine every day when I get some joy from the materials I use. That means that a nicer journal and some bright, funky pens are also a great way to get started and enjoy the process a bit more. I highly suggest that you find yourself a few materials that make you feel good and that bring you joy to use. If you love the supplies, you’ll be drawn to using your journal daily.
After many years of bullet journaling, there are a few products that I always keep with me. Below I’m going to share the staples of my grab-and-go bag. If you want a complete list of all my favorite products, make sure to see the My Supplies page!
Quick note: The only essentials I’m not adding here are my watercolor supplies. You may know I’m crazy for watercolors, so they appear in nearly all of my spreads. But I’m really wanting to cover the basics in this guide, so I’m excluding my watercolor obsession. If you want to know more about watercolors, though, head to this post to see my recommended supplies for beginners!
This hardcover journal comes in blank, lined, squared, or dot grid paper. For bullet journaling, I always choose the dot grid notebook first or the squared second. I never get lined paper! This journal has a pocket, two bookmarks, pre-numbered pages, and a blank index. And there are so many colors! With the Leuchtturm, you can always find something for your taste. I have bought this journal again and again, and I will always recommend it to newbies because it is lovely.
Update: I’ve found in recent years that the LT1917 has had a noticeable decrease in paper quality. It’s still a great journal, but perhaps it’s not for you if ghosting or thin pages bother you.
- The A5 MEDIUM notebooks are the perfect size with a wide range of colors making them ideal companions for all walks of life — this notebook series is perfect for midnight ramblings, daily entries,...
- Thread-bound to open flat which helps make reading the contents easy and adds efficiency to note-taking
- Features 80g/m² acid-free paper with high ink compatibility to help prevent bleed through, an expandable gusseted pocket on the back cover, 2 page markers / bookmarks and an elastic closure band
- Includes 251 numbered pages of DOTTED paper (punktkariertes / pointillées) with 8 perforated detachable sheets, a blank table of contents for easy organization and notes, also includes stickers for...
Faber-Castell Pitt Artist Pens
These are a great set of high quality pens for your standard black lines. The pack comes in a variety of sizes so you can find the perfect pen for your project, and it even comes with a few brush pens as well! If you’re curious about brush lettering, this set of pens is a great way for you to dip your toes without jumping in.
- PITT artist pens contain pigmented India ink that is both archival and acid free
- Perfect for drawing on the go!
- Convenient wallet keeps all your drawing tools together
- Pigmented India ink that is both acid free and pH Neutral
Zebra Mildliner Highlighters
I waited forever to buy these because I thought they would just be standard highlighters. They are anything but standard. The pens are dual tip, creamy to write with, and provide some unique and stunning colors. Since I’ve gotten these, I’ve been finding every excuse to use them because they are just too amazing. If you’re a student or you take frequent notes, I can’t stress enough how much you’ll love these.
No products found.
Pilot G2 Pens
If you’re looking for something cheap but sturdy, these are your pens. You can find them just about everywhere, and they come in a bunch of colors. If you lose one, it’s not the end of the world! They’re cheap, but not lacking in quality. I don’t use them as much as I used to since I have nicer pens and I’m a bit of a pen hoarder, but they are an excellent choice for newbies.
- The Ideal Pen for Overachievers: The smooth writing, long-lasting Pilot G2 Premium Gel Ink Pen features a comfortable rubber grip, and is available in ultra fine, extra fine, fine, and bold point
- Longest Lasting, Refillable Gel Ink: Proven to be the longest writing gel ink pen among top brands, the smooth-writing, retractable G2 gel ink pen is a classic choice for all your writing needs
- Perfectly Suited For You: If you love the original Pilot G2, you'll want to try our full G2 line of Mini, Metallic, Mosaic, and Fashion gel ink pens in a variety of sizes, barrel designs and colors
- Trusted Quality: We've been making pens for over 100 years; Whether you're taking notes, stocking up on school or office supplies, or writing in a bullet journal, Pilot has the perfect pen for you
Tombow Fudenosuke Brush Pens
I don’t want to over saturate this list with brush pens, but I use them a ton. These are pretty fine tip brush pens, meaning they can write in smaller spaces like a journal with ease. I use them for hand lettering, but I probably use them more for drawing lines and boxes freehand in my journal. I love these pens and take them with me everywhere!
