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How to Bullet Journal (A Beginner's Guide)

Wanton doodler, super scribbler, and to-do list addict, Alex Jackson is dotty about bullet journals.

Use your journal for motivation, inspiration, and so much more.

Use your journal for motivation, inspiration, and so much more.

What Is a Bullet Journal? What's It For?

When New York-based designer Ryder Carroll first introduced the bullet journal online in 2013, he probably didn’t expect it to be on the receiving end of quite so much attention. After all, this was just a little system he developed to help him cope with ADHD symptoms. What the world saw and continues to see, though, is quite different.

In simple terms, a bullet journal is little more than a regular notebook, albeit with a dot grid design on its pages. It’s how people use them that makes them oh-so-special. Is it a diary, a planner, a tracker system, or a snazzy to-do list? In reality, the "BuJo" is all of those things—and more besides.

In this article, we'll look at:

  • the basic supplies you'll need to get started
  • my recommendation for the best dot grid notebook to buy
  • step-by-step instructions for making your first journal
  • tips for choosing the right spreads for you
  • ways you can add creativity and personal touches

But before we delve a little deeper, let’s take a look at the quick introduction below.

What Supplies Do You Need?

All you need to start is:

  • a dot grid notebook
  • a pen
  • highlighters
  • fine liners
  • a stencil ruler

What's the Best Notebook for Bullet Journaling?

The Leuchtturm1917 is perfect for plunging into this colorful new world. This official bullet journal is the preferred choice by bloggers, and it comes in colors like black, powder pink, and Nordic blue. There's a couple of size options too, along with features like ink-proof paper and a nice flat opening. Handily, it also already has the page numbers added, along with a ready-made index page (so you can get straight to the good stuff).

The creative possibilities are endless!

The creative possibilities are endless!

How to Start a Bullet Journal

Looking at how to begin a bullet journal is probably the easiest way to understand what they are for. Bullet journals share a set of common features, if not design, and that’s where we’ll get started. Let’s dive in.

Step 1: Make an Index Page

The first blank spread of a new bullet journal becomes the index page. It might seem silly writing an index page for an empty notebook, but rest assured that it won’t stay empty for long. To start, write “Index” at the top of the two-page spread and you’re all done. So far, so good?

Step 2: Create a Future Log

Next up is the future log. This highlights important upcoming events like birthdays and vacations. Positioned after the index, the future log offers a quick glance at the months ahead. Ryder Carroll divides his log into six months, but you might do more if you prefer to be able to see your year at a glance. Page numbers are added to the future log and these numbers are then added to the index.

Step 3: Add Monthly or Weekly Spreads

  • Monthlies: Monthly spreads are spreads dedicated to an individual month. Ryder Carroll keeps things simple with a black pen and a list of dates and tasks. Budding journalers since have done anything but. It’s time to get creative! The video below showcases some lovely ideas, but don’t be afraid to put your own stamp on things. As with the future log, page numbers are added both to the spread itself as well as to the index.
  • Weeklies: A weekly spread can be used in place of a monthly spread if that’s a better fit. This is a great option if you’re particularly busy—or just really love to doodle. It's often a matter of trial and error to see which style suits you best. Here are some ideas for weeklies that might help you decide.

Step 4: Add Daily Logs

Next on the list of common bullet journal elements is the daily log. As the name suggests, these logs drill down into the detail of a single day. Again, Ryder keeps things simple and, again, you don't have to. Check out the video below for some daily log ideas. As before, the relevant page numbers are popped straight into the index.

Step 5: Personalize With Collections and Trackers

You should now have a good understanding of what bullet journals are and what they are for. It doesn't end there though. Next for your index pages are your collections and trackers. These are a way to truly personalize your bullet journal and record the things that matter to you most. Here are some ideas to get you started, but remember: This is all about you.

  • Trackers: Trackers often prove the most popular of bullet journal features. You could have a fitness or weight loss goal you'd like to achieve. Or it could be that you're saving for a special trip and want to be sure your nest egg is growing at the appropriate pace. Then comes the chance to boost your mental health by keeping a closer eye on your mood or sleep patterns. Bullet journal trackers make all this possible and help you to be more organized as a result. It's a double whammy on the win front.
Trackers could help you notice the shifts and fluctuations in your mood over time.

Trackers could help you notice the shifts and fluctuations in your mood over time.

  • Collections: Like trackers, there are all kinds of ways to use bullet journal collections. You might keep a collection of favorite recipes or a list of books you'd like to read in the next year. Or how about a list of the funny things your kids say or a collection of all the things you're grateful for? As a writer, I keep a collection of topic ideas in my own journal. Not to mention a list of Netflix shows I plan to watch when a spot of chill is on the agenda.

You should be about ready to get started—let's hope you're feeling inspired now. Happy journaling!

© 2020 Alex Jackson