*This post contains affiliate links. If you purchase products by clicking on those links I will receive a small commission from the Affiliate Host. These and other active links are posted in italics.
As I promised, today’s post is all about starting a bullet journal. Up until a few weeks ago I had no idea what these were. As you have probably seen from my Facebook page, I have quickly learned about them and started one of my own.
I had really wanted to do a video on this rather than a standard blog post because there are so many things I wanted to show you about my first bullet journal that would work well in a video format, but, alas, the technology gods are fighting me on that one. So bear with me as I write this all out and try to add photos as possible.
Why I Started Bullet Journaling
I started a bullet journal because I had tried many other planner methods to keep my life organized and none of them really fit the whole of my life. Ultimately I ended up with many planners and journals- a work planner, a blog and social media planner, goal books, a gratitude journal, vision boards, regular old journals, finance management pages, and other miscellaneous books to keep important information. I was never able to find one book to keep all of this information together in a neat and easy system. I came close this year with the planner I picked, but it was 8″ x 10″ and hardcover, so it was large and heavy. Still, this planner at least covered goal setting and exploring my values, but the setup was all wrong for me for tracking progress on my goals.
Enter the bullet journal…
What Is A Bullet Journal?
A bullet journal is a personal planner/ journal that is completely customizable by the user. I mean, really- it’s an empty book. The pages have either grid marks on them, like graph paper, or little dots that form a grid on each page. That’s it. Some have page numbers and a preprinted index page, but nothing else. What you put into your bullet journal and how you do it is entirely up to you.
This was scary as he** for me at first because I am a perfectionist and the thought of messing up those clean pages with markers and my awful handwriting- GASP! And then looking at all the gorgeous pages on Pinterest didn’t help AT ALL. My advice- just dive in. Yes, it will be a mess. Yes, you will make mistakes. You will learn. You will get better. And, above all, it is a tool meant to serve you, so if something isn’t working, change it.
How I Got Started
I started my bullet journal by doing many Pinterest searches for anything related to bullet journaling. A great online resource for starting a bullet journal is Ryder Carroll, the creator of bullet journaling. He has videos on YouTube on starting a bullet journal from scratch and a great website, bulletjournal.com. His content goes through the basics of bullet journaling. Of course, if you are anything like me you will be immediately drawn to the beautiful bullet journal pages that are posted in Pinterest. One goal I have is to create a beautiful, decorative bullet journal. But that’s for later. For now, it simply has to work.
To start my first bullet journal, I went on Amazon.com and purchased the following items:
- Essentials Grid-lined Notebook, Large, A5 Size
- Pitt Artist Pens- Wallet Set of All 4 Pen Styles in Black
- Tombow Dual Brush Pen Art Markers, bright, 10-Pack
- Poproo Washi Tape Set for Scrapbooking Supplies, DIY Crafts and Gift Wrapping
- Gimars Upgrade 3 Grinding and Polishing Large Hole Stainless Steel Paint Stencils Drawing Templates Scale Ruler with Not Sharp Edge for Bullet Journal, Planner, Scrapbooking, Card and Craft Projects
Of these, the first two are essentials. I really like my Essentials journal from Amazon. It was inexpensive, the perfect size for me (5″ x 8″), has many pages in it as well as a pocket on the back cover, and has an elastic strap to keep it closed as well as a sewn-in ribbon bookmark. The binding is sewn rather than glued, so it can open up and lay flat, which is very important when you are working on adding content.
I also love the Pitt pens. The nibs (tips) are the perfect sizes and they write smoothly on the page without bleeding through the paper.
The remaining three are helpful but not immediately necessary. Since I want to have a decorative bullet journal at some point I bought the brush pens for doing fancy writing and the washi tape because it adds pretty to a page and is easy to work with. Also, if you are like me and prefer to draw straight lines, I highly recommend the stencils set.
I also have a pencil, erasers, scissors, a flexible ruler for drawing curves, gel pens in various colors that I bought from Walgreen’s, small Post-Its for labeling future pages, and more basic colored markers to add to my collection. Finally, I have a fountain pen. Some people love these. I have since college. If you don’t, a good small-tip black pen is just fine. Overall, I spent just over $50 for all of this. However, if money is an issue you can start for as little as $10-$15. The journal book only cost around $10, and one good pen should only cost a few dollars.
Here are some pictures of my tools of the trade:
The Setup Of My Bullet Journal
As it was recommended in nearly everything I read, I started my bullet journal with an Index page. This is the only way that you will be able to keep track of where you put your information and find it easily in the future. If you are using a journal with page numbers already printed on it, just use those. if not, you will need to number each page you create.
Here is a picture of my Index page:
Note: My first big mistake was not creating a key right away for tracking tasks. Once I realized this I went back and corrected the error. The key is a piece of paper taped to my index page that has on one side symbols related to tasks, events, and appointments and their stages of completion and on the other side a key for weather tracking. I like tracking the weather, so why not?!