- Contains both the soft and hard tip Fudenosuke Brush Pens
- Features a flexible brush tip for different lettering and drawing techniques
- Create extra fine, fine or medium strokes by a change in brush pressure
- Great for calligraphy and art drawings
Wescott 6″ Ruler
While I prefer to draw most of my lines by hand, I always keep my ruler with me because I still need to measure things consistently! This is a super helpful tool that I reach for again and again, and the cork back really does make a difference.
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The Basic Pages
So you have your journal and pen at the ready. Let’s walk through each of the basic functions of the bullet journal and go through how to set it up. It might seem like a lot to do, but don’t worry! It’s a ton easier once you’ve got these basic elements set up.
Want to get your journal clicking smoothly right off the bat? Here are the five essential pages you need to try.
1. An Index
The first thing to create is the index. This super functional page, similar to a table of contents, is one of the elements that sets this system apart from the rest. Before an index, I used to flip around page by page looking for an old note or list. Now I can head to the index and see exactly where I put what with a fraction of the effort.
If you have a Leuchtturm1917, then the index is already right there waiting for you and the pages are already numbered. Excellent!
However, if you have another type of journal, you’ll need to add your own index and number your own pages. Just label the first three pages as “Index”. Turn to the next blank page after your index and begin numbering the pages starting at one. You can sit down and number the pages all at once or simply number as you go – whichever you’d prefer. As you add spreads, you’ll just need to update the index. That’s it!
You can keep your index page super simple if you want — just the page and its contents. But if you want to take your bullet journal index to the next level, you can color code it or sort it by category. However you make it, the index is an essential part of the bullet journal system.
2. Future Log
In a pre-printed planner, you can easily flip six months ahead and jot down an appointment. With a bullet journal, you don’t have that ability. So how do you plan far ahead without setting up spreads months in advance? The future log is the solution!
Basically, this is just a page where you can write down any future appointments or dates for a month you haven’t set up yet. That way you can easily reference it to see if there’s a dentist appointment coming up or a deadline sneaking up on you.
How the Future Log Works
The future log is an easy spread to kick off a new journal. All you need is space to write down any notes for future months. You get to decide how many months you want to set up — it can be as few as three months or as many as twelve! You certainly can go further, but I’d recommend that you simply include a space for “far future” if you want to keep the ability to plan beyond a year.
Once you’ve decided how many months you want to prepare for, simply divide your page into equal sections for each month. Then simply label each section with the months coming up. As you get an appointment or note you want to remember, flip to your future log and jot it down. Then, when you’re setting up a new month, you can check your future log to ensure those notes get added to your calendar!
The future log is a great tool to help you remember important dates like birthdays, anniversaries, or any other date you may want to remember.
3. Monthly Spread (or Monthly Log)
One of my favorite spreads is the monthly spread! This is where you keep your month at a glance. Some people like to keep this minimal, opting for a list format in lieu of a calendar. Others, like myself, like a more traditional setup. I personally hate the list format because it doesn’t look like a month to me! For me, a calendar is easier and quicker to use because I have been using calendars my whole life. There is no one right way to set up a monthly — the only right way is what works for you! And there are more options than just a list or a monthly calendar. Page Flutter has a great post with examples of different ways to set up your monthly to your taste.
While there are lots of things you can add to your monthlies, we’re just going to focus on the basics here. For a successful monthly spread, you just need the calendar, list, or whatever layout you decide to use. Everything beyond that is gravy.
