How To Start A Bullet Journal – The Complete Step-By-Step Guide For Beginners

Do you want to learn how to start a Bullet Journal easily? Starting a Bullet Journal is going to be hands down, one of the most amazing things you ever do. When used consistently, and in a way that works really well for you, you can see AMAZING results from it. 

But starting your Bullet Journal might be a little bit overwhelming. Those blank pages contain so many possibilities. It’s kind of like going back to first grade when you had a blank piece of paper on your desk, but no idea what to draw on it. 

In this guide, I am going to show you how easy it is to get started with your first Bullet Journal!

By the time you are done, you will have your Bullet Journal completely set up, or you will know the exact steps to take to create your first layout and start planning!

Let’s jump right in!

Do you want to follow along!? Grab the Beginners Bullet Journal Checklist, and check off each step as you go!

This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure policy for more information.

Introduction To The Bullet Journal Method

Before we get started, I wanted to take a moment to highlight the original creator of the system.

Ryder Carroll, a digital product designer and writer from Brooklyn, NY, created this system as a way to help him get organized.

Over the years, he began sharing his unique organizational method with colleagues, friends, and eventually, everyone in the world through his blog and book.

The Bullet Journal has now become known worldwide as a unique planning solution that you can tailor to suit your individual needs, something that people struggle to get from simple store-bought planners.

The purpose of this guide is to provide you everything you need to get started with your first Bullet Journal in one easy place.

Everything in this guide is based on the Bullet Journal method that was created by Ryder, but has been modified and tailored to what I find has worked the best for me in my own Bullet Journal journey.

I always encourage everyone to learn about the original system! By understanding the foundation of this method, you are much more likely to be able to successfully tailor it to your own needs and find success from it!

To learn more about Ryder Carroll, and the original Bullet Journal Method, go here to BulletJournal.com.

Chapter One – Everything You Need To Know To Get Started

How To Use This Guide

In this guide, I am going to take you through the setup of your very first Bullet Journal, step by step.

First, I will help you get to know the basics of the system. From there, we will create your foundational layouts.

Next, you will start doing your monthly and weekly planning.

Finally, we will get into what makes the Bullet Journal so unique to you; your collections!  

Remember, the Bullet Journal is a completely unique planning solution! You have the opportunity to create a planner that is completely customized to your unique needs and circumstances.  

I highly recommend reading through this entire guide once before you start setting up your layouts. That way, when you go to set up your journal, you will know the next step, and you can plan to create your layouts and collections in an order that makes sense for you! 

Understanding The Terminology

There is a lot of Bullet Terminology that describe various aspects of the system.

You will have a much easier time working through this guide if you know and understand the terminology!

To make this as easy for you as possible, I have created a printable cheat sheet with all the different terms! Please read through this at least once so that you can understand everything throughly throughout this guide!

Click Here To Download:

How To Overcome Perfection

When starting a Bullet Journal, your biggest fear may be that you don’t want to make a mistake, or you don’t want to waste supplies.

I don’t want you to run into this roadblock when starting your journal, as so many people often do.

Unfortunately, mistakes are bound to happen. I used to make them in my traditional planners, and I definitely make them in my Bullet Journal.

But the good news is that there are things that you can do to prevent perfectionism from taking the joy and benefit out of your journal! Here are my top 5 tips for overcoming perfection in your Bullet Journal!

  1. Approach your journal as a creative experiment!
    By approaching it with this mindset, you are giving yourself permission to make mistakes.
  2. Keep your journal to yourself!
    When you don’t have to worry about anyone else seeing it, you may be less worried about making mistakes.
  3. Learn how you can fix mistakes in your notebook!
    There are actually a few things you can do to cover up or fix mistakes. Knowing these might help put your mind at easy when creating your layouts. I have a full section of tips for fixing your mistakes coming up in this guide.
  4. Start with budget supplies!
    Practice creating your layouts in cheaper notebooks or on scrap paper. You will be a lot more confident making the layouts in your nice journal if you have practiced a little bit!
  5. Prioritize functionality!
    It is really easy to get caught up in the creative aspects of your journal which can lead to more mistakes. Try focusing on the functionality first, which may in turn make you more relaxed about the creative aspects!

