How to bullet journal: what is a bullet journal and where to start?

Bullet journalling is a creative way to organise your life and it could help you to feel happier and more motivated. Find out how to bullet journal with our beginner's guide

How to bullet journal: what is a bullet journal and where to start

If you’ve made a new year’s resolution to be more organised in 2021 and you’re not sure where to begin, writing a bullet journal can help you to become more focused and productive.

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January is a brilliant time to start a bullet journal and start forming positive habits for the year ahead, but you can begin at any time of the year. You may feel more comfortable starting your journal in September when you have that back-to-school feeling (and it’s a great excuse to stock up on some beautiful new stationery!).

Set aside some time to work on your bullet journal each week and you’ll soon begin to notice the benefits. It may take a little self-discipline at first, but once you get into it you’ll really start to look forward to your bullet journalling sessions. It’s a chance to pause and take a moment to reflect on your life – and any plans or goals you might have coming up in the next weeks and months.

Many people find that bullet journalling is more creative than using a diary or calendar to track their lives – and the best bit is that it can be completely personalised to suit your needs and interests.

In this beginner’s guide to bullet journalling we’ll take you through your first steps, explain how to organise your journal and share some of our favourite bullet journalling products. You’ll have everything you need to start your new journalling hobby!

Read on to learn how to bullet journal and what you’ll need to get started.

Follow the links below to jump to each section:

What is a bullet journal?

A bullet journal is a way to organise your life and become more productive. Ryder Carroll, creator of the Bullet Journal Method, invented a rapid logging system that you can use to keep track of your to-do list, events, thoughts and anything else going on in your life. Once you know how to follow the system (or have adapted it to suit your own needs), then the possibilities are endless.

If you’re tired of using productivity apps or staring at online calendars, this is a good way to cut down on your screen time and go offline. It’s also a really useful tool if you’re a visual person and you like to see everything laid out clearly.

The rapid logging system involves keeping lists that are marked with different symbols (sometimes called signifiers) to show something that you want to achieve. For example, a heart symbol might represent something that you want to do or a triangle could stand for an appointment.

There are a few simple steps to you’ll need follow to set up your journal (more on that later) and you’ll need to set aside time to update it regularly – at least once a week. You can revisit the journal once a month to review what you’ve achieved and copy over anything that you want to do the following month.

If you wanted to do the bare minimum, simply setting up your logging and using it to keep lists would be enough, but bullet journals aren’t just used for organising your life – they’re also a way to express your creativity. You only need to head over to Instagram and take a look at the bullet journal hashtags to see what’s possible. We’d recommend following #bulletjournal, #bulletjournaling, #bujo, #bujoinspiration and #bujoideas for bullet journalling inspiration.

How to bullet journal: what is a bullet journal and where to start
Unsplash/Estee Janssens

What are the benefits of keeping a bullet journal?

Writing a bullet journal can help you in other ways; the benefits of journalling for our mental health and wellbeing have long been recognised.

Research has shown that keeping a journal can help to ease feelings of anxiety and depression. A study published in the JMIR Mental Health journal in 2018 found that 58% people who kept a journal for a month felt happier and that their mental health had improved.

Keeping a bullet journal is also a mindful practice which involves taking time to reflect on your thoughts and feelings. Bullet journalling has been described as “a mindfulness practice disguised as a productivity system” and it’s easy to see why. The system requires you to actively add or remove things from your life, meaning that you think about them more and weigh up their importance.

If you often find that you look at your to-do list and feel panicked or anxious, then this practice can have real benefits for you. The bullet journalling system discourages you from marking something as a priority unless it definitely is one. After all, if you flag up everything on the list as a priority you’re more likely to feel stressed and won’t actually get anything done. As Ryder Carroll says: “If everything is a priority, nothing is.”

If you’d like to find out more about the benefits of bullet journalling, head over to our sister website, CalmMoment.com, to learn how to bullet journal to become more mindful and productive.

