Are you someone who has a hard time scheduling something? Do you have long-term goals that you never seem to complete because you can’t track them? Do you have so many different personal or work projects that it’s hard to keep track? Then bullet journaling may be for you.
With a bullet journal, you can keep track of any and everything all in one place, from meal planning, work projects, daily to-dos, whatever! If you aren’t convinced, check out my blog on the benefits of bullet journaling. But if you ARE convinced, you might be asking, “how do I start?”. You’re in the right place.
WHAT YOU NEED:
- Any blank notebook
- A pen
- Optional (but helpful): a ruler or straight edge of some kind
That’s it. Any additional color, tapes, stickers, post-its, etc, are all optional. But if you are looking for more specific product recommendations, these are things that I have or have used in the past that I recommend. I’ll be writing a blog about that soon!
WHAT YOU DON’T NEED:
- Drawing skills – There’s washi tape, stencils, and stickers if you can’t draw.
- Fancy handwriting – Though many community members love the look of swirling letters, you don’t need it! In fact, I’ll be going over how to FAKE calligraphy in another blog soon.
- Fancy pens or markers – If you’re looking to add a little color, you don’t need fancy markers to do that. Any kind of pens, highlighters, or markers will do fine.
- Hours of free time – If you get fancy with drawings or spreads, that will take a bit of time. But it’s not a requirement. You can try a minimalistic spread.
The Key to Starting Your Bullet Journal
Before we get into all the different types of pages you can and probably want in your bullet journal, you need the basic concept. Like any planner, your bullet journal is a giant to-do list, but what makes your bullet journal different is the key. Your key takes your bullet journal to the next level. These are the basic parts of your key that you absolutely need.
- Task: Like many to do lists, this tends to be an empty square. Use this symbol for anything you need to get done.
- Migrated Task: This is where your to-do list goes to the next level. In general, a migrated task is any task that you need to move to the next day, whether that’s because you started the task or not. This is a very visual way of seeing which tasks you are hung up on or unable to complete throughout a week. Draw a quick arrow in the box to show a migrated task.
- Completed Task: Obviously, once you’ve completed a task, you’ll need a way to know that it’s done. You can use a check mark, fill the square in, or put an ‘x’ in the box once it’s done.
- Cancelled Task: Maybe a task got moved to someone else’s plate at work. Find a way to clearly indicate that a task has been canceled.
- Event: There’s more than just tasks in a day, especially if you use your bullet journal for work. You might have meetings, get-togethers with friends and family, or doctor’s appointments. In general, most people use a circle to denote an event, but you could use a triangle or other shape as long as it’s different than you regular to-dos.
- Rescheduled Event: This is just another way of saying you’ve migrated an event. Most times, you’ll hopefully reschedule an appointment or meeting, so it just makes more sense to say rescheduled.
- Completed Event: Similar to a completed task, you’ll need to know when an event is over. Plus it’s pretty satisfying to fill in something to mark it complete.
- Cancelled Event: Sometimes you just can’t reschedule something. You’ll need a clear way to see that too.
There are also some optional symbols you can add. I don’t personally use any of these, but it just goes to show that you can really customize your bullet journal in any fashion.
- Notes: I actually reserved a box on my weekly spread for notes.
- Deadline: If something’s time-sensitive you might need something to make it stand out.
- Idea: You can also create a brain dump board, where you can archive all those great ideas later.
- Expenses: I also track this separately, but this might be a great symbol to mark any bills that are due.
- Question: Maybe you have something you need to ask someone but don’t want to forget it. Bam, create an icon for it.
- Important: Alternatives to a symbol for this would be to highlight it or box it.
Need more details on all this crazy key nonsense? It’s actually called “Rapid Logging” and I have a post all about it here.
Key Tip: Use An Index Card
When you’re first starting out, remembering all those symbols can get overwhelming at times. A great way to overcome this is to write it all on an index card and tape it into the front of your journal! This was a lifesaver when I first started, but now my key is so ingrained in my head that I hardly use it, ever.
Important Pages (Most) Bullet Journals Have
Like anything bullet journal, any of the below are optional, but if you’re just starting out, these are a great place to start.
1. The Index
The Index is at the very beginning of your bullet journal, near the key. It’s a great way to keep track of all your different spreads and to locate content later on. You add the topics or collections to this list and include page numbers. If you spread out your collections (maybe you have cool illustrations or important lists you want to find later), then this is the perfect way to keep track of them. I would reserve 2-3 pages for your index.
