Bullet journaling for beginners – this post aims to answer all your burning questions about how to bullet journal, plus lots of tips and inspiration too!
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What is bullet journaling? How do you do it and what do you need? There’s lots to know, almost enough to put somebody off, right?
Don’t panic, I’m going to answer all of your questions in this guide covering everything you need to know about how to bullet journal effectively.
Bullet journaling is a brilliant concept and a really fun way to stay organised whilst expressing your creativity.
When I first started to learn about bullet journaling, I won’t lie – it was pretty daunting and I felt overwhelmed. It has its very own system, and so many different terms that it was intimidating before I’d even started.
But bear with me; I’m going to hold your hand through learning everything bullet journaling, and I promise – it will be worth it.
If you’re here then you must be intrigued, and I don’t blame you – bullet journaling is a brilliant concept and a really fun way to stay organised whilst expressing your creativity. And journaling is hugely beneficial for mental health too!
What is a Bullet Journal?
The bullet journaling system was created by Ryder Carroll in response to being diagnosed with learning disabilities. He needed to find a unique way to be focused and productive that worked for him and after years of trial and error, he discovered the unconventional but brilliant concept of bujo.
What’s wonderful about bullet journaling is its versatility and seamless integration with traditional journaling.
A bullet journal is made up of several key elements which allow it to function in the distinctive and and innovative way it’s become popular for, and which we’ll come to shortly.
Why Should You Bullet Journal?
What’s especially wonderful about bullet journaling is its versatility and seamless integration with traditional journaling; it’s designed to be whatever you want it to be:
The Bullet Journal method is a mindfulness practice disguised as a productivity system. Once you’re comfortable with the system, you’ll be ready to move on to the mindfulness practice, and learn how to live with intention.Bullet Journal
Bullet journaling is perfect whether your objective is to:
- Be better organised,
- Increase productivity,
- Spend your time being creative,
- Work on your mental health and wellbeing.
In other words, whoever you are and whatever your goals in life, bullet journaling can benefit you!
How to Bullet Journal
Before we get started with more on how bullet journaling actually works, you first need to understand all the various terms used in reference to bullet journaling…
Bullet Journal Glossary
In alphabetical order, to keep things neat and tidy:
Bleeding – Bleeding describes when ink bleeds through the page of your journal you’re working on and is visible on the next side.
Bounce Font – A style of font that runs along two parallel lines, with letters bouncing up and back down, like this:
Brush – May refer to brush pens, or the calligraphy-style font created using them.
Bullets – Bullets are the short entries you make in your bullet journal.
Bullet Journal – The Bullet Journal method is a journaling system where you use a single notebook with specific elements for many aspects of your life. It’s an organisation and productivity tool, but can also be used for creativity, mental health journaling, and any other purpose you require.
Bujo – Simply a shortened, spliced version of the words bullet journal.
Collections – Multiple pages in a bullet journal that are about related topics.
Cursive – Another name for script; joined up handwriting.
Daily Log – The equivalent of the daily pages in a diary.
Future Log – This is a calendar for commitments and engagements that are too far in the future, to make it into your current daily/weekly/monthly weekly spreads.
Ghosting – Similar to bleeding, ghosting describes when ink is visible on the back of a page, but bleeding has not occurred.
Grid – In reference to bullet journaling, the grid refers to the dots on the page which are used to help keep text and design elements straight and uniform in size.
Grid Guide – A guide you can create in the front of your journal to help with spacing out spreads, like this:
GSM – An acronym for grams per square metre, GSM refers to the weight (and therefore also the thickness) of paper.
Habit Tracker – A way of setting goals and tracking your progress.
Header – This is the head section across any page or spread, containing the title and any decoration.
Index – The table of contents for your bullet journal.
Key – The page at the front of your bullet journal which details the symbols you use in your journal, and what each one represents.
Layout – A double page spread in your bullet journal displaying information around a single topic.
Level 10 Life – A spread used to assess your current life circumstances and set goals to improve them.
Mood Tracker – Similar to a habit tracker but specifically for tracking your moods.