What to put in a bullet journal

Your bullet journal is essentially your diary and calendar combined. Most people use it to keep track of events, special occasions and appointments, but you can make it much more personal.

For example, if you wanted to use your journal to keep track of how many times you’d managed to fit in a crafting session that month, you could pick a symbol and use it to make a note of when you’d found a quiet moment to sit down with your latest WIP. You can also use it to set goals that you want to focus on – it could give you the motivation that you need to keep going.

You can use it to keep lists of things that you love, keep track of dream travel destinations, monitor how much sleep you’re getting, and much more.

Some people like to use a bullet journal almost like a scrap book and include photos to record their memories. You can embellish your bullet journal with stickers, washi tape or even hand-drawn illustrations.

How to bullet journal

Here we’ll explain the basics of keeping a bullet journal and how the process works. This is just a brief overview to help you get started and you can find lots of brilliant tips and inspiration over on the official bullet journal blog. Read on to learn how to bullet journal and make the system work for you.

Bullet journal symbols and how to use them

The rapid logging system you use when you keep a bullet journal is effectively an ongoing bullet point list, but you’ll replace your usual bullets with a symbol.

You’ll split most things in your journal into these three categories:

•  Tasks
Notes
○ Events

When you update a task, you’ll need to update your bullets as well:

• Incomplete (maybe you haven’t managed to get round to it yet, we all have those days!)
Completed task (very satisfying to do)
> Task migrated into a collection
< Task moved into your future log. This means it’s staying on your to-do list for now

If you want to link some notes around a particular task or event then you can use nesting. This means putting more bullet points under an individual bullet point to create a sub list. Here’s an example:

○ Holiday plans
    • Jane has my swimsuit
    • Must remember to pick up currency
    ╳ Pack the suitcase

You can develop your bullet journal even further by adding some further symbols. Here are some examples:

* Priority (try to save this for the most important tasks/events)
! Inspiration! Use the exclamation mark to keep track of things that you really love.

What are bullet journal collections?

Your bullet journal should be split into four categories or collections:

  • Index
  • Daily log
  • Monthly log
  • Future log

To set up your index, channel your inner librarian and keep track of the page numbers of related topics (yes, you’ll need to add page numbers). This is oddly satisfying and if you keep it updated you’ll always be able to find what you want.

The daily log is simply a list of what you want to focus on that day. It doesn’t matter if you miss a day, as long as you’re updating it regularly. Only add the date to a page when you’re going to use it, otherwise you may end up with a lot of empty pages in your bullet journal.

The monthly log is an overview of the month. Keep separate pages detailing your upcoming events and task you need to do that month. It will prevent you from feeling overwhelmed.

The future log is anything coming up beyond the current month. You can check your future log each month to see what can be moved into the monthly log.

If you feel that these categories don’t work for you, then make up your own. You can easily add custom logs to keep track of other projects or interests if a daily or monthly log feels too restrictive.

Migrating your bullet journal

At the end of each month, set aside a little time to review the month that’s gone by and migrate any incomplete tasks or events into your new monthly log. This is when your bullet journalling practice comes into its own – it’s a great time to reflect on what’s going well and think about the coming month.

Something might have seemed important when you added it a month earlier, but if you haven’t completed it then it might not be very important after all. Leave it out of your fresh monthly log and concentrate on what you think is important instead. In time, you’ll have a better sense of what you like to include in your journal and what can be left out. Your diary – and mind – will be less cluttered and you’ll feel calmer as a result.

What do you need to start bullet journalling?

Your bullet journal can be as simple or as intricate as you want it to be. If you want to stick to the basics, you can begin with any plain journal and a fineliner pen. However, you might prefer to use a notebook with dotted or graph paper because this makes it easier to draw lines, boxes and lists onto the page by hand.

It’s a good idea to invest in a set of highlighter pens as well. You can use these for colour coding your journal or just to brighten up the pages. If you keep the colour code consistent throughout the journal then you’ll always be able to find what you’re looking for at a glance.

