Have you been hearing all the buzz about this awesome hybrid of a planner, to-do list, and diary the past few years? Bullet journals are popular for good reason. Will 2019 be the year you try this planner trend, with a pretty bullet journal of your own?
It’s easy for a beginner to create a bullet journal, also called a “bujo” for short. This practical guide will show you how to organize your work, home, hobbies and anything else that matters, right between two covers. And you can do it in a notebook that is long on style, as well as function.
Already know how to bullet journal? Skip to the end for how anyone can jazz up a journal, without being the least bit artistic.
Intro to Bullet Journal for Beginners
Whether you’re a busy college student focusing on classes, a parent managing a household, a career-driven pro, or all three (!), you need a bullet journal.
A bullet journal is a notebook that includes multiple sections to help you keep track of the multiple parts of your life. You can organize and record and express, all in one place. Once that journal is filled up, you can shelve it and begin a new one.
It takes a little more time in the beginning to set up a bujo (about 10-20 minutes) but keeping up with it later is a cinch. Making a bullet journal is an ongoing process, and that’s the beauty of it. For one thing, in a bullet journal, you don’t usually write long entries. Instead, you get to the point with your short words, phrases, and symbols. Short entries don’t take up much journal space, and don’t take up too much of your time.
There is no right way or wrong way to bullet journal. Everything is up to you!
How it’s Different From Other Journals
You might already be able to tell how and why bullet journaling is different than other forms of journaling, but let’s talk about it for a moment. There are quite a few differences, such as:
One Journal is Used for Everything
First of all, you don’t have just a gratitude journal or just a diet and fitness journal with bullet journaling. You want to have everything in a single notebook. That’s why it’s good to choose a thicker journal, but one that’s still easy to write in and carry around. The hardbound books are great, but they’re hard to deal with. Use a softer journal so it’s easy to turn pages, fold and manipulate them, lay the notebook flat to write or draw on, and so on. That way you can bullet journal without too much fuss.
You Create Sections and an Index
Another difference with a bullet journal is that it has sections for each form of journaling — the common ones being the future log, the monthly log, the daily log, signifiers, task migration, collections, and then an index. The index helps you easily locate pages when you want to find those entries later. Of course, with a bujo, you decide on what sections to include or not, so feel free to skip or add any that you like.
Bullet Points vs. Long Sentences
Instead of writing “Pick up Sid & Nancy from School” in your daily log, you’d write “kids from school.” Put a signifier (bujo speak for symbol) of your choice next to it, such as a star, which may represent an important item or task to you. Signifiers used to represent moods and situations are a key difference in bullet journaling. You will still do some writing, but your own shorthand words, phrases, or symbols are helpful for quickly summing up a task or for charting your moods, or water intake, or whatever.
It’s a Hybrid: Make it What You Want
Organizing your life is much easier to do with a bullet journal than with a diary type of journal. Of course other journals are good for relieving anxiety, getting out your emotions each day, and helping to find triggers for emotional eating. (You should still have these journals if they are issues you are facing.) A bullet journal can be a place for creative expression, too, in a way that planner type journals are not. You can practice hand lettering, coloring, doodling, or otherwise decorating the pages in and around your appointments, to-do’s, and other lists. Or designate a section just for pages where you can sketch or color designs or do brush lettering.
Why You Should Start a Bullet Journal
Source: Marlena covers bullet journaling and personal development at A Pen and a Purpose.
Now that you know the basics of a bullet journal and how it differs from other types of journals, you can get a bit more insight into why this is such a good journal to try.
Here are some of the top benefits of keeping a bullet journal:
1: You Will Stay Organized
Bullet journaling is going to help you become more organized in nearly every facet of your life. Perhaps you run a busy household, with each kid participating in a different sport or activity. You need to keep track of soccer practice, football games, and cheerleading camp. You need to know when they have doctor’s and dentist’s appointments, but also have a place in the journal for your own purposes, like diet and fitness, or managing the finances. All of this and more can be done just with the bullet journal.
