I needed a practical way to keep my life organized and came across the bullet journal system. Wanting to see if it would work out for me, I researched the web to figure out what is a bullet journal exactly, what’s so popular about it, and if it was worth doing. As a result, I’ve come up with this comprehensive bullet journal for beginners guide, where we’re going to cover a whole lot of stuff to give you a better grasp of bullet journal basics.
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In this post, we'll answer the following questions:
- What is a bullet journal?
- What basic bullet journal terminology should you know?
- How does the bullet journal system work?
- What are top recommended bullet journal supplies? (with a breakdown for different budgets)
- Are there any handy tips and advice for bullet journal beginners?
- How about any tips for more advanced bullet journaling?
- What are some collection ideas to fill your bullet journal?
- What additional bullet journal resources are worth checking out? (including the bullet journal app)
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1. What is a bullet journal?
It’s a method to organize your life in a notebook, customized to your likings and lifestyle. It’s a way to take notes, make lists, do brain dumps, track things, create schedules, and much more while also keeping things creative and inspiring.
For the more technical history, the concept of bullet journaling is the creative child of founder Ryder Carroll, who wanted to come up with an organization system that could track the past, organize the present, and plan for the future.
2. Bullet journal basic terminology to know
Bullet journal (or bujo for short)
A journaling and note-taking method that uses...bullet points. The actual notebook that serves as your note-taking journal is also called the bullet journal.
The pages of your notebook.
You can have a single spread (via Pin source)...
...double spread (via Pin source)...
...or even multi-page spread (via Pin source).
Way to organize things based on a common theme. Can be a list, log, doodle. From creating a holiday shopping list to logging something you're grateful for everyday in a month. (via Pin source)
Symbols to mark tasks in your list for easy categorization at a glance. You can use them to mark type of entry, such as an event vs task, or signify its importance/priority of a task. (via Pin source)
Way for you to track things.
Common categories of trackers include habit trackers, such as how often you do something a day (via Pin source)...
...goal trackers to help you track progress towards a goal (via Pin source)...
...and mood trackers, to see how you are faring mentally and emotionally from day to day. (via Pin source)
The act of transferring items from one collection to another, such as pending tasks from one month onto the following month.
3. How does the bullet journal system work?
For a complete newbie, it can be a bit confusing to understand all the parts to this especially with all the pretty layouts posted on Instagram and Pinterest, but once you start taking this up, you’ll get used to the bullet journal system, and hopefully it will be as effective for you as it has been for hundreds of thousands of users around the world. Here’s a short 4-minute clip with a quick overview of the system from the official bullet journal team (via Bullet Journal)
In case you prefer text to video, here is the bare bones foundation of the bullet journal:
1. Create an index.
Open your notebook to the first two-page spread and make this your index, which is essentially the table of contents of your journal. (via Pin source)
2. Create a future log
Open to the next blank spread and make that your future log. Here is where you would list items that are coming up throughout the year. Add page numbers at the bottom and log in your index.
Here is a horizontal format. (via Pin source)
Here is a vertical format. (via Pin source)
3. Create a monthly log.
Following that is a section for a monthly log for you to list tasks, events, and things that need to be taken care of in that month.
Since these items are recorded in a list form, you can use signifiers, or symbols, to help you categorize them at a glance, or leave out if you don't need them.
Don’t forget to paginate and log in your index.
Here's a simple layout with the month at top and numbered dates running vertically. (via Pin source)
4. Create a daily log.
Create a daily log to track what you need to complete each day. Again, up to you if you want to use the signifiers to help you with your logging, and put in your index. (via Pin source)
5. When a new period starts, migrate your list.
When a new month approaches, take a look at what is still pending from the current/previous month and decide whether or not it should be transferred over to the new month. Ryder intentionally made this a tedious task because the act of writing things down again does two things: 1) commits it to memory better and 2) makes you assess whether or not something is important enough to log again, which essentially makes you more productive because you weed out the unnecessary.
Again, mark page numbers and log in your index.
This post covers migration on a larger scale (think when you have a new notebook), but understanding the thought process can help you for a smaller scale transfer from month to month. Check out this post on the simple steps how to do this. (via Kalyn Brooke)
6. Continue as you please.
You can stick with this, or add other collections, lists, trackers, etc. to your bullet journal.
This is the general gist of what this system is used for. Of course, you have the liberty to do what you will and make it your own. Most importantly, you want this to function in a way that works for YOU.
