Bullet journaling has taken social media by storm. Just head over to Pinterest and type in BUJO to see how many hours you can spend admiring the creative and beautiful to-do lists out there. Strike that! That probably isn’t the best use of your time, and that’s what bullet journals are all about, better utilizing time. Bullet journals are touted as an organizational method of journaling that can help you get your life together, stop forgetting important things, and become overall more productive.
However, if you have looked at any of these journals online, they look really intimidating! Those pages of dot grids, that people somehow turn into a glorious, watercolor of perfectly curated lists, just seem really daunting. The Bullet Journal is meant to simplify life, not give you another thing to manage. So, how do you do it? How do you set up a system that works for you? Have no fear, your ultimate guide to starting a bullet journal is here.
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What Is A Bullet Journal?
The Bullet Journal Method was developed by Ryder Carroll. At its most simple, it is basically the planner of all planners. Bullet Journals consist of a series of lists arranged into an analog system that organizes your life. The system works as a collection of systems, really. It’s very modular, with each module or collection serving to organize related information. A series of to-do lists, to-read lists, ideas, grocery lists, memories, daily happenings, calendars, and future events, are all categorically logged into a flexible, creative, productive machine!
There have been lots of variants break off from Carroll’s original system. However, if you want to learn how it all started and get every detail of the perfect bullet journal. Check out the Bullet Journal website to purchase the book, download the app, or join the community.
Since they are so flexible, you have freedom. However, that flexibility is also probably why they are so intimidating. If you are reading this, you have probably seen several bullet journals at this point, and you know they can be amazing! But, can they also just be simple and practical?
Absolutely. Yes, they can. In this guide, we are going to cover why bullet journals are beneficial, how to make one, and a few ideas to make it more simple!
What Are The Benefits of Bullet Journaling?
So, it looks complicated. It looks like it takes forever to set up (it doesn’t have to). So, why do it? Well, there are immense benefits to journaling by hand, but specific benefits to bullet journaling include:
1. It keeps Information organized in one place.
Yes, there are some apps on your smartphone that can do this, but we have never found one that works exactly as our brains want it to. You probably haven’t either. With a bullet journal, you design the system. So, it works like your brain works. The bullet journal allows you to find your grocery list, flip the page and see your inspirational quote for the day (to get you through your grocery store experience), and then immediately note the beautiful conversation you had with your daughter in the bread aisle, all in one spot. It’s your whole life at a glance.
2. Writing things down improves memory/retention.
Studies show that the act of writing something down, manually, increases our ability to remember it. This happens because writing activates The Reticular Activating System of the brain, the part that recognizes sensory input and transfers it from our working memory (a place for small amounts of things we need right now) to a longer-term memory area of the brain. Basically, if you physically write it, you are more likely to remember it.
3. Analog works better for organization.
There are numerous studies out there on the benefit of writing things down. Basically, the brain approaches analog information differently. Especially when it comes to organizing several different things into categories. It benefits most people to see it out in front of them.
4. Bullet journaling serves as a form of self-care.
Mental health is a huge part of overall health. Journaling can not only help us register and document emotions, but it can also decrease stress and its negative consequences. Journaling can help us achieve a level of organization that makes us feel like we’ve got a hold on the situation, and the brain is allowed to relax, knowing that everything is scheduled and going to get accomplished … eventually.
5. Bullet journaling takes less time.
Once your initial setup is done, bullet journaling takes less time than writing in a traditional journal daily. It’s a quick way to get your ideas and memories written down for posterity, without spending hours doing it.
Who is Bullet Journaling Best For?
- People who like to make lists
- Journalers who want to double up and use their journaling time to increase productivity
- Those who tend to be a little unorganized
- Control freaks and perfectionists
- Really busy people, who are juggling a lot of balls at one time.
- Those who want a record of their lives, but don’t have the time (or will) to write paragraphs a day.
- People who want a quick and easy creative outlet
- People who love fancy pens
- People who love or need help meal planning or tracking goals
What Does It Mean: Bullet Journal Terminology
In order to set up your bullet journal, we are going to need to get a grip on some of the language used by those in the community. Like we said earlier, bullet journaling is a whole system, and while you may vary on the system, in any way that works for you, there are some parameters. Let’s break down the parts of the journal, learn the terms, and start to wrap our minds around this thing!