How To Correct Mistakes

Unfortunately, you are likely going to make a mistake in your Bullet Journal at some point. It is rare that I don’t make at least one small mistake on most layouts.  

Personally, I like to try to correct my mistakes best I can. 

Thankfully, after making numerous mistakes in my own journal, I have found a few great ways to cover them up so that I can move on quickly!

  1. Cover it up with a pen that is similar in color to the paper you are using!
    Simply dray on top of your mistake with the pen and carry on creating your layout!
  2. Cover it up with a pretty Bullet Journal printable!
    You can find printable’s on places like Pinterest or Etsy, and they are really useful for covering up mistakes or layout you don’t like!
  3. Use some stickers on the page!
    Planner stickers are a great way to add a little decoration to your layout, and it is perfect for covering up any mistakes!

Chapter Two – Getting Your Bullet Journal Supplies

If you already have all of your supplies, please feel free to skip this section!  

If you are just getting started and still deciding what supplies you need, please see below for my supply checklist, and some practical tips!

Bullet Journal Supply Checklist

  • Bullet Journal Notebook
  • Pens & Highlighters
  • Ruler
  • Decorative Supplies – Washi tape, stickers, stencils, etc.

To get started, all you need is a notebook and some pens. Everything else is optional! I always recommend just getting the basic supplies to start with, and then gradually expanding your collection!

Notebooks

When shopping for your first notebook, you should first decide what kind of paper you want to create layouts on.

There are four options:

  • Ruled Lines
  • Plain
  • Grid
  • Dot Grid

The most commonly used paper you will see in the community, and the type of paper I personally use is the Dot Grid Paper.  The dots on the page form a grid that makes it really easy to create your layouts! The dots are also very light in color so that they don’t take away from your finished layout.

Once you have selected the paper style, you should consider which notebook you want to purchase. Be sure to do your research and pick a notebook that you think you will love.

I always recommend getting a notebook that you think you might really like. The more you love your notebook, the more likely you are to keep using it!

Recommended:
A Review Of The Leuchtturm 1917 A5 Notebook
Scribbles That Matter Notebook Review

Pens

There are so many pen options out there, so this part can be a little bit overwhelming. Personally, I like to ensure I always have the following:

  • A couple of white and black ink pens, all with varying thicknesses. These pens are essential for your basic layouts.
  • Some colorful pens to brighten up your layouts.
  • Highlighters to note important things, or even to color code notes.

Miscellaneous Supplies

Again, there are so many supplies that you could get, but I always encourage people to build up their planner supply inventory slowly! You don’t have to get everyhing all at once.

One thing I would highly recommend getting right away though is a ruler. A ruler will make it much easier to create your layouts.

If you would like to see a comprehensive list of all the supplies I use and recommend, check out my resources page on my blog!

Chapter Three – The First Layouts

Now that you have your supplies, you can get started with your first layouts! In this section, we are going to be focus on your first page layout and the foundation pages that will make up your Bullet Journal.

Setting Up Your First Page Layout

The first page of your Bullet Journal can serve as an amazing layout that will define the mission behind your Bullet Journal! It is the easiest page to flip to inside your notebook which is why I personally like to choose something special for this layout!

Some ways you might consider using this layout include:

  • your word of the year
  • an inspirational quote or affirmation that is important to you
  • your goals for the year
  • an about me layout
  • a vision board

Related: 5 Awesome Ways To Use The First Page Of Your Bullet Journal

The Index

What Is The Index?

An index is a chronological list of the contents in your Bullet Journal.

As you create layouts and collections, you will list them out on your Index what using the page number. It is important to keep a log of where the layouts are located, that way you can easily refer back to them.

Supplies

  • Bullet Journal Notebook
  • Pens
  • Ruler

How To Create The Index

The index in your Bullet Journal will help you keep track of where your different collections and layouts are located inside the notebook! This is really helpful if you ever want to go back and look!

