Bullet journaling is one of today's biggest productivity crazes, but it's also a rewarding mindfulness practice.
If you're wondering how to bullet journal, you've come to the right place. We'll walk you through how the bullet journal method got its start, all the BuJo terms you need to know, and how to choose the right bullet journal notebook and supplies.
Are you ready to start your first bullet journal? We thought so.
A brief history of bullet journaling
The bullet journal system was created by digital product designer Ryder Carroll as a simple pen-and-paper approach to organization and productivity. The phrase “bullet journal” is meant to refer to the overall method, rather than a specific journal product.
At its core, the idea is to use a single notebook as a multi-purpose planner to keep track of past, present, and future goals or to-do’s. The structure and efficiency of this analog system are what make the bullet journal so popular. Carroll calls it a "mindfulness practice disguised as a productivity system.”
The key components of a bullet journal include lists of information called collections; an index page to help you find specific topics you've logged; and a short-hand note-taking language consisting of symbols.
While the whole concept was designed around a minimalist framework, bullet journaling – or BuJo as it's known for short – has since blossomed into not only a mindful exercise but also an expressionist art form (more on that later in this post).
The psychology of the bullet journal method
Bullet journaling is designed to help you organize your thoughts and clear up mental space to help you focus on other things. Being a pen-and-paper method, it's also associated with better memory retention and follow-through.
Its psychological and self-care benefits are many, according to psychologist Dr. Sarah Kwan.
"A single-notebook approach provides a consolidated space to efficiently think through and organize immediate challenges, as well as consider future tasks and intentions," she explains. "You can think of the bullet journal as a thoughtful checklist that helps identify key tasks and goals while facilitating motivation and personal accountability."
While the bullet journal method might seem precise, when it comes to getting started, sometimes it's best to let go of your perfectionism. Simply start by setting aside a consistent time each day to practice self-reflection.
"Over time, you will be able to practice turning those reflections into lists of actions," Dr. Kwan says. "This, in itself, is a great place to start, promoting consistency and mastery while avoiding the overwhelm that can happen."
As with any practice, consistency is key. When you're just getting started, try to write daily for at least a few minutes each day and see how your journaling develops from there.
"It's important to take on a mindset of acceptance and non-judgment as you experiment with your new practice. If you find it difficult to get started, I find that listing statements of gratitude is a wonderful and motivating place to begin," Dr. Kwan says.
Future log, rapid logging and other BuJo terms to know
Before we get into how to start a bullet journal, it’s helpful to familiarize yourself with all of the terminology that goes along with it. Once you understand the language, the method to the madness will all make sense.
Consider this your official bullet journal glossary:
- BuJo — short for bullet journal.
- Rapid Logging — the efficient, short-from language for note-taking in your bullet journal.
- Index Page — the table of contents at the front of your notebook where you’ll list all the topics you log in your bullet journal, and their respective page numbers.
- Bullets — a short phrase,followed by a dot, dash or other icon that visually categorizes the type of information it represents.
- Signifiers — symbols like asterisks, hearts, triangles or exclamation marks to the left of your bullets that provide additional context about their importance or meaning.
- Key — an explainer chart with each bullet icon or signifier and its meaning (i.e. ‘•’ means tasks incomplete, ‘!’ means great idea, etc).
- Spreads — a single page or facing pages where you’ve gathered information in a collection, tracker or other layout.
- Tracker — a chart, table or drawing where you can record and track information, like a mood tracker or habit tracker .
- Collections — running lists of information you want to organize, the most popular of which are the daily log, monthly log, and future log.
- Daily Log — a brain dump of your day-to-day tasks, events, and other to-do’s or reminders.
- Monthly Log — a bird's eye view of the next 30 days, usually consisting of a calendar spread and a task.
- Future Log — a collection of upcoming dates outside of the current month so you can keep track of items that aren’t on your immediate radar.
- Migration — the process of transferring information you’ve logged that’s still important or relevant to a new collection, or even a new journal.
