Bullet Journals: What You Need to Know

Updated on October 10, 2019
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Laura has a passion for writing about many different subjects that she has personal experience in and always writes for her readers.

Where Did the Concept of a Bullet Journal Come From?

The Bullet Journal process was originally created by Ryder Carroll, an American digital product designer from New York. Bullet Journaling is a journaling process where you create the best notebook layouts and setups for your own personal needs. It's about having one place for all of your planning and organizational requirements, without having to keep multiple notebooks, each with different elements in them. The process is also about mindfulness and using your journal as a place for goals, aims, and tracking good habits.

My First Journal

I originally stumbled across Bullet Journalling through a friend who used Pinterest. She pinned some beautiful diary pages. I did a little investigating and discovered a whole community of BuJo creators and users.

I was so inspired that I think I started that very night in a scruffy notebook! I started using Pinterest ideas to create this intricate yet simple type of journal. I remember being so disheartened at first that my journal just didn't look anything like the ones on Pinterest. It took me some time to realize that it's not about the way the journal looks; it's about its practicality and functionality. If it's not helping you to be productive and have a clearer, more focused approach, then it's not doing its job.

I started mine using a simple A5 lined notebook with a biro pen and some felt tip markers. I just wanted to get going and didn't think about all the tools I would need straight away! I remember carefully drawing boxes and doing brightly coloured themed pages. I learned a lot during my first journal. I knew the things that didn't work for me right away, and the things that I definitely wanted to keep doing in future journals.

Each time I decided to start a new BuJo, it was because I wasn't happy with elements in my current one. I'm a self-confessed perfectionist when it comes to things like that. One mistake meant I wanted to throw the notebook out the window! To some degree, I still feel that way when I make a mistake, but it is all part of the process. There are even ways you can rectify some mistakes! This is about the things I have learned along the way, that I want to pass on to keen BuJo creators.

Tips for Starting a Bullet Journal

There are a few simple things you'll need to do in order to set up a Bullet Journal which will make using it so much easier. You can use a plain notebook of any kind. I started off using a Moleskine in A5. This is a ruled notebook with no internal extras (like calendars or pages with blank charts). I've most recently purchased a Leuchtturm 1917 notebook and I often see these heavily recommended. These come with a set of Index pages built-in and the pages are already numbered. If you are using a plain notebook:

  1. Make sure you have done a pen test with quite a few different pens to decide which is the one you want to use throughout your journal. It makes journaling a lot easier if you do this before you start!
  2. Make sure you also have some other tools before you begin. I love highlighters and have some really great pastel ones that make the journal look beautiful. I recommend getting a ruler, some washi tape, and some stickers for the extra touches to your pages.
  3. Start out by creating a key page. Use the first page of your journal to create a list that show what each of your future icons will mean. For example, I use a box for tasks, empty when outstanding, with an arrow if you are moving it, and a tick once completed. Have a look on Pinterest for some ideas if you want to make a more detailed key.
  4. Next, set up an Index Page at the start of your notebook. I would leave around ten pages. You can quickly run out when making your index depending on the way you write! I've made the mistake of not leaving enough pages, and it is really annoying having to add a continued index at the back of the journal.
  5. Decorate these pages and make them as decorative and pretty as you like. If you prefer, you can also leave the pages basic and minimal. It's entirely up to you to pick what you want it to look like. It's there to help you be more organized, but it can also be a place for you to express some creativity.
  6. After leaving room for the key and the index pages, I would then decide what you want the first actual pages of the journal to be. I tend to put a year planner at the start; this is something you will use quite regularly.
  7. Don't forget to number your pages as you go and update your index. When you're 50 pages in, it makes life much easier if you keep this up to date, so do it as you go!

My tools
My tools

Pages, Collections and Planners

Once you have the basics set up, the next thing to do is start using your journal! There are many different types of pages you can include. I recommend using a monthly page and a weekly page. You can use these to track appointments, goals, to-do lists and plans. Seeing these things broken down makes life much easier. You can make these pages as detailed as you like and incorporate as many different decorative elements as you want. My one piece of advice is to not track too much at once. It takes away from the focus of your individual goals and can be overwhelming.

Again, you can make these as minimal or as creative as you like. As long as you are enjoying the process and it is helping you feel more organized, the rest is up to you! I recommend using a double-page spread for both monthly and weekly planners. You can put the dates down on one side and track your appointments and events, then use the other side for things like goals, to-do lists, and extras like mantras and motivating quotes.

You can also incorporate collections into your journal, which are pages that have a common theme. This includes pages like a Bucket List, a to-buy list, and similar things that you want to track and follow. Your notebook has an unlimited amount of pages you can use for collections, and they are great for so many things. I use them regularly in between my weekly pages.

If you like to draw, I also recommend drawing on a separate piece of paper and then sticking your artwork in your journal when it is complete. If you make a mistake, it won't ruin your journal. You can then add it in once you are completely happy with it!

If you need any inspiration, I would definitely browse Pinterest. There are so many ideas that you can use to help you plan the pages and find themes and colours that work for you. I am going through a pastel phase at the moment, and there are some really beautiful ideas that look good in pastel tones on Pinterest.

Tips and Hints

I have had quite a few different journals since I began Bullet Journaling roughly a year ago. When I decide I'm going to start a new journal, I write a few pages at the end of my old one noting the things I have learnt, and the things I want to carry forward. I also include the things that didn't really work for me. I do a pen test on any new pens I want to use and circle all of the collections that I want to move across to my new journal. This helps me plan better, feel more organized, and gives me a head start. It stops me from making the same mistakes! These are a few additional tips I would like to share:

  • Decide whether you are going to write in lowercase or in capital letters. I write much neater and clearer in capitals, so decided to carry on writing that way.
  • Don't get too ahead of yourself; write your monthly planner at the start of the month, then track your weekly planners as you go. Don't go past the week you are on.
  • Take your time on each page. Don't rush to get it done! There's no time limit on making the journal pretty.
  • Do a recurring monthly tasks page rather than writing on every month's page. It makes it quicker and easier to track the more mundane tasks, i.e. wash the car.
  • Do drawings, doodles, and artwork on a separate piece of paper, then stick it in, to save yourself from making a big mistake and wanting to throw the journal out the window!
  • Do a pen test before you begin and make sure you are happy before you start. Check that the ink doesn't smudge!
  • Avoid a general to-do list page; add these into the monthly planners to stop yourself having to tick the same thing off across different pages. Leave enough space on the spread to do so. This stops you from getting confused, and makes them easier to deal with.
  • Have fun! It is supposed to be a nice, organized way of planning and tracking the important things in your life. It shouldn't take away from productivity but increase it.

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