Many of the notebooks that are popular in the Bullet Journaling community have Index pages set up for you, making it easy to just fill it in as you go. However, if your notebook doesn’t come with it, there is a really easy way to create the layout!

Let’s get your index set up!

Step One: Location

First, you need to decide if you want it located in the front or the back of your journal. Once you decide, set aside 2-3 pages.

Step Two: Draw The Layout

Create a box on the outer most part of your page. Then, along the left side, draw a vertical line down the left side of your page, approximately two or three dots in.

Step Three: Fill In The Layout

The smaller box on the left side of the page can be used to note your page numbers. The larger space to the right can be used to note the name of your collection or layout.

The Key

What Is The Key?

The Key is another very important part of your Bullet Journal, especially if this is your first Bullet Journal.

A Key is a list of the signifiers in your Bullet Journal and what they represent.

Signifiers are the symbols you use; ie. a checkbox, or a bullet point for a task.

By creating a key that you will use throughout your Bullet Journal, you are creating structure and clarity. You will be able to tell at a quick glance what everything is, as every symbol will have a meaning behind it.

Choosing Your Signifiers

If you want to use the original signifiers created by the creator of the Bullet Journal, Ryder Carroll, I would recommend reading this post from BulletJournal.com. Ryder explains his signifiers, and the specific use for each one. This is a great place to start, even if you end up using slightly different symbols.

Once you have looked at the original Bullet Journal signifiers, you can begin to decide if you want to use those exact symbols, or if you want to use slightly different symbols that will work best for you.

For example, you may wish to use a checkbox for a task, rather than a bullet point. This is your journal, and it can be customized to suit your needs and preferences, and there is no wrong way to do it!

Here is a list of some things you may want to create signifiers for:

  • Tasks To Be Done
  • Complete Tasks
  • Migrated Tasks
  • Appointments
  • Events
  • Birthdays
  • Ideas
  • Goals
  • Journal Entries
  • Brain Dump

Supplies

  • Bullet Journal Notebook
  • Pens
  • Ruler

How To Create The Key

Use the key to help you choose the signifiers that you will use inside your Bullet Journal! This is helpful for marking to-do list items, appointments, etc.

Once you have picked your signifiers, you can create your key.

Some journals have a page set up for a key, but if your’s doesn’t, don’t worry! It is extremely simple to set up.

Step One: Location

If you need to draw out your key, put it somewhere that is really easy to flip to! I would recommend a page near your index layouts.

Step Two: Draw The Layout

Create a box on the outer most part of your page. Then, along the left side, draw a vertical line down the left side of your page, approximately two or three dots in.

Step Three: Fill In The Layout

The smaller box on the left side of the page can be used for your symbols. Along the right side of the page, write down what each corresponding symbol will mean to you.

The Year At A Glance

What Is The Year At A Glance?

A year at glance is exactly what it sounds like. Similar to what you would find at the beginning of a wall hanging calendar, we are going to create a bunch of mini calendars that make up the year.

This layout is definitely time consuming to make, but trust me, you will find yourself looking at it a lot!

How To Create The Year At A Glance

The year at a glance is a really helpful layout for being able to look ahead at what days fall on which days of the week.

Step One: Location

Because I refer to this layout a lot, I like to keep it really close to the front, somewhere near my index. Put it where you will find it easiest!

Step Two: Draw The Layout

Mark twelve 7×7 blocks of space on your page, one for each month of the year. (Since the page is usually taller than it is wider, I aim to get four rows of blocks down the page with three blocks going across in each row. Please see my photo example for this.)

Step Three: Fill In The Layout

  1. Along the top of each space, write in the name of the month.
  2. On the next line, write either Monday to Sunday, or Sunday to Saturday, depending on your personal preference. (I only put the first letter of the day to save space!)
  3. Down the rest of the section, write the applicable day of the month under the corresponding day of the week.
  4. Fill in each section until you have filled in your entire year.

The Future Log

What Is A Future Log?

Since your Bullet Journal is just a notebook of blank pages, it can make future planning kind of difficult. 

Thankfully, Ryder thought of this, and he created what they call the Future Log. While there are several variations of this layout, I am going to show you a simple layout that is really quick and easy to make!

