How to Start a Bullet Journal

I wrote a post a few weeks ago about my first attempt at bullet journaling  (the most avid users call it a bujo but I still refuse). I want to follow up on that post because I’ve worked on my bullet journal system a bit more and I’m more confident than I was. I’ve been surprised at the interest people have in the bullet journal process, so I decided to give a tutorial on how to set up a bullet journal, if that’s something you’re interested in doing. I recommend it for anyone who likes to:

  • Stay organized
  • Write
  • Keep all their information in one place
  • Doodle
  • Play with planners
  • Keep up with information
  • Make to-do lists
  • Keep a diary or record of life events
  • etc.

First of all, what is a bullet journal? A bullet journal is a rapid logging system that allows you to keep track of your life simply and easily.

The best way to learn about the basic setup is to go to Ryder Carroll created the bullet journal system and his website takes you through setting up a basic bullet journal step by step. His website is where I got started.

As far as supplies are concerned, a lot of websites will tell you that you have to have a specific kind of notebook and special pens and a ruler and colored pencils and powdered horn of a unicorn and by the time you’re done purchasing all the “correct” bullet journal materials, you’ll be half broke. All you need is a notebook and a pen. I wasn’t sure about the process when I started it, so I just used an empty notebook I had lying around. The photos in my first post on bullet journaling are from that notebook. That’s where I would start, and then if you find that you like the system and you want to keep it up, you can upgrade to a nicer notebook with thicker pages that don’t bleed through. I finally caved and got the fancy Leuchtturm1917. I love the gridded pages because they help with keeping my layouts even. Also, the pages don’t allow ink to bleed through, which is nice. But you absolutely do not have to fork out $20 for a notebook if you don’t want to. Especially, if you are trying this out for the first time. Get used to it first. A lot of people also use the Moleskin notebooks, which are easier to find and more affordable. Whatever works for you – go for it. That’s the whole point of the bullet journal.

Now, let’s dive in.

1. The Index

The index is the bread and butter of the bullet journal system. That’s what makes it so efficient. One of the reasons I’m enjoying my Leuchtturm notebook is because the pages are already numbered and it already has index pages set aside at the beginning. If you are using a normal notebook, you’ll have to number your pages manually. Skip 2 pages or so at the front of your notebook for the index, then start numbering. I would go up to 20 or 30 and then stop. You can add numbers on your pages later, as you need them. As you add different pages and spreads to your bullet journal, always go back and add them into the index. that way, you can find what you’re looking for easily. No more writing something down in a notebook and never being able to find it again.



2. Future Log

The first double page spread after the index in my bullet journal is my future log. It’s a yearly view with a quick list of important dates and things I need to accomplish for each month. There are so many different kinds of future log spreads. I used Pinterest to find all of my inspiration. Feel free to follow my bullet journal board on Pinterest for some inspiration of your own. I prefer a simple future log setup, but you can do it however you want. That’s the beauty of a bullet journal – it’s completely up to you. Ryder Carroll’s method is simple and easy. I did something similar, but with a little flair. Just remember to go back and add the page numbers to your index.bullet journal future log

I have a quick view of the days in the month and I can circle important dates and list them out to the side.  It’s a great way to get a quick view of what’s coming up. I use my key to create my list.

3. Create a Key

Most people put their key on the inside cover of their bullet journals. Mine is on the first page. When first started, I put my key on a post-it note because I kept changing my mind about what I wanted the icons to represent, as well as what I needed in my journal and what I didn’t. If you don’t like it, or if it doesn’t work for you, just change it. This is what I settled on.bullet journal key

4. Monthly Spread

The point of bullet journaling is that it combines a planner, diary, notebook, etc. all into one. I love that about it. I’ve always been obsessed with notebooks and I like to keep a journal, but I have a nasty habit of writing a few things in a pretty new notebook and then sticking it on a shelf somewhere and forgetting about it when a newer, prettier notebook came along. Not anymore. Now, I have several different things I’m keeping up with in one journal, and it’s all organized. I don’t think I’ll have any trouble filling this one up.

Like the future log, a monthly spread can be as simple or as detailed as you want it to be. Ryder Carroll’s system is a very simple list of dates and events/to-do items. I like that system and I’ve used it before. This month, I tried a traditional calendar view with a to-do list over on the side and while I think it’s pretty, I’m not sure I need the calendar view boxes. I will probably try something different next month.bullet journal index

5. Weekly Spreads

This is something I don’t have in my bullet journal currently. I might think about adding it in this summer, but right now I’m doing just fine without it. If you look at my first bullet journal post, you’ll see an example of a weekly spread I used to keep up with a to-do list for work. It’s good at helping me keep my job organized, but for my bullet journal I just haven’t used weekly spreads much. But you can check out my Pinterest board, do a Pinterest or google search yourself, or just look at Ryder Carroll’s options on his website and find a weekly spread that works for you if that’s something you want to add in your bullet journal.

Keep in mind that a bullet journal is whatever you want it to be. You don’t have to use all the page ideas I use. Make it work for you. Search out some ideas on your own. Just remember to go back and add the pages you create to your index – otherwise it’s just as unorganized as any other notebook.