Migration – The action of transferring information from a current spread, page, or journal to a new location. This may because you were unable to complete a task, or an appointment is moved, etc.
Monthly Log – The equivalent of a month to view page in a diary.
Nesting – The name given to any sub entries you create.
Rapid Logging – The special bujo system developed by Ryder Carroll for quickly adding information to your bullet journal using symbols to represent context and priority.
Signifier – A symbol to provide further context to the entries in your journal.
Spread – Another word for layout – a double page in your bullet journal displaying information around a single topic.
Tracker – Graphs, charts, and tables used for tracking specific data within your bullet journal.
Theme – The design elements that pull together a section, usually a month, within your bullet journal.
Weekly Log – The equivalent of a week to view spread in a diary.
Bullet Journaling Supplies
Journal (of course!)
Most importantly, you’ll need a journal!
However, if you’re just getting started and you want to keep things super cheap while you figure out if bullet journaling is for you, any notebook will work fine.
Over time you may choose to invest in a product designed with bullet journaling in mind, at which point I highly recommend purchasing a journal with a dotted grid (more on this later!), like this one:
Pens and Pencils
Next up, you may want to invest in some pens and pencils to help you create beautiful bold headers or vibrant and intricate doodles, having the correct supplies is crucial to the results you can produce.
Setting Up a Bullet Journal
Once you’ve settled on the journal you want to use, you’ll need to set it up according to the layout of a bullet journal.
Typically, this will look like:
- Cover page
- Grid guide
- Future log
- Monthly log
- Weekly log
- Daily log (if you require additional daily space)
- Collections and trackers
If you’re unsure of what you should include in your collections and trackers, take a look at these bujo collection ideas for inspiration.
Bullet Journal Tips For Beginners
- Number your pages as you go.
- Don’t forget to add each new page / spread / collection to the index!
- Don’t go too crazy with lots and lots of collections and trackers, or you’ll probably begin to view keeping up with your journal as a chore, which is the opposite of what we’re trying to achieve!
- Experiment! It’s supposed to be fun, so feel free to go crazy and let your artistic flair show. Don’t think you have any? You’ve just not found it yet – even if your personal style is minimalist, that’s still a style and still valid!
- Don’t spend too much to begin with. It’s much more important to enjoy the process and be sure you’re going to keep it up first. And I know how tempting it is to look at pretty stationery and go wild…
- Be patient. Don’t expect it to all fall into place the first try. When it comes to the more creative elements, practice makes progress!
- Comparison is the thief of joy. Be careful to use beautiful Pinterest and Instagram spreads as inspiration, and not as reasons to feel like your journal isn’t up to scratch. These gorgeous accounts are curated by people who’ve dedicated years to perfecting not only the journaling techniques they’re showcasing – but also their photography skills!
Personalising Your Bullet Journal
Beautiful and elaborate fonts are one of the chicest ways to prettify your journal headers.
Once you have your bullet journal set up according to your needs and preferences, it’s time to make it your own.
This is the fun part!
You can start adding splashes of colour with extravagant fonts and cute doodles and illustrations…
Fancy Bujo Fonts
Beautiful and elaborate fonts are one of the chicest ways to prettify your journal headers and inspiring quotes for planners. There are so many incredibly ornate options to try, but bold or even simple line fonts can be very striking and hugely effective, too.
Download a printable dotted page from our resources library to get started.
Why not get some ideas and try replicating something you like the look of, or even have a go at creating your very own unique font?
Creative & Seasonal Bujo Doodles
After intricately detailed fonts, the next best thing you can do to personalise your journal is to doodle. Using simple little doodles to add in seasonal or whimsical illustrations around a theme can really bring your journal to life.
Worried you’re not artistic enough and need some help brushing up on your skills? Or even just some inspiration? Don’t worry – I have you covered!
Bullet Journaling FAQ
- Do I need a dotted journal?
As and when you decide this is a hobby you’re going to commit to, I recommend purchasing a dotted journal, or in bujo speak, a journal with a grid. (You can also download a printable dotted page from our resources library to get you started.)
