How to Start a Bullet Journal

Updated on February 22, 2018
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Claire Miller juggles her studies, part-time work, and occasional freelance work with the help of journalling, exercise and rat cuddles.

Planners Just Don't Cut It For Me

I've tried a number of different planners throughout high school, college, and university, and none of them have met all of my needs. The problem with these planners is how generic they are. Sure, the available covers range from plain to cute to quirky. They can be adorned patterns or cartoons or inspirational quotes. But otherwise they are so generic. They are made to meet some of everyone's basic needs. Therefore they never met my expectations.

So when I found out about bullet journals just over a year ago, I had to try it out. I can happily say that it's the best thing I ever did, and it has helped to increase my productivity and improve my overall mood considerably.

I now suggest bullet journals to anyone who wants to get more done in life and take notice of their performance. However, some of you may be wondering:

  1. What is a bullet journal?
  2. Is a bullet journal right for me?
  3. How do I even get started with a bullet journal?

Fear not, my wonderful fellow humans, for I will be covering these questions in this post. I will also be showing you my first bullet journal and how I've changed things to suit my needs.

This post contains affiliate links. This means that I may receive a small commission (at no cost to you) if you purchase something through the links provided.

Bullet journalling has changed my life for the better.
Bullet journalling has changed my life for the better.

1. What is a bullet journal?

A bullet journal is a blank journal that you customise to suit all of your needs and aspirations. This is usually done using a bullet point system, hence the name.

I personally love my bullet journal because I have just one place to write my to do lists, places I need to be, thoughts and ideas, dreams, memories, habits to track, and achievements. It doesn't stress me out because I'm not juggling a million different pieces of stationery. It's just one book that fits everything in.

2. Is a bullet journal right for me?

Bullet journals are ideal for people who:

  • like to write lists;
  • have little to-do lists lying around everywhere;
  • are interesting in setting goals and tracking habits;
  • like stationery, journalling, scrapbooking, etc;
  • really want to be more organised;
  • aspire to improve themselves but don't know how to stick at it;
  • are juggling multiple planners for different things.

Do any of these sound like you?

Of course, even if you don't fit the bill here, it doesn't mean that a bullet journal isn't right for you.

Bullet journals can play a number of different roles, as well as being a planner. You can track statistics for your blog, school grades, habits, etc. You can keep a note of memories, funny things that your children have said, projects that you want to do or are in the process of doing. The list goes on.

A bullet journal can be useful for ANYONE.

3. How do I even get started?

Start by buying a journal.

If you've had a look online before coming here, you'll know that a lot of people go on about the Leuchtturm dotted page journal. It is a great journal, with 249 numbered pages and an index page at the front so you fill in which pages contain what. However, that would be many pages wasted if I decided I didn't like it, and at £12.99 each, it also seemed a lot of money wasted. I also wasn't sure about having dotted pages - surely I would have to draw more grids and tables? I wanted my bullet journal to be as low-maintenance as possible so I'd be more likely to use it.

In the end, I went for a Herlitz square-grid journal. Sure, with 96 pages at £6.99 it's less value for money, but it was less of a loss if I decided bullet journalling wasn't for me. Plus the squared paper gave me more guidance; it was my own preference at the time while I was starting out. Now that I know I'm going to continue with bullet journalling, I have invested in a Leuchtturm journal, and I do admittedly prefer the dotted pages. But it's entirely up to you what you go for.

Leuchtturm Dotted Page Journal

Leuchtturm1917 Hardcover Medium Dotted Journal [Orange]
Leuchtturm1917 Hardcover Medium Dotted Journal [Orange]

Most people's go-to for bullet journalling. It is £12.99, but there are 249 numbered pages as well as an index at the beginning and a pocket in the back cover to hold extra pieces of paper. I have one of these now, in orange, and I love it.


So you have your journal. Now what?

I was so inspired to start my first bullet journal...until I actually tried to start it. Suddenly, I was overwhelmed with how to set it up, and I ended up copying a lot of layouts already on YouTube. I didn't have a full idea of what would suit me.

But that's fine. Your first bullet journal especially is going to be a lot of trial and error; don't worry about it being perfect. You might decide later that the spreads that you've done don't fit well with your needs. I'm not saying you shouldn't make your pages look pretty if that's what you want. Just don't invest hours and hours into them, and accept that you're going to make mistakes.

Most people start their bullet journals off with an Index page or table of contents. This allows you to quickly turn to the collections that you are maintaining. Personally, I don't use an index page. Instead, I use washi tape as colour-coded tabs. This is just my preference, maybe because my bullet journal is more minimalistic than a lot of others I've seen on YouTube. However, if you choose to use loads of different collections, page numbers, and an index might be more suitable for you.

What do you want your bullet journal to do?

