The Ultimate Beginner's Guide to Bullet Journaling

Cup of coffee and opened notebook
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Staying organized seems easy from afar. Write a daily to-do list, use a calendar, don't take notes on random scraps of paper: these suggestions sound obvious, right? And yet, no matter how often we hear this advice, most of us still stare longingly at the perfectly color-coded notebooks of our uber-organized coworker or classmate, wondering when we'll ever find the time to get our organizational act together. 

That's where bullet journaling comes in. The bullet journal system is an effective and well-designed framework for gathering and storing information from a wide range of categories. Once you put the system to work, your journal will become a surprisingly stress-free way to keep track of to-dos, future plans, notes to self, long-term goals, monthly calendars, and more. 

Some bullet journal users have turned the system into an art form, but don't let their intricate page designs intimidate you. With 15 minutes, an empty notebook, and a few basic steps, anyone can create an organizational tool that's easy and even fun to use. 

01
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Gather your supplies.

Colorful journal page with yellow highlighter
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While some bullet journal diehards have supply closets that would make your grade school art teacher green with envy, you don't need to raid the local craft store to start a bullet journal. All you really need is a blank journal, a pen, and a pencil.

The journal style is up to you, though it's best to choose one with thick pages and gridded or dotted paper. Many bullet journal experts rave about the Leuchtturm1917 Notebook, while others prefer traditional composition books. 

Shop around and experiment until you find a pen that's a pleasure to use. Look for one that feels comfortable in your hand and easy on your wrist. 

02
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Insert page numbers and an index.

Index page in bullet journal
Kara Benz / Bohoberry

To create your first bullet journal, start by numbering each page in the upper or lower corner. These page numbers are an essential building block for what's arguably the most important element of a bullet journal: the index.

The index is a deceptively simple tool that enables your bullet journal to store an almost infinite array of information. It serves as a dynamic table of contents. Every time you add or extend a section of your bullet journal (more on that later), you'll record the name and page numbers here. For now, save the first few pages of your journal for your index. 

03
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Create a future log.

Future log page in bullet journal
Cerries Mooney

The future log will be the first spread in your bullet journal. Set aside four pages and divide each one into three sections. Label each section with the name of a month.

The goal here is to give yourself a way to visualize your month-to-month plans at a glance, so don't worry about writing down every single thing you may or may not do this year. For now, stick to big events and long-standing appointments. Of course, there are dozens of variations on the future log, so it's worth exploring different formats until you find your favorite.

04
of 07

Add your first monthly log.

monthly log in bullet journal
Kendra Adachi / The Lazy Genius Collective

The monthly log gives you a much more focused, detailed look at what's ahead this month. Write the days of the month vertically on one side of the page. Next to each number, you'll write down the appointments and plans taking place on that day. Add new events throughout the month as they arise. If you're so inclined, you can use the opposing page for a second kind of monthly logging system, like habit tracking or recurring monthly to-dos

05
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Add your first daily log.

daily log in bullet journal
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Your bullet journal's daily log can be a to-do list, a dumping ground for daily reminders, a place to jot down memories, and more. Start your daily log by using it to keep track of daily tasks, but leave room for free-writing, too. The most important rule of the daily log? Don't impose space limitations. Allow each daily log to be as short or as long as it needs to be.  

06
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Start customizing.

places to visit log in bullet journal
Littlecoffeefox.com

The three basic structures – future, monthly, and daily logs – do a lot of heavy lifting, but what makes the bullet journal so valuable is its flexibility. Don't be afraid to experiment. Interested in using your journal as a creative outlet? Design your own event-labeling system, try color-coding, or play around with decorative lettering. Want to keep a running list of books you'd like to read or places you'd like to visit? Start your list on whatever page you want, then record the page number in your index. When you run out of room, just continue the list on the next available page and make a note in your index. 

07
of 07

Migrate, migrate, migrate.

Journal with pen and writing
Aaron Burden / Unsplash

At the end of the month, review your logs and task lists. Which items need to be carried over into the next month? Which ones can you eliminate? Create the next month's logs as you go. Devote a few minutes each month to this information migration process to ensure that your bullet journal is consistently useful and up-to-date. Make migration a habit and your bullet journal will never steer you wrong.