The dots or grid lines are there to help you follow a line and retain consistent spacing etc, yet faint enough that when you look at the page after it’s been completed, you naturally focus on the design elements and information within the spread.
If you want any kind of decoration at all within your journal, or you just simply want to keep it neat, those dots will become invaluable.
- Do I have to journal every day?
Absolutely not. This is a really important point when it comes to journaling:
It’s supposed to be enjoyable.
Ultimately, your frequency of journaling depends on your reasons for journaling.
If you think of it as your downtime, then you’ll appreciate that if it’s a chore that you feel obligated to complete every day, it’s entirely defeating the purpose of what a journal should be.
…That said, if you do it right, ie. in the way that best suits and works for you, then you’ll likely want to journal regularly. And, at least while you’re starting out, it’s a good idea to factor in some time most days so that you give it a good chance of becoming a ritual.
Ultimately, your frequency of journaling depends on your reasons for journaling.
If you’re bullet journaling purely as an organisational tool, then you can simply return to it as and when needed.
On the other hand, if you’re journaling for your wellbeing, which has always been my priority and is the reason I started writing about journaling in the first place, then to really feel the benefits for your mental health, it’s something you should be aiming to make into a healthy new routine.
Top tip: create a grid guide, to help you plan your layout.
- How far in advance should I plan out my bullet journal pages?
If we’re going by the original concept of bullet journaling, then it’s supposed to be as needed.
However, there’s some disagreement about this in the bullet journaling community, and the bottom line is that, since you’re journaling this for yourself, you should simply do what works for you.
- How should I plan out spreads and layouts?
The very best tip I can offer is to create a grid guide, to help you plan your layout.
Then I recommend sketching out a spread in pencil so so that you can ensure it’s evenly spaced and you’re able to get an idea of how much room you have to work with.
Using pencil means you can easily correct any errors or mistakes and keep your journal looking pristine.
Once you’re happy with the design you can go over the pencil in pen, adding in colour and detail.
- What if I run out of space on a spread?
The best option is to create a collection, in fact that’s precisely their purpose!
This is much easier if you’re working in pencil, so that you can adapt your spread before the space becomes a problem. Simply break the layout down into logical separate double pages, and create a collection comprising the multiple spreads, while grouping together related information across several pages.
Of course this takes some forward planning – which is why some people prefer not to stick rigidly within the confines of the original principle of how to bullet journal.
- How can I keep my motivation for bullet journaling?
Are you trying to be perfect, instead of simply enjoying the process?
As with all things in life, if you’re feeling burned out, it’s time for a break.
Step away for a few days, or a week. Evaluate what’s causing it to be draining rather than feeling like self-care. Also take some time to consider the following:
- Are you trying to do too much?
- Have you created too many collections or signifiers to keep up with?
- Can you simplify your journal with less intricate headers or fewer doodles?
- Are you trying to be perfect, instead of simply enjoying the process?
- Are you comparing yourself to others?
- Do you just need some new inspiration?
- How can I improve my calligraphy and brush lettering?
Practice, practice, and practice some more!
One of the most striking elements of the fabulous bujo spreads and headers you’ll find on Instagram and Pinterest is the beautiful lettering.
Often this is created using brush pens and calligraphy, and honestly, they’re tricky skills to master!
My greatest piece of advice is – practice, practice, and practice some more!
You could print off some downloadable lettering practice sheets and trace over them, practicing until you get the formation to a level you’re happy with.
In the meantime, cheat! You can create great faux calligraphy fonts without the need for brush pens or any skill beyond neat cursive writing!
- How can I make my journal prettier?
This is the true beauty of bullet journaling – there are so many options to customise your journal according to your own preferences. Here are a few my favourites:
- Beautiful fonts
- Intricate borders
- Cute illustrations
- Pretty washi tape
I hope this introduction to bullet journaling helps you find a new passion for the hobby! I’m going to leave you with some inspiration…
Bullet Journal Inspiration
These are some of the gorgeous spreads and headers I’m loving right now!