The Ultimate Guide to Bullet Journaling for Beginners

How To Use Customise Planner

So you’ve seen these bullet journals around and want to start organising the details of your life into one space. If you’re looking for a logging system to encourage you to be more productive, here’s all you need to know about bullet journaling!

Whenever you have something important to note down, you probably pen it on a post-it note or scribble onto whatever paper surface is nearest to you. Ironically enough, in an effort to retain the information and keep your thoughts organised, having scraps of paper all over the place is probably the last thing you would imagine ending up with. So, what’s one way for you to keep all your notes in one place? While a notebook will do the trick, why not implement a system that also helps you keep track of dates and events.

What is a bullet journal?

Image from @AmandaRachLee‘s

You might have heard of the term “bullet journaling” or at least seen pictures of it going around the internet. Bullet journals have gained popularity thanks to study blogs as they share their colourful and detailed themes for the month and week. But that’s not what bullet journaling is all about. 

The bullet journal system was designed for people to clearly see their tasks and activities at a glance. Symbols and icons are used to signify different tasks and their priority levels. The journal is used as a tool to help organise all the details and information in your life. 

Who started the bullet journal system

The bullet journal system was devised by Ryder Carroll. In his Youtube video introducing the bullet journal he said it was to help “ track the past, organise the present and plan for the future”. 

Why you should bullet journal 

Space saving

The bullet journal could be your all-in-one. As a planner and a diary, you can keep track of all sorts of information. For bullet journals, its key point would be how it can be customised to be as simple or as fancy as you’d like. There are agendas that already have the dates and weeks printed on the pages. While these books may help you save time, it might not be the best way to optimise the space given on the pages.

Side note: You should get these pre-printed agendas if you’re able to commit to them. Otherwise it could be 5, 6, 11 or 28 years before the calendar repeats itself.

On some days where you don’t have much to note down or days where your lists seem to be endless, the designated space for your list of tasks never seems to be the right size. With the bullet journal, you can maximise the space you have to ensure that you don’t have blank spots in your book. Or maybe if you miss a few days in your journal, you wouldn’t have to feel disappointed about wasting the page.  

Promotes productivity

When you do update your journal daily, you’re able to keep track of your progress on tasks and prioritise what should be worked on first. At the same time, you can strike out tasks that aren’t worth your time anymore.

This bullet journal system should make it easier to see your prioritised tasks, events and everything in between. With all this information organised, you’ll be able to focus on tasks that will make you productive instead of busy.

Freedom to customise

When you purchase a planner or agenda book, it’ll most likely be centred on the same theme throughout the book. If you’re keen on making your book more personalised, you can give bullet journaling a go. You can choose to have the same theme throughout the year or even switch up themes and colours every month.

As you fill in the dates yourself, this also means that you can start bullet journaling any time of the year!

Features

The bullet journal has some features that make it easy for you to get an overview of everything. With the freedom of putting ANYTHING into your journal, it can get overwhelming. So here are some of the guidelines and common features most include in their journals.

Key, also called the legend. 

An example of the keys used in bullet journalling.

These are the little symbols (box, circle, dot, star, etc…) that are used to mark each task or event. For example, Ryder uses a box for tasks, a circle for events and a dot for notes. But you can feel free to use whichever symbols you want, as long as you can associate them with its significance. 

Index page

The index page is your guide to knowing where to find a certain piece of information in your book. It helps you find spreads and pages easily. Personally, I don’t use the index page simply because I don’t number all the pages in my book. If you’re like me and don’t want to go through the effort of numbering all the pages and noting them on the index page, you can also opt to use index tabs. These index tabs will act as bookmarks for you to easily flip back to a certain month or event, depending on how you choose to group your notes.

Monthly log calendar 

This spread gives you an overview of all the events and tasks due in the month. While Ryder Carroll prefers his dates listed vertically, you can choose to draw out your monthly calendar however you prefer.

Screenshot from Ryder Carroll‘s video introducing bullet journals.
There’s more than one way of visualising the monthly log in your bullet journal.

Daily calendar

Image from Brian Qian‘s (studywithinspo) Instagram.

After setting up your monthly log, the next spread is usually the daily log. Here, you can jot down all your tasks for the day and add things as you go. Most will also group their daily logs by weeks As mentioned before, it’s ok to miss a few days of updating your journal.

Habit tracker

Bullet Journal Habit Tracker Inspiration
Image from @samijournals

As you (try to) update your journal daily, you might want to add a habit tracker into your monthly spread. This habit tracker can be for any activity or goal you want to accomplish by the end of the month. One common tracker is the money tracker where you list what you’re spending your money on. This is especially helpful in helping you set aside and stick to your budget. Other habits include, but aren’t limited to, exercising, eating healthily, meditating, etc…

Long form journalling

While the bullet journal is mainly used as a planner, it can also be used as a diary. As you log your daily tasks, you can also section off some space for a journal entry where you can reflect about your day.

Stationery

The type of book you use is completely up to you. Whether its thread bound, spiral bound or loose paper in a binder, your book will still be able to function as a bullet journal. Similarly, the type of paper you use doesn’t affect the quality of your bullet journal. Although most use dot and grid paper (to make drawing tables easier) , you can also use ruled or even blank paper.

At the very least, all you need is a pen to fill up your bullet journal. There are a few styles that you can go for depending on how much time you want to spend decorating your journal. Below, I have grouped various types of tools you can use to decorate your journal!

Basics – You probably already have them at home.

  • Pen
  • Pencil
  • Eraser
  • Ruler

Coloured writing tools – Helps make things stand out and you can practice typography.

  • Coloured pens
  • Calligraphy pen brush 

Adhesives – An easy (and cheap) way to add colour and patterns to your pages.

Textures – Use different types of paper to layer and give depth to your spreads.

  • Memo notes
  • Scrapbook paper
  • Old newspaper 
  • Paper bag (torn into smaller pieces)
Using decorative tape to differentiate segments in my bullet journal spread.

Digital bullet journal

Along with the advancement of technology, applications have been developed for the specific purpose of bullet journalling. This helps the bullet journaling community go paperless and penless. As most journalists incorporate several colours and decorative items into their journals, they purchase and use various types of stationery. When they go digital, they’re reducing all of their stationery to a single device. 

While a digital journal may seem to be the opposite of the bullet journal, there is the same idea of providing a system to easily track information. The only difference being when you interact with the “stationery”. While you pick up and swap pens for their different coloured inks and tips for your analog bullet journal, you use a single stylus to decorate your digital journal.

As for what application to use for digital journalling, most note applications will work fine. GoodNotes 5, Notability, MetaMoji Note Lite and Microsoft OneNote are some of the more popular platforms used. There is also the Bullet Journal Companion application that you can use.

If you’re looking for some inspiration, check out A-Hong, Paper Log on Youtube. She even has a copy of her bullet journal template available for download!

The pressure of it all

It may be intimidating to start a bullet journal especially when you see hundreds of creative spreads being shared online. Just remember that you don’t have to force your bullet journal into looking perfect. You can always try and experiment with all the different theme and layout possibilities to see what suits you best! Take your time to find your own style.

A life changing system

The possibilities are endless with the bullet journal. You can always change and adapt the spreads to best suit your lifestyle and needs. Taking some time out of your day to sit down and fill your journal can also be relaxing and therapeutic. Furthermore, you can start your journal any time of the year! So if you’re keen on trying out bullet journaling, we hope this has been helpful!

Share your bullet journal spread with us on Instagram!

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Writer: @furdoors

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