Bullet Journal Setup – Step by Step Guide to Get Started

So, you’re finally ready to start a bullet journal… or maybe you’re just intrigued and want to know more? You’re in the right place.

 

I first came across bullet journaling on Pinterest and at first, I was a little confused. After looking into the whole process a bit more, I felt even more confused. Not only did I feel lost, but I was also intimidated. I’m not an artist and it appeared that everyone who bullet journaled was. So, I just stopped there and never gave it another thought.

 

A few months later I came across the Bullet Journal Method from Ryder Carroll (the creator of bullet journaling) and it finally clicked. I learned the basics of bullet journaling and later added some personality and color to my spreads. Find out more about the Bullet Journal Method by watching this 5-minute tutorial.

 

How to start a bullet journal

 

*Disclosure – This post may contain affiliate links. This means that at no cost to you I could earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. To learn more about my disclosure policy you can find that information here.

 

WHAT IS A BULLET JOURNAL

The short answer to this question is, “whatever you want it to be”.  The official answer to this question though is that a bullet journal is amethodology“.

It’s designed to help you organize your what while you remain aware of your why.  […] live intentional lives, ones that are productive and meaningful.

 

– REASONS TO BULLET JOURNAL

  • You can track multiple things in one journal.
  • It’s fully customizable.
  • It’s great for planning and tracking.
  • Track both short and long term goals.
  • Inspires creativity.
  • Anyone can benefit from a bullet journal (students, moms, dads, entrepreneurs, bloggers, YouTubers, men, women, etc.

 

BEGIN WITH BASICS – FOCUS ON FUNCTIONALITY

Put that bullet journal down! As tempting as it may be to just start writing on those crisp new pages…. don’t do it… just don’t. Keep reading, we will get there.

 

– PLAN TO SUCCEED

DON’T START without a plan. My advice, grab a scrap sheet of paper and make a list of things YOU NEED in your journal. You don’t NEED to make a full page dedicated to Netflix shows you want to watch. You can add the fun stuff after the functionality. Remember, there is no right or wrong way to bullet journal. This is YOUR bullet journal and you should design it to meet your needs. 

 

minimal bullet journal key

 

Step by Step – Starting a New Bullet Journal

1. Planning your first pagesChoose which pages you want to use at the beginning of your bullet journal. If you’re using a key in your bullet journal consider the signifiers you plan on using. Use what works for you! Are you using an index page in your bullet journal? Be sure to number your pages if they aren’t already numbered.

The most common pages to add in your new bullet journal include:
  • Key: using a key in your bullet journal is a great way to keep your tasks, appointments, and more organized. Most of the time you’ll see a “signifier” which is a symbol representing a given topic such as, completed, migrated, canceled, etc. If this is your first bullet journal, I recommend using a key to get you started.  

 

  • Index: most of you know what a key is, think back to those good ol’ textbooks you used in school. The index will list the pages in your journal and the page number to find it on. Having a bullet journal with pre-printed numbers is really nice to have if you plan on using an index, this way you don’t have to number your pages by hand!

 

  • Grid Notes (Spacing): this is a great page to use in your journal to help with grid spacing. It’s hard to explain, so I’ll include a picture here with a quick explanation. Count the number of dots both vertically and horizontally, mark the area on your page that represents the halfway point for both directions (vertically and horizontally). You can also mark the center of the page, 1/4 points on the page, and more. *NOTE: You can also add this page to the back of your bullet journal if you prefer.

 

  • Cover Page (for a new year or new month): after adding those first few basic pages you can create your cover page that represents the upcoming year or month. For example, your cover page could include the upcoming year with a design of your choice or you could skip this cover page all together until your ready to create your first monthly layout.

 

  • Look Ahead Calendar (Future Log): use this page to keep track of all the important events you have coming up this year. I like to list important holidays, birthdays, scheduled events, and important dates for school and work.

 

  • Goals: adding goals to your bullet journal is a great way to be reminded of them and mark them off as you achieve them. I create yearly goals and add them here at the beginning of my journal. I also create a monthly goals page.

 

  • Bucket List: create a dedicated page devoted to everything you want to do this year (or lifetime), no matter how big or small it just list it and figure out a way to get it done.

 

  • Pen Test: make a page to test out your pens. Make a quick swatch and write the name and color or number of the pen/marker. Sometimes the lid doesn’t match the color and this helps out quite a bit. *NOTE: You can also add this page to the back of your bullet journal if you prefer.

