How To Start A Bullet Journal: A Guide For Beginners

I’ve been bullet journaling for a long time now. I love using my bullet journal; it helps me stay organised and work out ideas. It’s also a place I can look back on to see what I was doing. So today, I want to share some of what I’ve learned and teach you how to start a bullet journal.

If you’re an absolute beginner at bullet journaling, it may be a good idea to check out the bullet journal website which has everything you need to know about bullet journaling. You could also look at The Bullet Journal Method. Again this book is essentially a tutorial on how to start a bullet journal, but it goes more in-depth on how the bullet journal system can help with things like setting and achieving goals.

It’s not an essential read, but I bought this book a few years ago and thought it was a great insight into how you use the bullet journal as a tool for completing tasks. By reading this book, I figured out a bullet journal setup that I liked and still use today.

Image shows two notebooks laying on a desk. I think I need to note that this isn’t the first time I’ve written a how to start a bullet journal post. You can go back and read that if you wish. But I feel like I’m in a better position now to share what I’ve learned about starting and using a bullet journal. I’m going to share how I start a bullet journal, you don’t have to copy me exactly, but hopefully, you will get some ideas from this for starting your bullet journal.

A Bullet Journal Guide For Beginners

What Is A Bullet Journal

I guess the first question everyone has will be, what is a bullet journal? It’s quite a simple concept. The bullet journal is an analogue system created by Ryder Carrol. In his words, it will “help you track the past, organise the present, and plan for the future”. It is essentially a system which can help you keep track of things you want to organise. Most people use this system as a planner, but you can use it for far more.

I use an adapted bullet journal system in my sketchbook to help me keep my notes and ideas organised. You could also use it for memory keeping or to plan out large projects. Because the bullet journal is a system, you can adapt it to how you want to use it. Which means you could do anything, you just need to decide how you want to use it.

The critical aspect of this is that the bullet journal system is just that, a system. You don’t need to buy a specific type of planner or notebook to use it. You learn how to set up the bullet journal system which you can then use in any notebook or sketchbook you want.

No bullet journal is the same; the thing I love about the system is how I can take the ideals of bullet journaling and customise them to work best for me. It’s a good idea if you follow the basic premise of bullet journaling, but other than that you can do whatever you want.

Bullet Journal Essential Supplies

There are a few essential tools you will need to start a bullet journal. You could then go all out with pens and markers and highlighters. If you want to get fancy, you could start looking into art supplies for decorating your bullet journal. But for now, I just want to talk about the essential things you will need to get started.

Pens & Pencils

I’m going to be honest here; any pen will do. I am a fan of the Muji gel pens, but if we’re realistic, so long as you have something which will write it will do for now.

I’d highly recommend having some sort of pencil along with a pen. The bullet journal system consists of a few essential spreads; some of these require writing dates and drawing lines. Using a pencil for these bits is much better because it’s easy to fix a mistake.

Ruler & Eraser

Along with your pen and pencil, you’re going to need a ruler and eraser. I think the reasons why should be quite obvious, drawing lines is easier with a ruler. And if you do make mistakes when writing with a pencil, they are easy to fix using an eraser.

I don’t see the point in giving specific recommendations for these items. I’m using an eraser I bought from the art shop at my university. I chose this eraser because that’s what the shop sold. Again with rulers, I have one with a metal edge because it’s preferred when using with scalpels, but you would probably get away with a regular 15cm ruler.

You might want to buy a pencil sharpener as well. Again this doesn’t need to be anything special. It mostly just depends on the type of pencil you want to use. 

Before You Buy A Notebook

You use the bullet journal system in some kind of paper book. It doesn’t have to be a notebook, I’ve tried bullet journaling in a sketchbook in the past. You can also try digital bullet journaling; you could even bullet journal on sheets of paper, it doesn’t matter. But for this specific system, a notebook works best.

Now the critical question, what notebook to buy? Please don’t go out and immediately purchase a Leuchtturm1917 just because you know everyone else uses a Leuchtturm bullet journal as a notebook.

If you’re a total novice at bullet journaling, I would highly recommend looking around your home to see if you already have a notebook you could use. It doesn’t have to be fancy. You just need to try out the bullet journal system for a few days.

Here’s the thing about bullet journaling, not everyone likes it. Everyone has specific preferences when it comes to planning, some people like digital planners, some like paper planners. Both planning methods are very different. You want to know you like this planning system before you go out and start spending money on notebooks and other stationery supplies.

But what to do once you’ve decided to buy a notebook to use as a bullet journal. First, I would highly recommend taking a look at this post I wrote, which explains all the different aspects you should think of before buying a notebook.

How To Choose A Notebook For Bullet Journaling

I will summarise that post here. You want to get an A5 notebook, its possible to other sizes of notebook. But for getting started, A5 is a great size. Dot grid or gridded paper makes it easier to lay out the spreads in your bullet journal. You also want to think about what pens you’ll be using. You don’t want ink bleeding through the pages of your notebook.

I love using the MD Paper Notebook. The paper quality is nice, it doesn’t come with dot grid paper, but this isn’t something which bothers me. Currently, I’m using a Leuchtturm1917 because I’m trying to use the notebooks I have before buying more.

If you are a beginner and haven’t figured out what kind of notebook you like, probably the best idea would be to buy a Leuchtturm1917. These notebooks are great. There is a reason everyone buys them for bullet journaling.

If you do decide to buy a Leuchtturm, I would highly recommend buying the regular version rather than the official Bullet Journal one. I have plans to do a full post explaining why at some point, but essentially the extra “stuff” you get with this notebook does not justify the additional cost. It’s just a regular Leuchtturm with an extra ribbon and a key printed in the front.

