intro to bullet journaling: getting started

A few months ago, I ran across a few posts on Pinterest about this thing called a Bullet Journal. I’d heard of them before, but never really looked into it. One night when I couldn’t sleep (hello pregnancy insomnia my old friend), I decided to jump in and try it. That was back in November, and I was using a pencil and a journal I bought on clearance from Home Goods because it was pretty. Fast forward a bit to the beginning of January, and my lovely MIL asked me to write a post on here about how to set one up. Apparently she’d been looking at them for years too, but had never gotten around to starting one and wanted some advice.

Starting a Bullet Journal - it can be kind of overwhelming, but hopefully this helps!

I’m going to get into how to set your own up, but first a little background. I’ve always been a planner kind of girl. I remember in elementary and middle school, my school district funded a planner for each student every year. It was always so exciting being handed my planner on the first day of school, and I would write in everything I could think of. Obviously in elementary school, there wasn’t much on my plate, but as I got older the ritual of writing things down served me well. By the time I got to high school, I couldn’t function without my planner. Between work, band, choir, a boyfriend, and everything else a high school student has to manage, I NEEDED it. The routine went on into college, and beyond. I’ve used the Erin Condren planners before, and though they are BEAUTIFUL, I’m just too busy for them. There isn’t enough space for me to write my to-do lists.

For a little while, I thought about getting into ‘glam-planning’. I watched tons of YouTube videos on it (they tend to run in the background in our house since we don’t have cable) but the time, cost, and lack of actual PLANNING (!) made me shy away from it. But I also wanted my planner to be pretty. I was looking for a system that was flexible, somewhat creative, increased productivity, and allowed for my incredibly long to do lists. Being a teacher is wonderful…as long as you are organized. As soon as you step away from that, the same kid in 4th period keeps asking you if you had made that copy for her, and you feel worse and worse that you keep saying “No. I forgot. But I PROMISE tomorrow it’ll get done!”. Enter the Bullet Journaling system *cue fireworks, and remember to hide the dog who is afraid of those fireworks*.

Starting a Bullet Journal - it can be kind of overwhelming, but hopefully this helps!

Now, the bullet journaling community will always tell you that you can start a bullet journal with ANY journal, and that you don’t need anything specific. That is completely true, as I used my starter journal for two months with no issues. I only really upgraded to my Moleskine because I wanted to be able to use this system for years and look back at the same style journal from year to year. That being said, I’m kind of a weirdo in the bujo world, since most of the hardcore bujo (bullet journal lingo) enthusiasts like the Leuchtturm1917 for it’s bujo friendly design and high quality paper. To me, it’s too hard to find, too small, doesn’t have a grid, and is too expensive. I love my larger hardcover Moleskine, and the grid is perfect for me. I got mine from my local Barnes and Noble. You can use whatever you want (of course!), but the Moleskine is my recommendation.

Now to set it up. You’re going to need a basic understanding of how the bullet journal system works, which I really think comes with experience more than anything. Regardless, I’ll outline the basics below.

  • Index
  • Future Log
  • Monthly view (optional)
  • Weekly view (optional)
  • Daily view (optional)
  • Collections (optional)

The index is how you keep things organized. Basically, you number every page in your bullet journal starting at 1. I’m a doofus and messed up on that, so mine starts on 0. But that’s the nice thing about bullet journaling – if you mess up, it really isn’t a big deal. The bujo gods are going to come get you! There are a bunch of different ways to set yours up, but here’s mine. I chose a two-page spread for my index since I log weekly and not daily.


Starting a Bullet Journal - it can be kind of overwhelming, but hopefully this helps!

The basic idea is to write the page number in one column, and the ‘title’ of the page in the second column. Each time you make a new page, you come back to your Index and update it. I’m pretty bad about this, honestly, but every once in awhile I’ll remember to do it and it’s no big deal. My current bullet journal is still pretty easy to find things in, so I don’t find myself referencing this as much as I’m sure I will later when more pages are filled in.

Next up is the Future Log – this is where you keep major things in mind for the foreseeable future. It’s up to you how much (or how little you include), but mine holds things like doctor’s appointments, what week I’m on in my pregnancy, and major goings-on at school.

Starting a Bullet Journal - it can be kind of overwhelming, but hopefully this helps!

I looked a ton of different setups for the future log section, and I really like what I came out with. It’s pretty (check!), functional (check!), but not overwhelming. At the top of every column is a monthly calendar view, and then the numbers for the dates are down the left hand side. On each date, I have whatever is going on that day, and then I’ve been circling those dates up in my calendar section. I don’t really think it’s necessary, and isn’t a habit I think I will continue into my next bujo, but it was a fun idea! You can do as many (or as few) months as you like in your Future Log. I chose to do a year because I’m planning on using this journal for a year. There’s something about starting a new journal every January that just appeals to me! Next up is the meat of your journal: the daily/weekly/monthly logs.

I choose to do weekly logs since I need to be able to see things over an entire school week. I tried daily logging, but I ended up writing the same to-do list on each page, or forgetting things if I tried to force myself to reference back to previous days. You should use whatever works for you – some people use their bujos as more of an art journal and only do monthly logs. Some people are better at crossing things off of their to-do lists on the day that they write them down than I am, and they use daily logs. Some people do a monthly, weekly, AND daily log, and reference information on all three. I admire them, but I just don’t have enough brain power or time to remember where all that information is. My first journal had a monthly log that I literally NEVER looked at once I made it. It’ll take a few weeks to figure out what works best for you, but I’ll show you some of my setups below.

