A pink themed bullet journal

A beginner's guide to the bullet journal

There’s nothing better than feeling organised; having your days mapped out not only means that you can carefully curate how you spend your time, but also means that feelings of anxiety and panic that you’ve missed an all-important deadline can be quashed. Many will reach for their phone, typing dates and times into their calendar whereas others will opt for a traditional diary, attempting to cram details of their meeting into the tiny square box that they have been allocated for that day. Although these may be fail-safe ways for others to keep on top of their daily to-do lists, you can sometimes feel restricted.

Having to condense details into a small box can often mean that you’re unable to track everything you may wish to. Despite being able to scribble down the location and time of your next meeting, any unexpected appointments have to be skipped due to lack of space. What’s more is that while you’re having to forgo the important details in some places, a plethora of pages at the start of your diary may remain blank. After all, it is more than likely that you’ll add crucial phone numbers as a contact on your phone rather than in your diary’s address book.

This is why many people are now bullet journaling. Starting off with a blank notebook, the endless possibilities means that a single notebook can now house every important detail that you might need to reference throughout the month. From your water intake to how often you clean your home, the versatility of a bullet journal means that many people are now opting into this system over more traditional means of timekeeping.

Blogger Elizabeth from Jihi Elephant loves the flexibility that a bullet journal provides, especially as there are no rules, so it can “be whatever you want it to be. Bullet journaling helps me to keep all aspects of my life straight in one place. I am able to keep my school work, personal, and business events due dates and to-dos all organized. Bullet journaling also provides me with a creative outlet. I do not always have time to paint like I used to; however, I am able to create art through bullet journaling.”

Claire from Minimal Plan also reaches for her bullet journal, as it has been “a game changer in both my personal and work life! Jotting down all my random thoughts on paper is helping me to stay focused through the day, and to sort out my priorities to focus on what really matters. I think I'm journaling to have a place to store all the ideas and things I need to do that isn't my brain. Once I've everything in my journal, I can dedicate my brain to get creative and overcome the challenges I'm facing as a small business owner.”

We’ve created a list of everything that you need to know if you’re considering giving this a go.

 

What is a bullet journal?

A purple themed bullet journal

In short, a bullet journal is a diary where you can collate lists and information, reducing the need for sketchbooks, post-it notes and apps on your phone. Claire tells us that “There's not just one way to bullet journal: creative, minimal, messy... Each bullet journal is unique. It's a safe space where you can be entirely yourself. Just try the method and see where it's leading you!” Your bullet journal is fully customisable and personal to each person, so can be changed to meet your needs. For example, they are a great way of keeping on top of your future appointments, but they can also be used as a habit tracker or even a space for doodling. However, despite this, most bullet journals incorporate a similar key to help their users out.

 

Starting out

A yellow themed bullet journal

Before you begin your bullet journal, it is important to take some time to figure out how you’re planning on formatting your pages. One of the best things about a bullet journal is how adaptable they are, however, spending some time looking at other people’s layouts will allow you to decide how to map out each page and use the space to your advantage.

Elizabeth also offered us some great advice to consider if you’re feeling daunted by your blank notebook: “What I always say to bullet journaling beginners is not to get discouraged. There is a lot of information out there about bullet journaling. Start super simple with the basic method and take it one month at a time. Once you've become comfortable or find there is something missing, start experimenting with new layouts or adding artwork, etc. It'll be far less overwhelming this way.”

Masha from Masha Plans loves to bullet journal. We spoke to her and she offered us her top advice for beginners:

“Starting a Bullet Journal can be extremely intimidating, like pretty much starting anything new. So, for any beginner I want to offer these two pieces of advice.

Know why. Be clear on why you want to start a Bullet Journal and how you want it to help you. Knowing your “why” is a strong base that will hold you on course, even when you feel scared or intimidated.

Start. It’s that simple, just do it. All you need is a notebook and a pen. I know it can be very scary, especially when you check for Bullet Journal pages on Instagram or Pinterest, but don’t let first impressions intimidate you.

First of all, your Bullet Journal can be whatever you want it to be. If you want to, you can be extremely artistic. But if you don’t, it’s ok as well. Your journal, your rules! You don’t really need an art degree to get the full benefit from using a Bullet Journal. Secondly – you’ll never get better unless you start. With time and practice, believe me you’ll be able to create those amazing artistic spreads yourself. Don’t compare your day one with somebody’s year four. Just start today and see how far you’ll go. Don’t let anything hold you back, just go for it. Don’t wait for that perfect notebook or the first of January. Start one now! After all, that’s one of the greatest benefits of the system – you can start at any time.”

 

Picking your journal

A collection of journals

There are myriad notebooks which are perfect for you to use for bullet journaling; from selecting an old notebook that has sat empty on your shelf for a while to opting for one that has been set up ready for you to use, there is no right or wrong answer. With this in mind, most people who bullet journal like the pages to have dots as this provides more flexibility than lines which makes creating each page layout easier. The Bullet Journal website offers their own notebook with a built-in guide if you’d like something to refer to, and the thicker quality paper means that your artwork won’t bleed through the paper so, if you’re planning on decorating your spreads, the weight of the paper is a good thing to consider.

