The Bullet Journal Guide for Beginners (Free printables!)

If you’ve been reading my blog for any extended amount of time you’ll realize one thing about me:  I love planning and planners.  In fact, I’m obsessed with planning, organization, and planners.  My mom, friends, and kids make fun of me because I have a growing collection of all different planners — yes, it’s addiction.  (Even though I like to call it a collection.)

A few years ago I got into the planning world when I heard about bullet journaling and I fell in love.  There were quite a few things that I found very appealing about the bullet journaling system and I knew I had to try it.

I loved the fact that the bullet journaling system is completely customizable and easy to start.  All you need to start a bullet journal is a notebook, pen, ruler, and your imagination. My first bullet journal was inside of a graph paper composition book that I covered in scrapbook paper and used velcro and a piece of elastic to close.  I didn’t want to purchase any higher quality notebook for my bullet journal until I figured out if the system would work for me. I stayed in that notebook until I used up every page and then I invested in the, ever popular, Leuchtturm1917 notebooks that many bullet journalers use.  Yes, the Leuchtturm notebooks are more pricey than normal notebooks but I quickly realized that these notebooks are amazing quality, have numbered pages and work extremely well for bullet journals.

These are my (colorful) 2016, 2017 and 2018 bullet journals.

A short summary of bullet journals

The bullet journal system was created by a man named Ryder Carrol.  He describes this system as a form of rapid logging and having the ability to log information quickly and easily with symbols that are called signifiers.  He also boasts that the most unique thing about this system is that you can customize your bullet journal to work for you, your needs and your lifestyle.  You can visit the official bullet journal website here.

The bullet journal consists of a few fixed elements that almost every bullet journaler has in their bullet journals

 

The key and index

The key is a short explanation of the symbols that you’ll be using in your bullet journal.  You can use the typical key that the creator of the bullet journaling system suggests or you can create your own symbols.  Once you bullet journal for an extended amount of time, you probably won’t need your key any longer and can omit this from your bullet journal.  I’ve been bullet journaling for a few years now and I know what all of my symbols mean without a key.  

The index is 2-4 pages at the beginning of your bullet journal that will summarize what is on each page of your bullet journal.  The index is extremely helpful if you’re looking for something specific and need to access it without thumbing through all of the pages in order to find it.  The number of pages you’ll need for your index will depend on how you are going to be creating your index and how detailed you want to get.

bullet journal index

 

Future Log

Since the bullet journal is a system that takes things day by day and month by month there’s no way to log events that are scheduled in the future.  The future log is a page that is laid out similar to the below and allows you to jot down events that you need to remember for following months. At the beginning of each month, I go right to my future log in order to see what I have planned for that month so I can transfer it over to my calendar.  

bullet journal future log

 

Collections

Creating collections is a way of keeping track of lists, event planning, to-do lists or anything else you want to remember.  Some popular collections are books to read, recipes to remember, movies to watch, shows to watch, wishlist, etc… These are lists based on specific topics that are, usually, ongoing.  The point of the bullet journal is to store everything in one place rather than on pieces of paper, sticky notes or numerous notebooks so having all of your lists in one place is extremely useful.  As you get started on creating your notebooks you’ll think of different lists that you want your bullet journal to contain. If you need some inspiration we have an ultimate list of bullet journal collections that you can download below!

 

Monthly Spread

Some people use monthly logs instead of monthly spreads but since I use the latter that’s what I’m going to be talking about.  

A monthly spread is basically exactly what they sound like.  Some people (like me) hand draw their calendar every month and some people prefer to print off a calendar to paste into their bullet journals.  The style that you want to use for your monthly spread is completely up to you.

In my monthly section I usually have:

  • Monthly calendar
  • Monthly to-do list
  • Habit tracker
  • Mood tracker
  • Spending tracker

These monthly collections are what works for me and while these may not work for you, I wanted to offer some ideas of what you can use in your monthly sections.  

I find that the monthly collections that I use in my bullet journal help to keep me extremely organized and that’s the way I like it.  The habit tracker is to basically track everything that I want to do on a daily basis for the month. My mood tracker is the same concept.

Weekly Spread

Once again, the weekly spread is exactly what it sounds like.  Everyone lays out their weekly spreads in different ways. Some stick to a very minimalistic approach while some people get very creative and decorate each week.  

