Create Your Ideal Bullet Journal in Less Than 1 Hour
You've seen the incredible artistic spreads on Pinterest and Instagram, and you want to start using a Bullet Journal to organise your life, but you don't know where to start. Here's how to create your ideal Bullet Journal in less than an hour!
Equipment and Tools
You will need:
1 notebook — any notebook will do, nothing fancy
1 pen — any old black biro is just fine
"But what about the beautiful spreads? The fancy notebooks? The stickers? The stamps? The expensive pens?"
Yeah... those aren't going to do you any favours right now. Your ideal Bullet Journal isn't the one that looks the prettiest or costs the most, it's the one that you use. A Bullet Journal that looks pretty but doesn't help you organise, prioritise, plan, or keep track of stuff, isn't your ideal Bullet Journal at all. It's just a nice-looking imposter.
The idea is that you're getting started with the process here. If you want a beautiful Bullet Journal, that will come later. It's important to learn what you want from the system first, and you can only do that by trying it out.
"But I want a gorgeous Bullet Journal and I want it NOW!"
I hear you, and I totally understand the impulse. But I guarantee that if you jump right in and buy yourself a luxurious dotted notebook, get a whole bunch of expensive pens, look up all the beautiful designs on Pinterest, and try to get started, one or more of the following scenarios will happen:
You'll spend hours creating a beautiful spread that you never use because it's not helpful.
You won't be happy with the first thing you create because it's not perfect.
You'll see amazing spreads on Pinterest and think, "I could never do something as good as that," so you don't do anything at all.
You'll be scared to write or draw anything because you don't want to ruin the expensive notebook.
All of these things are highly likely to put you off Bullet Journalling forever. You'll have spent time, money, and effort on something that ultimately doesn't help you at all.
There's a saying, "The perfect is the enemy of the good," and that's so true for Bullet Journalling. It's why starting small and cheap is so important. It doesn't matter if you "mess up" a notebook that only cost you a few pounds/euros/dollars/other.
There's no pressure for you to be perfect, or even good. You can scribble away happily, not worrying about the aesthetic or the quality, not comparing it to anyone else. All you have to think about is experimenting with systems to find ones that work for you.
So, you have your cheap notebook and pen. What's next? There are so many different spreads and systems and calendars and trackers people use in their Bullet Journals. How do you find what works for you? Well, there are a few things every useful Bullet Journal has in common, so let's start there.
The Key is a great place to start. In a Bullet Journal, different things are given different symbols to help you easily see many different things at once. For example, you might have a weekly spread with the days Monday to Sunday written out like a planner, and various tasks and events and notes written under each day.
Tasks you need to accomplish are given one symbol, events are given a different symbol, and notes a different symbol again.
You could add a couple of symbols of your own, if you like. Whatever you think might be useful to you. For example, I have a little doodle of a birthday present for birthdays, which is basically a special category of Event. Stick with just a few to begin with, and only use the ones that are useful to you.
The symbols you choose are entirely up to you, but it's important to remember what each symbol means! This is where the Key comes in. I like to write mine on the inside front cover of my notebook, so it's really easy to refer back to. Here's how mine is laid out:
Note: "Migrated" just means, "I didn't get this task done today so I've written it out on another day to do then instead." The same can happen for Events that are postponed or rescheduled.
In a regular planner, the pages are all pre-organised for you into different sections so it's easy to find what you need. In a Bullet Journal, you have the freedom to put whatever you want, wherever you want. Fancy doing some doodles on page 47? Doodle away! The only issue is, how do you easily find those doodles later?
The answer is the Index. I put my Index right at the front of the notebook, on the first two blank pages. All you need to do here is write "Index" at the top of each of the two pages. That's all!
Now, as you complete pages in your notebook, write the page numbers and a brief heading in the Index. Using our doodles example from earlier, you would write, "Doodles, page 47".
Note: Some people like to spend time numbering all the pages in their notebook before they start. I find that really tedious! Instead, I number my pages as I complete them, then write the page number in the Index so I can easily find it later.
The Date Book
Some people call this something different, like the "Year At A Glance" or "Yearly Spread". I call mine The Date Book. The important thing is that it captures all the important dates you want to remember throughout the upcoming year; birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, graduation dates, important deadlines, and anything else you'll want to remember.