Topic: Each page or spread in your journal will have a topic. In your daily log, this will just be the date. Other topics may include “food log” or “grocery list.” Each page should also have a page number.
Log, Spread, or Layout: These are simply the pages you have. For instance, your Monthly Spread is two pages: a calendar page and a task page. Your quote log is the page where you write inspirational quotes. They’re all just fancy words for “page.”
Bullets: “Bullets are short sentences, paired with a symbol, to designate information. There are thousands out there. Don’t even try to look them up and memorize them. We suggest you pick five or 6 of your own bullet styles that make sense to you and use them. In the original system, Carroll uses
- “•” signifies a task
- “⚬” signifies an event
- “-” signifies a note
You might also consider a heart for things that you want to remember or that gave you some sort of emotional response. Or, perhaps, a triangle for appointments. Use as many or as few as you want. It’s up to you.
Event: Something that happens on a particular day and time. These differ from tasks that can be done at any time. Think birthday party, anniversary, work meeting. These are usually scheduled in advance. They are designated by an “O” or symbol of your choice. Events can be documented as future events or as a log of what already happened.
Tasks: Tasks are just things we need to get done. They are usually designated by a “•” and should be quickly stated. The great thing about using a dot is that it can be easily changed.
For instance, a dot represents a task. X over it and it is a completed tax. Turn it into a right arrow (>) and you have migrated it to next month. Scratch through it if the task has become irrelevant.
Note: A note is a bit of data that is not actionable. It might be that sweet thing your daughter said today, or that your son scored 5 goals today. It is just something you want to remember.
Signifiers: Signifiers are extra symbols that add importance or relevance to your bullet. For instance, you might use a “*” or a “!” to delineate something as important.
Collection: The bullet journal is a system of collections. The “Collection” is simply a module of related information. It’s the major heading under which you are going to drop relevant information. In the Bujo system, there are for main Collections: The Index, The Daily Log, The Monthly Log, and The Future Log.
The Index: The Index Page is really the table of contents for your notebook. It should be at the front and will help you quickly locate all the rest of your information. It is simply done in list form, by writing down your topics and what page they appear on. For instance, “Reading List:25”, or “January Spread:1-2.” For a recurring log, like a food log, you may have something like this- “Food Log Jan(1-7):15.” Some collections may be spread out throughout your book. That’s fine. For instance, you may have something like “Inspirational Quotes:3, 14-15,46.” Just add the page to your index after your write your new quote in the book, no problem.
The Future Log: This Collection maps out your distant future. These are events or date entries that occur after the current month. Some people use a very simple spread with boxes for 6 months, each with important data jotted in. Each month, when you are ready to lay out your monthly spread, look at your future log and see what needs to be moved into this month’s detailed log. The future log just gives you a broad look at what the future holds and is a quick place to throw things that are scheduled weeks or months in advance.
The Monthly Log: The Monthly Log is a 2-page spread that lays out your month in brief. The first page is the ” Monthly Calendar” a simple vertical list of the date and day of the week, with a brief bit of data listed. This is meant as a reference. Something like this:
- 1S-church and family dinner at park
- 2M-dance class at 5
- 3T-parent-teacher conference at 6 … and so on and so on.
The “Task Page” is your task list for the month. Something like this
- Gather items for yardsale
- Change Oil in Truck
- Edit Vacation Photos
Tip: Leave room in the left-hand column to add signifiers.
The Daily Log: The “Daily spread” is your detailed daily list. The top of the page should have the date as the topic. Start your list with what you know you have to do today, with signifiers on the most important things. Then rapid log as the day goes on, adding tasks, events, notes, all in one list as they come to mind or occur. If it’s a short day, start you next day below. If it’s a long day, carry over to the next page.
Tip: Don’t create these early. This should be done the day of or the night before. You never know how much room you are going to need.
The Weekly Log: Though not part of the original bullet system, many journalers find the weekly spread or “weeklies” essential to their process. Most people use a two-page spread, added right after the monthly log. It’s like a zoomed-in calendar, focusing on just this week. This helps you organize your mind on what this week holds, showing you which days are booked solid and which ones you have some wiggle room in.