 

 

2. Choosing your monthly pages: Now, it’s time to decide which monthly pages you want to use for that upcoming month (if it’s currently December, start with January). If you’re just getting started, start with a few basic pages.

Some of the most popular monthly pages include:

 

I know, you’ve seen a list of 100-page ideas for your bullet journal. That’s cool and all but AINT NOBODY GOT TIME FOR THAT. Start with your basic pages, after you’re comfortable with bullet journaling, sprinkle a few of those fun page ideas here and there. You’re planning to succeed, not planning to plan.

Want more page ideas for your Bullet Journal? Get my full list with over 100 ideas! Plus, you’ll get access to even more freebies.
Or, you can check out my post on bullet journal page ideas for a few ideas.

 

 

3. Supplies (The Bullet Journal): After using quite a few bullet journals I can confidently recommend a journal to fit your needs depending on what you’re looking for. The journal I most often recommend is the Scribbles that Matter Bullet Journal, it’s great for beginners and pros alike. With this journal, you’ll get thick paper (160 GSM), numbered pages, pre-printed key, pre-printed pen test page, and MORE. 

 

HORIZONTAL
A5 Dotted Journal by Scribbles That Matter - Bullet Dot Grid Notebook - No Bleed Thick Fountain Pens Friendly Paper - Hardcover with Large Inner Pocket - Pro Version - White
585 Reviews
A5 Dotted Journal by Scribbles That Matter - Bullet Dot Grid Notebook - No Bleed Thick Fountain Pens Friendly Paper - Hardcover with Large Inner Pocket - Pro Version - White
  • DONT RUIN YOUR HARD WORK: Pens and markers glide across the ultra smooth ink proof 160gsm acid-free paper. Zero bleeding, ghosting and feathering for beautifully clean double-sided musings. Our journals have a Pen Test page so you don’t ruin all your hard work
  • START ORGANIZING RIGHT AWAY: Bullet journaling should be fun which is why we’ve made our journal an overwhelm-free zone. Includes key code page, index pages, dotted numbered pages and 2 color coded bookmarks for optimal organization and stress-free set up
  • WONT FALL APART: The silky yet sturdy faux leather cover protects your plans and ideas for years to come. Strong binding means even die hard journalers won’t have to worry about pages falling out from avid writing. Lay flat design for smoother writing
  • PLAN YOUR LIFE WHEREVER YOU ARE: Journaling isn’t a hobby, it’s a lifestyle. This A5 journal is perfect for portability and best for travel so you can have it on you at all times. Pen holder means no more rummaging around in your bag when inspiration strikes

 

If you want a budget-friendly bullet journal to get started with I recommend this one. If you’re okay bullet journaling without the dot gird paper you can also use any notebook you have lying around, this is a good way to get started without investing any money. Another good bullet journal to consider is by Lemome. It’s a good midrange bullet journal that has a lot to offer at a fair price. You can read my full Lemome Bullet Journal Review to find out more. 

3. Supplies (The Supplies you Need): To get started the only thing you NEED is a PEN (or fineliners), AND A PENCIL/ERASER. What about all those other supplies everyone uses (watercolors, Tombow dual brush pens, etc)? Forget about that all that.

Let’s not go from 0 to 100. <— that’s exactly what I did in the beginning and it didn’t work, I just felt more overwhelmed and unorganized. You can add more supplies to your collection once you feel comfortable with bullet journaling.

Pencil (and Eraser): I ALWAYS use a pencil during the planning process. Do you know how many calendars I’ve messed up? (I once created a calendar with 8 days for each week, this girl ain’t perfect). After everything is set up the way you want, go back in with ink. 

Pen or Fineliners: If you’re starting and the only thing you have around is a simple pen THAT WILL DO. I like to use fineliners in multiple tip sizes to create borders and separation. I use these Pigma Micron Fineliners HERE.  (OPTIONAL) If you prefer straight lines when creates calendars and borders I would suggest a ruler.

 

4. Supplies (Supplies to Enhance your Bullet Journal): Now that’s I’ve been bullet journaling for quite a while I can go on and on about supplies. So I’ll just list a few of my personal favorites here.

 

 

G2 PEN

 

 

 

 

GETTING STARTED – WRITING IN YOUR BULLET JOURNAL

TIP: Begin sketching out your pages with a pencil first. Once you’re happy with the layout you can go back in with ink.