I then began with my first Monthly page spread. This was on the first left-sided page in the journal. I labelled this with the month and year at the top of the page, wrote the dates going down the left side of the page in a column of squares and placed abbreviations for the days of the week right next to each date in a square. Then I added important events for the month, such as birthdays, special events, and other activities that only occur that month. Then on the right sided page of the spread (note: a spread is a 2-page side-by-side layout) I created a box for goals for the month and another box for tasks that are related to those goals. Next to those boxes is a brain dump area for ideas to consider adding to the bullet journal throughout the month.
My next page spread was a Weekly page spread. This includes weekly tracking of habits and my mood as well as a page of key activities for the week. However, after doing this I found that it felt too repetitive for me with the daily pages and conflicted with my interest in adding in various separate habit trackers, so I ended up not adding any more.
The next page was my first Daily page spread. This is also a 2-page spread where I listed the dates one day at a time and any important information underneath. Using my key I added boxes, circles, or triangles to separate my tasks from appointments and events. I added a washi tape divider/ tab between Friday and the weekend days on the second page to separate the week from the weekend and to give me a little tab to help me find the page easily. It also added a little pretty to the page. I also added the weather for each day just for fun. Then as I completed tasks or as my to-do list changed I filled in each box, circle, or triangle as shown on the key.
Here are pictures of my first Monthly, Weekly, and Daily pages:
Aside from a few simple drawings and a little color, they are nothing special to look at. The first daily spread is a hot mess, so I ended up simplifying it quite a bit. Each week I plan to add to the lists and add the weather as needed. I would also like to add some artwork and inspiration to each page. Give me time. I intend to use some more artistic skill in the future.
How do these pages work?
As you finish items on your list for each day you can mark it off by filling in the little box/circle/triangle next to it. If it is only partially done, fill them in halfway on a diagonal. If you decide not to do it, you can simply cross it off. However, if you decide to do the task at a later date, draw an arrow through the box/circle/triangle and write the date and time for when it will be done in the future. The add it in on the future date. This is called migrating a task.
One of the most attractive features of a bullet journal is the ability to add trackers for the development of habits and meeting personal goals. Originally I added a
sad basic habit chart and mood tracker to my first weekly page. I don’t like it at all, so I decided to change it. I have since gone to a monthly tracker where my tasks are listed next to a grid. All I have to do is color in boxes for each habit/goal/focus area as I complete it. Some people color code this, some don’t. I tried but only did a little. That’s an area to grow in.
Once again, I messed this up. Two of my goals (meditation and yoga) were listed too high on the page so I had to add in new rows under the rest of the tracker for these.
Here is a picture of my June tracker:
The flexibility of the bullet journal allows you to add whatever you want to it in whatever form works for you. Since I wanted mine to reflect the shape of my life and not just my tasks I decided to add in a monthly gratitude page and a “manifestation station.” Finally, I added in an extra “brain dump” spread in order to give me a place to schedule work appointments for next month as they come in, to outline a social media calendar for next month, and an open page to make jots of anything random. Right now this includes information on skincare products that I am considering, songs that I would like to download, movies that I want to see, and anything that is easily forgotten if it isn’t written down.
After I got all of this done I decided that I really needed to enter a Yearly Goals page to keep myself focused on the big picture rather than the day-to-day little stuff. This got placed right inside the front cover of the journal and includes broad goal areas as well as specific steps for each of the goals. I plan to use this as a focal point for all of my monthly planning to make sure that what I am doing is actually reflecting what I really want for this year and years to come.
At some point I may also add some more traditional “journal” pages where I write about each month and my life’s journey. These would make really nice endcaps to each month.
So once you have one month outlined, what do you do if you don’t have the time to add in pages for the next month or other upcoming months and have stuff to put on them? Here is what I have done.
First, I already mentioned the extra “brain dump” spread. This gets any immediately pressing information written down so it can be easily added into the next month. For the rest of the pages, though, I have found that simply creating a Post-It sticky note with a title/ topic on it and placing it on pages in my journal works really well. Then at the end of the month when I am in my planning phase again all I have to do is follow the prompts on these notes. I can choose to keep a layout the same or change it. I can also move the sticky notes around if I want to change their order.
In July I plan to add more trackers (detailed self-care habits, monthly meal planning, personal finance tracking, home projects, books, movies, and music), add more manifesting and vision board space, eliminate weekly pages, and probably add a monthly journal page at the end of the section for self-reflection and review.
My Overall Review
Despite its imperfections I really love my bullet journal. I enjoy being able to keep the shape of my life all in one book so that I can easily review what works for me, what doesn’t work, and what I could consider adding or removing in order to get closer to meeting my goals. As for adding in the pretty stuff, that will come. It would be easy enough to sit and sketch while watching a movie or TV show or to doodle out something if a client doesn’t show up for their appointment with me on a Tuesday. I will also continue to scour Pinterest for ideas.
For you, dear reader, if you are at all interested in bullet journaling I would encourage you to check out the PrettyJoyful Pinterest page as well as other Pinterest or Instagram pages on bullet journaling. On the PrettyJoyful Pinterest page there is a board specifically dedicated to all things bullet journal-related. Above all, don’t be afraid to dive in. You can make it as simple or as complicated as you want. Allow yourself room to make mistakes and changes, be proud of your successes and growth, and learn about yourself and the shape of your life. Have a PrettyJoyful day!