I'd recommend brainstorming what you want to include and track in your bullet journal. It might also be a good idea to watch this video to have a look at the bare minimum that you should look at doing to prep your bullet journal. This gives you the gist of how the bullet journal system works so you can get an idea of what you should be aiming. That way, you can plan collections around it to fit with the core content.

Check out Chocolate Musings' blog post  about this amazing spread
Check out Chocolate Musings' blog post about this amazing spread | Source

Collection Page Ideas

The only limit to what your bullet journal can do for you is your imagination. There are loads of different collections you can do, depending on what you want to turn your attention to.

I don't use all of these collections, but I know a lot of people on the Internet swear by them. It's entirely up to you what collections you decide to do, and how you do them, so don't feel pressured to do them all!

1. Idea Log

I have a brain dump where I can just chuck a load of random thoughts at the page without having to worry about it making any sense. However, you could do an idea log like Tricia has suggested on her blog, Chocolate Musings. This is a fantastic way to filter out the really good ideas from your brain dump and put them somewhere safe from all the other crap your mind pooped out.

"I wanted a collective place to store these great ideas so I could expand or explore it further when I had more time or could find a connection between other thoughts."

- Tricia, Chocolate Musings

Heidi Currie was the one who inspired me to draw up my own book collection spread
Heidi Currie was the one who inspired me to draw up my own book collection spread | Source

2. Books to Read/Books Read Collection

If you like to read or want to read more, you might want to start a collection relating to that. I have a page to list books that I want to read, and then a page to list the books that I have read this year.

Your Achievement Log doesn't have to be as extensive as this. Mine is simply a list.
Your Achievement Log doesn't have to be as extensive as this. Mine is simply a list. | Source

3. Achievement Log

I now swear by an achievement log in my journal. Often I look back at my week and wonder what I've actually managed to do with my time; it helps me to be able to refer back to an achievement log. It helps boost my mood loads when I can see that I have done many different things.

Achievements don't have to be huge to be worthy of going into the achievement log. It can be as simple as getting up in the morning, taking a shower if you're having a rubbish day, or running a marathon. Something I'm still working on is remembering that even the smallest of victories can add up to a greater and better you.

Credit, again, to Tricia at Chocolate Musings!
Credit, again, to Tricia at Chocolate Musings! | Source

4. Habit Tracker

This is quite a popular collection spread with bullet journalists and for good reason. It can help you improve in areas you may be struggling and become a better all-rounded version of yourself. You'd be surprised how much pride and joy you can get out of colouring in the day's "Wash Dishes" square!

Tricia at Chocolate Musings has a really helpful guide to setting up your own habit tracker.

I highly recommend you check out Boho Berry's blog and YouTube channel for more bullet journal inspiration.
I highly recommend you check out Boho Berry's blog and YouTube channel for more bullet journal inspiration. | Source

5. Level 10 Life Spread

Inspired by the book, The Miracle Morning, this spread allows you to assess how satisfied you are with ten areas of your life. This gives you a glimpse at your overall life satisfaction and also allows you to figure out what goals you can set to improve your life.

Kara at Boho Berry (arguably the Queen of the bullet journal) has a video on how to set it up.

My Bullet Journal Spread

In this video, I awkwardly flip through my first two bullet journals and share how my vision for my bullet journal changed and adapted. You can see that my bullet journal is a little more advanced than the simple layout of the bare-minimum bullet journal, but I don't spend hours on it either. I hope this shows you that you don't need your bullet journal to be perfect and stunning like some on the Internet.

I hope you consider using a bullet journal!

I hope this post helps you decide whether a bullet journal is right for you and know how to get started. For more incredible bullet journal spread ideas, definitely check out Boho Berry and Chocolate Musings. They both have an abundance of beautiful designs that might just inspire you.

Also, share your own bullet journal ideas or let me know what you think about bullet journalling in the comments section below.

And in the meantime, keep smiling!

© 2018 Claire Miller


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    • profile image

      Tricia Murdock 2 weeks ago from Atlanta, GA

      Oh, glad I found you! Thought you had disappeared off the map!

    • thedinasoaur profile image

      Dina 2 weeks ago from California

      Wow. Claire, your article is so, so good! I am new to this website, and I am learning the ropes of formatting. I love how you incorporated YouTube and pictures. It's like a page straight out of your bullet journal right there. Love it! I guess I found who I should follow around here. Pleased to meet you. I'm Dina, and I, too, love bullet journals!

    • cmiller0161 profile image

      Claire Miller 3 weeks ago

      Robie, I highly recommend it! If you need any help with it, let me know!

    • Robie Benve profile image

      Robie Benve 3 weeks ago from Ohio

      What a neat and inspiring idea! I never thought of starting a bullet journal before, I actually never heard of it, Now you got me thinking.... thank you! I love the images too!