A Beginner’s Guide to Mastering the Bullet Journal Set Up

This post contains some affiliate links.

master the bullet journal set upFor the strategic, artsy planner in you…

If you are online at all, especially on Pinterest or Instagram, you have likely noticed all types of bullet journals, collections, and ideas for spreads. You may have asked yourself, is this a craze? Is it a phase? Is it for me? I asked myself the same questions and came across bullet journal inspiration of all types. I started my bullet journal journey in August and I love it! I have learned so much about this little hobby so I’m sharing it with you.

The bullet journal, also known as “bujo” has actually been around some time now. It is an analog system for the digital world.  Bullet journaling is a method of journaling and note taking that uses bullet points as the format for planning.

Dot grid of bullet journal

What is a bullet journal

A bullet journal is a to do list, diary, and planner all-in-one

How bullet journaling came to be a thing

A person named Ryder Carroll started the bullet journal. He was a product designer based in Brooklyn, NJ. He needed a simple method to stay organized. He did not let his learning disabilities stop him and he used bullet journaling as a method of organization since his early college days.

It was not until 2013 that he shared it with the rest of the world. I am so glad he did.

What I did not know and what was fascinating to me was that he took action on his idea.

Kickstarter launched the bullet journal craze

I did not know in 2014 that he launched a Kickstarter campaign to help Carroll create a central place for the bullet journal community to gather through a new website. Since then, he collaborated with Leuchtturm1917 to make custom bullet journal notebooks. In addition, Carroll has a companion app and companion book.

I have always been a planner and list maker. It is easier for to write things down on paper. There is usually a pile of post-it notes on my work desk of things I need to do or tasks I would like to check off that day.

The problem with the random list making was that recreating the list would be hard if the post-its were in the trash.


I wanted a way to get things down on a page and doodle or sketch at the same time. I am a mom and a wife, so finding a tool that was portable and convenient to store my lists was ideal.

The bujo is a way to capture ideas, thoughts, tasks, lists, calendars, events, and more in one central place. – Ryder Carroll

Add the Basics to your bullet journal

Index: a table of contents that you update as you go. The Leuchtturm1917 provides this in the front. Having a TOC this is so important for any busy person.

Daily Log: things you did or want to do is listed here

Monthly Log: traditional month calendar + shit you need to do that month + shit you forgot to do last month

Rapid Logging: symbols that help you get things done. My simple version is check marks. Done!

Future Log: year-at-a-glance calendar. This one of my favorite spreads because you can start it at any time.

So now, I have told you how this whole craze started, but what is in it for you?

Maybe you have a system already…or perhaps you want a better system. If the pile of post-it notes is not a sustainable way to get organized and productive, let’s think of ways to make it work.

Like I said, the “internets” are full of ideas for your bullet journal or bujo and there is an entire planner community buzzing about planners of all types. The bullet journal is an empty slate to give you more flexibility and ways to be creative besides just writing dates and times for events.

Here is what you will need to get started.

This post contains some affiliate links for your convenience (which means if you make a purchase after clicking a link I will earn a small commission but it won’t cost you a penny more)! 

Basic tools for bullet journal beginners

Gel pens

Gel pens write smoother and have high-pigment ink. Gel pens also do not bleed through the page, which is a plus. You do not want shadows when you are about to write a new journal entry or make a new collection. They write bolder than ballpoint pens so gel pens are my go to tool for bullet journaling.

Find a notebook that opens flat

Yep a notebook that opens flat is a plus and I highly recommend not being cheap on this. You will be glad you made the “lays-flat” option as you move further on your bullet journal path.

Berry colored Leuchturm1917 bullet journal

Leuchtturm1917 and Moleskin are the most popular notebook options. I choose the Leuchtturm1917 because it was easy to find and had a range of colors on Amazon. I chose the berry colored bullet journal. It is mid-price as far as planners go and I love it. It lays flat when writing, it already has a table of contents, and has a cute pocket in the back.

Leuchtturm1917 is also the brand that the bullet journal founder Ryder Carroll choose to collaborate with in business.

You ask why is it important to choose a quality notebook? The answer is simple! These are your inner thoughts and plans and they are important for you.

A notebook and black or colored gel pens are really all you need to get started. You can find a wealth of materials like stickers and stamps to jazz up your journal online and craft stores.

Pro tip: Etsy sellers have great selections of unique bullet journals and templates. Check it out. My next journal will likely be from Etsy. I will be searching for recommendations mid-year.

Styling your bullet journal: moving from basics to customization

Because my journal is a bold pink, I chose to leave the cover bare. It gives it a classic feel and fits well with my minimalist style.

For you, just have fun, it is your journal, but here are some tips for styling the inside pages:

Adopt a system

You will need to adopt a system for your bullet journal to make it effective. By system, I mean the organized layout by month or day or week. Also, think about how often you will use your bullet journal as a system for organization.

Of course, you can change this anytime.

For example, you will plan your weekly spread on Sundays each week or you plan your monthly layout on the 28th of each month.

iheartplanners bujo

Source: https://www.iheartplanners.com/use-bullet-journal-time-management/

Refer to your bullet journal frequently

The system will not be a value for you if you do not commit to using it. I have definitely stopped journaling for a time and then picked it back up. So give yourself a break if you need to do so.

Make it a creative outlet

I love to see all the fashion illustrations, doodles, and art in my bullet journal. My style is a cross between minimalistic and colorful visuals. I love to add floral art and brush lettering to my weekly pages and collections. One of my favorite medium is watercolor because it adds pops of color and does not bleed through the page.

art in bullet journal


The awesome thing about journaling your life is reflecting on the cool things you did, even if it is small tasks like scheduling lunch. Your bullet journal is a place for remembering past accomplishments and tracking your patterns.


Avid goal setters and list makers love bullet journals because they keep you accountable on your goals. Because it is much more than a calendar, your bujo can boost your productivity by allowing you to plan ahead and give you plenty of space for project planning. An example of project planning in your bullet journal is a weight loss spread.

weight loss bujo page

Source: http://www.lifescarousel.com/weight-loss-tracker/

Can you to use the bullet journal in the digital world? Of course, I use online calendars too. However, my bujo is my personal space just for me. No family tasks or events that I do not want to add to my bullet journal.

I particularly like bullet journaling because it is a paper – organic, warm, and natural. I know that sounds silly, but pen to paper speaks to me differently than a phone app or a computer can.

I can really reflect and get things out of my mind and on paper faster. Opening an app or firing up the computer screen takes some of the magic out of journaling and reflection.

The greatest thing is you make it fit you! Just do it. There is so much inspiration online to pattern after. Finding time to start is the greatest challenge, but once you do, you will find this hobby very enjoyable.

What is your favorite ways to list your to-dos? Also, let me know if the comments what you would like to learn about bullet journaling?

Leave a Reply