Bullet journaling is a wonderful way to escape from the incessant digital inputs that have come to dominate our existence today. Everywhere we turn there is a screen — on the bus, on the train, at our desks and in store windows. No matter where we turn, there’s a screen full of information. It can feel overwhelming.
A well-organized bullet journal offers some relief. It can contain everything you need to keep you organized. The best thing about a bullet journal is you need no batteries, you do not have to decide between dark or light mode and aside from the cost of a simple notebook and a pen, it is very cheap to maintain. No annual subscriptions or apps to buy.
So, how to bullet journal? Here’s your step-by-step guide:
Table of Contents
How to Set up a Bullet Journal?
The beauty of creating a bullet journal for yourself is you have complete freedom in how you set it up, organize it and what kind of notebook you use. The internet is full of ideas and suggestions on how to set one up, but the best journals are ones you create yourself, after all, we are all different and we all have different things we want to record.
I exercise a lot and like to keep a record of what exercise I did, how it felt and how hard I pushed myself. Others like to keep a daily list of two or three things they are grateful for or track their thoughts and feelings. What you record is entirely up to you.
Okay, so how do you go about creating your very own bullet journal?
The Items You Need
A sturdy notebook. Ideally, you should get yourself a hardback notebook. Your bullet journal is going to go with you everywhere and you are going to be stuffing it into your bag. It will need to be tough to stand up to everything you will throw at it.
You should also pay particular attention to the size. Remember, your journal should go with you everywhere you go, so it needs to be easily transportable. A5 size is the more common size and A5 sized notebooks will fit into almost any bag comfortably.
Another consideration is the kind of paper you will use. Blank, lined or squared? In the past, I have preferred squared paper because it helps keep the symbols for my daily to-do list in a clean vertical line (more on symbols later.) These days, I use lined paper.
And of course, there is the kind of pen you use, a pen you love writing with. You want to love writing in your journal and that means the pen you use is important. I write with a fountain pen—there’s something wonderfully old-worldly about writing in fountain pen—but you may prefer a gel pen or a simple biro.
For the more creative of you, different color pens may also be a factor. The fantastic thing about a bullet journal is you can use whatever colors you want for the different parts of your journal. Blue or black for your daily to-dos, red for your objectives for the day.
My system is simple. I have a gorgeous green ink for writing in and I use a pencil for checking off tasks and adding additional notes to writing I want to add extra information to.
Okay, now you have your tools. A sturdy notebook and a pen you love writing with. What to put into your bullet journal?
If you are completely new to bullet journaling, then the bullet journal website , created by Ryder Carroll—the creator of the bullet journal—will give you everything you need to get started.
However, the power of a bullet journal is you are in complete control. Unlike an app on your phone or computer, there are no constraints. You get to decide how to layout your journal, what information you keep in there and how you organize your lists and notes.
Below are the basics so you can get started quickly, but always be willing to try out different ways, you want to create a method that works for you and the best way to do that is to experiment with different layouts.
This is a content’s page where you keep a list of the page numbers for all your key information.
Imagine you have an idea for a new business while sitting in a coffee shop and you pull out your journal and write down the idea. In six weeks, it will be time-consuming to find that idea. To overcome this, you create an index at the front of your notebook and you can add the idea you had plus the page number so you can find it quickly when you need it.
Give yourself enough space for your index. At least two pages, four is usually a safe number to make sure you have plenty of space to write everything down.
The Monthly Calendar
At the start of each month, write out the days of the month. You can add the days as well if you wish. For example, down the left-hand side of the page, you would write out:
At the side of each day, you can add key appointments or events so you can easily see what’s happening and what happened.
The Monthly To-Do List
The next page is for the key tasks you want to complete that month. Think of this as a master monthly task list.
The advantage of having this list is it gives you an area where you can plan out your month and decide what objectives you want to accomplish. It also means you have a page that you can refer to regularly to see how you are doing against your plan for the month.
The Daily Page
This is where you can get very creative. Just Google “bullet journal” and go to the images page and you will see some incredibly creative journal entries.
The advice I would give here is to start simple. Do not go mad. Here are the basics of what you will need on your daily page:
- Your to-do list for the day
- Your events for the day
- An area for your notes and ideas
Over and above these essentials, you can add anything you like. In my journal, I keep an area to document the exercise I did for the day, how I felt and whether I pushed myself or not. I also have my two objectives for the day right at the top right so I have a constant reminder of the two things I will complete that day.
You can add things like the weather, a gratitude log, a mood tracker or even how many days before your next holiday.
One thing I like to keep in my journal is a list of everything I did that day. I do this so I can track how productive I have been over time.
It can be easy to forget what work you did daily. Most productivity systems and tools focus on work that needs doing and then once the work has been done, it either disappears (if you use a digital system) or, is never documented.
Officially, this is not a bullet journal item, but for me, I like to write out my annual goals in every journal I write. Obviously, over time, you will fill up your journal and you will need to buy a new one.
I go through around three journals per year and every time I start a new journal, I write out the goals I have for the year. These are kept at the front of the journal.
I also keep space at the back of the journal for future goal ideas and I transfer these to every new journal I start.
Writing out my goals every time I start a new journal allows me to review my goals and keeps them in the front of my mind, so I can stay focused on what I have decided is important to me.
How to Use Your Journal Daily
Okay, now you have your journal set up, the question is how do you use it on a day to day basis?
At the beginning of the day, you write the date at the top of the page and underneath write out the tasks you need to complete that day. Underneath your tasks, write down your appointments and key events for the day. Leave the left-hand page blank for your notes and ideas as you go through the day.
As you go through the day and complete your tasks, you use symbols to indicate what happened:
- A simple “X” would show a task is complete (or you could just draw a line through the task)
- A “>” means the task has been forwarded to another day (if you wish you can add the date you forwarded the task to)
- A “< “ would indicate you have decided to postpone the task until next month
Tasks you did not complete that day, can be moved forward to the next day.
That’s all you need to do. However, how you check off your tasks, what information you collect and what notes you write is entirely up to you. This is the power of the bullet journal. It is your journal and you can design it and record the information you want.
Slavishly following someone else’s system will not work for you in the long-term. You want to be thinking about what you want to record and keep. Of course, that will change over time but you must make this journal yours.
The Weekly and Monthly Master Task List
Every week, you should review your master task lists to see what tasks you can complete that week. Some people like to have a weekly master task list at the start of each week, and this can be a great idea if you have a lot of tasks to complete each week.
Again, that is really up to you. The important thing is you review these lists frequently and add the tasks into your daily lists as and when you can.
The Bottom Line
Creating a bullet journal is easy and there are a lot of resources online that will give you ideas about what you want to record and how to design your journal.
A bullet journal is a wonderful tool to keep you organized and focused on what is important to you in a way you want to record it. It gives you a rest from screens. When set up correctly, your journal will give you everything you need to stay organized and become more productive. It can and does help you to become more self-aware and mindful about who you are and who you want to be.
The great thing about a bullet journal is you get the freedom to create your method and design. You get to choose the kind of notebook and pen you use and you will over time build an incredible history of your life.
More About Journaling
- Writing Journal for a Better and More Productive Self (The How-To Guide)
- How to Use a 5 Minute Journal to Invest in Your Happiness
- How a Gratitude Journal and Positive Affirmations Can Change Your Life
- 15 Inspiring Journal Ideas to Help You Sharpen Your Brain
Featured photo credit: Devin Edwards via unsplash.com