The Beginner’s Guide to Bullet Journaling

I have a new love in my life: bullet journaling. Bullet journaling is another form of planning and organizing your life, but in a form that you get to design yourself. Did I just make it sound complicated? I promise, it’s not. Let me give you a brief introduction to it.

Bullet journaling is a great planning tool to keep track of your to-do list, get you organized & set your creativity loose! This guide will get you started!

A bullet journal can be whatever you want it to be. A planner, calendar, running to-do list, diary, doodle book, anything! There is no perfect way to do it, and there is no right or wrong way, either.

What do I need to start bullet journaling?

Two things: a notebook and a pen. That’s all you need! It can be any notebook you have lying around. I’ve seen journals with fancy covers and pages, and I’ve seen simple notebooks. Anything works! The notebook can be a bound notebook, a spiral, a disc-bound, or even loose-leaf paper in a binder. There’s no specific size you have to get. The type of paper doesn’t matter either – lined, graph, and grid all work brilliantly.

When I started, I grabbed a random blank lined notebook I had in a cabinet for my practice BuJo (as it’s charmingly referred to in the community), but I am also experimenting with a disc-bound notebook now. I also have a dot-grid Moleskine that’s itching to be opened. Decisions, decisions!

What’s inside the bullet journal?

The Key

The first thing in your bullet journal is going to be your key. This is where you’ll make note of the symbols that precede your entries and what they mean.

The original bullet journal system (created by Ryder Carroll of uses a system of dots or “bullets” to notate entries. Tasks (things to do) are marked with a bullet, and x-ed out when they’re complete. Scheduled tasks are marked with a “<“ and tasks that have been migrated (moved to another day) are marked with a “>”. Events (items that are date-related – appointments, birthdays, etc.) are marked with a small open circle. Notes are marked with a dash.

Personally, I prefer a different key. I like to mark tasks as “in progress” so I use open squares instead of bullet points. Like a said above, there is no right or wrong way to do it. Experiment a little a find a system that works best for you.

Bullet journaling is a great planning tool to keep track of your to-do list, get you organized & set your creativity loose! This guide will get you started!

You can also add signifiers to entries to note certain things. For instance something with an exclamation next to it has a deadline, something with a question mark might need further research, and so on. 

The Index

Next in your bullet journal is the index. Think of it as your table of contents. As you go through your BuJo, number each page as you get to it and give it a title. When you come to something important that you don’t want to lose, make a note of it in your index. You’ll want to leave about four pages empty for this when you’re setting up your bullet journal.

Future Logging

After your index, you’ll need a space for future logging. This is where you record events or tasks that you haven’t gotten to in your journal yet. For instance, if it’s October now, you probably won’t have your pages for January set up yet, so you’ll need somewhere to record upcoming events, like birthdays, appointments, etc. I set up spaces for six months in mine, but you can do the whole year if you prefer.

Monthly Views

Start with the month you’re in, and give yourself a monthly view. The original bullet journal system uses a list style, but since I’m such a planner lover, I prefer a calendar style. Keep track of your appointments and events here, and reference this throughout the month.

Weekly Views

This is completely optional. The original bullet journal system doesn’t use weekly views, so you can skip this if it’s unnecessary. I like an overview of my week so that I can plan it out a little better and make a menu.


A photo posted by Samantha (@mommawantsjava) on

Daily Logs

Now it’s time to start bullet journaling! Start with the first empty page and write the date at the top. Then log in all of your activities, tasks, appointments, and notes. Mark things off as you complete them. When that day is done, start the next day right below it. There’s no need to go to the next page if you still have space on the current page. 

Some people do structured layouts, much like a planner. I prefer just listing my tasks, as every day is different for me. Some days I’ll use two pages, some days only half of one page. That’s one thing I really love about bullet journaling – you have as much or as little room as you need every day!


This is the really fun part about bullet journaling! A collection is basically a themed brain dump on it’s own page. To make one, simply start with the first empty page, number it, give it a title, and add your notes. If it’s something you’ll be referencing a lot, go ahead and add it to your index.

Collections can be brainstorming ideas, doodles, meeting notes, family birthdays, or any kind of list. They can be a chart of habits you want to track, or a month of things you’re grateful for. For instance, this DIY weight-loss chart I made is a perfect example. 

