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How to start a Bullet Journal

Maybe you’ve been lurking around on the blog before, or browsing Pinterest and Instagram, and have seen the beautiful notebooks everybody seems to be lugging around that they call a Bullet Journal. You’re intrigued and would like to start one, but you’re feeling overwhelmed by all the information floating around, a bit intimidated by the beautiful things people are coming up with, and you don’t know where to start. Here’s what this guide is for : helping you get rid of the overwhelm, and teaching you in concrete steps how to start a Bullet Journal. Let’s jump in!

Start at the source

If you haven’t already, the first place to start if you want your own Bullet Journal is directly at the source. The creator of the Bullet Journal system is called Ryder Carroll and he created a website describing the method in details. The first thing you should do is check out the Official Bullet Journal video. I’ll be waiting for you while you do that!

Start with just a few basics

All you need to start a Bullet Journal is a notebook and a pen. That is it. We BuJo addicts tend to get a bit crazy with stationery, washi tape and pretty pens, but you really don’t need all of this stuff to get started.

The notebook that I most recommend is a Leuchtturm1917 in dotted pages. My first BuJo was a lined journal and I didn’t have the option to create beautiful spreads and tables. Dotted allows you to create boxes, draw lines and write beautifully. You should try it out.

As for pen, any black pen you love will do. When I first started, I got a nice Faber Castel Pitt Artists Pens set, but I eventually branched out to fountain pens and now use a Pilot Metropolitan fountain pen with Noodlers Heart of Darkness black ink. But seriously, a basic black ballpoint or gel pen is all you need.

Eventually, you’ll like to try different popular Bullet Journal supplies, in that case you can check out my Essentials list.

Draw the first few basic spreads

The Bullet Journal uses signifiers, like bullets, boxes and circles, to indicate the type of entries you log in your notebook. Your legend, called a key, is usually the first spread you will draw out in your journal. There are many keys around, but if some of the signifiers are not attracting you, nothing prevents you from creating your own. You can see my own key in this picture :

Bullet Journal key

Year-at-a-glance

I think the year at a glance is not an official Bullet Journal spread, but many of us like to have a visual representation of the current year. It’s basically just a full year on one page.

Bullet journal year at a glance

Future log

The future log is usually a 6 months spread with a calendar for each upcoming month and a space for taking notes of upcoming events. (What we call a spread is one page, or two pages side by side that we use for a specific topic.) I’ve been stubbornly migrating the future log spread from notebook to notebook, but not actually using it, since I use Google Calendar for indexing upcoming events. I might drop this spread in my next Bullet Journal. That’s what’s cool about the whole system, keep what you like, drop what you don’t and create what’s missing. Make it your own.

Bullet journal future log

Monthly log

The basic Bullet Journal monthly consists of a title stating the current month, a column on the left handside with the dates of the month, and your events on the right. You can use it to store birthdays, tasks that need to be done on certain days, appointments, etc.

Bullet journal monthly spread

Some people don’t like the basic monthly spread and prefer to draw out a calendar instead. I like to do that from time to time, as you can see on my recent December spread :

Bullet journal calendar

Add collections that you think you might need

In the Bullet Journal system, a collection is a spread dedicated to a definite topic. For example, one of my collections is a list of books I’d like to read in 2018. Another is the birthday lists of my friends and family. Anything you’d like to list or reference later is a collection. Let me know if you’d like me to write a post about my favorite collections.

The original Bullet Journal method suggest that you log in tasks and collections on the very next available page. So your journal becomes a mix-match of monthlies, dailies (which we’ll cover later) and collections. Some people don’t appreciate mixing things up, so they prefer to keep all their collections at the front of their notebook and start their dailies and monthlies at the back. I’ve tried that once and came back to the original method after a while. I don’t mind switching topics on the very next page. But once again, do what works for you!

The Backbone of the system : the dailies

The spread that I use the most in my journal is the daily spread. Basically, it is a list of tasks, events and notes that you take during the day. Start by writing the date at the top of your page, then refer to your monthly log or to your future log (or your digital calendar) and enter your events and appointments for the day along with your signifier of choices. Appointments get a circle in my book.

Bullet journal dailies spread

Then make a list of the different tasks you would like to achieve that day. If new tasks pop up during the day, add them to the list, even if you don’t plan to get them done the same day. We’ll migrate those later. If you have to take notes or jot down thoughts during the day, add them to your daily log. Ryder Carroll calls that process rapid logging, and it really is the backbone of this system.

Review and migrate

At the end of the day, review your log. Migrate any tasks that did not get done to the next day, or add them to your future log, accordingly. Add any notes you’ve taken to a relevant collection or capture them where they belong. Then, set up for the next daily.

You’re well under way!

When you’ve set up your basic spreads and implemented a few dailies, you’ve grasped the essence of the Bullet Journal system. Keep going, add new collections as you think of them, and start enjoying the process of having control over your tasks and projects, while you have a creative outlet to express them. You can now start exploring fun supplies, experimenting with different spreads and incorporating doodles and embellishments into your journal, if that’s your thing.

If you are wondering if you can try something different, have an idea for a cool collection, or if some of those things don’t work for you and you’d prefer to experiment, remember that your Bullet Journal will be unique and that you can try anything you’d like. Really make it your own.

After you’ve started your own journal, I would suggest you read this post in which the most popular Bullet Journalists offer their best advice for those starting out. You can also check out the Bullet Journal category on my blog for more resources.

Have fun! If you want to see more pictures of my own Bullet Journal, head over to Instagram and follow me!

Have you tried your hand at Bullet journaling? Do you want to give it a try? Let me know in the comments below!

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