Some journals come with a built-in index and page numbers. Others don’t. If they don’t you’ll have to write in page numbers. This is not something I do anymore, cause I realized I never referenced it anyway (plus I didn’t want to write numbers on every page). Most of my spreads are in chronological order anyway.
2. The Future Log
The future log is where you store any events that are happening outside of the current month. In other words, when Mom tells you that Christmas Dinner is at her house at 4 pm and it’s only July, you’ll have that written down. Make sure you check back here each month to see what new things await you.
Personally, I like to lay out a whole year in this section. I try to leave enough space for all those events that pop up randomly. I’ve seen others who just make it a giant to-do list, with just checkboxes the date and time and the event. That could be a tad disorganized if you ask me, (how do you know if you have more than one thing scheduled for that day. You’d have to read the whole list!). This second approach might be a great idea if you’re looking for something that’s as minimalist as possible though.
3. The Monthly Log
I like to put my collections in between my future log and my monthly log. In particular, if you want to track projects, you might want to skip down to number 5 and come back to this. I also have a great project spread example in my 2019 April spreads. That said, when I was starting out, I just put my collections in the back cause I wasn’t sure what I wanted to track or collect.
Your monthly log should focus on the month as a whole. I like to actually put a calendar month on my spreads, but really you can just write down the number of days in the month and fill it in as you go. I just like the visual of the calendar.
If you want to use your bullet journal to track goals, this is a great place to start. I like to pick a goal each month (or maybe migrate last month’s goal if I wasn’t able to complete it). Then I write out tasks to complete throughout the month that moves toward this goal. Make sure that you’re creating a SMART goal: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound. More on that in a future blog if people are interested.
I also like to track my monthly finances. (I find writing down every time I spend makes it hurt a little more.) If you’re looking to monitor mental health a mood track (like Danelle’s March clover) might also be a great thing to add here. Bullet Journaling gives you a lot of freedom to track what’s important to you.
4. The Weekly/Daily Log
Your weekly or daily log is going to be your most used section. This where you write down all the tasks for a particular day. There are two ways to go about this: You can write out a whole week, like I do, and have all of your days written out ahead of time. Or you can write in each day as you go. You may even want to do both a weekly log and a daily log. That’s up to you.
The best thing about this is that you can track those daily and weekly habits. For instance, I track how many glasses of water I drink because I never drink enough water. You could also track meals, or exercise or weather, all in a weekly or daily format. I’ve tried to show both a weekly tracker like I have and a daily tracker in a minimalist style.
Collections are where bullet journaling takes a truly personal and creative turn. A collection can be a list or tracker of anything. And I mean ANYTHING. For my bujo, I tend to put these in the front, because I’ve been doing this long enough to know what collections I will actually use and what I don’t. If you’re just starting out, you might want to start in the back of your notebook.
Some ideas for collections could be:
- A list of books/movies/tv shows you want to read/watch
- A list of recipes you want to try
- Your vacation packing list
- Sleep/mood/weight/workout/health tracker
- Favorite quotes
- Gratitude lists
- Bucket lists
- Place you want to go
That should at least get you started, but there are so many more ideas out there. Pinterest alwasy has a ton of great ideas and inspiration. While your there, follow the Scribble Method!
More Tips and Tricks
That’s the very basics of setting up your bullet journal. But I wanted to share some last minute tips and tricks to help your new journey:
Take It Slow. Don’t rush it, especially in the beginning. Until you get used to the system, bullet journaling, like anything else, will take time to get used to.
Don’t Compare. This is something I run into too much. Don’t compare your bullet journal to others. Bullet journaling is so customized and so individual that no two journals will ever look exactly alike. So why bother comparing? Remember that this might be their 3rd or 4th bullet journal, and you’re just starting out! It’s perfectly fine to look to others for inspiration though. Check out some of these inspiring spreads from the Scribble Method community.
Set Aside Some Time For Your Bujo. Though it doesn’t have to take enormous amounts of time, especially if you’re doing a very minimalistic spread, you do need to set time aside each day to migrate tasks and set up some spreads like your monthly spread. So try to do that. I use my bullet journal mostly for work, so the last 10-15 minutes of the workday I devote to going through my tasks. I prep a task list for the next day through migrating tasks and listing out new tasks that came out of the day.
Have Fun & Be Creative! Don’t be afraid to try new things in your bullet journal. Get a little creative with your spreads. Try a new tracker. Throw in some stickers or washi tape. Even if you find something that doesn’t work, (or sometimes in my case, looks awful), your bullet journal is just that — YOURS. You don’t have to share any of it with anyone else if you don’t want to.