Bullet Journaling 101: How to Start a Bullet Journal

What is a Bullet Journal?

Have you ever thought about starting a bullet journal, but you thought the pages you saw on Instagram and Pinterest looked too complicated? This is the post for you. I’m going to share with you how the original bullet journal is set up and then how I customize the system to work in my traveler’s notebook instead of the traditional Leutturm1917 or notebook. The most important thing I want you to take away from this post is this: anyone can keep a bullet journal regardless of artistic ability, time, or funds. As long as you have access to a pen and any notebook, you can keep a bullet journal, or bujo, as some enthusiasts call them on Instagram.

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bullet journaling for beginners
Bullet journaling 101

Bullet Journaling Basics

If you’ve never heard of a bullet journal before, go read what the creator of the system, Ryder Carroll, has to say about the system here, and then come back so that I can break it down for you. I think it’s important to read what the creator has to say about it, but there are a lot of technical terms used in the link, so I’ll simplify the key ideas below.

Key and Index

Whatever style of notebook or journal you choose to use for your bullet journal, you need to make sure the pages are numbered so that you can index your entries. If the pages are unnumbered, take the time to write in the page numbers to spare yourself a headache later. Since your bullet journal can be used to record anything and everything, you want to make sure you can quickly locate your entries.

key and index for bujo
The index and key pages for my current bullet journal. I keep it embellishment-free since I need to be able to find what I need quickly.

I’m the first to admit that in my current set up with my traveler’s notebook, I don’t index all of my weekly pages because the insert I record them in is almost exclusively for weekly spreads and has a limited number of pages. I keep separate inserts for my collections (more on what this is later) and journal entries. However, I do index collections.

The key is straightforward. These are the symbols you use on daily and weekly pages to be able to have an overview of your daily and weekly tasks. I use commonly used symbols for my bullet journal. I use a square for tasks, circle for events, and triangles for appointments. In addition, I use exclamation points for important reminders, lightbulbs for ideas, hearts for good memories, and dots for general notes. Below is a close up of my key so you can see how I fill in my symbols.

bullet journal key
A closer look at my key. You don’t have to be artistically inclined to create symbols.

You can use whatever you’d like for symbols for your own bullet journal. They don’t have to be complicated or even well drawn. All you need is are symbols that make sense to you and you are consistent in their use.

The Future Log and Monthly Log

The future log is one of the biggest complaints people have about bullet journaling because it can be difficult to record future plans in your journal if you make your daily and weekly pages as you go. However, if you take the time to make space to make an overview of the year, you can fill in as much of the year you know about on those pages. I like the suggestion of drawing a grid for a six-month calendar on bulletjournal.com’s getting started link here.

The monthly log is a more detailed overview of your month, complete with important events, dates, and a to-do list. As for me, I combine my yearly and monthly log. In my traveler’s notebook, I have an insert with calendar pages and each month has a notes section I use to keep track of important dates, to-do lists, and reminders. Sometimes, I’ll highlight or write directly on the calendar squares, but I find that simply writing in the Notes section is enough for me. Below is an example from April:

monthly log in bullet journal
I love decorating my monthly pages with a theme but you can make your pages as simple or embellished as you’d like. There is no right or wrong way to decorate your pages.

Daily and Weekly Logs

This is the core of the planning part of your bullet journal. You can record your days individually on their own page, a week at a time, or do both. I find doing a weekly layout serves my purposes best because I don’t always have time every day to create a new layout. A key to successful planning is to make a point to sit down once a week to plan out the week ahead. I use Friday afternoon to create my layouts and on Sundays, I reflect on my previous week.

weekly layout in bullet journal
Here is one of my weekly layouts from April. I include a section to make a note of upcoming events and a small habit tracker.

On each day of the week, I use the symbols from the key to record my plans for the day and I check in at the end of the day to fill out my habit tracker. If you are unfamiliar with habit trackers, read my post here.

Migration

Migration is simply the process of rescheduling a task that has gone uncompleted. The act of physically rewriting a task until you get it done makes you think about your priorities. If you are consistently unable to finish a task, you need to think about why that is happening. After rewriting a task a few times, ask yourself if you really want or need to complete the task. If it is important, look at your schedule to see if there’s something you can move to make it happen.

Collections

One of the cool features of bullet journals is you can keep collections of anything and everything you can imagine in them. You can track shows on Netflix to binge watch, books you’ve read or want to read, self-care ideas, savings, Instagram followers, or places you want to see. One of my favorite pages I made in my collections is dedicated to my one little word of the year, Rise. Make sure you index your collections so that you can refer to them later.

One Little Word Rise page in my traveler's notebook
One Little Word Rise page in my bullet journal

The Magic of Bullet Journaling

If you are still feeling overwhelmed after reading about bullet journaling, don’t worry. Your bullet journal does not have to be elaborate. I highly recommend you start simply, with a pen and your notebook of choice. Washi tape is an inexpensive tool for decorating and can make your pages pop without a lot of extra work. If you find that you don’t like your layout on a given day or week, all you have to do is change it the next day. Unlike a planner with preprinted layouts, you don’t have to wait to make changes. There are no rules to how you record your works, only that it works for you.

The key to successful bullet journaling is that you take the time to check in with it every day for at least five minutes. I like to do this at the beginning of my day after morning pages and right before bed. Even if you only have time to look over your daily to-do list in the morning, you’ll be better prepared for the day ahead.

Tools to Start Your Own Bullet Journal

If you need further help deciding if bullet journaling is right for you, check out my post 5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Starting My Bujo. Ready to get started? Below are several supplies to begin your own bullet journal. You can also check my resources page for more tools.

If you purchase anything from the links below, I’ll get a small commission at no extra cost to you. I appreciate your support!

If you have any questions about keeping a bullet journal, ask me in the comments. I’d love to help you get started!

7 Days of Journaling Prompts Renew Edition
7 Days of Journaling Prompts Renew Edition

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how to start a bullet journal
Bullet Journaling 101

4 Replies to “Bullet Journaling 101: How to Start a Bullet Journal”

    1. In a way, you’re right, a bullet journal does have a lot of similarities to a daily to-do list. Where it’s different is you can also keep a calendar, notes, other kinds of lists, and keep track of habits. Anyway, I hope that helps! 😊

    1. In my future log, I include upcoming appointments, deadlines for work and personal goals, events I’m interested in, birthdays, and seasonal cleaning tasks, like getting the house ready for summer and winter. Depending on how much room you have for your future log, you could also include topics you want to cover on your blog in upcoming months or special projects you’d like to do. I hope these ideas help! 😊

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