Key: Your key should be right below your index or at the front of your journal. The key is where you detail your bullets and signifiers, and their meanings, just in case you forget. After a little while, you will have your system memorized, and won’t need your key that often, but it helps in the beginning.
GSM: The thickness of the paper. The smaller the number, the thinner the pages. Thicker pages prevent bleeding and ghosting.
Rapid Log: “Rapid logging” uses short sentences, designated by bullet points to quickly list information. It’s one list, with several different types of data in it, each with a different type of bullet point. It is usually composed throughout your day and includes tasks, notes, events, or any other kind of information that comes to mind that day. Your Daily Log will be done with the Rapid Logging technique.
Threading: Threading is referencing a collection that is ongoing. For instance, let’s say one of your collections is “Books to Read This Year,” on page 14. When you get to this month’s calendar, you might look at your collection, pick a book. Schedule it as a task for this month. You would schedule it as “Read War and Peace (14).” This way, once you complete the books, you go to page 14 and mark it off, so all your books are still documented on the same page and you aren’t running around the whole journal looking for documentation.
Trackers: Trackers are custom logs that “track” a specific item. These can be food logs, habit trackers, exercise trackers, steps per day, mood trackers, gratitude logs, water intake, whatever you want to track. Everyone’s custom logs or trackers look different. It’s all about what is important to you and what you are trying to monitor.
Migration: There will always be things in the month that you just don’t get done. No problem, let’s migrate. At the end of each month, set up your new Monthly Log. Review the pages from the last month and move any tasks that are still relevant and undone to the new list.
You may find that some tasks just aren’t worth your time. Scratch through them and forget them. To document a migration, just turn the dot next to it into an arrow to indicate that you moved it.
Migration can also be used to move things from your rapid logging list to the proper collection. For instance, a friend told you about a new podcast, and you jotted it as a note in your daily log. Now migrate it to your “Commuting Podcasts” collection. When you make a new Monthly Log, you will “migrate” events from your Future Log into the Monthly Log.
It might seem like too much work to rewrite all these things in several places, but that is actually on purpose. Reconsidering information on a daily, weekly, and monthly schedule, forces you to take a long, hard look at each task and decide if it is really important enough to take up your valuable time this month. It allows us to weed through our to-do’s and get our schedule streamlined to what is manageable and important.
Theme: The theme is a design element. It’s completely creative and whatever you want it to be. Some people like to incorporate stickers or a drawing at the beginning of each month. Some people use corresponding colors for each month, something fitting the season. It’s up to you. There are plenty of stencils and templates out there to use if you are not creative. Themes are totally optional. They are not necessary and are mostly used by creative types who find pleasure in making their journal not only useful but aesthetically pleasing.
Alright, now we have a handle on what the heck a bullet journal is and have an idea about the general layout. What do you need to buy and how do you set it up? Here we go!
What to Buy: Bullet Journal Supplies
Bullet journals typically consist of a bonded journal of some sort, with dot grid pages. These are essentially blank pages with only lines of dots. Dotted journals make it easy for creatives to draw boxes, lines, or categories in their journal with precision. It allows for easy creative flow and organization of information. Plus, it helps you write straight, kind of like the lines on a piece of notebook paper. The original bullet journal includes 204 pages of 120GSM. It includes sticker pages for the days of the weeks, number dates, and months. It also includes 3 bookmarks.
Many people also recommend the Leuchtturm1917 grid notebook, available at Amazon. It has a nice minimalist design. Paper is thinner at 80GSM, and there are 249 pages.
Moleskine makes a slightly smaller version that is also great with several designs to choose from.
Scribbles That Matter makes a great bullet journal, with tons of designs to choose from. They have pen loops, several different GSM, and a lay-flat design.
Tip: You do not need to spend an incredulous amount of money to get a good notebook. In fact, you can use any notebook and pen you have handy, especially in the beginning while you are brainstorming and figuring out your layout. The best bullet journal is the journal you have!
There is no right or wrong in a journal. Choose whichever one suits you, however, here are some things to consider:
- Size- You are probably going to have it in a purse or bag, so smaller may be better. If you are a stay-at-homer, then you may consider a larger one. It’s up to you.
