Well look at you, decided to jump on the Bullet Journal bandwagon? Good on you. You’re about to embark on a journey of creativity and productivity that has the potential to change your life (wow, dramatic!). I’ve created this Bullet Journal Starter Guide especially for you.
You probably have a lot of questions. And rightly so. It can be a bit daunting and complicated when you first start out. In this blog post I’ve put together every useful piece of information for the beginner to Bullet Journaling. This starter guide links to lots of other useful Bullet Journaling posts that will go into more detail on specific aspects of the system as well as giving you an overview of everything all in one place.
At the end I also have some useful treats for you (yay, treats!). As well as this Bullet Journal starter guide I’ve made you a downloadable mind map style reference guide that you can use when starting out and a FREE PDF ebook that explains the absolute basics of Bullet Journaling all in one place.
We’ve got to start with the absolute basic question: What is a Bullet Journal?!
The way I describe a Bullet Journal to those that are curious is that it’s a planner, calendar to do list, journal hybrid that is designed and drawn by the user. It’s a journal that you create yourself with pages that are unique and applicable to your own lifestyle.
Officially it’s a methodology that was created by American product designer Ryder Carroll. He designed a system that would help him to keep on track of his tasks and goals. When he shared it on the Internet the Bullet Journal phenomenon was born! Since then users have developed their own unique ways of using the system and a community of creative people keen to be productive and organised in their every day lives has emerged. That’s the style of journaling I’ll be talking more about today in this Bullet Journal starter guide.
Why should I Start a Bullet Journal?
For me there are many reasons you should start a Bullet Journal. Often when people stumble across it it represents a practice that people didn’t even know they were missing. That was definitely true for me. When I came across the system I already had a diary for all my events and appointments, I’d tried out more traditional journaling but hadn’t stuck to it and I was a chronic list maker. Bullet Journaling simply put all of my planning needs into one easy place with a sprinkle of added personality and creativity.
I feel that one of the best ways to figure out if Bullet Journaling is for you is to read about other peoples experiences with the method. Here are some blog posts that might help you.
What is the ‘Bullet’ in Bullet Journaling?
You might still be wondering what the hell the ‘bullet’ part of a Bullet Journal means. It refers to the bullet marks you use when planning and logging your goals, tasks, notes, appointments etc in your monthly, weekly and daily spreads (more on that below).
What do I need to start a Bullet Journal?
Apart from the physical stationery that you need to start a Bullet Journal I think it’s important to have the right attitude when starting out with Bullet Journaling. It’s a hobby that does require some time commitment and practice and without patience Bullet Journaling isn’t going to work. You need to stick with it for a little while to figure out if it’s the right system for you.
Bullet Journaling Supplies
If you have an open patient attitude to Bullet Journaling let’s get to the next ingredient which is a bit more exciting: the stationery! Funnily enough after conducting a survey on Bullet Journaling it transpired that ‘Bullet Journaling is a good excuse to buy more stationery’ is a really popular reason to start!
However in reality having a lot of stationery isn’t really required. All you really need to start a Bullet Journal is a good notebook and a nice pen that you enjoy writing with. But of course we can have a lot of fun and get creative with more supplies.
You definitely don’t need to fork out a fortune for fancy Tombow brush pens and Zebra Mildliners for your Bullet Journal. There are plenty of good quality budget supplies out there.
I’ve written lots of blog posts on my favourite Bullet Journaling supplies which you can find here:
- The Best Bullet Journal Notebooks
- Black Pens for Bullet Journaling
- My Favourite Bullet Journaling Pens
- Budget Bullet Journal Supplies
- How to Effectively Use Washi Tape in your Journal
- Where to Order a Hand Drawn Custom Made Bullet Journal
- The Most Useful Bullet Journal Stickers
How do I start creating my Bullet Journal?
Bullet Journaling is extremely flexible and versatile so essentially you can create it any way you want. The generally accepted structure though is to include the core Bullet Journal spreads or ‘collections’, personalise them to your own needs and then add in any other pages that might be useful to you. So let’s start out by looking at those core pages.
Download the free Bullet Journal Mind Map for a quick reference to what Bullet Journaling is all about.
The Core Bullet Journaling Pages
The core pages, or spreads are as follows: Index, Key, Future Log, Monthly Log. Some people include weekly or daily logs in their essential pages too but actually they aren’t necessarily essential. In this section I’ll tell you a little more about each core Bullet Journal page and break down why they’re essential.
The Index goes at the front of the bullet journal. Some journals will already have an index built in that you fill in as you fill your journal. If not you can easily create your own by noting the title of the page and the number. It’s simple a list of the pages you have in your journal and the page number so that you can easily find what you’re looking for.
The key is the way you’re going to understand the bullets you’ll use in your journal. It’s the language of your logs where you note down what each bullet or signifier means in your journal.
Your future log is an overview usually of the next year or at least the next 6 months in your journal. It’s where you’re going to note down those important events or appointments that will come up further in the future.
The monthly log is where you start to get more specific and focussed on your time in a monthly window. It’s your overview of everything that’s happening in the month and a chance for you to start breaking down your big goals into bite sized monthly targets that will add up to big progress. There are lots of different ways you can structure your monthly log. Take a look at this Pinterest board for some monthly layout inspiration.
