Bullet journaling for the first time is intimidating. You’re not alone – I can relate. I browsed Instagram for hours on end, taking in all of the gorgeous and intricate journals. Soon enough, I found myself overwhelmed. Because of this, I didn’t take action for months.
While chasing after the perfect bullet journal aesthetic, I forgot the real reason behind the bullet journaling system – to “help track the past, organize the present, and plan for your future.” Overall, bullet journaling is supposed to be a functional system that makes your life easier. Most importantly, it should give you focus and clarity.
I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it: Your bullet journal does not need to be perfect. It doesn’t have to look a certain way. The bullet journal system will work regardless of its appearance.
In this blog post, I want to show you how to start a bullet journal in UNDER an hour. The system in this blog post is a minimalistic system that is perfect for beginners.
What do you need?
All you need is a notebook and a pencil to follow along with this tutorial. If you want to learn more about other tools suitable for beginners, you can read my blog post on the best bullet journal supplies for beginners.
I will be using a composition notebook, a pencil, and a pen. Using inexpensive and readily available supplies takes off the pressure of creating a perfect journal.
When Should I Start?
Now. No, seriously, start today.
You can start your bullet journal whenever you want. You don’t wait until the New Year to start. Because of the bullet journal’s flexibility, you can even start in the middle of the month.
Starting a bullet journal is easier than you think. If you don’t believe me, then let me show you below.
Components to a Bullet Journal
This is the first page of your bullet journal. The index will guide you so that you know where each section is located.
In the index, list the section name and the page it resides on. I like to put the section name of the left and the page number on the right; You can see how I did it in the photo above.
At first, there won’t be much to put on. However, you can update your index as you continue to journal.
A key is a page or section that lists all the symbols used, alongside their meaning. If you ever forget what a symbol means, you can always go back to your key.
Here are the commonly used symbols used in the bullet journal method. You can use whatever symbols you wish:
- Bullet – Task you have to do
- Open Bullet – Events
- > – Migrated
- X – Task complete
These are placed to help certain tasks stand out and easier to spot. Signifiers are handy when you need to prioritize tasks. Here are two common signifiers you can include in your key:
In your Key, list every symbol you use along with what each stands for. You can see how I formatted mine in the photo above.
The future log should go after the index. In the future log, record the tasks you know about. If you have to attend a wedding in June, list it in your future log. This will give you an idea of what your upcoming months look like.
To set up your future log, dedicate a spread or two for the months you want to include. If you want to fit all 12 months onto one spread, each page of the spread will need to have six evenly divided sections. I like to do three months on a spread for more space.
- Use your ruler to divide your page into 3 even parts. If you have lined or gridded paper, divide the space you’re using by 3.
- Section these spaces out. I drew a line to divide the months.
- Label each space with the corresponding month.
- You should have 2 spreads or 4 pages filled out for your monthly log. Each page should have 3 months on it.
I used a composition notebook that had 25 lines. To fit three months onto each page, I used 24 lines and divided that by 3. That gave me 8 lines for each month.
The monthly logs that you see on Instagram are rather complex. I like to keep mine super simple and straight-forward. Your monthly log will give you an overview of your month – your tasks, events, and other important details.
On the left page of the spread, I wrote all the days of the months in a list format. You can write it in a single column or split it into two. If I know I have something important during that month, I will note it here.
On the right of the spread, I labeled the page as “task.” On the task page, I listed out all the important tasks I want to get done in the month of February.
Another component of the monthly log is the Monthly tasks page. On a different (or the same) page, label the page as tasks. This is where you’ll write the tasks you need to complete for that month.
If you want to fit more onto a page, you can squeeze both the monthly log and the monthly task page onto one page as I did above.
Instructions for two pages:
- Dedicate one or two pages to your monthly log or interview
- If you’re using two pages, label the left page with the month’s name in addition to the monthly log.
- List every day of the month on this page. If you don’t have enough space for one column, you can divide it into two.
- On the right page of the spread, label the page as “Tasks”. This is where your monthly tasks go. You can list the tasks as you think of them.
Instructions for one page:
- List all the days on one page. Make two or three columns to give you space.
- Underneath the list of days, create a subsection for tasks. Your task will go there
- Write in columns if you want to fit more on the page.
This is the section you’ll be using every day.
To be honest, I just format my dailies as I go. I prefer the flexibility and freedom of adding additional spreads and collections as I journal. The idea of having to set up and structure my entire journal beforehand delayed me in setting up my bullet journal for the longest time.
- On an empty spread, list the date as a header. You can do it as I have done above or put it on its own separate line.
- List your tasks, events, and notes throughout your day.
- Repeat on a new section for the next days. You can skip a line or draw a line to divide the days.
Each section can be as large or small as you need it to be. I love this since I don’t feel constrained for space.
A collection is a group of related ideas, concepts, and tasks. To be clear, every entry (including your future, monthly, and daily logs) is a collection.
Collections can take any form. Some examples are a habit tracker, goals, a grocery list, brainstorming, brain-dumps, and to-do lists. Rather than having a dozen scattered notes, collections are the perfect solution to keeping notes in one designated place.
Collections can go anywhere in your journal. They are most commonly seen after the future log, as it’s easier to locate. You can also create a collection for each month, such as monthly habit trackers, monthly books to read, and more.
