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Bullet Journaling for Beginners (and Impatient, Unartistic People Like Me)

One notebook and just 15 minutes a day can change your life

Credit: María Garrido via flickr/CC BY-NC 2.0

“Forget about what you see online. It’s not about how it looks; it’s about how it feels, and, most importantly, how it works for you.”

In other words, don’t worry if your handwriting looks like chicken scratch. You don’t need to learn calligraphy or buy up every supply at the craft store.

Bullet Journaling for Beginners: 8 Steps to Get Started

Step 1: Adjust Your Mindset

Your first notebook will be your learning notebook. Like any productivity method, it will take time to find a bullet journaling flow and structure that works for you. Don’t prematurely optimize and go all out with a handmade leather journal. That’s too much pressure. Any creative endeavor involves letting go of perfection. Bullet journaling is no different. Make a mess.

Step 2: Get a Journal and Writing Utensils

Start with an inexpensive notebook — one you like but feel okay making mistakes in or throwing away if it doesn’t work out. Opt for a journal with blank pages (lined or unlined, your choice) instead of one with preexisting sections so you can customize it. As for writing tools, I start with a pencil so I can erase easily. But if you’re a die-hard ballpoint pen person or gel pen lover, you do you.

Step 3: Start an Index Page

The index is the backbone of your BuJo system. Think of it like the table of contents in a book. This will be your reference key to find certain sections or pages in your bullet journal.

Credit: Claire via flickr/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Step 4: Create Logs

Logs are staples of the bullet journal system. Essentially, these are places where you can brain-dump tasks and projects you’re currently working on. It’s also your storehouse for future goals.

  • Monthly logs include things like calendars and categorized goal lists for the next 30 days.
  • Daily logs may includes entries of to-dos, meetings, and reminders.
Credit: John Uri (CC BY 2.0) and flakyredhead (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) via flickr

Step 5: Pick Signifiers

Many people use bullets for lists of tasks, circles for events, and dashes for notes. Stars commonly denote high-priority items. Of course, this is all is customizable, and over time you’ll arrive at a system of symbols that’s unique to you. You’ll track personal signifiers on a reference page.

Step 6: Document Items with Collections

Collections are running lists and anything you want to remember for later:

  • Movies you want to watch
  • Friends you want to reconnect with
  • Things you’re grateful for
  • Blog topics
  • Self-care ideas

Step 7: Make Time for It

Schedule time to update your journal. After all, no productivity method works unless you put effort into it. Cross off items on your daily and monthly logs as you complete them. Write page numbers on the bottom of each page, and update your Index. Many BuJo enthusiasts do a monthly or quarterly review, taking time to reflect on what they accomplished and their future goals and to transfer items from one log to the next.

Step 8: Get Better, Gradually

Over time, you’ll home in on a bullet journaling process that fits your needs and preferences. Once you get your standard page formats down, you can move on to optimizing your process in other ways. Maybe you work on improving your handwriting. Or add washi tape to make finding frequently flipped-to pages easier. There are lots of helpful online resources created by the innovative BuJo community.

Why It Works: The Psychology of Bullet Journals

According to neuroscientists, a bullet journal helps you externalize thoughts. Put simply, this frees up mental space so you can think more clearly and concentrate better. You don’t have to waste valuable energy remembering everything. Instead, your life is captured on the pages of your journal. Now you can be more present and at ease in the moment without worrying that you’re forgetting something.

Blending Bullet Journaling with Digital Tools

Fortunately, there are ways to get the benefits of bullet journaling without abandoning the tech tools you’ve come to rely on.

  • Complement your daily and monthly logs by putting additional reminders and appointments in your digital calendar.
  • Take meeting notes in your bullet journal, then snap a photo or use a dictation tool to share it with teammates.

Melody Wilding, LMSW

Written by

Workplace success coach for sensitive high-achievers. Professor. Get 3 strategies execs @ Google & Facebook use to control stress