This takes a little bit of time compared to the other pages so far, but is still pretty easy to do.
You'll need the next six pages of your notebook. Divide each of the pages in half vertically so you have twelve columns in total. Each column represents one month.
Starting with whatever next month is, write the next twelve upcoming months as the headings of each column. Then, write the numbers of the days in a vertical list underneath (either 31, 30, 29 or 28 days depending on the month) so that you have a little space next to each day two write one or two important things.
My Date Book pages look like this (note that I've chosen to divide each double page spread into three columns rather than four, so I'm using eight pages in total instead of just six):
It doesn't have to be fancy at all. I used a couple of Tombow brush pens, a fineliner, a silver gel pen, and a length of silver washi tape. But really all you need is a singular pen to make this layout work!
If this seems like a lot of effort to write out, or if you think your handwriting looks too messy, you can type it into a word program, print it out, and glue it into your Bullet Journal. There are also templates available on the web from various sources. No worries! The point is to create something that's functional and useful.
Now you've got the basic functionality of your Bullet Journal all set up, here's where we get into the proper day-to-day organisation system of the Bullet Journal, and where you try out different things to discover the ones that work best for you.
These are essentially a calendar, and can either be on a single or double page. All the events, notes, tasks, and so on are written out under the corresponding dates. That way, you can see the whole month in one go — helpful for seeing the bigger picture and how events relate to one another.
It's helpful to many people to refer back to their Date Book/Year-At-A-Glance and copy across the significant dates from there onto their Monthly Spreads. That way, it's easy to see the important events that are coming up shortly.
Personally, I don't find Monthly Spreads all that helpful. I find that my Date Book and Weekly Spreads have it all covered. But many people like being able to see their whole month at once, so do what works for you.
These are usually a double page divided into eight (I usually divide each page into four sections of equal size). The first seven sections are headed with the day and date (e.g. "Monday 17 Feb"), and section eight can have something extra that's useful to you, such as a space to write notes, keep track of habits, or doodle!
Everything that's happening or needs to get done that week is written in the Weekly Spread, using the symbols you created in your Key to help you categorise them. Once you complete a task or event, you cross it off as Completed.
If you didn't do them, you can either Migrate them (move it to another day), or Cancel them (you're not doing it after all). Follow whatever you decided in your Key so you can always see exactly what you've got done and what still needs doing.
Here's a look at one of my Weekly Planners. You'll notice the special "birthday" logo (a present), and the dash to indicate a Note. I haven't filled out any Tasks or Events yet, as at the time of writing this article we're still two weeks away from the 19th.
Again, I was able to complete this spread with just one fineliner, two Tombow brush pens, and a silver gel pen. As before, all you really need is a singular pen to make this spread work.
Here's where things really get personalised and fun! Everyone's Bullet Journal is different. Some things work for some people and not others, so don't feel as though you have to include everything. A Bullet Journal should, first and foremost, help you. If something isn't useful to you, ditch it!
Here are two extra things you could include:
Either in your Weekly Spread or on a separate page altogether, you can track things such as how much sleep you got the previous night, whether you exercised, what your moods were, and so on.
Most trackers are a simple grid with the days of the week along one axis, and the thing you want to track along the other. The grid squares are then crossed off or coloured in when the task or habit is completed that day. This is helpful for motivation — filling in a tracker gives a little dopamine boost and a sense of achievement!
One of the best things about the Bullet Journal is that it's designed to become whatever you need it to be! Want a recipe list? Great! A fitness log? Fantastic! Somewhere to doodle? Awesome! A Bullet Journal can do all these things and keep them organised, through the system of Collections.
For example, you might like to make a list of books you want to read, adding books to the list as you learn of them so you don't forget to look them up later. Collections can also be created to help you reach goals. Let's say you want to read 50 books this year. You can take that Collection of books you want to read and tick them off when you've read them.
Collections can be for almost anything: favourite recipes (along with their ingredients so you can buy the things you need to make them), films you want to see, places you want to visit, or goals you want to achieve. Your Bullet Journal Collections will become a reflection of what you need or want to track — of what's really important to you.
Remember, Bullet Journals should be functional first, and making them look pretty should never stand in the way of their usefulness. Have fun with them, try things out, keep the things that work and dispense with the things that aren't useful to you.