If you want to take your journal to the next level, you can invest in a brush pen. You’ll often see brush pen calligraphy headings in bullet journals on Instagram. Brush pens require a little more skill to use and the thickness of the lines will vary depending on how much pressure you apply: a light touch is needed for finer lines and if you press down then your writing will be thicker. Find out how to use brush pens for calligraphy.

Feeling artistic? You could add some little illustrations to your journal. Unless you’re using thick paper, we wouldn’t recommend adding watercolour paints, but pen drawings or doodles can be very effective. For a professional finish, we’d recommend using Promarkers: marker pens that are often used by illustrators and graphic designers.

A cheap way to decorate your journal is to stock up on washi tape. Washi is a special tape made using Japanese paper and it has a matte texture so you can write on top of it. The tape is low-tack (not very sticky), so if you put it in the wrong place on the page you can peel it off without damaging the paper underneath or leaving any residue behind. Washi tape comes in a wide range of colours and vibrant designs – there’s everything from geometric patterns to cute cartoon pandas. It’s usually less than £4, so washi is an inexpensive way to take your journalling to the next level.

Where to buy a bullet journal
Photography by Unsplash/Jess Bailey

Where to buy a bullet journal

Most stationery shops will sell a dotted journal of some kind – or a blank notebook that can be used as a bullet journal. We’d recommend looking on Etsy, Paperchase, Papier and Waterstones as a good starting point. Here are some of the best bullet journals we’ve found to help you begin your new pastime…

Papier palm fronds notebook (Papier, £16.99-£19.99)

We’re in love with Papier’s stunning range of bullet journals, which all have illustrated or patterned covers. We particularly love this palm fronds design! They can be personalised, so they would make a wonderful Christmas gift or birthday present. These beautiful notebooks start from £16.99 for a soft cover or you can upgrade to a hard cover for £19.99.

Papier fronds bullet journal
Photo ©Papier

Nordic blue Leuchtturm1917 journal (Waterstones, £19.99)

Leuchtturm1917 journals are perfect for bullet journalling. They have dotted pages and come in a variety of lovely colours – like this gorgeous Nordic Blue shade from Waterstones. They have a hardy, durable cover so the journal won’t get damaged if you decide to take it out and about with you.

Leuchtturm1917 bullet journal

Agenzio soft pavillion blue dot medium notebook (Paperchase, £12)

Looking for a more affordable bullet journal? If you don’t want to shell out for a Leuchtturm, then we’d recommend opting for a journal from Paperchase’s Agenzio range. It has dotted paper, a sturdy cover and a nice selection of colours. They have smaller sizes too – ideal for slipping into a pocket or bag when you’re on the move.

paperchase-pale-blue-agenzio-journal
Photo ©Paperchase

Patchwork bullet journal (Papier, £16.99-£19.99)

This vibrant bullet journal will really lift your mood and inspire you to use it more. Like all of Papier’s notebooks, it can be personalised and has options for both soft and hard covers. This colourful design also comes in blue.

Papier patchwork bullet journal
Photo ©Papier

Moleskine classic notebook with dotted pages (Paperchase, £18)

Moleskines are popular with artists and writers and are inspired by the type of journals used by Picasso, Van Gogh and Hemingway. They’re high quality and have beautiful ivory paper. There’s a handy little pocket inside for any mementoes or photos that you want to keep safe too.

Moleskine journal from Paperchase
Photo ©Paperchase

Unicorns Rainbow bullet journal (Papier, £16.99-£19.99)

Sometimes we all need a bit of magic in our lives and this whimsical design by Carolyn Suzuki definitely hits the spot. It’s available with a soft or hard cover and can be personalised.

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Unicorns and rainbows bullet journal

A5 dotted grid bullet journal with a vegan leather cover (Etsy, £14.99)

These stylish bullet journals from the Yop&Tom Etsy store come wrapped up in a soft vegan leather cover. They have extra thick paper, so your pens won’t bleed through the page. It has an attractive minimalist moon and stars motif and comes in three colours.

Dotted grid vegan bullet journal