- Page thickness- it depends on if you want to use pretty calligraphy, gel, and flow pens, or markers.
- Do you want numbered pages, or do you want to number them yourself?
- Do you want a pen holder?
- Built-in Index or make your own?
- Extra pocket for random stuff like a ruler or eraser?
- Regular or lay-flat variety? If you tend to doodle or want fancy lettering, or a theme for your bullet journal notebook, you will want the lay-flat.
Pens are again a personal choice. You can go with all black, or mix it up with lots of colors. Many people find that ballpoint pens are harder to control and result in sloppier writing. We like a pen that has a fine felt tip, around 0.3mm for daily and weekly logs. Uni pin and Staedtler both make a great set of fineliners. For a colored set, we love these! They have nice ink and are long-lasting.
Tip: If you are a bit heavy-handed, you may consider a ballpoint or gel pen, as the felt tips will get crushed quickly and rendered useless.
Some journalers like to keep a pencil and eraser for certain pages. Others like to keep a small 6-inch flat ruler. Non-artistic journalers may want to consider stickers, stamps, or stencils (discussed more later).
How to Set Up a Bullet Journal
Okay, on to the hard part. You may have already done all the research, got the materials, etc, but you haven’t started. The reason why is most likely because you are intimidated to start! You have looked at some of the incredible journals out there, and you are doubting your ability to do it and don’t even know where to start. While your setup is all your own and it will change over time (often, it will change month to month to fit your needs) you can follow this simple setup to get started.
1. Etch Out Some Time: You are going to need at least 30 minutes. Try to have a time when you will have uninterrupted thinking time. It may take a couple of hours the first time.
2. Gather Your Supplies: Get everything ready and find a comfy spot. You want to have all your supplies at your side and ready to use, so you will have the most efficient use of time.
3. Make a List of Your Topics or Collections: Don’t overdo it just to fill pages. Let your collections come naturally over time. You can always just go back and add them to The Index as they come. Everyone’s collection lists will look different. Take some time to brainstorm and write a list, on a separate sheet of paper. Make sure they are the things that are most important to you, right now! Your first few may include Grocery list, Books to Read, Future Log, January Month Spread, New Year’s Resolutions, Week: Jan-1-7. Again, don’t make too many, just start with the basics.
4. Make the Index Page: Now that you have a list of your major categories, go ahead and make your Index. You will likely need 3-5 pages for your index, as you will add to it as the year goes on. Every time you create a new page or collection of pages, write it in the index so you can find it easier. Many people choose not to index their Weekly Log and Daily Logs. They simply insert them after the Monthly Log in a logical space. Instead, Index Pages usually include your Future Log, Monthly Spread (to designate the start of a new month), any habit trackers, creative collections, or long-term tasks or goals pages.
5. Make Your Key: Whether you include your key as part of your index or whether you choose to keep it separate, it should be in the front. Line out the colors and symbols you will use to designate your tasks, events, and notes. Remember, keep it simple, to begin with. You can always add more as you get in the groove.
6. Make Your Future Log: The Future Log is usually located at the beginning of your journal. Remember this is your “year in review.” It will usually be a two-page spread with 12 boxes. In each box, you will jot down tasks or events that you know need to be done that month. It will be added to as you think of things and things come up. You will then Migrate those events and tasks to specific days when you get to the more detailed monthly log for that particular month.
For more space, some people prefer to only do 6 months on each two-page spread. So, your Future Log would take up four pages in your notebook. You can use a vertical format, with long, thin columns, or a horizontal layout, with 6 large boxes. There are even circular and branching models. Here are a few of the templates to choose from. Try a few different ones, on your practice paper, and see what you like.
What goes in the Future Log? Do I really need one? These are common questions. Remember, the Future Log is your map of the year. You might include things like birthdays, anniversaries, the date your pet needs heartworm meds, vacations, and dentist appointments. Basically, anything that is not this month. When you think of things, throw them in now, so you don’t forget. It will help you in the future to know what months you can add an extra book or project, and what months are full before they even start.
7. Set up Your First Monthly Log: Once you have made your Index Page and Future Log, you are ready to design your first Monthly Log. Don’t worry about starting at the beginning of the year or the school year, or whatever, just start with whatever month is next. Remember, the Monthly Log consists of a two-page spread.