How to bullet journal
These terms and concepts are the building blocks to creating your own bullet journal. But for those who still feel the bullet journal method and all its terminology seems daunting, fear not. There's truly no wrong way to do it.
Here's an easy, three-step process to starting a bullet journal for beginners:
1. Start with the index page
As mentioned earlier, you'll want to set up a table of contents at the front of your notebook to help you locate all of the topics you're keeping track of and be able to go back to them. First, number all of the pages in your journal, and then as you begin to log daily information, give each new spread a title. Add that title and the corresponding page number to your index page, and voila!
2. Make a bullet journal key
Choose the symbols and signifiers that will be the secret language to your entire bullet journaling system (such as bullet points for task lists, open circles for events, and stars for high-priority items). Try to stick to just a few. Now create a quick reference chart of each symbol and its meaning. You're free to customize your personal BuJo language as you wish, but your key will help guide you and ensure you remember at all.
3. Create your logs and collections
Set up your essentials – the future log, monthly log and daily log – plus any other custom collections you're inspired to list (starter ideas below!). For the Future Log, create a spread that can provide a glimpse of the next 6 to 12 months. This can be as simple as listing out the months and providing space for a few bullets underneath each.
The monthly log ideally consists of a calendar page and task page for the present month's events, and a new monthly spread is recreated on a month-to-month basis. You can migrate anything that's relevant from the prior month or from your Future Log into the next monthly log.
Finally, a new daily log should be created each day, where you can rapid log anything and everything, including tasks, notes and events. You can use a single page for each new day, or if your Daily Log isn't long enough to take up a full page, you can add on the next day's log to the same page until it's full. The index will help you keep track of all this!
10 bullet journal ideas to get you started
Aside from the daily, monthly and future logs, there are plenty of other running lists you can keep track of as collections. Here are a few ideas:
- Books to read
- To-do list
- Mood tracker
- Habit tracker
- Expense tracker
- Gratitude log
- Meal planner
- Shopping list
- Self-care plans
- Monthly intentions
What kind of bullet journal notebook should I buy?
Many bullet journal users swear by grid notebooks, since the dot grid provides a guideline for writing or drawing, but tends to be more subtle than a traditional solid grid or ruled paper. You can also buy one with blank pages.
If you're going to start from scratch, a Moleskine notebook or Leuchtturm1917 are a few popular options to consider. From there, you can draw your own calendar pages, tracker templates, and beyond.
Other journals brands like Silk + Sonder's monthly journals already come pre-prepared for you with customized planner layouts, tracker templates and journaling spreads. Whichever option you go with, we suggest selecting a notebook size that you can carry around with you. This makes it easy to BuJo on the go!
Should I download printable templates for my bullet journal?
A quick Google search will turn up plenty of inspiration for mood tracker or habit tracker templates. If you don't know where to begin with drawing your own, it can be helpful to download one of the many free printable tracker templates available online, from grids to wheels to calendar spreads.
However, if creativity comes naturally to you, you can get inspired by others' innovative approaches and come up with a twist of your own.
What other supplies do I need to start bullet journaling?
While bullet journaling was originally founded on the premise of minimalism, journaling enthusiasts have evolved it entirely into a method of artistic self-expression. Embellishments like washi tape, stickers, colored pencils and stencils have become staple supplies for personalizing your journal and unleashing your creativity.
"We now know how helpful art can be to self-expression as well as capturing feelings and emotions that may be difficult to articulate," Dr. Kwan says. "There is no one size fits all, and the joy of journaling is that you can incorporate methods that personally energize you and motivate you to want to maintain your practice."
However, if you're not typically one to doodle, you might be inclined to give up if all the artwork becomes a chore. In that case, it might be time to mix it up and try a new method, according to Dr. Kwan.
"It's always good to keep in mind that you can take breaks from journaling and come back to it whenever you need," she says. "It will always be there for you."
Have you ever tried bullet journaling? Let us know in the comments. And in the meantime, if you're not a Silk + Sonder subscriber, become one today by clicking here.