In Ryder’s video, he suggests having a spot to write down your goals for the month. Personally, I don’t add this list anymore because I never checked it. It simply didn’t help me plan, so I eliminated it a long time ago. In the end, it comes down to your preferences and what helps you plan best.
4. Weekly Spread
Weeklies aren’t discussed in the original system, but they’re a natural step between monthlies and dailies. Basically, you can plan out the next seven days in detail with one spread. Weeklies cover your schedule, appointments, deadlines, goals… you can pretty much add whatever you want! Some people use weeklies in place of monthlies while others use them in place of dailies. Occasionally, I see people using monthlies, weeklies, and dailies. To me, that’s a lot to keep track of. But if it works for you, then more power to you! There’s no planner police here.
There are a million fun ways to set up weeklies and experimenting with different layouts is a blast!
5. Daily Spread
Dailies are the workhorse of the bullet journal. Essentially, the daily spread is a to-do list on steroids. You write down all the things you need to get done today, all the appointments you need to remember, and any notes you need to keep. You can add as much other information as you want! Many people use their dailies to track water intake, meals, steps walked each day, etc. This spread is totally customizable for your needs.
Most people start off with horizontal dailies. That is totally fine and many people love this setup! However, I’d like to propose vertical dailies. I love vertical dailies because it allowed me to write my to-do’s like a list and I felt like I could add as much as I wanted. The difference might seem minor between horizontal and vertical dailies, but it can totally change the way you plan!
Creating a daily spread is really pretty simple. All you do is create a header for the given day and list tasks you need to get done. However, the biggest difference between a daily spread and a to-do list is the signifiers you include to the left of each task.
The original system used the following signifiers: a dot to indicate tasks, dashes to indicate notes, and circles to indicate events. However, I encourage you to come up with your own signifiers that fit your planning needs.
Collections are essentially a catch-all for everything else you’d add that doesn’t fit into one of the previously mentioned categories. Collections can be lists, logs, trackers, maps, info dumps, and much more. Basically, if you have a specific project you want to work on, a brainstorming session you want to explore, or a list you want to purge from your mind, then you’ll want to put those in a collection.
To set up a collection, turn to the next blank page or spread. Then add a header to the page to explain what the collection is about and add the information you want to write down. When you’re done, remember to add it to your index!
A Quick Collections Tip
Some people don’t particularly like keeping their collections right alongside their monthlies and dailies — they feel it can get messy and disorganized mixing the two categories. I often receive emails from people asking if there is a way to sort collections away from the day-to-day planning pages. I have two suggestions to help sort this problem out.
One is to keep a separate Collections Journal (which you can learn more about here). This is a totally separate journal to contain all of your collections nice and tidy.
My second suggestion is to start your collections on the last page of your bullet journal. As you add new collections, work your way toward the front of the journal. Keep doing dailies and other normal plans in the front, working your way towards the back. Eventually, you will meet in the middle with your planning and your collections. That’s when you can begin a new journal and start the process again!
Either solution is a good way to handle keeping your collections organized and separate from daily plans.
7 Collections Worth Having
Okay, so we’ve covered all the basics. You’re ready to get started with your bullet journal and get your new system humming along efficiently. Well done!
The basics are fun to conquer, but there are a lot more opportunities to explore and have fun with blank pages. And by that I mean collections! Not only can collections be a great way to explore new ideas, but they can seriously help you improve your life! None of the collections I’m about to share are exclusive to this system, but they are easy to borrow and add to your journal as you see fit. Here are some of my absolute favorites!
1. Memories Log
One of the strengths of the bullet journal is the fact that it becomes a time capsule without any extra effort. You can flip back through page after page and remember moments of your life through your goals, notes, and deadlines. But you can really lean into this trait by creating a memories log each month!
After each monthly, set aside space for your memories log. Then as the month progresses, make sure to jot down any notable events to benefit future you! This might not seem like that exciting of an idea, but trust me — we forget a lot more than we realize. Each month brings us little joys that so often they fade from memory because they were not big life-changing events. Or perhaps the memory remains, but we can’t quite place what month or year it happened. Keeping a memory log helps cement it into your own personal history!