This DIY weight-loss tracker looks cute & will keep you motivated! It's the perfect addition to your planner or bullet journal!

Then you just continue with your daily/weekly logs immediately after.

Who should use bullet journaling?

Anyone and everyone! This isn’t just a girly thing like some planners can be. It’s great for ladies, men, adults, kids, students… everyone! A bullet journal is a great way to organize your thoughts and free up some space in your head. 

If you’re the creative type, you’ll love all the room for doodles, drawing, and hand-lettering. I’ve never been much of a doodler, but I have been feeling all sorts of creativity since I started bullet journaling. I even drew this my first day!


A photo posted by Samantha (@mommawantsjava) on

It’s perfectly fine if you’re not into washi tape, calligraphy, and doodles. You don’t have to decorate or color your bullet journal. Like I said before, there is no right or wrong way to do this. You just have to find what works best for you. 

The hardest part about bullet journaling is getting started. Some might say it’s intimidating staring at a blank journal and fear that they might mess it up. But once you get some ink on the paper, it just starts flowing and you’re good to go! Don’t worry about imperfections – this journal is a log of your life, and no one’s life is perfect! 

So what does this mean for my Happy Planner?

You might remember a few months ago I did a post saying that the Happy Planner is the only planner you’ll ever need. I still stand by that! It’s gorgeous, and solves all of my planning problems. However, I’m a curious person, and once I discovered bullet journaling, I knew I had to give it a try. 

Right now I am using my Happy Planner strictly for blogging! I have so much more room every day to keep track of what I need to be doing (but that’s a whole other post!). I’m using the bullet journal for my home/family/personal/everything else. This system is really working out well for me right now.

As soon as I started bullet journaling, I immediately fell in love with it. I’m hooked. It’s another great creative outlet for me, and it’s really helping me boost my productivity. I really think everyone should experiment with bullet journaling at least once!

Have you tried bullet journaling before? Will you give it a try now? Tell me below in the comments!

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About Samantha

I am a SAHM to three kids and a menagerie of pets. I love coffee, books, crafts, wine, cooking, and more coffee. Seriously, I couldn't function without coffee. Read more about me!


  1. I feel like journaling might be a rabbit hole for me but also I’ve been so frazzled with all I have to do that it might really help to organize my thoughts on paper.
    Julie recently posted…10 Goof-proof Digital Marketing Tips for Freelancing MomsMy Profile

    • That’s what set me down the planner & now bullet Journal roads, too. The great thing about the bullet Journal is that you don’t have to use it every day if you don’t want to. You won’t be wasting any paper. ?

  2. I’ve never heard of it, but I am fascinated now! I am trying to find the best process for me to get my thoughts out and organized. Pinning to come back to as I get my planning done! Thanks!

    • I really love it because I have a little more freedom with it than I do with a planner. And I love that it’s exactly what I need it to be. 🙂

  3. I am so intrigued by bullet journaling! Maybe someday I will try to figure out how to make it work for me. Your summary here is very helpful. 😉
    Emily recently posted…Blogging Tips and Resources NewsletterMy Profile

    • Thanks, Emily! I really think everyone should try it at least once. And I’m finding that every week I use it turns out a little differently. I like being able to evolve my system. 🙂

  4. I love this! I use a planner everyday and love the idea of kind of making a system that works best for me!
    Tiffany recently posted…Different Way to Enjoy Epcot Food and Wine FestivalMy Profile

  5. I just got a Happy Planner for my birthday and I’m obsessed! Then I found bullet journaling and I can’t get enough of that either. I’m always looking for new layout inspo. xx Merisa | Monogrammed Magnolias

    • Me too, Merisa! I really love both planning systems, and I don’t want to give up either one! I’m okay with having more than one planner or journal laying on my desk. 🙂

  6. I like to journal and write. I am going to buy me a notebook and give this method a try. Thanks!

    • That’s fantastic, Ivanna! I really hope you enjoy it! One of my favorite things to do each day is add little thoughts and notes here and there throughout the day in the middle of my to-do lists. I love recording those memories as they happen, and then reading back through them later. 🙂

  7. This sounds like a great idea. I have lists in about a thousand different places so it may be great to get me organized!
    Lane & Holly @ With Two Spoons recently posted…Roasted BroccoliMy Profile

  8. I love this! I want to try it!

    Greta |
    Greta recently posted…Where to Shop in ThiraMy Profile

  9. You explained how to use a bullet journal so clearly! I’ve been hearing the phrase like a buzzword, but wasn’t exactly sure what it entailed. The key makes a lot of sense; I would love to incorporate this into my daily routine.

