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.

This post contains affiliate links to Amazon.com.  If you purchase products from these links, I’ll earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.  To read my full disclosure statement, click here.

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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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Bullet Journaling 101

5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Starting My Bujo

Bujo
5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Starting My Bujo

Are you new to the bujo community? Did you know you can use any notebook to start your first one? Here are a few things I wish I would have known before starting my own bujo. If you don’t know what a bujo (bullet journal) is, I highly recommend going to read about it from the creator of the system, Ryder Carroll, here, and coming back to read the rest of this post.

This post contains affiliate links to Amazon.com.  If you purchase products from these links, I’ll earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.  To read my full disclosure statement, click here.

1. You Can Use Any Notebook (But Size Matters!)

If you scroll through Instagram or Pinterest for bujos, more often than not, you’ll see layouts in gorgeous notebooks, journals, and traveler’s notebooks. However, before you go out and splurge on an expensive journal, you can test out the bujo system in any spare notebook, even one you’ve already written in! The system works as long as you use it and you can make it work in anything as long as you have a key, an index, and you keep up with your pages. If you are wondering if the bujo system works for you, this is a great way to test it out. My first bujo was in an old journal that I repurposed and covered (the original cover didn’t suit me.)

One thing to keep in mind when you’re ready to purchase your bujo’s new home is the amount of space you’ll have to work with for each page. For 2018, I switched to a traveler’s notebook and it’s much more narrow than the Moleskine journal I was used to during the summer of 2017. It does impact how I make layouts. So far, I’m loving my traveler’s notebook, but there are pros and cons to using it for my bujo. (I’ll likely make a post in the future about this.)

2. Mistakes Can and Will Happen (and It’s Okay!)

It’s easy to be intimidated by the picture-perfect layouts of other people’s bujos on Pinterest and Instagram. One thing to keep in mind when you’re looking at other people’s pictures online is that you are seeing the final, polished product. There’s no real way to know if the person who posted that beautiful spread got it right on the first try or if it was the 20th attempt at the same page. Really, though, it shouldn’t matter how many tries it took someone or if they are naturally gifted. Each person’s bujo tells a unique story about their user. You do not have to be artistically inclined to successfully keep a bujo. No matter what your skill level it, it’s fun to watch your growth as you continue to use your pages and improve over time.

I made a short video about some of the mistakes I’ve already made in my bujo this year. You can click on the link here or watch it below. (I apologize for the abrupt ending; my baby was waking up and I wanted to get to him before he was loud enough to be heard in the video.)

3. Be Mindful of Where You Keep Collections

If you watched the video, you’ll know that one of the mistakes I made early on in my traveler’s notebook was keeping my Year in Pixels page in the same insert as my weekly layouts. I’ll go through this insert long before the year is over, so I’ll either need to redraw it in another insert only for collections or simply cut out the page and put it in the other insert.

Whether you are using a traditional journal or a traveler’s notebook like mine, making use of your index and recording each page number for the collections you keep in your bujo will also spare you a lot of headaches trying to figure out where everything is.

4. The Amount of Freedom

Your bujo can be anything you need it to be and you can customize it however you want. You could go minimalist with the layout or go all out with detailed drawings, stickers, and washi tape. There are no wrong answers for the amount decorating you can do. You can also make collections for anything and everything you can think of. I have seen collections for books to read, 30 Day Challenges, Netflix series to watch, self-care routines, and all kinds of health trackers, just to name a few.

Even if you don’t feel like making a fully decorated page but you want to jot down ideas or journal, you can do that on your pages, too. Just give it a place in your index so that you can refer to it later. It’ll help you gain perspective to go back and read your pages long after you’ve written them.

5. It’s Never Too Late to Change Things

The part about having a bujo I love the most is that if something isn’t working for me, I can change it whenever I want. If you are the kind of person who struggles to stick with one planner the whole year through, a bujo may be the answer your looking for. If you suddenly decide you don’t like horizontal layouts for your weekly spreads, you can switch to a vertical layout next week. You can freely experiment with the pages and learn what works for you. If a habit tracking system isn’t working for you, you don’t have to keep using the same tracker. I talk about changing up my habit trackers here.

It’s also worth noting you can start a bujo whenever you want to. You don’t have to wait for January 1st to start. You could start in the middle of April and not have to worry about wasting pages. You’d start keeping track of the dates from the day you start, not the beginning of the year.

If you are brand new to the bujo community, what would you like to know about keeping a bujo? If you’re a veteran, what would you like to have known? Let me know in the comments. I’d love to read your questions!

If you are ready to buy a bujo, here are some of my recommendations. If you purchase anything through my links, I’ll earn a small commission, at no extra cost to you. I appreciate your support!