The Memories We Forget
For example, almost a year ago I was sitting at my desk at work when I saw the funniest thing: I witnessed a squirrel drag a full slice of pizza across a parking lot across the street.
Some six months later, I was flipping through that journal searching for something when I found the squirrel memory. In that amount of time, I had already forgotten it! Did it change my life? No. Does it still give me a chuckle years after it happened? You bet!
I’m so glad I wrote it down so I can laugh about that damn squirrel for years to come. A memories page is a gift to your future self, and it costs so little energy and time. Why not do it?
2. Gratitude Log
I’m sure at some point you’ve heard that you should start keeping a gratitude journal. It’s one of those pieces of advice that we hear again and again, right alongside “drink more water” and “start meditating”. The reason this advice is repeated so often is that it really is true! Practicing gratitude through a journal or log is backed by research to be healthy for your mental health.
Despite knowing that, it can still be tough to start a gratitude journal. It’s hard to get behind buying a whole new journal just for this one purpose and actually remembering to use it. With the bullet journal, however, it’s perfect because you already have a journal that you use every day. Adding a gratitude log to your journal is a fantastic way to start counting your blessings every day.
Every night, I sit down and think up one or two things that I feel thankful for that day. They can be big or small, simple or complex. On tougher days, I find myself thankful that the day is nearly over or thankful for the strength to get through it. On good days, I am thankful for a happy memory or a good mood.
Over time, you begin to spot things you are thankful for throughout your day, forcing you to see the silver lining and generally altering your mood to be more positive. The gratitude log is one of my favorite things in this entire guide. This humble log will create mighty changes in your attitude if you give it a chance.
3. Affirmation Log
Where gratitude logs help you be positive in the face of your environment and circumstances, an affirmation log does something a little different. Affirmations help you change the way you talk about (and therefore think about) yourself. This exercise encourages you to say strong, positive, and happy phrases about yourself. With an affirmation log, you can practice this positive self-talk on a daily basis.
It’s easy to think negative things about yourself, to beat yourself up, to think you aren’t good enough. You are your own worst critic. But saying affirmations is a way to fight back and to treat yourself more kindly. It might sound silly, but it really works. When you tell yourself repeatedly, “I can’t do it”, you are only reinforcing negative beliefs. Instead, saying, “I can do it!” again and again, you begin to make a subtle shift in your attitude and beliefs. Keeping an affirmation log is a great way to remind yourself to do it every day and get the full benefit of affirmations!
4. Meal Planning
One of the biggest challenges I face again and again as an adult is figuring out what to make for dinner. I know I’m not alone on that front. Everyone hits this problem at some point or another!
Meal planning is one of those things that I always mean to get around to, but I often forget and am left to call in pizza or microwave some instant ramen. That is, until I figured out meal planning in my bullet journal. This kind of planning is really where this system shines.
You can easily meal plan in your journal and get a great idea of what you will eat throughout the week. This makes grocery shopping much easier and it takes away lots of the last-second guesswork in the evenings. It’s a godsend when I need to get my week planned out!
5. Master Grocery List
Want to know one of the most useful things I’ve learned? You don’t need to write a new grocery list from scratch for every shopping trip. You can write down your most commonly bought items and refer to it again and again. That means no more running to the store throughout the week to pick up forgotten items!
And the best part? You can keep it in one handy place! I ended up creating my neatly categorized Master Grocery List as a permanent fixture in my bullet journal years ago. Since then, my entire process of buying food has become dramatically more efficient. Heaven knows how much time it has saved me over the years! It’s one of the most functional and handy spreads I’ve ever created.
6. Recipe Bank
Do you have a Pinterest board full of recipes you’ve saved but never looked at again? Me too! I found myself in a recipe rut a while back. We were cooking the same handful of recipes over and over, leading to food fatigue. I decided to find a solution and came up with the Recipe Bank! This system of cleverly placed Post It notes allows me to keep a bank of tried and true recipes alongside recipes I want to try.