How To Start A Bullet Journal

The bullet journal consists of a series of concepts; these concepts work by treating information in specific ways. As you put these concepts into practice, you will create a system in your notebook, which can help you to organise this information.

Below I have explained the basic concepts of the bullet journal system. If you are new to bullet journaling, I would recommend you stick to this quite rigidly at first. As you become more experienced with bullet journaling, you can start experimenting with changing aspects of the bullet journal, so it works better for you and how you plan.

The Key

The key is one of the first things you should set up in your bullet journal. You don’t need a page for this. You could just write it on the inside cover of your notebook. The bullet journal system is a way to organise information in your notebook. The key is what you use to show if something is a task, note, event etc.

Image shows a notebook open showing the inside cover, on which has been printed a bullet journal key. You start by writing things in your notebook, using a dot to notate a piece of information. By referencing the key, you then change these symbols to show if that piece of information is a note, event or an actionable task.

The point of working in this way is it makes it very easy for you to write down important notes or tasks. You then have more time to spend actioning or doing anything else that is required for these tasks.

Over time you may want to add more symbols to your key, you may also wish to change how you treat certain pieces of information in your bullet journal. For example, over time, I have figured out a series of icons which I prefer. The original bullet journal suggests showing a task using a dot. From this, you can cross this out to show a task has been complete. Or change it to a forward symbol to denote that the task has been migrated.

I prefer using a box to show a task. I will then strike out the whole task to show that I have completed that task. There is no real logical reason why I work in this way; it’s just what I prefer to do.

The Index

The index is just that—an index of everything in your bullet journal. The index is what helps you keep everything in your bullet journal organised and easy to find. You should start your index by noting down your future log and first monthly log. Daily logs don’t need indexed unless they contain valuable information.

Image shows a notebook on a desk open to a page which contains the index for a bullet journal. When you create a new collection in your bullet journal, you should note the first page it appears in your index. Every time there is another appearance of that collection, you should add that page number to your index. In this way, it creates a thread of references through your bullet journal.

You may think that an index is unnecessary while using your bullet journal. Chances are it’s not something you refer to often. But I would still recommend setting up an index and adding to it. This will make it easier once you have stopped using that bullet journal. There may be a time you need to go back to that notebook to find a piece of information, having everything in your bullet journal indexed will make it much easier for you to see things in it.

Some notebooks come with index pages printed for you, the Leuchtturm being one example. If your notebook doesn’t have this, you could start your index at the back of your notebook instead. This way you work forward as you add items to your index and you don’t need to worry about running out of space.

Future Log

The future log is one of the first spreads you will set up in your bullet journal. It is a place where you can note down any events happening in the future. I’m not a fan of a paper future log. It doesn’t work if you use your bullet journal for a long time. Traditionally the future log allows you to see six months into the future, which isn’t helpful if you need to note down events happening further away than that.

Image shows a notebook open to a page which contains a future log for a bullet journal. A guide on how to start a bullet journal. The events in your future log should be moved to their respective month as that month comes around. Even though I’ve just said I don’t like using a future log, I would highly recommend trying one if you’re new to bullet journaling. I prefer digital methods for future planning, but that doesn’t mean you will feel the same. I now use a digital calendar because I know that’s what works best for me. You have to figure out the same.

Monthly Log

After you have set up your index and future log, the next spread you will want to set up is a monthly log. Monthly logs are simple, find the next double-page spread in your notebook. On the left page, you write in all the days of the month vertically down the page.

This monthly overview is populated from the future log and any other appointments, meetings or other events you have. The monthly log also acts as a sort of journal. You can go back to this spread, adding events after the fact if you wish.

Image shows a notebook open to a page showing a monthly log in a bullet journal. The right-hand page is a to-do list. On this, you will write down notes and tasks for that month. As you continue using the bullet journal, this task list will consist of tasks taken from the previous month’s task list and daily spreads. This concept is called migration and is one of the essential elements of bullet journaling.

While you’re setting up your monthly log, you should go back through your daily log looking for unfinished tasks. When you find tasks, you should assess how important these are, migrating them to your new monthly spread if you still want to complete them—or deleting those tasks if you decide they aren’t relevant any more.

Daily Log

The daily log, as the name suggests, is a log for a specific day. Organised using the bullet journal system. This log consists of tasks you want to complete on that particular day, some of these tasks may have been migrated from the monthly log, or they could have come from previous daily logs.

Image shows notebook open to a page showing daily logs. Along with these tasks which you want to complete there are other notations you can use on your daily log. The daily log is where you will note any events which will happen that day. It’s also a place for you to write any notes.

Daily logs can take up as much space as they need. Some of my daily logs will consist of a few lines; others will take up pages. I tend to use my daily logs as a place to journal or write other notes related to what I’m working on. I’ve found it useful to use my daily log as a place to keep important research or visual ideas.

Image shows notebook open to page showing a combined daily and weekly log in a bullet journal. I know there are some examples on the internet of extremely complicated daily or more structured weekly logs. You don’t need to do this, and at first, I would advise not to. The original daily log consists of a simple header, usually just the date, and then a list of notes, tasks and events. I much prefer this style as I find it easier to keep my thoughts organised.

Finally

I had intended on going on a little more, but this post is long enough as it is. I hope if you’re a total beginner, you will have learned something for when the time comes to start your bullet journal. I’d highly recommend learning about the bullet journal system from multiple sources; the official bullet journal website is a great resource. But it can always be helpful to see how other people use their bullet journals.

It’s important to remember that your bullet journal should be set up in a way that works for you. You don’t need to have a pretty bullet journal if you don’t want to. Over time you will learn how you like to use the bullet journal system, chances are your bullet journal will change over time.

 Have you started a bullet journal? Or are you going to going to start one? Let me know in the comments.

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