Bullet Journal: What it is & How to Begin

** Originally posted on Adulting & Afraid, August 2017. Updated September 2018. **

Who created it: Ryder Carroll

"Ryder Carroll is a digital product designer and inventor of the Bullet Journal. He's had the privilege of working with companies like Adidas, American Express, Cisco, IBM, Macy's, and HP."

Learn more about him and the Bullet Journal here.

What it is

Bullet Journaling is a system you can use to keep track of:
  • To-dos
  • Habits
  • Important events that are going on in your life
  • Scheduling appointments or tasks
  • Goals + progress

The thing about bullet journaling is that you don't even need to have the "official" Bullet Journal to start. You can grab any notebook -- lined, grid, or blank -- and start creating a system that works just for you.

How to begin

Choose a notebook

Feel free to splurge on your notebook. You want something durable, comfortable and -- if you're like me -- pretty.

My recommendation is a notebook that you can write comfortably in -- so if you're a lefty like myself, do you prefer spiral bound notebooks for comfort? -- and has thick enough paper so that any pens, Sharpies, or markers you use won't bleed through. Or you can try out bullet journaling in an old notebook you haven't used yet (that's what I did when I was first starting out and still had to figure out what worked for me).

What I spent: $0 -- all the notebooks I've ever used for bullet journaling have been gifts (I guess when you tell people you're a writer, that's to be expected).

What it looks like:

Find THE pen

My favorite pen of all time is the Pilot G-2 (in both the 0.7mm and 0.5mm sizes).

The ink in this pen is the richest, blackest ink I've ever seen. It's smooth, has an easy grip and literally calms me down every time I write with it. It's just that good.

Other pens I've been impressed with:

What I spent: $5.00/pack of 4 ($1.25 each)

That's all you'll need! You don't need any fancy pens or highlighters to start off. In the first month or so you'll want to focus on creating a system that works for you. Your Bullet Journal should inspire you to keep coming back to it every day.

But when you are ready to add color:

Getting started: the setup

Contact info (1 page)

When you first open up your journal you'll want to put your name and contact information on the first page. That way if you happen to misplace it, someone can return it to you. :)

Index (3 to 4 pages)

On the next three to four pages you'll want to save space for the Index. The Index serves as the table of contents of your bullet journal.

As you go about making the other pages, you'll want to note their page numbers and titles in the Index. That way when you want to find a weekly log from 6 months ago, you can easily find it without tearing through the pages of your journal in a panic.

Key (1 to 2 pages)

On the next page after the Index, you'll want to create a Key (aka Legend) page. This will be the list of symbols you use and what they mean. Here are some examples of standard symbols and their meanings:
  • To do: ∙
  • In progress: \
  • Done: X
  • Scheduled: <
  • Note: -
  • Event: ◦
  • Migrated: >

Here is an example of a key I initially used (but grew out of):

Future log (2 pages)

This is a bird's eye view of your entire year. On these pages, you can mark birthdays, vacations, holidays and other important events.

Featuring my contact page & future log for August to December.

Monthly logs (1- 2 pages each)

Now we take a step closer and focus on a month. You can expand the month so that it's a bigger version of the one in your future log, with the important events marked. Some people like to write down a focus for each day, something that they learned, goals for the month, or tasks that solely need to be done once a month -- like taking time to budget or clean out the car.

Last month's monthly log layout

Weekly logs (2 pages each)

Scootching in even closer now, we focus specifically on the current week within our month. Some people find this unnecessary because they would rather focus in on their day to day.

I myself haven't focused on weekly logs, but like with any of the other pages/spreads, do some Internet digging and discover the layouts that inspire you. Then put them to the test.

This example could pass as a weekly log or a daily log.

Daily logs (as many pages as you may need per day)

Now we are zeroed in specifically on a day -- our current day. This is where I like to write down my focus for the day, to-dos, thoughts, ideas, lessons and doodles.

(see above photo for an example of a daily log)

Habit/goal tracker (2 pages)

This is what I mainly use my bullet journal for. Each month I have things I want to do daily -- drink water, write, edit my manuscript -- and things I want to do almost daily -- workout and read.

This is my current setup:

In conclusion...

If something doesn't seem to be working for you, change it up! Your bullet journal shouldn't feel like a hassle or a chore, so if it does, go back to the basics. One pen and some paper. Monitor your progress, flip through the pages and search online for inspiration. Experiment to find what works best for YOU.

Remember, there are no rules.

Bullet journals are flexible and fun. How will you use yours?

Stay tuned for Thursday's post, in which I'll be sharing some new spreads specifically geared toward students.


  1. SUCH A GOOD POST. THANK YOU. When my current planner is finished I will return to this and learn to bullet journal :DD

  2. THANK YOU! I have struggled with learning to bullet journal before, but this laid it out perfectly. Great post!

  3. I've never had an official bullet journal but I've always wanted to!!

    Nabila | Hot Town Cool Girl


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