With the Post It notes, I am able to stack a ton of recipes in a limited space and keep things flexible. If we try a new recipe and love it, I can peel up the sticky note and put it on the “Old Favorites” side. Or if we try a recipe and we hate it, I can simply pull the recipe out and throw it away. It’s much easier than writing it all down in pen and having to keep updated pages later down the line. This is a crazy efficient system, and it works perfectly alongside my Master Grocery List!
7. Goals and Rewards
For the longest time, I relied on other people to set consequences and rewards for my goals. Teachers, parents, bosses… all of them created quite the incentive to get things done. But once I got out of school and started working for myself, there was no one else to hold me accountable. I struggled for a long time to motivate myself and get stuff done. But then everything changed when I discovered this powerful trick.
Carrot Over Stick
Instead of trying to beat myself to working with the proverbial stick, I realized that I could tempt myself with the carrot instead. Basically, I set a goal for myself. Then I decide a small reward that I can give myself when that goal is achieved. These little rewards are quite powerful incentives! A small change in how I approach my goals goes a long way toward helping me get my butt in gear.
By the way – have you scrolled through all these pictures and been curious about how I do all this brush lettering? I have lettered in nearly every single page of my journal. And for good reason! It makes it feel like more than just a planner — it becomes an extension of my creativity! Plus, it’s just nice to look at, plain and simple. If you want to learn how to start brush lettering like a pro, check out my free hand lettering email course! If you are just wanting to dip your toes in the water, you can also check out my ultimate hand lettering guide to help you get started!
1. Habit Tracker
I’m not being dramatic when I say that the habit tracker changed my life. As someone who has always struggled with building positive habits and shedding bad habits, this has been exactly the ticket for making a big difference.
In a habit tracker, you write down the habits you want to focus on — good and bad — and you track them daily for a month. Every night, you sit down and color in a box to indicate if that habit was present that day. For example, if you’re tracking your exercise habit, you can fill in the box if you exercised today. If you didn’t exercise, the box remains empty. After weeks and months, you can watch a pattern emerge and see exactly how often that habit is present in your life. Once you see that information, it becomes 10x easier to make changes because you remove any guesswork.
Though the habit tracker is not an original component of the bullet journal, I’d highly recommend you give it a try. Test it out for a few months and see if it helps you make positive changes to your habits. If it helps you half as much as it helped me, you’ll keep this tracker around for a long time to come.
2. Health Trackers
Another great addition to your journal is some kind of a health tracker. You can track all kinds of health-related information, like sleep, hydration, calories, steps, symptoms, periods… the list goes on and on! If you’re wanting to focus on improving your health or maintaining some kind of condition, a health tracker is a simple way to do just that.
3. A Year In Pixels Mood Tracker
Whether you are battling mental health problems or you simply want to encourage a brighter attitude, a mood tracker is an amazing way to see your mental patterns. This bird’s eye view of your mood can help you see patterns you might otherwise miss. Once you understand your own personal patterns, you can account for that and take steps to make sure you are healthy all year long. You can opt for a monthly tracker or do a full year in pixels mood tracker to see the entire year at a glance!
4. Weight Loss Tracker
Losing weight can be a tough battle — especially because it can take so long! It’s easy to feel demoralized because you aren’t seeing progress fast enough. That’s why I decided to start a weight loss tracker when I was struck with the same issue. This fun visual page allowed me to celebrate my victories and slowly add more color to the spread. It gave me a sense of accomplishment and joy when I could fill in yet another box. That made my weight loss all the sweeter as I worked toward my goals!
5. Financial Planning
If you’re anything like me, financial planning is a snore. I just can’t find a way to get excited about a budget! However, I do understand how important a budget is, so I make it happen in my bullet journal. That’s why I try extra hard with financial planning spreads to make them engaging and fun!