One page is the Calendar Page, and the other is Task Page. The original method is just a vertical list of each number of the month, alongside the corresponding letter for the day of the week. This method will allow you approximately one line for each day of the month. Other options include drawing or inserting an actual box calendar, with a square for each day.
The second page is your Task List. This is not a place for daily to-do’s but more like a general “need to get done this month,” kind of thing. You may also choose to have a “goals” box, “habits” sections, or separate columns for business, personal, and childcare tasks. It’s up to you. Here are a few examples!
8. Make Your First Week Log: Weekly logs are optional. The original bullet journal system doesn’t use them. However, they can be a really great addition to help you see the whole week at a glance. Think of it as a zoomed-in calendar. Some people use this instead of an actual Daily Log. They will just make a box for each day of the week on a two-page spread and put known tasks in, in advance, and add others as they go through the week. Others put main events and big stuff in their weekly log and use their daily log for tasks. We recommended the latter when starting out, but do what works best for you. We recommend you put your Weekly Log on the next 2 pages after your Monthly Spread.
9. Make Your Daily Log: Next, make your log for tomorrow. The topic of your page will just be the date. Below that, you will Rapid Log tasks, events, notes, ideas, whatever comes to mind. This list is fluid. While you may do tasks the night before, the list will grow and change during the day, as you check off tasks and experience new things. We recommend you make your Daily Logs right after your Weekly Log. Leave several pages as you don’t know how long your rapid logging will be for any given day.
In fact, now that you have your basic structure, you may decide to skip way ahead before adding the next sections. Also, remember not to make your daily lists ahead of time. It’s about today!
10. Make Your Personal Collections: Now, that your basic structure is lined out, you can start making your creative pages. Whatever you have decided to include: reading lists, goal trackers, food logs, whatever. You can interlace these within the “dates” part of your journal. We prefer to skip ahead and have them more toward the end of the journal. It’s up to you. Just make sure you have plenty of space and remember to mark the pages in your index once you have made them.
That’s it! You’re done. You are ready to start documenting now!
Bullet Journal Ideas
Here are a few ideas to help you get started, especially for the non-artistic ones in the bunch.
Printables: If you want a beautiful bullet journal with flowers and calligraphy, but you have not a lick of artistic ability, don’t stress. Just print your pages from one of the many printable websites out there. You can find tons of templates on Pinterest or even just a quick Google search. Some are black and white and you color yourself. Others are fully done for you. Some are free. Some come with a small charge. Look around and find some that you like. You can either print a whole bullet journal and use a 3 ring binder, or you can print a few pages and glue them into your journal.
Stickers: Stickers are another way to spice up your journal without technical drawing skills. You can purchase themed stickers from Hobby Lobby or Walmart and change your theme each month!
Tip: Stamps work great, especially for headings and topics!
Stencils: Amazon sells a plethora of stencil sets. These handy little guys are laid out in all kinds of formations. You can use them just to help you make nice, neat boxes, or you can literally lay the stencil over your page and copy the whole thing. They are quite handy for those of us who can’t draw a straight line, and they help visualize your layout.
Bullet Journals look so intimidating, but they really don’t have to be. Just remember:
- Start Simple
- Only document what you need and what helps you
- There is no wrong way to do it. Do what makes sense to you.
- It’s trial and error. Mistakes are ok.
- Have fun with it!
Let us know in the comments if you are going to give bullet journaling a try!
Still not sure about this journaling thing? Not sure it would do you any good? Read about some of the benefits of journaling to see what you are missing out on.
Did reading this make you decide that bullet journaling is not what you were looking for? That’s cool, there are several types of journals that might benefit you more. Part of being a beginning journaler is finding what works best for you. Check out the Top 19 Journaling Ideas for Beginners!
Frequently Asked Questions
Bullet journals can be very minimalistic and don’t require any artistic skill. AdventureBook.com offers tips on how to bullet journal, including options for making your journal aesthetically pleasing.
Bullet journals help decrease stress, increase organization, and lead to an overall more productive lifestyle. They also serve as a creative outlet and a great way to keep track of goals.