Daily or Weekly Log
In addition to the monthly log you can break down your planning even more into a daily or weekly log. There are users who use both but generally you won’t really need a monthly, a weekly and a daily log, you’ll just end up with a lot of empty space or duplicate information that you have to fill in. What a waste of time and energy. Keep it simple and use a combination of two at the most.
If you like to plan days in advance or you generally know how your day will look I recommend a weekly log that can be created in advance. If the opposite is true and you plan more last minute then a daily log that is created the night before or even the morning of the day you’re planning will allow you a lot more flexibility.
What Else Can I use my Bullet Journal For?
Primarily the Bullet Journal is used for basic organisation but using the system and adding in extra pages or ‘collections’ can open it up and make it
Habit Building and Goal Setting
When your daily life is organised it opens up time and energy for you to work on the extra goals you have and makes space for building in good habits to your daily routine. As well as that you can introduce trackers to help you keep on top of the habits you want to build.
A tracker is a little chart in your journal where you fill in a box every day for a habit that you’ve performed or avoided. For example I track reading on a daily basis so if I open a book and do some reading I’ll fill in the tracker box for that day.
Mental Health and Mindfulness
I’m a big advocate for Bullet Journaling being a great tool for those who suffer with mental health disorders, stress, anxiety or any kind of low feeling (which unfortunately most of us do). There’s the therapeutic side of creating something and there’s the practical side of getting us organised and getting rid of chaos which combine to become a great tool for changing an unhealthy mindset. The act of Bullet Journaling itself is therapeutic but you can also incorporate specific spreads to track and monitor your mental health.
When you’re trying to get fit and start a new habit of exercising you need all the motivation you can get. Creating a page of fitness goals and tracking new health habits is a great way to motivate yourself to keep them up. You can also keep a log of personal records for example weight lifted or how many miles you’ve run and your pace.
Students have a lot to juggle in regards to time and work load. The Bullet Journal is an ideal system for students of any subject as its so adaptable. There are loads of ways students can utilise the Bullet Journal system and I talk about that a bit more in this blog post.
Finance and Budgeting
Getting on top of your finances can be tricky but creating spreads to help you manage your money is a great way to get in control. I’ve used savings trackers that I fill in as I work towards a savings target, spending logs where I track everything I spend and I’ve habit tracked ‘no spend days’. I’ll be posting more about using a Bullet Journal to keep on track of spending soon so keep an eye out and subscribe.
Travel and Recording Memories
One of the nicest things about using a journal for me is that I can record memories of every day life as well as big events. Travel is the perfect opportunity for that.
Getting Creative in your Bullet Journal for Beginners
After you master the basics you can start the fun of getting creative and artistic in your journal – if you want this is not required. There are a lot of different styles that people use when Bullet Journaling and it’s sometimes hard to pick which style you’re going to use. Often it might depend on your confidence in your artistic ability. To make it easier for you to decide on a ‘look’ for your Bullet Journal I put together this blog post on the different styles of Bullet Journaling.
Hand Lettering or Calligraphy
One of the easiest ways to be creative in your journal is by using hand lettering for your Bullet Journal titles and headings. This is often one of the hardest things for beginners especially if they don’t have a lot of artistic experience. If you want to start experimenting with really simple hand lettering when you have no experience then I have a great resource for you in my resource library: the Hand Lettering for Absolute Beginners Workbook! Simply sign up to my newsletter to get access and you can download and print the workbook to get started on basic creative hand lettering techniques.
One great way to get a bit more creative in your journal and start improving your artistic skills is by using a monthly theme in your journal. It doesn’t have to be anything complicated, although there are some really beautiful themes out there on Instagram and Pinterest, it can be something really simple that you love.
Washi Tape and Stickers
Washi Tapes and stickers are probably the most fun things to hoard in a stationery collection! So many gorgeous patterns and styles to choose from they can be a great tool to inspire a Bullet Journal theme. But they can also hinder you! The temptation is to become a collector of stickers and tapes and never actually use them (I’m guilty of this!) so when starting out invest wisely in some choice pieces to avoid getting overwhelmed with all the colour and patterns. Check out my blog post on Using Washi Tape Effectively in your Bullet Journal to get the best tips on how to use it in a journal.
Help! I’m scared of making a mistake/I don’t know where to start!
Don’t worry your pretty little head this is a very common feeling when starting out with Bullet Journaling. A lot of us have first page fears when starting a new journal even when you’ve used the system for over 3 years like I have! If you’re feeling like you don’t know where to start take it step by step by following this Bullet Journal starter guide and get set up with the core pages first before experimenting with more creativity and extra pages.
Get your FREE ‘Bullet Journal Basics’ PDF by subscribing to my newsletter
As well as this bumper Bullet Journal Starter Guide I’ve created a super funky pdf e-book that will explain everything about bullet journaling in an easy to understand way. A great reference guide for anyone starting out with journaling. To download this you’ll need to sign up to the newsletter and you’ll get your password to the free resource library. There you can download loads of other cool useful freebies designed by yours truly that will help you boost your creativity and productivity and get you doing all of the things!
I also send a monthly email reviewing my month and talking about a personal challenge I experienced with my productivity, creativity and/or planning.
“I need more support and advice or I have more questions!”
No worries! I’ve introduced workshops just for you. I know how daunting it can be when you’re starting out and you might have questions that google can’t quite answer. My Get Started with Bullet Journaling workshop is aimed at beginners who want a more interactive introduction to Bullet Journaling and the chance to ask lots of questions and to connect with other beginners! Get more information and check out the schedule of the next workshops here.