2: It Helps Create Achievable Goals
Setting goals is easy, but actually setting achievable goals is a different thing entirely. These are goals that are more realistic and that will help you reach your full potential. Your goal can be anything you want, but it should be something that is easy to achieve. How do you know the difference? Easy. An achievable goal is one where you can list actionable steps that would help you reach that milestone. It’s something you can actually see by writing it all out and looking at it step-by-step. The bullet journal can have a section where you write out your goals and what’s needed to reach them.
3: You Get Help With Stress and Anxiety
Mental health is something you should never minimize or push aside. Even though things like stress and anxiety are a normal part of life and something many people deal with, you definitely don’t want to ignore them and just deal. A bullet journal is actually very helpful in managing your mental health. Even when the bullet journal is used just to organize your life better, that in turn reduces your stress because you’re far less worried about forgetting something. Also, if chaos or over scheduling in your everyday life is what’s causing your stress, you will notice that and can take action to change it.
4: It Becomes a Planner
Do you like to use a planner? If so, use a bullet journal instead! It provides all of the perks of using a planner, but then it also doubles as a journal. You can keep track of even more, have pages for weekly and monthly calendars, and put just about anything inside that you would put in a planner. You can even use all those fun stickers and labels right onto the pages of your bullet journal for better organization.
5: It Becomes a Pretty Keepsake
You may have kept a high school scrapbook where you collected photos, mementos like concert tickets, and decorated the pages with stickers and colored pens. You can do the same thing with a bullet journal. Even if you’re a minimalist and stick strictly to lists and reminders, a full bujo is a nice memory-jogger. Years from now you can flip through it and marvel at yourself in earlier days. You might even enjoy sharing it with your loved ones.
Steps to Starting a Bullet Journal
Now you know what to include in a bullet journal and how it works, but it can still be a little intimidating to start. The thing to remember is that there is no right or wrong way to do it. You can get inspiration by taking a peek at pages of other people’s journals, but you definitely don’t have to do it just like them. And you don’t need to keep it perfect by any means. You can start simple, then as you start getting more ideas, switch it up and work on your pages a little more. It is definitely a learning experience. Once you start working in your journal a little more, you will discover more ways to improve it.
Here’s a basic outline of what you need to do to get started, but of course you might want to add some additional steps of your own.
1: Buy Your Journal and Pens
An obvious place to start with bullet journaling is of course to choose your journal and writing utensils. The journal can be anything you want to use, but preferably one that is a bit larger and thicker. Tiny journals are great for keeping in a small handbag as a daily diary, but they aren’t the best for bullet journals. Some people love using hardcover journals, but keep in mind you are using it often and being able to open the cover and really make use of the entire page is important. In this case, a spiral or soft notebook might be better.
For your writing utensils, you can use anything you want! Get a good collection of pencils, pens, markers, colored pencils, and anything else you like to write with. You can also upgrade your writing utensils later on. This is also a good idea to get other supplies like sticky notes, labels, and stickers for the different pages.
2: Choose the Sections to Include
Before you actually put your journal together, you need to begin organizing it. A bullet journal isn’t like a traditional journal where you just start writing on page 1 and write in it regularly. It’s very organized with multiple sections. Grab a piece of paper and note down all the sections you want to include. Don’t worry about sections in other people’s journals — just focus on what’s most important to you.
If you’re using it to organize your life, this might include daily logs with to-do lists, appointments, and calendar pages for weekly and monthly calendars. For longer term planning, create a page for goals with actionable steps to achieve them. Other pages (or “collections”) include savings, finances, career or school info, household info, diet and fitness, and even a section for managing your stress or anxiety. Make this all your own, but be clear about what sections you have.
3: Create an Index
The index is going to go on the first 2-page spread in your book — mark the top of each page “Index” and note where you put each section as you create it. (For example: “books to read – pg. 5, 29-30.”) Now you can easily check the index later on for the section you want and quickly find the page it starts on. As you add sections, give them enough space — so maybe 2 or more pages for complex topics or projects, and then immediately write down the page number, before you forget. This is another thing you can keep working on and perfecting as you get more involved in bullet journaling. You might run out of room on your index if you add lots of sections — no problem, you can continue the index in the last 2-page spread of your book, so the guts of your bujo is sandwiched between the 2 indexes.