Starting a Bullet Journal - it can be kind of overwhelming, but hopefully this helps!

I kinda cheated and started this bujo a little early, so the first weekly log in mine is the last week of 2016. I wasn’t working this week (thank goodness for winter break!), so it was a more compact layout than I use when I’m actively teaching. My bujo tends to be pretty personal, as I do a short diary entry at the end of every day, so I won’t be showing many weekly logs filled out, but you can get the idea of what I was going for even with them blank. On the one above, I used a little bit of my extra time to do cute banners for the different days of the week, and did everything in red and green since it was Christmas time. Some of these days, I got a lot done. Some of these days, I got nothing done. And that’s fine! On Christmas, I was really missing my family and was pretty blue. I didn’t get anything accomplished that day and pretty much just laid in bed and watched Netflix with Aaron and Tabby. But you know what? I put that down as a task at the end of the day, and colored in the little box. I did something that day, even if it wasn’t what I set out to do. I really think bullet journaling has put me in touch with my emotions and mental health in a way that no other journal ever has before, which is one of the reasons that I love it so much! Ok…on to a more active week where I needed to get. stuff. done.

Starting a Bullet Journal - it can be kind of overwhelming, but hopefully this helps!

This is what most of my weekly logs look like. The tall columns work well for my long to-do lists, but I really don’t have it all figured out yet. There are parts of this spread that got used a TON and some parts that I didn’t ever reference after I wrote them in. For example, that sleep log is a cute idea, but I always forget to fill it in. The mini-activity tracker was also a good idea, but I (again) forget to fill it in. The good things about this page are that they allow me to plan my lessons loosely ahead of time, remember what we did and didn’t accomplish in class, and keep organized throughout the week. A bunch of kids at the high school that I teach at saw my bullet journal and got interested. Apparently now it’s a trend and everyone wants to do it! It cracks me up, but I’m all for any type of organization system that keeps my students on top of things.

Another great thing about bullet journaling is that you get to bond with people you wouldn’t normally talk to if you have this little hobby in common! The dance teacher at my school is so cool, so nice, and so sweet. She’s a young mom, too, and I wish we got to spend more time together! She’s just down the hall from me, but we don’t get to talk as much as I would like. BUT! With the bullet journal, we have one more thing in common, and I love chatting with her about whatever we’ve enjoyed journaling that week.

Starting a Bullet Journal - it can be kind of overwhelming, but hopefully this helps!

Okay, so last part. Collections. This is what you see most of the time on Pinterest. They’re basically pages in your bujo that are dedicated to a certain thing. You can bujo in any way you want. Aaron’s is compeltely utilitarian – no decorations at all. Which doesn’t surprise me. That man has worked in the same cubicle for three years and doesn’t have a single picture or any decorations. Whatever, I still love him!

I have a few collections, which I will show you below, but this part is really tailored to you individually more than any other part of your bujo. Like to read? Add a book tracker collection. Like to watch Netflix? Add a show tracker with what seasons you’ve watched. Some of it seems kind of silly (Netflix does that FOR you), but I totally get that crossing something off of a list feels good. Plus collections pages let you be a little bit more creative than the regular ones.

Starting a Bullet Journal - it can be kind of overwhelming, but hopefully this helps!

I did this refocus and goal setting intensive the last week of the year, called New Year New You. It sounds cheesy, but it was pretty eye opening to see what goals I want to achieve this year, and to reflect over things that have happened over the course of the past 12 months. I blurred it out for privacy, but if you’re interested, you can find instructions here!

Below is an example of what a collection page usually looks like. I’ve recently gotten into collecting fancy pens and markers for my bujo, and I wanted a way to track which ones I have so that I don’t double purchase them. I just threw together this page with each color available from TOMBOW (the brand I’m currently loving), and have been coloring in the ones I have. I don’t expect to fill this out ANYTIME soon. But the subject of markers/pens brings me to the last part of this post: materials and goodies.
Starting a Bullet Journal - it can be kind of overwhelming, but hopefully this helps!

A lot of bujo enthusiasts are VERY particular about their pens. Which I totally get! I have a test page in the back of my bujo that I don’t really care if things bleed through. But I ordered the pen of all pens according to the bujo gods, and it performs almost exactly like the much cheaper ones I can buy in bulk. I lose stuff, ya’ll. So far, I’ve invested in some fancy highlighters, some not as fancy Paper Mate felt tip pens, the pen of all pens, and the TOMBOW markers. I love them all, but I think it really takes some time to get to know what you’ll use your bujo for to know what kind of supplies you need. In fact (don’t tell anybody, but…) I used pencil in my first bujo. SHOCK! AWE! It was fine, guys. I liked it, and I liked the flexibility. But keeping things in pen works too – it’s up to you and what you like to write with. There really isn’t a wrong way to do it.

Starting a Bullet Journal - it can be kind of overwhelming, but hopefully this helps!

So that wraps it up – email me or comment if you have any questions! You can find all kinds of bujo ideas on my Pinterest board, and there are a ton of resources out there for starting and maintaining a bujo. I always want to keep learning though – what have you used in your bujo that worked in the past? What did you use that didn’t work? Did you start out with a practice journal too? Let me know what you think!

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