How To Create The Future Log

Since there are no calendar layout pre made in a Bullet Journal, you will definitely want to consider setting up a future log layout! Use it to keep track of important dates and appointments!

Step One: Location

This layout will go really well with your year at a glance, so I recommend you put it near that layout in your Bullet Journal.

Step Two: Draw The Layout

With your pen and ruler, you will want to create a grid on two side by side pages. Draw one horizontal line across each page, exactly half way down. Then, split each page into three equal sections. When done, you should have two rows with six sections across the two pages. 

Step Three: Fill In The Layout

  1. Along the top of each section, write the name of your month.
  2. The rest of the space in each section can be used to note your important dates, appointments, and events. You can start to fill this in now, or you can wait until you have the rest of your journal set up.

Bonus Idea: If you want to skip the year at a glance layout, you can add your mini calendars in each section of your future log.

Chapter Four – Monthly Planning

What Is A Monthly Layout?

The monthly layout is a spread that will allow you to see your entire month at a glance and plan accordingly.

When you buy a traditional, store bought planner, the monthly layout is something that is often included as it is an important part of planning.

Monthly planning will allow you to get an accurate picture of what you have on your plate for the upcoming month. You will then be able to plan everything out so that you can get through your month as efficiently as possible.

The best part of a Bullet Journal is that you can create different layouts that will help you get the most from your monthly planning strategy. You can include different things and change up your layouts based on what you need each month.

In the upcoming section, I will show you how you can create two really simple monthly layouts in your Bullet Journal! Even though these two layouts are very different, they both work really well for monthly planning!

The Calendar Layout

This layout is one you would typically see in a traditional calendar or paper planner. They are simple to draw, and really easy to plan on. Perfect for a more laid back month!

How To Create The Calendar Layout

This classic style planner layout is perfect for monthly planning inside your Bullet Journal! With a ruler, you can create a traditional calendar style layout to plan out your month!

Step One: Measure The Layout

With a pencil, measure out your calendar. You will typically need 5 rows, and 7 columns each month, and I personally aim to have each day measure 6×6 on the grid.

Using your pencil, measure out your layout by counting each dot, and putting a mark on the dot where you need to draw your lines. Do this by holding your pen straight up and down.

Step Two: Draw The Layout

  1. Using your dot measurements and a ruler, draw out your lines to make a calendar style grid.
  2. Write the days of the week at the top of each column.
  3. Fill in the days of the month on your calendar.

Step Three: Fill In The Layout

Now, you can begin to fill in your calendar!

You will likely also have an empty column along the left or right side page. This is becuase one page has three columns, while the other page has four. Feel free to use this space to plan anything else that you might not be able to fit directly onto the calendar. You could include things like goals, monthly to-do list items, notes, reminders, etc.

The List Layout

This list style layout is really simple and easy to set up. I can usually put this layout together in less than ten minutes. 

But more than that, it is really versatile. When I am looking to have a really productive month where I have a lot to accomplish, this is the layout you will see in my journal.

How To Create The List Layout

The monthly list layout can be a great option if you want to try a different way of planning out your month!

Step One: Draw The Layout

  1. Along the left hand page, write the days of your month down the length of the page. I always start at the bottom with my last day of the month, and work my way up, but you can do this however you prefer!
  2. On the right side of the page, break your page up into four different sections by cutting the page in half vertically and horizontally.

Step Two: Fill In The Layout

The great thing about this layout is how simple it is, and how much you can customize it to suit your needs.

The calendar list gives you lot’s of room to write notes, important dates, reminders, etc.

Then, on the right side page, you can break each of those sections up into whatever you want. Goals, to-do lists, trackers, etc.

Chapter Five – Weekly Planning

What Is A Weekly Layout?

Typically, your weekly layouts will follow your monthly layouts, very similar to what you would find in a traditional planner, and will be much more detailed than the monthly layouts. 

On your weekly layouts, you will organize your to-do lists, set goals, and arrange your schedule for the week.  You can also add in other elements like meal planning, journaling, and more!