6. Habit Tracker

This is one of my favorite things in my bullet journal. I create a new one for each month. This is what I use to keep up with habits I want to create – and you can personalize it to your own needs. Do you want to try to make your bed everyday, or have a quiet time, or drink enough water? Do you want to keep up with calories, or exercise, or hobbies? The habit tracker is a great way to visualize how often you do the things you want to do, the things you need to do but don’t necessarily want to do, and healthy habits. This is where the grid system of my notebook is super helpful. I just create a chart with the days of the month listed along the x-axis and the habits I want to track along the y-axis. If I do the thing that day, I just fill in a dot in the grid.bullet journal habit tracker

7. Gratitude Log

I didn’t put this in my original bullet journal because I thought it was cheesy, but then I had a random one page I needed to fill and I found this layout idea for a daily gratitude log page and I decided to try it. Now, regardless of the cheesiness, I love sitting down at the end of the day and thinking about something that happened that I was grateful for. It’s just a nice way to help focus on the positive.bullet journal gratitude log

8. Birthdays

This is another page idea I found on Pinterest. I copied it and I love it. I like how it keeps all the birthdays I need to remember on one page in a fun and original way. Again, there are tons of ways to track things like birthdays in a bullet journal. Do a search and find what works for you. bullet journal birthdays

And for the record, I’ve added some birthdays since I took this picture – so if you are someone who thinks you deserve to be on my birthday list – you probably are.

9. Year in Pixels

This was another page that I thought was cheesy at first, but the concept is simple enough that it was worth trying. This page uses the grid system in my notebook along with a color coding system to give me a quick glance at how my year went. A lot of people use this page to track moods, I chose to track the kind of day I had. I created a color code system that ranges from “very tough day” to “amazing day.” By the end of the year, I’ll be able to look back and see what kind of year I had. This is forcing me to re-evaluate the things that bother me that aren’t as important as I always initially think that they are. I think it’ll be fun to look back on my year and see the different colored blocks that represent my day.bullet journal year in pixels

10. Lists (books to read, movies to watch, places to visit, etc.)

One of my favorite pages in my bullet journal is my “Books to Read” page. On one side, I have my list of 2017 Reading Challenge books, and on the other I have a running list of books I want to read. I add to this almost every day. I like how it keeps the books I want to read all in one place.bullet journal books to read

I’ve added a ton since I’ve taken this picture. It’s halfway down a second column now. I might have a problem…

I also use the bullet journal to jot down reflections on what I’ve read. bullet journal book reflections

I also like to play around with lettering and doodling in my journal.bullet journal books

11. Favorite Quotes

I have a double page spread where I just write down quotes and/or bible verses I love. Again, I like how this keeps it all in one place. I won’t include a photo of this one because I think this is the kind of page you can make your own. I play with different hand lettering fonts when I write my quotes, but you could also just make a list. I can’t say this enough, but the bullet journal system is all about what you want it to be.

12. Tracking Health Habits

I have a few things in my bullet journal that I like to track in order to motivate me to stay healthy. I have the habit tracker, but I also have a workout log, a run tracker, and a weight loss tracker. bullet journal workout log

bullet journal run log

bullet journal weight loss tracker


13. Quiet Time Notes

This is one of the things I love about the bullet journal. I used to have a separate notebook to take notes during my quiet time in the morning. Now, I just set aside a few pages in my bullet journal for it. I have 6 pages set aside right now, but if I need to add on all I have to do is add them on at some blank pages at the end of my bullet journal and then go back and add those page numbers to the “quiet time” line on my index. bullet journal quiet time log

I also have a prayer journal in my bullet journal, which I won’t share a picture of because it’s private. I just want to give you ideas of things you could put in a bullet journal.

14. Blog Stuff

I have a blog schedule that I keep up with on my bullet journal, as well as a mind map of ideas for blog posts, and a tracker to see which posts do well.bullet journal blog schedule

bullet journal blog mind map

15. Writing and Journaling

The final thing I like to do in my bullet journal is … well … keep a journal. There are a couple of ways to do this, but the one I’m trying right now is the “line a day” method. I put the month on the top of one page and then number each line down for all the days of the month. At the end of each day (or the next morning), I write one sentence that sums up that day – or one sentence about something cool that happened that day. bullet journal line a day log

I also like to write in general, so I’ve set aside some pages in my bullet journal for writing prompts.


The point with this system is to take it and make it what you want it. I like writing and journaling, so I have a lot in my bullet journal. But you can simplify it as much as you want to. This tool was created to help you stay organized and to keep all of your important information in one place. There are so many ideas out there for ways you can use your bullet journal – and it doesn’t have to be fancy at all. I like to doodle and so I like to make my pages pretty with markers and colored pencils and washi tape. You don’t have to do any of that. The website includes the most simplistic version of the most basic pages. The point isn’t for it to be pretty and it’s not to give you one more thing to do. If it ever becomes that for you, then you’re either doing it wrong or you need to re-evaluate what you’re keeping up with in your journal.

So far, I love it. I’m having fun playing with different page ideas and I like having everything I keep up with in one place.

How many of you out there are bullet journalers? I would love to hear what you keep up with in your journals. Comment with ideas or pictures – I’m always looking for new things to add. If you’re a newbie and you think this is something you might want to try, let me know.

Happy journaling!

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Courtney Livingston

The Smart Girl's Guide To Surviving Her Twenties

Lex Loves Couture

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