– COMMON QUESTIONS

  1. WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO START MY BULLET JOURNAL? You can start a bullet journal anytime you want. Personally, I would start a new bullet journal for an upcoming month rather than starting in the middle of the current month.
  2. HOW LONG WILL MY BULLET JOURNAL LAST? Who knows. It depends on the different pages you include in your journal. As time goes on you should be able to estimate how much longer your bullet journal will last.
  3. WHEN SHOULD I USE MY BULLET JOURNAL? As needed and/or at the end of each day. If I need to write down appointments or tasks I write it as soon as I can. If I’m writing in a mood tracker or habit tracker I would do that at the end of the day (find what works best for you and go with that).

 

– FINDING INSPIRATION

After you’ve decided what pages you’d like to include in your bullet journal it’s time to find your style. Sometimes we need a little inspiration to do this. Looking on Instagram or Pinterest may inspire some layout designs you’d like to try. If you see a design you like and it’s full of “fluff” (elaborate designs, doodles, washi tape, watercolors, and more) just create the layout and leave out the fluff. TIP: when you begin looking for inspiration remember to keep it simple, make sure the layouts are functional on their own without all the added extras (fluff).

 

Bullet Journal Cover Page

– ADDING YOUR PAGES (EXAMPLE FOR BEGINNERS)

 

  1. INDEX: Your index should be the first functional page in your bullet journal (if you’re not using an index skip this step). Some bullet journals already have a pre-printed index and key to get you started like Scribbles that Matter.
  2. KEY: The location of your index and key can be interchangeable. It’s completely up to you which one you’d like to put first (if you plan to use these pages).
  3. FUTURE LOG: I like to use future logs so I can see upcoming events/notes for the year. My favorite way to do this is by creating small calendars for each month of the year and notating important events under the calendar. 
  4. COVER PAGE: This is a great page to use to separate months from one another. 
  5. MONTHLY LOG/CALENDAR: You can make this your first page for the month following the cover page. This way you can see all the upcoming tasks, events, etc.
  6. WEEKLY LOG/CALENDAR: After your monthly log you can create your weekly log. I personally take events and tasks from my monthly log and add them here with more detail (such as times, things to bring, phone numbers, address’ more).
  7. BUDGET/FINANCE: You can create a monthly budget page or weekly. I use a monthly page so I can see my finance as a whole (I break down the month into weeks on my page). Ideas to put on your budget page: Income, bills, savings goals, monthly expenses, credit score, etc)
  8. BRAIN DUMP: My mind is always going 100 MPH. The best way to get those thoughts out is by writing them down. Put a brain dump page in your bullet journal where you feel you would benefit most from it (I usually put mine after the weekly log or budget page).
  9. GOALS: Put your short term goals with your monthly pages. This way you can set goals by month. If you want to track long term goals I recommend making a designated page in the beginning or end of your bullet journal. 

 

Bullet Journal Index  

-THE FUTURE OF YOUR BULLET JOURNAL

With all new things, it’s gonna take some time to get used to it. Don’t beat yourself up for making mistakes, or forgetting to use your bullet journal.

MAKE IT A HABIT: The only way your bullet journal will be useful is if you actually use it. If you use it here and there you won’t benefit from its potential. Try to use your journal around the same time every day, that’s the best way to make a habit.

MISTAKES (WE ALL MAKE THEM): You’re gonna make mistakes in your journal, it’s a fact. The only way to avoid making a mistake is by not using it. Make your mistakes and move on, I still make mistakes all the time in my bullet journal.

DON’T BE AFRAID TO TRY NEW THINGS: Remember all of those bullet journal pages I mentioned at the beginning of this post? Experiment with a few once you get the hang of this bullet journal thing. This leads to my next point…

GET CREATIVE: After mastering your basic bullet journal add in some fun colors and designs. Start small so you don’t feel you’re in over your head, and then add in more elements.

IT’S OKAY TO KEEP IT MINIMALISTIC: You can keep your bullet journal minimalistic forever if you want to, that’s perfectly fine. Don’t feel pressured to add anything more than you want to.

GET RID OF PAGES YOU DON’T USE: The great thing about creating a new layout each month is that you can change it. If you didn’t like a specific design or page you can eliminate for the upcoming month, or change it.

Final Thoughts

Have fun! If you haven’t started a bullet journal yet what’s holding you back? Want more information on Bullet Journaling? Check out the Bullet Jouranl FAQ’s

 

Pin for Later

Bullet Journal 101