One way to help me think about saving money is by thinking about how I will spend it. Imagine your dream vacation. Where do you want to go? What do you want to do? Think about your dream destination and then ask yourself why you would want to wait for that trip. Start planning and saving now! The sooner you begin budgeting, the sooner you can go on the trip of your dreams.
6. Travel Tracker
The bullet journal is wonderful for tracking mundane day-to-day stuff, but it’s also fantastic for helping you see the bigger picture. Want to travel the world? Start tracking it! This visual page will help you get excited about your goals and give you some perspective on what you’re working for. There is nothing more satisfying than coloring in a country that you just visited!
Minimalist or Artsy?
Looking at all my colorful, artsy pictures throughout this guide, you may feel intimidated. Is that the way you have to bullet journal? Of course not! Your style can vary wildly from mine and that is perfectly okay. Your journal can be rough, sketchy, simple, extravagant, colorful, colorless, or anything in between. Over time and with use, your style will emerge. It may even change page to page! Let’s go over some of the basic styles so you know what kind of look you might like to aim for.
A minimalist journal is simply one that you keep very simple. This might mean that you only use black pens and use clean, even lines for your spreads. Or perhaps it means that you keep your colors limited, only using small accents of color to emphasize important information. A minimalist journal could just mean that you don’t care at all about the aesthetics and you just write freely, messy handwriting and all.
If this appeals to you, then that’s fantastic! There are some amazing minimalist out there that are both beautiful and functional. As long as it works for you, it’s perfect!
If minimalism bores you and you crave color, shapes, patterns, art, and lettering, then congratulations! You fall more into my camp, which I call camp maximalism. Don’t get me wrong, I love minimalism in other people’s journals. But I just can’t stop myself from making all kinds of bright spreads — and if you feel the same way, then that is marvelous. Embrace it!
Beauty for the Drawing Impaired
Perhaps you love the idea of making bold, colorful pages, but you find yourself stuck. Is drawing not really a thing for you? Maybe you’re learning how to draw but you’re still a beginner. Maybe you aren’t interested in learning to draw at all! Either way, fear not. There are still plenty of ways to make yours pop without becoming an artist.
Here are a few ideas:
- Get a set of washi tape and use it to decorate and divide your pages.
- Use stencils to create shapes, lines, and other elements with precision.
- Stick snippets from magazines, polaroids, tickets, and other odds and ends in your bullet journal.
- Create watercolor washes to fill in shapes and spaces. It requires no skill and looks magnificent when it dries!
- Use highlighters and markers to draw lines and other simple shapes for pops of color.
- Buy stickers and use them to set up spreads or just add some gorgeous art.
Get Artsy Fartsy
Maybe the idea of drawing or painting in your journal excites you. I don’t blame you! It’s super fun to get creative, try new ideas, and go nuts adding all kinds of color and design to your pages. For me, getting artsy in mine has had a major impact on my life. Playing with art in my bullet journal was the catalyst to me getting back into art after a many-year absence. Because of that shift, I feel inspired to try new artistic endeavors, grow my drawing skills, and enjoy this hobby as much as I did as a kid!
And on a more practical side, getting artsy encouraged me to use it day after day. When I kept my planning simple, I struggled to use it daily. But once I started experimenting artistically and enjoying the process, I was excited to update mine every day. So in the end, art was really the ingredient for me that made daily planning stick!
On Planner Snobs
Some people may try to tell you that it’s a waste of time or isn’t a “real” bullet journal. Here’s a piece of advice from someone who’s been doing this for many years now: they’re full of it. Your bullet journal can be whatever style you want. As long as it works for you and it makes you happy, you’re golden.
There is no “right” way to do this. This system is designed to be completely adaptable to each unique user. There is no such thing as being too minimalist, too colorful, too fancy, too rough, too ANYTHING.