    • Oh goodness, I’m so glad you thought this was helpful! It’s really nice to sit down for a few minutes in the morning when it’s quiet, do a small doodle to start the day, and plan out my to-dos.

  10. I love journaling and never tried the bullet method. I will be trying it out.

  11. One thing that always confused me about this was how it seemed just like having a daytimer. I tried bullet journaling but my A-type personality was getting annoyed by how neat I needed it to be. For now, I will stick to to-do lists on post-its 🙂

    • I am having a little difficulty sometimes accepting that it won’t be perfect, but I’m also loving the free form of it. And post its are awesome for everything. 😉

  12. I love bullet journaling & I’m also a Happy Planner user too. I use my Bullet Journaling for long-term projects and my happy planner for short-term projects and daily journaling. I love how you use your bullet journal!

  13. I have never tried this before. I do however, use a to do list. I always thought journaling was more like a diary. It looks like a combination of both.

    • I use mine as a little of both. It definitely catches my to-do lists, and I love adding little notes about the days as well.

  14. You have such a beautiful page! It makes me So happy! I get inspired by peoples’ pages like yourself! Anyways, I am such a journal writer. HEck I love lists! And what makes me happier is writing lists on pretty paper! Am I the only one haha! Thank you for sharing!

    • Thank you so much, Nicole! You’re definitely not the only one! I love pretty paper, pens, notebooks, washi, everything! And the more the merrier! 🙂

  15. I have never done bullet journaling well because guess I never really knew how it worked or why I should bother. You have broken it down and explained it in easy simple terms. I can start with that plain note pad I have.
    candy recently posted…Pumpkin HummusMy Profile

  16. I just started a bullet journal last month and I’m totally hooked! I do use a combination of my bullet journal and Trello, and I find that’s what works best for me!

    • That’s so exciting, Erin! I haven’t looked into Trello yet, but chances are if it helps you get organized and plan things, I’ll be all over it! 🙂

  17. YES! I started using a bullet journal a few months ago and it has helped so much. Each month evolves and I love trying out new spreads! Yours are way more prettier than mine! ?

  18. I love bullet journaling and feel lost whenI don’t do my daily log! Mine isn’t very pretty at all, the artistic side of is a work in progress but the actual process & concept has been the biggest help to organising my life! I use it a lot with blogging & planning ahead.

    • I agree, Juliette! Even if I don’t write down anything major, it still makes me happy to write something down as a recollection of my day. Even if it’s just “woohoo, the kids let me take a shower!”

  19. I’ve been curious about bullet journals. Thanks for explaining it so well and including the examples.
    Sara recently posted…How to Eliminate Food CravingsMy Profile

  20. Your journal pages are so cute! I adore my bullet journal. I’ll be writing a post about mine soon. I am still figuring out the perfect layout for my needs but I think I have almost nailed it this month. I mainly use mine for lists (to be read, to watch, auditions, blog post ideas, etc.) and blog stat tracking.

  21. I love this especially the collection chart! Colorful things always make me more motivated to be organized.

  22. I had heard of Bullet Journaling but didn’t know anything about it. Thanks for explaining it all. I will have to try it sometime.

  23. Sounds great! Only thing is, I’m not really good at keeping diaries. I start off good at the start of the year ,then by the middle of it, fall off the bandwagon so to speak, and never get back on it… until the end of the year.

    But this sounds like such a great idea, I might give it a try, especially for my blogging!

    • The good thing about bullet journaling is that you can use it when you want to, and if you stop for a while, there are no wasted pages. Just pick up right where you left off before. 🙂

  24. Bullet journaling is one of those things I keep saying I’m going to try but then I never get to it. I’m a few steps closer after reading this post!

  25. I’ve heard of this, but am not familiar, Pinning this for later! Thanks!

  26. I never understood the concept of bullet journals until now, thankyou!

  27. Great tips and amazing photos. Also, you make it seem so simple, I’ll try it out 🙂

    • Thank you so much, Amra! It is so simple! It all sounds a little complicated, but once you get started it’s really easy!