 

 

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5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Starting My Bujo

Use Stress-Free Habit Trackers for Practical Self-Care

 

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Make Habit Trackers Work for You Stress-Free

This post contains affiliate links to Amazon.com.  If you purchase products from these links, I’ll earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.  To read my full disclosure statement, click here.

What Are Habit Trackers?

Habit tracking is one of the reasons many people keep a bullet journal or bujo instead of a traditional planner.  If you search on Pinterest or Instagram for the hashtag #bujo or #habittracker, you’ll find hundreds of different habits people want to keep track of, from health habits such as water intake or logging hours of sleep to no spend days or time on social media.  They are valuable tools for trying to create good routines or break a bad habit.

If you’re unfamiliar with the bullet journal system, I encourage you to go read about it from the creator of the bujo, Ryder Carroll, here. I love the system because it’s so customisable and I plan on writing a future post about how I have mine set up since, like many bujo enthusiasts, my bullet journal doesn’t look exactly like the original concept.

Keeping Track of Your Habits Doesn’t Have to be Complicated

If you spend any amount of time searching for habit trackers or bujo layouts on Pinterest or Instagram, you’re bound to come across several gorgeous, intricate designs.  I have a board dedicated to these inspirational pages here.  Sometimes, though, I’ll come across a Pin that leaves me feeling intimidated, featuring habit trackers with over 30 items listed and fully illustrated. I don’t know about you, but the idea of having to check off so many things every single day sounds overwhelming. As a writer and work-at-home mother of two young children (3-years-old and 5-month-old at the time of this writing), my time is limited. Someday, I would love to try one of the many extensive trackers I’ve looked at, but right now, it’s not how I want to spend my time.

This is hard to admit, but I’m not sure if detailed tracker would work for me even if I wasn’t so busy.  When I try to change too many things at once, I tend to fail. I become discouraged by the lack of progress and nothing changes. When building new habits and routines, I have to start small and gradually work towards my end goal.  That’s why I’m currently tracking six habits in my weekly spread and have one year-long tracker for my mood.

Bullet Journal with Simple Habit Tracker
Weekly Layout from My Bujo.  This week featured my one little word for the year.

How I Use Weekly Habit Trackers

I’ve simplified how I use habit trackers since switching to a traveler’s notebook. The narrower pages for my weekly layouts made it an easy decision.  Each week, I think about what habits I want to maintain, which ones I’d like to start doing, and what I’d like to stop doing. I make an effort to keep the list short so that I don’t put too much pressure on myself.

My current list of six habits for the week are yoga, dance, read, write, journal, and craft. I’m trying to start an easy exercise routine, so I’m attempting to get back into yoga. I also want to teach my kids healthy habits, so I make an effort to have 20-minute dance parties with them. It makes exercising much more fun for me.  The last four habits are a mix of things I hope will help me professionally and keep me focused on self-care.

One final note about my weekly habit tracker: I’m not afraid to change what goes on the list. I used to track my morning pages and bedtime. However, I was consistently doing my morning pages, so I didn’t feel the need to continue tracking that habit. If I start slipping in that area, I’ll add it back to the list. I stopped keeping track of my bedtime because it was demoralizing. My baby still keeps me up at night and logging these long nights aren’t helping me. I’ll try tracking this habit again in a few months.

How I Use a Year Long Habit Tracker

Mood Tracker
My Year in Pixels page, heavily inspired by the many other mood trackers on Pinterest and Instagram.

I saw several variations of the My Year in Pixels mood tracker on Pinterest and fell in love with the idea. I’m a gamer and a nerd at heart, so I immediately knew that was going to go into my bujo this year.  I’m happy to report that so far, I’m off to a good start this year (even if I woke up grumpy on New Year’s Day.)

Close up of Habit Tracker
Closer view of My Year in Pixels mood tracker.

More Tips for Simplifying Your Habit Trackers

Here are a few more ideas to help you get started or simplify habit tracking:

  • Don’t be afraid to start small. If the idea of keeping track of seven things every day sounds overwhelming, don’t do it! Try keeping track of only one thing, such as water intake, doing morning pages, or no spend days.
  • If you’re consistently doing a habit every day, you may consider removing it from your habit tracker to free up space. Unless, of course, you want to keep it on the list because you love checking it off every day. There’s nothing wrong with that!
  • If you keep listing a habit in your tracker and never do it, consider why you feel the need to continue giving it a place in your habit tracker. Is it really a habit you actually want to have, or do you only think you should have it? You may be trying to be something you’re not. Don’t be afraid of removing a habit from your tracker- I did it!
  • If you genuinely want to start doing a habit but haven’t successfully done it yet, you need to take an honest look at your routine to see how you can make it happen. Maybe breaking the habit into smaller pieces (like attempting it once a week instead of every day) would help you get started.

