How to Start a Bullet Journal

If you’ve spent any time on productivity or time management websites lately, you’ll likely have heard of the bullet journal. It is hands-down my favourite tool for goal setting, time management, stress relief, self-care, gratitude log, and just generally organising my life. I’ve always been the planning type, and I’ve habitually favoured paper planners over electronic ones, but I’ve invariably struggled with the rigidity of the layout. Day-to-page planners resulted in an unconscionable waste of paper, while week-to-view planners never had enough space for my busy weekends.

Enter the bullet journal. The concept is straightforward, simple even. You take a blank notebook and turn it into a DIY planner. It is that simplicity, though, that is its greatest strength, because it turns into exactly the planner you need. I used mine recently to plan my wedding, including a guest list, a collection for wedding-related tasks, and a list of gifts we received so we could write thank-you cards.

How to start a bullet journal | A summary of the core bullet journal concepts and how to start using this planning method

Why bullet journal?

As I mentioned above, the bullet journal is infinitely flexible. There’s no wasted paper, because if you don’t have anything to record on a given day you simply don’t create an entry for that day. If you need a page to journal about your thoughts and feelings, you can just flip to the next spare page and do that. There’s space to include all your lists of books to read, house projects, favourite recipes, and more. It is both a forward-planning tool and a place to record memories and thoughts. It doesn’t require any specialist equiment, either, just any old notebook and a pen or pencil.

How to get started

Start by checking out the Bullet Journal site, maintained by the bullet journal’s creator, Ryder Carroll. As you can see, the bullet journal’s core is a series of increasingly granular logs: the future log, the monthly log, and the daily log. Many users, myself included, also make use of a weekly spread between the monthly and dailies. In each spread, you record tasks and events in simple one-liners (known as rapid logging), as well as anything else you want to remember, such as inspirational quotations.

How to start a bullet journal | Bullet journal weekly log

My latest weekly log

In addition to your rapid logs, the bullet journal also includes collections, or pages of spreads for related tasks or or other information. For instance, my wedding guest list would be a collection, as is my list of household projects. My advice would be to avoid overthinking your collections, and only start one if you find yourself listing multiple related tasks in your monthly log, especially if you keep migrating them because you want to get them done ‘at some point’ but don’t know when. Using a collection for this allows you to check your collection at the start of each week and pick a couple of tasks to complete.

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I would recommend starting your future log with a one-page spread, covering the next 2-3 months. There are a lot of different ways to set up your future log, and they’re all suited to different lifestyles and planning approaches, and 3 months gives you time to trial it without being stuck with the method for the next 6 months.

I started my journal with a variation on the traditional log recommended on the bullet journal website, but filled the left-hand side of each month with a small calendar grid, as I like to be able to see at a glance where a particular date falls in the week. However, this didn’t leave enough room for months where I had more than half a dozen events to record, and it left wasted space in quieter months. When I set up my next six months, I’m thinking of trying Alistair’s method instead.

How to start a bullet journal | My bullet journal future log

The future log spread I’m not wild about. See how squished my July events are and how empty the other months are?
You can also see in this picture how much my bullet journal has improved artistically in the past four months, compared to my current weekly spread above.

It doesn’t have to be pretty

One of the reasons I linked you to Ryder Carroll’s overview of the bullet journal, besides the fact that it’s best to get things from the source and I believe in giving credit where it’s due, is that his setup is very simple. When you search for ‘bullet journal’ on Pinterest or browse hashtags on Instagram, however, you’ll see page after page of journals that look more like works of art than functional planners. And for many people, their bullet journal is as much a creative outlet as it is a planner, and decorating a bullet journal can be a therapeutic activity. Remember, however, that it is first and foremost a tool. If you want to decorate your bullet journal, then go ahead, but you most certainly do not need to be creative or have art skills in order to create a bullet journal (I certainly don’t!). You just need to be looking for a flexible, customisable organisation method.

Don’t get overwhelmed

There’s a lot to think about with your bullet journal, from how to set up your future log and your monthly and daily spreads to what collections to create. Remember, though, that the greatest strength of the bullet journal is its flexibility. If you don’t like your current setup, then change it next week or month. If you do what I did and create a 6-month future log you really don’t like, you can always just flip the page and create a new one, too. If you don’t know what collections to create, don’t create any until you feel the need to.

Because the bullet journal is so flexible, there are infinite variations on social media, and it can be easy to get overwhelmed by all the possibilities. I’d suggest sticking to the original method at first, and making changes as you identify areas where it doesn’t quite work for you. By all means check out bullet journal boards on Pinterest and accounts on Instagram, but don’t try more than one or two new ideas each week, and give yourself time to decide whether or not it works for you.

Above all, your bullet journal should reduce stress in your life by giving you a space to plan and map out your thoughts. It shouldn’t be a source of worry because you think you’re doing it ‘wrong’ or because it’s not as pretty as others’. So have some fun! Experiment with different layouts or doodles if that’s what you want, or stick with Ryder Carroll’s spreads from the link above. As long as your bujo is helping you find a calmer, more joyful life, then you’re doing it right.

Over to you

How do you plan your life and organise your time? Are you a bullet journaller? What are your suggestions for getting started?

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3 Comments

    • Nicola

      Yeah, the bullet journal made a huge difference! The only downside was my now-husband didn’t really have access to it, but I’m the one who’s obsessive about organising so he didn’t really need to 😉

      Thanks for stopping by!

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