 

Decorating your pages

A variety of pens

Many people like to create decorative spreads when creating their bullet journal. This is a fantastic way of personalising your notebook whilst injecting some colour. Many people also find that this encourages them to continue tracking their days, as they have an attractive layout to look at. Using a selection of coloured pens is the preference for this but, as mentioned, it is important to consider the weight of your paper to prevent bleeding.

We spoke to Shannon from the blog Wellellla for her tips on starting out with your bullet journal: “When you start to bullet journal, the idea of making a mistake - in pen - in your new notebook can be a bit scary. My advice is to try using an erasable pen or marker. These look exactly the same as a normal pen or marker does, with the added benefit that if you mess up, you can simply erase it and move on!”

If you’re not artistically inclined, don’t worry! Claire from crafty blog Heart Handmade offers her advice: “Don’t try to copy the elaborate layouts that you see on Pinterest as soon as you start. It takes such a long time to do so, and I found that I ended up giving up completely for six months. After I picked it up again, I vowed to keep my layouts simple and manageable. If I have any time, then I go back and add decorative rub-ons that I got from the craft shop.”

You can still create gorgeous bullet journal layouts without an artistic flair. There is a plethora of resources online to help you create pretty spreads. From stickers to printables and even guides to help you master calligraphy, the online bullet journal community will have something to spark your creativity!

 

Creating your spreads

A bullet journal goal tracker

Once you’ve settled on your notebook and have selected your resources, it is time to think about how you’re going to format your journal. On a separate blank piece of paper, write down a list of things that you’d like to track. As you sit down each month to create your pages, you will notice how your bullet journal becomes flexible. It is likely that the lists inside will vary from month to month, with extra parts being incorporated and certain sections being removed. Once you’ve created this list, it’s time to start.

 

The essentials

A spread in a bullet journal

A key

A key is essential. It is the mechanism behind the journal and is how you’ll organise each thing that you document within the pages of your notebook. Each page of your bullet journal will use this key, so this should be one of the first pages inside your notebook.

The basic key gives you a different symbol for things such as notes and tasks, which makes it easier when scanning the page. The idea is that each short sentence will resonate with one of these symbols. Have a doctor’s appointment scheduled? The symbol for a task will highlight this. Heading to a family party? Don’t forget to add the O symbol for an event! The Little Coffee Fox has a great guide to keeping this simple or take a look at the Bullet Journal website for their take on it. We’ve included the basic recommended key below to get you started:

Key

•          Tasks

-          Notes

O         Events

X          Completed

>          Migrated

<          Scheduled

 

The index

Whilst setting up your bullet journal, scribbling a page number at the bottom of every page will allow you to navigate to where you need to go with ease. This will also help when it comes to setting up your index. Your index will act as a table of contents, referencing what information you can find on each page. Adding this at the start again allows you to be more organised. Although this will be sparse, to begin with, you will find it helpful as you gradually begin to fill up the pages. Your index can be as detailed or as sparse as you’d like, so long as it has all the necessary information.

Monthly log

Your monthly log, according to the Bullet Journal website, consists of both a calendar and a task page. Your calendar page is a top-level view of what you’re planning over the next month. On this, you can document key events, such as dentists’ appointments or visiting a London day spa like Champneys spa Enfield. However, everything should be kept as succinct as possible.

On your task page, a list of everything you need to do over the month can be completed. On this page, you can elaborate on the key that you created earlier, adding identifiers for particularly important happenings. Below is a recommendation of how to go about this:

Signifiers

*          Priority

!           Inspiration

Daily log

On your daily log, you can elaborate on your days as outlined on your monthly log. Breakdown each task with additional information, such as dates and times. However, still keep this as bullet points! This list should be left blank until the day of to allow yourself as much space as possible. Documenting each thing that happened in a short sentence will allow you to look back on the day and recognise key events at a later date.

 

Recommended pages

A calendar overview in a bullet journal

Year at a glance

For many, having a yearly calendar page is something that they can’t live without! This allows you to quickly locate a date, rather than flicking to your monthly section and can come in useful if you’re scheduling meetings. This page can be as simple or as decorative as you’d like, so long as you can clearly differentiate between each day of the week!

Future log

If you’re a planner, having a future log is perfect for you! On this spread, you will have a space for each month for you to document up-coming events and milestones that will take place over the course of the year. This log can be helpful if you have big events later on in the year that you need to remember, as they will be jotted down before you reach that month. Throughout the year, you can keep track of things that you have organised by adding them to this spread, making sure that you remember to add them to your monthly log when needed.

Trackers

Looking at the list of things that you wanted to include in your journal, how many of those things can be tracked? Areas such as your spending habits and how much sleep you received can easily be documented on a tracking page. On a tracking page, simply list the things you wish to keep an eye on throughout the month. Many bullet journal users find the easiest way to track is by colouring in a square next to each goal, under each day of the week, but you can get inventive and find out what works best for you.

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