Intro to Bullet Journaling

This guide was written by our graphic designer Cathryn. She’s been bullet journaling for over 2 years and considers herself an expert. For more tips and inspiration, follow her bullet journal on Instagram @well.thats.sketchy

Has bullet journaling caught your eye? It sure caught mine on that fateful April day in 2017. Bullet journalers are creating crazy beautiful spreads all over the internet - they’re hard to avoid if the algorithm is serving you up the arts and crafts category. It’s easy to feel both inspired and overwhelmed by all the examples out there and it’s difficult to know where to start. That’s where I come in.

If you’ve done any research to try to figure out this whole ‘bullet journal’ thing, you may have come across the name Ryder Carrol, the creator of the bullet journaling method. His website is a good place to start. But if you’re anything like me, the b-e-a-utiful pages of lettering, drawing, and collaging is what drew you to bullet journaling, not…migrating tasks  ?. His guide focuses on using a system of symbols, called bullets. But in this series of blog posts, I’ll be discussing a more creative approach - and this first one will focus on how to set up your bullet journal.

Wait so what is this??

Ok, so let’s start at the beginning. A bullet journal is basically just a super flexible, handmade planner to help you keep track of your life and be more productive. On top of that, you can mix in journal content like trackers, gratitude, journal entries, lists, idk. The basic structure of the planner is the future log, the monthly log, and the daily log (or the yearly calendar, monthly calendar, and weekly calendar, if it’s easier to think of them that way.) You use a system of bullet points to schedule and take notes. Ryder Carrol has an “official” system that lends itself really well to a more stream of consciousness approach. However, I like to have more structure in my spreads so planning ahead is easier. I use my own modified set of symbols that make sense for me and you’ll find what works best for you too.

Getting Started

Step one, bullet journal = bujo. Now you’ve got the lingo.

If you want to pick up bujo-ing, you’re gonna need three things. 

A blank notebook. Size A5 with a dot grid is the favorite for bujos, but there are other options out there - and it just so happens 1canoe2 makes three great ones! I really love using our dot grid journal because it has s-u-p-e-r thick pages that can even handle paint. And I love using gouache for my themes. The paper is also a nice bright white color and really smooth, it makes any ink look good. And the hard cover is like really pretty. Listen, you’re probably going to carry this journal with you everywhere. So it’s gotta be cute and it’s gotta be durable.

A pen. Unless you’re a maniac (🙋🏻‍♀️ mee) then by all means exhibit no self control and buy ALL THE PENS. And markers. And washi tape. And pretty mechanical pencils. And--ok we get it, I have a problem. If you’re just getting started and/or don’t want to do a time consuming, decorative theme, then you really only need a single pen. But if you are trying to do the decorative thing, then grab whatever art supplies you want!

And a life to keep track of. I mean… you’ll need something to write about.

Cathryn’s extra supplies cuz she’s extra. 

  1. A spare notebook for sketching out themes and designs.
  2. A running list of theme ideas and inspiration so you never (maybe) find yourself in a new month with no where to start.
  3. Instagram, to find some inspiration. There are a lot of hashtags to follow out there, but be sure to keep an eye on #1c2bujos.

Step one, open up your bujo and take a deep breath, they only have that new notebook smell for so long. People often start with an index (to find spreads) and key (of what symbols mean) up front. I tend to skip that and just start off with a page that has contact info and/or the start and finish dates. Then I do my yearly log spreads. This is a year-at-a-glance calendar to plan out all your major events. There’s a ton of inspiration out there for how to do this log. I’ve been using the following layout for a while and it’s worked really well for me - it’s simple, there’s plenty of room, and I can fill in events as they are scheduled. I make sure to have at least 12 months laid out in my yearly log. And then I always have a little section at the end for any planning past that, which I’ll have for reference for my next notebook when the time comes. 

Contact Page

Yearly Log

Yearly Log Part 1Yearly Log Part 2

Next up is a couple random spreads in between the yearly and first monthly logs. I throw stuff in here that I know I’ll want to reference and use long term. This can be anything you want, but for some ideas, I have a savings tracker, a long-term creative project list, a goals list, stuff like that. You can always add these long-term spreads whenever you think of them throughout your bujo. But if you already have a few ideas for these spreads, it’s helpful to have them up front.

Ok, the monthly log. This is your monthly calendar and any other pages you’ll use over the course of the month. Mine usually looks like: a monthly cover page, a calendar, a to-do list, trackers, and a page for some journal-y content that I switch up every month.

Ryder Carrol thinks of these as a dated list and a notes page. I think of it as a monthly cover page, a calendar, a to-do list, trackers, and a separate notes section at the end of the month. So think of the things you need to keep track of all month and put them in your monthly log. If you need a place to start, here’s some more details on what I do:

  • Page 1-2: Monthly cover page. (A page or two with the month and designed on theme.) I like cover pages because they help to visually separate and organize your months as you’re flipping through. They also serve as a nice foundation for your visual theme as you design the rest of your pages.
  • Page 3-4: Monthly calendar. There’s always extra space on the side, so I add a column for bills and my Top Five (a list of the most important things this month - goals or to-dos).
  • Page 5: Journal-y content: I try to add something fun ‘n fresh™ every month that shows what I’ve been up to, but isn’t planning. I’ve done a line a day ( I had terrible follow-through), a list of everything that was wrong with my car (meant to remind myself why I was buying a new one), and a summer soundtrack (things I loved listening to over the summer.) There’s endless ideas out there on the internet. To name a few others.. mood tracker, doodle-a-day, and work-out routines.
  • Page 6: Monthly to-do list and habit tracking. Self explanatory.
Pages 1 - 2  |  Monthly Cover Page

Pages 1-2 Monthly Cover Page

Pages 3 - 4  |  Monthly Calendar

Pages 3-4 Monthly Log

Pages 5 - 6  |  Journal Content & Monthly To-do's

Pages 5-6 Monthly Content

After you get all your monthly log stuff out, it’s time for your daily log! There are a  T O N of ways to do these pages. You can do a one week across two pages, a page per day, one week per page, enter days as you go, make dutch doors, draw them all up at once, or do it week by week, etc, etc, etc. The point is to find what works best for you! When you’re just starting out, it might be helpful to follow the standard weekly layout that you find in most planners. That’s what I tend to stick to. But you can switch it up every month to see what you like and try something new.

Weekly Spreads (or Daily Logs)

Daily Logs

I write up all my weekly spreads at once - I find it easier to plan ahead that way. And then I add a notes section at the end of each month. I use this for random thoughts or notes that don’t need a page for themselves. Keeping them all in one spot helps me migrate them forward if I need to. This has been a good spot for me, but you might find a better place in your notebook for it (or not need it at all)

Monthly Notes Page

Monthly Notes Page

And with that, your bujo is set up and ready for planning!

A bujo is your life in a notebook. Whether it’s planning, journaling, or both, it’s customized and flexible. As you go forward, there’s one thing to keep in mind: There are no rules. It’s about finding a system that works for you. A system that you find helpful and useful in organizing your life. And if the internet examples are intimidating to you, remember the longer you do it, the better you’ll get. Whatever your goal is with your bujo, give yourself time to get there. I could show you my first few spreads to prove it, but I won’t. 🤷💃

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