If anyone gives you a hard time because your journal doesn’t fit their narrow parameters, shrug it off. Say, “Okay!” and move on. In my experience, this criticism comes from a place of jealousy. Some people can’t handle other people enjoying something differently than themselves, so they make a big stink over nothing. Just know that this type of snobbery doesn’t reflect on you or your system. They’re just grown-up bullies trying to be jerks over something you enjoy. Those people aren’t worth your time or energy.
Dealing with First Page Fear
You’ve read up on the basics of the bullet journal. You bought your supplies. Now you’re sitting in front of your new journal and you open to the first page only to hesitate. You think to yourself, “What if I mess it up?“
This is what I like to call First Page Fear. Something about the blank first page of a virgin journal can strike crippling anxiety into your heart. You suddenly doubt yourself and fear that you’re going to ruin the whole journal. You feel immense pressure to get this just right.
First Page Fear is simply perfectionism in disguise. Perfectionism is often touted as a positive attribute, something that shows that you have attention to detail. But that simply isn’t true. Perfectionism is an incredibly toxic attitude that is based entirely in fear of failure. This fear will not only stop you from finishing projects — it will stop you from ever trying. Because perfect isn’t possible. You are human and no one expects you to be perfect. So don’t put that pressure on yourself!
Done Not Perfect
When you find yourself terrified of making a mistake, say, “Done Not Perfect” and push through anyway. The only way for you to get better at this is to actually DO it. Try, fail, tweak, and try again. My journals over the years are absolutely packed with mistakes. I have misspelled month names, drawn something funky, misaligned a header, smudged ink… if you can imagine a mess up, I’ve done it. Despite all of those imperfect pages, I got stuff done. No matter how many imperfections I saw in my own journal, people still seemed to love the pages when I shared online. I’ve grown so much thanks to all my mistakes, and you will, too. So take a deep breath, put that pen to paper, and don’t overthink it. You’ll do fine. I promise.
If you start with a half-used notebook or you’re just a fast worker, you’ll run out of pages before too long. So what do you do when you get to that point? Many have been stumped by this issue because they are unsure what to migrate to the new journal. I’ve moved journals multiple times, and it’s not as hard as it seems. You just have to think about what you liked the best and how it can serve you in a new journal.
Think about the systems that worked for you. If you loved how weeklies helped you take charge of your to-do list, then keep that system rolling into the next journal. Did the calendar monthly layout fizzle for you? Consider trying a new design in the future. Some elements to consider switching up in your new journal are things like the index and future log, which can impact the whole journal’s function. This is a good opportunity to experiment with a new style to see if it works better for you.
As many people move to a new journal, they have to think about what to do with old collections. Do you rewrite them all in the new journal? Do you leave them behind? For everyone, this answer will be different. However, there are some things to consider. Is the collection a one-time list or something that you use again and again?
For example, I use my Master Grocery List for every grocery trip. Because I use it so often, it only makes sense to rewrite it in my new journal (perhaps with a few updates). But a different collection, such as a packing list for a work trip, is something I don’t need all the time. If I need to refer to it later, I can check the index and easily find it in my retired bullet journal. Then I may decide to rewrite it in my new journal for easy reference.
A Quick Tip for Migrating
If you’re not sure yet, try this. Flip through your retiring journal and note any collections that you think you may need in your new journal. Keep them on a sticky note — or, better yet, make a new collection in your new journal with this information. Then if you end up needing it, you have a very quick reference as to where you can find that old collection so you can copy it over. If you never need it, then you won’t need to copy it. Try this through a few journals to get a sense of what is really needed during migration so you don’t waste your time copying everything over.
Digital Bullet Journaling
Something that has cropped up in the last few years is the digital bullet journal. The idea of going digital seems to be contrary to the original idea, but it actually offers some very interesting opportunities that paper cannot. Let me summarize how going digital works.
The Basics of Digital
I’m sure that there are several different methods out there for creating a digital bullet journal, but I’m just going to go over my own system.