I used to lay out my weekly spreads by taking it day-by-day but I realized that it wasn’t as creative as I liked.  I started to lay out my weekly spread in a more Erin Condren inspired way and it’s made my life and bullet journal so much more effective for me.  I also add a mini tracker, notes, events and reminders for next week, etc… I wanted my weekly spread to be more functional than I originally had it and I accomplished that well.  

Here are a few examples of weekly spreads that I’ve used.

 

Daily Spread (Optional)

In addition to the weekly spread, some bullet journalers also use a daily spread.  Personally, I don’t use a daily spread unless I know I have a very busy week coming up with a lot of tasks and information that I have to remember every single day.   I did try to use a weekly spread along with a daily spread for a month but soon realized that I was just wasting space.  Since my planning system consists of a few different planners, it was counterintuitive to keep writing the same information on both the weekly and daily spreads. 

 

Calendex (Optional)

The calendex is something that I have been using for two years and find extremely helpful for my life.  It’s basically a yearly grid where you can track future events, appointments or things on specific pages that you need to remember.  Here is an example of last year’s Calendex to give you an idea of what it is.

See those numbers inside of the boxes on the grid?  Those correspond to the specific page where the event, appointment or important information is listed for that specific date.  I find this an extremely easy way to find something that you need to remember for a certain date but that isn’t important enough to write into your future log.

 

Decoration or Minimalism

There are so many ways that you can bullet journal and the individual style is up to the person creating the bullet journal.  Some people enjoy decorating their spreads with doodles, stickers or washi tape while others prefer to keep their bullet journal minimalistic. I’ve used both the decorative and minimalistic ways of bullet journaling and I continue to do both depending on how I feel.  There are days that I feel artistic and days that I feel like just straight out bullet journaling without having to worry about thinking of creative ways to decorate my month or week.

Here is an example of a month (Feb 17) when I went all out decorating. 

What are the best supplies for bullet journaling?

Notebooks

leuchtturm1917

Leuchtturm1917 – These notebooks are incredibly popular for bullet journaling even though they’re slightly more pricey than other notebooks that you can use.  This is what I currently use for bullet journaling and have used for the past three years.  Here are some of the features of the Leuchtturm1917:

  • 249 pages with 8 perforated pages in the back of the book
    • Comes in dot grid, square, lined and plain
  • Hard-cover that’s extremely durable
  • Numbered pages to make indexing easier
  • 2 bookmarks (3 if you spring for the Bullet Journal series.)
  • Paper pocket in the back for holding notes, receipts, stickers, etc…
  • Off-white colored pages
  • Tons of colors to choose from
  • Price: $19.95 for the regular notebook and $29.95 for the Bullet Journal branded LT

leuchtturm pen holder

Leuchtturm1917 also sells an adhesive pen holder that you can purchase separately.  I love this pen holder because you can match the color of the pen holder to the color of your bullet journal and the adhesive is extremely secure.  I love that the pen holder itself is elastic and can fit absolutely any pen you’d like.  I use a Pilot High Tech-C Coleto pen and it fits perfectly.

 

 

scribbles that matter

Scribbles That Matter – I’ve personally never used the Scribbles That Matter notebooks but I’ve heard great things about them from the bullet journaling community.  These notebooks come in the iconic and pro versions. Here are some features of these notebooks:

  • 185 dot grid pages
  • Numbered pages, which is great for indexing
  • Pages for
    • Index
    • Key
    • Pen test
  • 2 bookmark ribbons
  • Pocket in the cover for notes, receipts, stickers, etc…
  • Hard-cover that’s extremely durable
  • 100gsm paper which they claim will prevent ink bleeds and smears.  This is a thicker paper than the Leuchtturm.
  • A lot of colors to choose from
  • Off-white paper color
  • Price: $19.99 for both the Iconic and Pro versions

 

moleskine dotted notebook

Moleskine – I used to use the Moleskine notebooks for bullet journaling and business and while I liked them I felt the paper quality wasn’t the best.  I feel that Leuchtturm1917 has much better paper quality than Moleskine but it did the job! Here are some features of the Moleskine notebooks:

  • 192 pages
    • Comes in dot grid, square, lined and blank
  • 1 bookmark ribbon
  • Soft or hardcover
  • Paper pocket in back for notes, receipts, stickers, etc…
  • A few colors to choose from
  • Off-white paper color
  • Price: $15.99

 