Step 4: Decide on Your Signifiers
You already know about signifiers, the symbols you’ll use throughout your bullet journal. Since you’re trying to keep the entries brief, the signifiers really help a lot. You should take some time deciding which ones to start with, though you can also add lots more when you actually start using the journal. Some people create a “Key” page when they’re getting started, to jog their memory. Here are just a few that give you examples of how to use them:
🙂 Smiley face – Use happy, sad, and other smilies to represent your mood of the day.
) Moon or Sun – When writing in journal entries or discussing events, you can use a moon or sun to represent the day or nighttime.
x Cross off – Use an “x” or checkmark to tick off a completed item on your list. It’s better than crossing off the entire sentence.
* Star – A star can remind you that an item is important, so it doesn’t get lost on the list.
Be creative when coming up with your signifiers and remember they don’t have to make sense to anyone else but you.
Jazz up your bujo now.
Ways to Make Your Journal Pretty
You may have been up late at night, unable to sleep, and found your way to the crafty side of the web. Blogs, videos, and uploaded images show bullet journals and planners decorated in an amazing variety of ways. You may have have been inspired to do the same. The question is — how to go about decorating your journal so it fits your personality and creativity, but also stays functional? Here are a few ways that may work for you.
Washi tape is a paper based tape you can locate in most dollar stores and craft stores. There are various styles including cartoon characters, glitter, solid colors, or designs. You can use this tape to decorate the sides of your journal pages, to separate entries, or to mark off goals. You can even use it to decorate for certain times of the year or just to offer something different as a border.
Even if you want to keep your bujo pretty minimalist, you can add some bright and whimsy with doodles. They don’t have to be full on drawings, either. Just a few lines are all it takes. Want to see some examples? I have a Pinterest doodle board full of them! You can also follow artists with a doodle style that you admire, like Koko at he blog Fun Kawaii. Koko created four super-cute doodles especially for bullet journalists. Follow along with Koko’s free doodle tutorials and worksheets.
Stickers and Stamps
Stickers are an easy and fun way to make your journal pretty. You don’t have to limit yourself to just kids’ stickers either. There are more and more stickers showing up in craft stores and online that allow you to express yourself through pretty images, inspirational quotes, or a fandom you may belong to. These can be placed on the cover, inside, or throughout the journal. Stamps can do the same thing, but there are also many tracker type stamps for water consumption, exercise, or other habits. These are easy to use and prettier than just handwriting checkmarks for every glass of water or 1,000 steps.
Markers and Highlighters
Markers and highlighters can help you color everything from the date of your entry to goals and pages as a whole. No matter what you want to color or draw, you can do them with markers and highlighters. Keep in mind these are better for journals that are made of cardstock or heavy pages rather than composition notebook style journals or ones with traditional paper pages.
Photo Frame Inserts
If you like to print out pictures, but you can’t figure out how to insert them into your journal to make it pretty, consider photo frame inserts. These are sticky frames or sticker like frames that can house the picture and keep it in place within the journal. These are ideal if you want to take pictures of your goals for manifesting them into your life.
There are many scrapbooking accessories that can dress up and make your journal pretty. These are everything from stickers to glitter and other embellishments and even full page inserts. Take a look at your scrapbooking section and get creative. You can even make your own journal just from the things you find in scrapbooking stores.
These are just a few of the ways you can use to decorate your journal and make it pretty. These will give you some ideas about how you can make your journal more personal.
Pull out Your Journal Regularly
This is the really amazing part — using your bujo! Putting the bullet journal together does take some time, but if you’re patient with the process, then by now, you’re more than ready to reap the benefits. Start slow instead of feeling pressured to fill out every single page right away. Think about your schedules, calendars, and planners and the types of things you typically need to keep track of. Remember to write everything down in your bullet journal as things come up, and your bujo will work very well for you. If not, you can always tweak the troublesome sections so that they’re exactly right. Planner peace at last! 🙂
Pin this to your bullet journal board!