As you start using habit trackers, you may decide a more detailed habit tracker. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wanting to keep track of several things. It isn’t for me right now and that’s okay. Maybe someday it will be, and I’ll write a post called “Why Super-Detailed Habit Trackers are Awesome!” In the meantime, I’ll stick to admiring other people’s layouts online.

Tools I Use for My Habit Trackers

Here are a few supplies I love to use in my habit trackers. If you purchase anything through my links, I’ll earn a small commission at no extra cost to you.

  

What kinds of habits do you keep track of in your bujo? Do you prefer to track several habits at once or only a few at a time? I’d love it if you share what works for you in the comment section.

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Make Habit Trackers Work for You Stress Free

How to Choose Your One Little Word

traveler's notebook
One Little Word

Do you have a word of the year? If you don’t know what I’m talking about, please go read the original post behind “One Little Word,” created by Ali Edwards here. The idea is to choose a word that represents a theme, a state of mind, or an ideal that you want to strive for during the year. I had a word of the year in 2016 but did not in 2017. I wish that I would have chosen one last year, especially as it was a challenging time for me. This year, I’m going to surround myself with my one little word, because it will help keep me focused as I work towards my goals.

Why One Little Word

I personally love the idea of having one little word for the year because sometimes goal-setting can be intimidating. I’m very good at dreaming up big ideas, but sometimes, the process for getting started on chasing my dreams feels too overwhelming. Having one little word as a guiding post for setting the tone for my year gives me a starting point to build on.

My One Little Word

The first time I journaled about deciding on a word of the year, I chose “Content,” the word I used in 2016. I had picked it because it had worked well for me for at least the first half of 2016, and it seemed like a wonderful ideal to strive for again. At first, I was happy with my choice, especially since it fits in with the idea of seeking peace with one’s present situation. However, after sleeping on it, the less I felt the pull of the word.

The trouble is, I’m not content. I think it’s a great sentiment, but my goals and mood are not aligned with the word. It’s no secret that I’m no longer content with the status quo- both personally and on a global scale, but I do need a more positive spin for my personal life than “Change.” No, I need to overcome obstacles, both real and imagined, that are holding me back, which is why my word of the year is “Rise.” If 2017 has taught me anything, it’s that I will have plenty of setbacks. I want to rise above those setbacks and pursue my goals anyway.

Rise
One Little Word page in my traveler’s notebook

How I’m Going to “Rise:”

  • I’m going to break my big, scary goals into smaller, actionable pieces.
  • I’m going to push my boundaries while being mindful of when I need to take time to recharge and practice self-care. No one can go full-throttle all the time without rest.
  • I’m will keep a record of my victories, big and small.

How to Choose Your Own Word

If you’re having trouble deciding on one little word for the year my process for how I choose mine is simple. In a journal, notebook, or even a scrap piece of paper, write down the best and worst parts of last year for you. Next, free-write about the kind of year you want to have, the kind of person you’d like to become, or any traits that you’d like to adopt. After looking over your list, start writing down words that fit in with any recurring themes you noticed.

If nothing stands out to you right away, don’t stress out about finding the perfect word now. Sleep on it. Let your subconscious think about it as you go about your daily routine. You could try journaling or morning pages to see if any themes come up in your writing.

How to Use Your Own Little Word

Now that you have your own word for the year, there are several ways that you can use it to stay inspired. Many people include a page about their word in their planner or journal. You could easily make a dashboard page for your planner to keep you inspired whenever you look at the page.

Other ideas:

  • Write your one little word on several Post-It notes or journal cards. Place it around your home where you’ll have reminders of it (bathroom mirror, dresser, fridge, etc.)
  • Be on the lookout for journals, notebooks, shirts, or even jewelry that has your one little word on it. Find ways to keep the one little word physically with you.
  • If you’re feeling creative, you can make a scrapbook page or art journal about your word.
  • Feeling shy about your artistic skills? You could make a Pinterest board or a collage about your one little word. Fill it with quotes that evoke the feeling of your chosen word.

Staying Inspired

I know how hard it is to stick with resolutions. How many people make big goals in January, only to abandon them by mid-February? If you don’t want your one little word to fall by the wayside, here are a few ideas for staying inspired throughout the year:

  • Keep a gratitude log. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. It could be a spare notebook, or if you keep a planner, write down one thing you’re grateful for, no matter how small. If it’s an especially bad day, your one small thing could be as simple as your morning coffee. Over time, you can look back to see how all those little things add up.
  • Set reminders in your phone’s calendar or write down in your planner once a month to revisit your one little word. Ask yourself if your life is reflecting your word. If not, what do you need to do to get back on track? If the word no longer fits, you could always choose a different one!

One Final Note

If it’s no longer the beginning of the year when you’re reading this, it’s still not too late to choose your own one little word. It’s never too late to make a new start.

Do you have one little word for the year? How do you use it? I’d love to hear about it! Please share in the comments.

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One Little Word