Artist’s Loft – Michael’s most recently came out with an Artist’s Loft journal that comes in dot grid, blank, lined and graph.  I tried this notebook out for business purposes and I have to say that it’s a great bullet journal alternative.  I wouldn’t make it my first choice but it’s definitely an option.  Here are some features of the Artist’s Loft notebooks:

  • 128 pages
    • Comes in dot grid, square, lined and blank
  • 80gsm paper (although it feels thicker than that)
  • 2 bookmark ribbons
  • Softcover
  • Paper pocket in back for notes, receipts, stickers, etc…
  • A lot of colors to choose from
  • Off-white paper color
  • Price: $5.00

 

Pens

When it comes to pens for bullet journaling it’s all about personal preference.  I use a variety of pens for bullet journaling and have a specific use for each pen and each color.  I’m very particular about my pens, how I use them and how I store them.

The main pens I use are:

Pilot Coleto – I love the Pilot Coleto pens because they’re multi-barrel pens.  They come in 4 and 5 ink options and have a variety of barrel colors that you can choose from.  I have a clear blue barrel and a light pink barrel and they’re beautiful and high quality.  The ink selection is great with many colors to choose from and a great, smooth gel ink.  I love these pens and use them frequently when I’m on the go with my bullet journal.  I love that I don’t have to carry all of my colored pens and can just use this one to color code everything that I need while I’m out and about.  These pens range in price from $3.30 – $6.75 depending on what you choose.

Stadtler Triplus Fineliners – These pens are the holy grail when it comes to the bullet journaling world.  Everyone and their uncle has the Stadtler Triplus Fineliners and I don’t blame them.  These pens come in such a variety of colors and the multi-pack is $27.50 for 42 amazing colors that you can use for doodling and color coding in your bullet journal.  These pens last forever and have a great barrel that is easy and comfortable to grip.  I have used these pens for two years and I continue to use them every single day.  In addition to the multi-pack, you can also purchase just a pack of 10 black pens for everyday writing in your bullet journal for $9.98.

Inkjoy Gel – These pens claim to be the fastest drying pens that don’t smear and I do think they are — unless you try to highlight over them with a wetter-type highlighter.  These pens do write incredibly smoothly and don’t bleed through the page, as they claim.  They come in a variety of colors and a fine and medium thickness.

Sharpie Pens – I don’t know what to say about Sharpie pens because I think everyone has used them at least once.  I love to use the black sharpie pens for bullet journaling because they’re smooth, bold yet thin and don’t bleed through most papers.  I’m going to sound like a crazy person but I think my writing looks 10x better when using a Sharpie pen.

Uniball Vision Elite – These pens aren’t too popular in the bullet journal community but I tried these once on a whim when I was at Staples and fell in love with them.  They’re bolder gel pens that write so smoothly.  The only downside is that they take some time to dry and do smear if you run your hand across the ink too quickly.  I do recommend these pens because they’re very smooth and don’t skip.

Pilot Metropolitan Fountain Pen – On occasion, I do like to use my fountain pen because I find them amazing to use and fun to write with.  The Pilot Metropolitan fountain pen is a cartridge fountain pen that is fairly inexpensive.  I think the ink is bold yet fine and very smooth.  As with any fountain pen, the ink needs a few minutes to dry before touching it or highlighting over it. While fountain pens are really a novelty, I do recommend the Pilot Metropolitan if you’re looking for a fountain pen.

Frixion Erasable Pens – These pens are a godsend because of the fact that they’re erasable.  I think the ink is very smooth and nice to write with but sometimes the ink skips if you write over an erased area.  This is a small downside because the pens are great to write with and are able to be erased if you make a mistake in your bullet journal.

Frixion Erasable Highlighters – These highlighters come in really nice pastel colors and are beautiful.  They’re not wet highlighters and are very nice to use.  They don’t cause the Frixion pens (or any other pen) to bleed when you highlight over the ink because they’re not wet highlighters that cause a bleed.  I love the fact that you can erase what you’ve highlighted just in case you make a mistake.  Just be aware that if you’re using Frixion pens under the highlighter, the pen will erase too.

Zebra Midliners Zebra Midliners are amazing highlighters that come in a variety of colors.  These are dual ended and have a highlighter on one end and a thin marker tip on the other end.  These are great for highlighting, writing headers, doodling, coloring and making your bullet journal look beautiful.  I love these so much because of how versatile they are and because they come in so many unique colors.

 

Here are some of my favorite bullet journaling supplies

 


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