Collections are optional and aren’t necessary, but if you want to incorporate some into your journal, here are some simple and easy ideas below.
Easy Collection Ideas
Books to Read
Songs I like
As you can tell, I keep all of these super simple. These pages aren’t elaborate at all — they are literally just a running list of things related to the topic of the collection. The faster you can set up these pages, the faster you can implement this helpful system into your life.
Order of your Bullet Journal
If you are unsure of how to order your sections, here is my suggestion:
- Future Log
- Collections (Goals, travel log, books, music, shows, etc)
- Monthly log spread
- Monthly collections (habit tracker, finances, etc)
- Daily log
- Repeat starting from the Monthly log!
You can adjust this to a way it fits your journaling style. I wanted to list this out because this was one of the things that I was the most confused about when starting. As mentioned before, the collections are optional. However, I like putting them at the start of my bullet journal as an overall overview. I also like the monthly collections, as I can keep seeing the progress of my habits in the month.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
What if I don’t have a Moleskine or Leuchtturm notebook?
You don’t need one. They are popular amongst the community, but any notebook will work. Don’t let that deter you from starting — you can still make a beautiful bullet journal from cheaper materials.
What Size notebook should I get?
This all depends on your personal preferences. I prefer medium-sized notebooks, as they are portable and give ample space. However, if you have larger handwriting and need a lot of writing space, I recommend the A4 planners.
I talk more about planner sizes and what planners to get here in this blog post.
I already messed up…What should I do?
Because the bullet journaling system is so flexible and forgiving, messing up is OKAY. You should never be afraid to mess up. If you are worried about it, you can use some white-out and proceed with your bullet journaling 🙂
Use Pencil first!
There’s no way around it – you are going to make mistakes. We all do no matter where we are in your journaling journey.
To make this easier on yourself, I recommend you use a pencil when you plan and structure out your journal. That way, if you mess up, you can just erase and continue where you left off.
Be Forgiving in the Process
You’re going to make mistakes. I made and still make mistakes to this day. The reason I like to keep my journals so minimalistic and flexible is so I don’t feel any additional pressure to be perfect. We have so much pressure to perform every day, but journaling shouldn’t be one of them. Rather, I prefer it if this could be a therapeutic and positive experience in your day.
In my experience, perfectionism is one of the biggest reasons why people quit. The pressure steers people from engaging with bullet journals. It even makes the experience less enjoyable. Just do it and find a system that works for you! There is no perfect way of journaling.
Schedule a time in the morning or night to tend to your bullet journal
Dedicate a small frame of time to attend to your bullet journal. I prefer the mornings since I can get an overview of my day. Once you get into bullet journaling, it’ll soon become a habit.
It’s ok if there are times you don’t get to your bullet journal
We’re human. It’s fine if you haven’t touched your bullet journal in days, weeks, months, or more. The bullet journal system is flexible and forgiving. It allows you to jump back in and start from where you left off.
If you’re still waiting for inspiration or the “perfect moment” to start your bullet journal, I want to push you to start it today. Inspiration comes from taking action. The more you do something, the better you’ll get.
Although I prefer simple spreads, you might find yourself making more creative spreads and devising your own unique systems along the way.
To give you a recap, here are the steps you should take:
- Get yourself a notebook
- Set up your index
- Create any collections you wish
- Prepare your monthly log for the corresponding month
- Create a section for the daily log
- Update your monthly and daily log as you go, along with your collections.
The sooner you start your journal, the sooner you’ll see amazing results. Personally, bullet journaling has helped me in so many unimaginable ways. I get way more done and am more organized. It has helped me see the light in my darkest moments.
I hope you find this post helpful! Please share in the comments about why you bullet journal, or if you haven’t started, why do you want to bullet journal?
This Post Has 5 Comments
Thanks, this is great advice. I have been using a bullet journal for several years, and it didn’t take me long to realize it needed to be super portable and low maintenance (ie no markers or fancy calligraphy) if I was actually going to use it. I use a small 5×8 poly composition book. I use file tabs to label each month, rather than numbering each page or creating an index. Each notebook holds about 4 months. Setup takes about 10-15 minutes. I start with my contact info on page 1, so it can be returned if I lose it. The first month calendar goes across pages 2-3. Then I leave a blank page for the week’s shopping list. After that, a weekly to-do page, a weekly meal plan, and two pages for daily to-dos (I write these out each night before). It’s been great. So glad to see a post promoting this style of simple, practical bullet journaling!
Thank you! 🙂 I remember spending hours on creating a fancy bullet journaling set-up only to end up not using it. Simplicity truly is the way to go!
Hi! Thank you! This article really helped me make my own bullet journal without fancy pens. It’s very simple and minimalistic. I would like to ask a doubt. If I want to make a habit tracker how should the layout be so that I would be able to complete it within 10 minutes or so? It is pretty frustrating to draw a calendar for each one of the habits.
Hi Aamena! Thank you for the kind words 🙂 For ease, you can perhaps do a weekly habit tracker as opposed to a monthly one. It isn’t as time-intensive and gets the job done. If you like the monthly layout, I recommend drawing it out once, scanning it, and printing it each month! I hope that helps and isn’t too confusing 🙂
Thank you for this blog post! In all of my searching on the Internet for all things bullet journal this is by far the best post I have come across!