Digital Materials and Software
How to Go Digital
Essentially, I use the Apple Pencil with my iPad to have all the benefits of writing information by hand — but all with the convenience of digital organization. After creating my own planner template in Photoshop, I imported it into Goodnotes. Then I used it just like any other journal. I would write monthlies, collections, lists, and everything else on new pages that I add as I need them. To move around pages, I can swipe pages sequentially or go to the digital index to find the page I need.
For more intricate art, I would use the Procreate art app to make whatever my heart desired. Then I would export the art as a PNG and bring it into my digital planner. The benefit of this method is that I can create a doodle or nicely lettered header and use it again and again.
Over time, I have turned mine more into a business planner than a personal one. For more personal planning, I have reverted back to my paper journal. I have been using this method for a little over six months in addition to my paper one, and my system is still very much in development.
Tips for Beginners
Before this guide wraps up, I want to impart a bit of wisdom for any beginners. I’ve been using the bullet journal for around six years now. On top of that, I run a business full-time focusing a lot on the bullet journal. I have learned a lot about the system that I wish I had known when I first started all those years ago.
1. Don’t Overdo It
Ever had it where you fall in love with a song, listen to it on repeat for days, then find yourself tired of the song and sorta hating it? You might be tempted to do that with the bullet journal.
If you’re starting for the first time, you will likely want to try all the things. My advice to you is to hold your horses and try to keep yourself from sprinting into every spread, collection, and tracker you can think of. You might get yourself overwhelmed to the point of just scrapping the whole thing and giving up.
Instead, try to go slow. Start with the basics and work with them for a while, getting used to the process of keeping up with your dailies. You can add a few collections here and there, but nothing recurring (aka nothing that requires commitment). As you get more comfortable with yours, try integrating new things slowly. You probably don’t want to add more than one tracker or log per month. After you get into the rhythm of things, you can begin to go nuts knowing that you have a solid foundation to lean on.
2. Give it Time
You might expect it to work overnight. It won’t. I actually used mine for over a year before I really felt like I hit my stride. You won’t see big changes right away, or even after a few weeks or months. This is where patience comes in. You need to give it time to work and integrate into your life. Give yourself time to adapt and develop new habits. Don’t ditch it because it didn’t solve all your woes in a snap. That’s not fair to the system and it’s not fair to you. It’s worth the wait, I promise!
3. Don’t Compare
When you’re just starting out, it is extremely tempting to compare yours with a more developed bullet journal. This is a great way to feel self-conscious about your work and kill your planning in the cradle. Instagram, Pinterest, and Facebook are all great resources for inspiration – not to mention the plethora of blogs that cover the topic! It’s wonderful to borrow ideas from other folks in the community, but don’t beat yourself up because your work doesn’t look just like that lovely stylized picture on Insta.
We all started at square one. Even me! Here’s a throwback to my very first bullet journal, which looks absolutely nothing like my current journal. If you want to develop your style and your bullet journal’s functionality, then the best thing you can do is practice. That brings me to my final piece of advice…
4. Experiment and Practice
The only way you are going to find the best bullet journal for you is to practice, practice, practice. I know that probably isn’t what you want to hear, but it’s true! You aren’t going to get any better by imagining all the cool things you can write in your pages – you’ll get better by trying.
Layouts aren’t going to get more efficient if you stick to the same thing forever – they will evolve when you experiment and try new stuff. I’m not saying that you have to constantly rotate out layouts and spreads. I’m saying don’t be afraid to change a few elements here or there. There have been several times where I was hesitant to try something new only to find that I loved the change and kept it long term. So play around and don’t be shy about mixing it up! Just keep turning the page and keep working at it.
The bullet journal is a beautiful multi-faceted thing, and there’s no way that I could possibly cover everything in this guide. But I do hope this post serves as a jumping point for you to start yours with confidence and joy.
The best thing that ever happened to me was realizing that productivity and fun could work together to create something truly spectacular. My life hasn’t been the same since!
Now it’s time for you to grab your journal, pick up a pen, and dive in. What are you waiting for?