The layout possibilities for your weeklies are endless. There are so many fun and unique things that you can do, and as you start to develop your own planning strategy, your weekly layouts will change with that strategy.  

To give you a good jumping off point, I wanted to share a weekly layout that can be easily modified to suit your needs and planning strategy!

Weekly planning can be overwhelming, as there are so many different things you could plan. I would encourage you to pick two or three things to focus on for your first layout!

The Weekly Layout

This layout is one of my favorite layouts because it is so incredibly versatile.

You can use each section for one day of the week.

You could break your planning strategy up into 8 categories that would each have its own dedicated space.

Plus, the layout is extremely simple to create!

How To Create The Weekly Layout

There are so many different ways to plan out your week in your Bullet Journal, but this is a great, simple layout to start with! You can use the extra box for anything you like!

Step One: Draw The Layout

  1. Using your pen and ruler, cut both pages in half vertically and horizontally with a solid straight line.
  2. Using your ruler, draw a box around the outer most grid line on both pages.

Step Two: Fill In The Layout

As stated above, this layout is incredibly versatile, and can be used in many ways.

Whether you will use one box for each day of the week, or you will split your boxes up into categories, start by writing headers into those spaces.Then, you can start planning in those spaces!

Don’t be afraid to try new things like, create more sections within those boxes. Add in trackers, checklists, notes, journal entries, etc.

Chapter Five – Choosing Your Bullet Journal Collections

What Are Collections?

Now we are getting to the really good stuff!

Collections are what make Bullet Journal’s so fun and unique. They are the layouts that you will create to organize certain areas of your life and/or benefit you in some way. The possibilities are endless! 

Typically, collections would fall into one of the below categories;

  1. Home
  2. Family
  3. Financial
  4. Work
  5. Self-Care
  6. Health & Fitness
  7. Goals
  8. Dreams
  9. Travel
  10. Self-Improvement
  11. Business

These don’t even begin to scratch the surface, but you get the idea. 

The layouts you create for each collection will depend on the purpose. Are you trying to track results? Are you making lists?

Some common layouts you might use include;

  • Trackers
  • Charts
  • Lists
  • Vision Boards
  • Boxed Sections

Once you are ready to get started with collections, start looking on places like Pinterest and Instagram for ideas and inspiration!

How To Organize Your Collections

Remember, with Bullet Journaling, there are no rules. You can organize the collections in your Bullet Journal however you want!

Ryder recommends you add collections wherever you are in your notebook. Indexing them will make them easy to find again down the road.

If you would prefer to have some balance and order in your journal, you might consider adding your collections at the end of the month. You can do this by estimating how many pages you will need for the remainder of the month, and then skipping over them. 

Another option is to add all of your collections to the front or back of your notebook. 

Try not to get overwhelmed by this, and just go with the flow until you find what works best for you! 

Choosing Your Bullet Journal Collections

To help you choose your Bullet Journal collections, I have put together this really helpful Bullet Journal collections workbook! Inside you will find:

  • 100+ Collection ideas for your Bullet Journal
  • A worksheet to help you choose the best collections to get the essential areas of your life organized
  • A worksheet to help you choose the best collections for your goals
  • And more!

Grab your workbook here!

Final Thoughts

Getting Your Bullet Journal Set Up

Now that you have a good understanding of the Bullet Journal system, I hope you have found the confidence to start!

I would recommend going back to the beginning, and getting started with your foundational layouts. This would be your key, index, etc.

The monthly layouts, weekly layouts, and all of your collections can be added into your Bullet Journal in any order that you would like.

If you haven’t already done so, I would take some time to consider what collections you want to add to your journal, and planning for a set up where things are in the order that you think you will want them!

Experimenting With Your Layouts

As you start to add collections to your Bullet Journal, you will likely want to start experimenting with your different layouts.

There are so many great resources that you can look to for layout ideas. Pinterest and Instagram are two of my personal favourites.

I also have a lof of great resources here on my blog, once you are ready!

I can’t wait to see what kind of success your Bullet Journal helps you achieve! Let me know what you are most excited to plan in your Bullet Journal in the comments section!

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