  28. I’m glad someone else shares my weird addiction to buying endless amounts of cute journals and notebooks! I have at least three that are still blank, and maybe I just found a use for one of them. I tend to write myself to-do lists only when necessary, generally on a sticky note, and then throw away the note when I’m finished with it. It’s not a great system, so bullet journaling sounds like something I should try out soon. Thank you for the post (and cute notebook photos)!
    Beth | Adventuring the Great Wide Somewhere recently posted…Why I Can’t Wait to Give Versailles a Second ChanceMy Profile

    • OMG I am constantly buying notebooks and journals, even if I don’t have a real purpose for them at the time! Thank goodness I found bullet journaling! 🙂

  29. I love bullet journaling! I just bought a Create 365 planner so I could get started. It’s made staying organized so much easier.

  30. Love this! I just started bullet journaling a month ago and it has CHANGED my work day and how organized I am (I run two businesses – so my days are craaazy). Thank you for sharing!

    • Amber, I am so glad to hear that! I can’t imagine running two businesses, but I can totally see where bullet journaling would help you keep everything on track! 🙂

  31. This is great! I always hear about bullet journaling but never understood it! It’s so helpful!

    Rachel |

  32. I love the lose it photo!
    You make me want to try bullet journaling again. I’ve never had much luck. I’m a paragraph type of girl all the way.

    • Thank you, Angela! And I understand out the paragraph thing. There are quite a few paragraphs in the middle of my to-dos, but I think that just adds a little more character to it. 🙂

  33. I did not know there was a name for this. I love creating lists, writing down all my tasks, checklists are my friends. So simple to do and relieves so much stress. 🙂

    • Oh goodness, yes! It’s such a stress relief to have everything written down instead of juggling thoughts and tasks in my head. My kids don’t let me keep my train of thought running for very long, so it’s especially handy. 🙂

  34. I seriously need to start this. I do it in dribs and drabs I guess but not officially. I work best this way and get way more done but I don’t give myself the time! Love your cute planner designs.
    Amy Scott recently posted…Eat, Drink & Be Scary! The Ultimate Halloween Party EssentialsMy Profile

    • Thank you, Amy! I can’t recommend this highly enough! Even if you don’t want to do fancy weekly layouts, it’s a great way to keep all of your lists together.

  35. My friend is obsessed! I just recently heard of this.
    Melissa recently posted…Easy halloween makeup tutorial for beginners – Pretty DeerMy Profile

  36. I’ve been so intrigued by bullet journaling, but haven’t taken the plunge yet. Seems like it would take a lot of time.

    • If you decorate it or get fancy with your writing, it can take up some time. But if you use the bare bones system, it’s basically just keeping all of your lists in one book, so it wouldn’t take more time than writing down your to-do list anywhere else. But I will admit that once you get started, the temptation to do fancy layouts and decorations is intense! 🙂

  37. great post.. Thanks for this look into bullet journaling

  38. I really need to get back to bullet journaling because it really does keep me organized. Thanks for the great beginner’s guide definitely helpful!
    Jennifer L recently posted…Collection of Quick & Easy Halloween Inspired RecipesMy Profile

  39. I have wanted to start bullet journaling for a while now. I’ve always been such a big list and note taker. This would help so much!

  40. Color me intrigued! Okay and still a little overwhelmed 😉 I am a list maker, but it’s always such a MESS! Sticking to just one notebook would be a big improvement. I seriously want to hire you for planner/bullet journal/general life coaching!! 🙂
    Erin @ Stay at Home Yogi recently posted…Want to Try Meditation? My Favorite Free Resources!My Profile

    • Ummmm… I *love* this idea! Setting it all up might look a little more complicated than it actually is, but it’s so much fun!

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  42. I love your layouts and using washi tape. I’ve been journaling for years (I have every journal I’ve ever had since 3rd grade, it’s serious haha) and JUST started using a bullet journal and it’s the best thing ever! It’s perfect for getting organized and creative. Mine isn’t quite as pretty yet but I have a shopping spree trip planned at Michael’s 🙂

    • Thank you, Laneic! Washi tape can make a huge difference, so I try to use some every day. It takes the pressure off trying to make every page pretty. I’m so glad you’re loving bullet journaling, and enjoy your shopping spree!

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