4. Recommended bullet journal supplies
You really only need a notebook and pen to make this work, but if you’re looking for top picks, check out this post on recommended bullet journal supplies that fit any budget. From the best journals for bullet journaling to budget-friendly and color pen sets, you'll find great details on the best bullet journal buys. There's also breakdowns for bullet journal starter kits for under $5, under $25, and if you feel like splurging a little, a set for an under $100 budget. (via Mommy Over Work)
5. Handy tips and advice for bullet journal beginners
If you’re overwhelmed by all this info, don’t worry, here are some tried and true tips that will help you get a handle on the system and on your way to becoming a bullet journal pro:
1. Start off small.
Yes there are tons of ideas for collections and lists you can include in your bullet journal, but really, stick to the basics and get a feel for it before you try to expand.
2. Start off simple.
Yes, it’s easy to get carried away by how pretty that everyone else seemingly makes their bullet journals, but you don’t need to start off that way. You want a system that works for you, so if you begin to dread it or find that embellishing it with all the pretty colors and doodles takes too much time and therefore makes you less productive, you should rethink the purpose of your journal. Know that you don’t have to do it that way even if Instagram and Pinterest are telling you otherwise!
Simple doesn't mean boring. Look at how gorgeous this spread is, and totally doable, right? (via Pin source)
3. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes.
As much as you want it to be perfect, chances are, it’s not going to be because, well, we’re all human. For more elaborate illustrations, you can sketch in pencil first before using pen. And don’t be afraid to use that white out if needed. Even the most popular bullet journalists with 200,000+ followers will admit that they make mistakes, and embrace it too. Like so. (via Boho Berry)
4. Remember, you don’t have to follow everything to a T.
Yes, there’s official video on the basics of the bullet journal system, but even so, people have found their own style with bullet journaling. If you find the daily log is not your thing, scratch it and go with weekly spreads instead. That’s the beauty of bullet journaling; it’s totally about YOU and even Ryder would approve of it. In fact, he features other bullet journalists in the official website’s Show and Tell section that delves into the others’ bullet journal processes. It'll really open your eyes to how truly flexible this system is.
Or, if you do want to follow what other people have done, no shame in that either! I mean, that's why I have all these pretty pictures sprinkled throughout this guide...
5. Use printables
Nothing wrong with using printables. In fact, you should use them because they give you a basic layout, which you don't have to spend time creating yourself, but which leaves you the time and energy to show your personality through other touches and embellishments. Here's a list of 17 unique printables for bullet journalists to use. And they're all free! (via Mommy Over Work)
6. Most importantly, start!
I know for me, the hardest part of getting myself into something is starting it. Don't get caught up in analysis paralysis and want to figure out everything to the point you never actually dive in. Really, the bullet journal is so flexible that anyone can make it work!
6. Tips and advice for more advanced bullet journalists
After you establish a foundation, which is oh-so-important, and get a feel for what system works for you, here are some next steps you can take. Again, solidify your foundation first, then branch out and try these different things. If you do it too early, you risk getting overwhelmed and quitting the system, and that's not what we want!
2. Participate in challenges.
Stretch the limits of your creativity and boundaries of your bullet journal with prompts that not only exercise your writing muscles and creativity, but also ask you to dig deep, reflect, and learn more about yourself. It’s easy to find information and jump in on a challenge. Some Instagram hashtags include #BulletJournalChallenge #PlanWithMeChallenge
3. Try the bullet journal app.
It's hard to not integrate with technology in this day and age, so hop on the bullet journal app.
Features of the bullet journal app include:
- organizing and searching through your collections
- daily reflection tracker to help you figure out the why behind what you do
- most updated bullet journal guide at your fingertips, to help you whether you are just starting out or need a refresher
- articles, how-tos and updates on bullet journaling from the bujo community
7. 101+ ideas for your bullet journal
After you get the schedule part down, feel free to add as many or few of these additional collections to your journal. Some are useful and others meant as an outlet for you to express yourself. There's a free bullet journal printable pdf download so you can keep the list with you for inspiration. You can also find examples of the various collection types curated from across the web to get your creative juices flowing. (via Mommy Over Work)
8. Additional bullet journal resources
Of course I have to mention the very man who created all this. The official bullet journal website has lots of useful information on how to make the most of your bullet journal from Ryder himself, as well as many others in the bujo community that he features on the site.
You should also check out the Instagram accounts of these top bullet journalists (who are pretty well known in the bullet journal community) and ogle at all their pretty posts:
This comprehensive guide covers pretty much everything you need to know to start a bullet journal for beginners. With these bullet journal basics, you should know what the heck a bullet journal is and be ready to start your bullet journal journey. Join the hundreds of thousands of fans who organize their life by this flexible system.
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