Bullet Journal 101: The Quick Start Guide For Beginners

Ok – you’ve heard about this awesome method of organization, seen the beautiful spreads all over Instagram, and had your ear chewed off by your best girl friend about how ah-mazing the bullet journal is. (And if you’re not convinced, you can read about the benefits of a bullet journal over here.)

And you’re read to give it a go.

But. Where – and how – start?

Below I’ve got a quick guide to get you up and running quickly with your first bullet journal. When you’re feeling more comfortable with your bullet journal, you can have a look at a more detailed guide, read about different ways to use your bullet journal, and get inspired by these gorgeous bullet journal spreads.

bullet journal supplies

What Is A Bullet Journal?

The bullet journal is an analog system. Put away that phone – you don’t need anything more complicated than a notebook and a pen or pencil.

While it’s very customizable (especially because of the bullet journal key), and you’re certainly welcome to change things around, in this post I am going to walk you through the setup for a traditional bullet journal as first introduced by Ryder Carroll from BulletJournal.com.

You can use it as a starting point, get comfortable with the basic system, and then change it from there.

You’ll need a notebook, a pen, and a little bit of time to get started. The type of notebook you use is up to you. The traditional style is grid or dotted paper, but ruled or blank pages work just fine.

Ideally use a notebook with thicker pages, to prevent the ink from your pen bleeding through. But again – this is not a must-have. Use what you have to get started. (#progressoverperfection)

The Bullet Journal Key

The key (pun most definitely intended) to the bullet journal are a series of shorthand keys that are used to mark different entries.

The first page of your bullet journal will include your key. This will record the shorthand you use for your bullet entries.

Here’s the traditional codes used. (You can later on add to it, or modify it as needed, but to start with follow the original bullet journal key):

ᐧ (Dot) Task

X Completed Task

> Migrated Task

⃝ Appointment

⬤ Completed Appointment

⟴ Migrated Appointment

– Notes

bullet journal laid out on wooden desk with pens and coffee

The Index

Your next two to four pages will be set aside for indexing. This will allow you to quickly find any collection, or get to a particular month. Your collections and logs are listed in the index, along with the corresponding page number. Title each page as an index page and move on to the next section.

The Future Log

With the original bullet journal setup this is a two page spread that records the coming 6 months. Many bullet journalers find it helpful to use a more traditional yearly calendar instead. This is a great place to record birthdays, anniversaries, or block out vacation time. Add or note the page number and record your future log in your index.

Monthly Logs

Start each month with a monthly log. Here you’ll record appointments and due dates. You can use a grid layout, or use one line for each day of the month. While this isn’t where you’ll track most of your tasks, the monthly log will come in handy for those times when you have a dentist appointment or your friend’s birthday party.

Daily Logs

The daily log is where you’ll spend most of your time in the journal. Start a new section each day and record anything important for the day. Make your list of tasks and cross them off as you get them finished. Make notes of anything important you need to remember throughout the day as well as appointments as they pop up.

Everything gets logged in the daily log for speed and ease. From there you can move it as needed to the monthly or future log, or migrate it to a different day.

bullet journal on white desk with coffee

Migrating Tasks

At the end of your day, or first thing the next morning it’s time to review your tasks and cross out and migrate anything that isn’t checked off. For example, if you didn’t get around to doing laundry today, draw an arrow through it and add the task to today’s daily task list.

If you noted an appointment that came up yesterday, move it to your monthly list and draw an arrow through it in yesterday’s list. If something no longer applies then cross it out. Your goal is to deal with each entry from your daily list by completing it, migrating it, or crossing it out.

In the evening before bed is a good time to migrate your tasks.

Collections

The final part of the puzzle is collections. These are basically thematical lists you make that aren’t date related. A perfect example is a list of books you want to read. Start your new collection on the next blank page. Title it and start jotting down the books you want to read.

Make a note of the page you’re on and add this collection to your index page. Now when you want to add a new book title to this list, or reference it to see what you want to read, you can easily find it via the index.

A popular adaptation of collections is to track habits you want to build – such as exercising, or meditation.

bullet journal with pens and highlighter

How Using A Bullet Journal To Boost Your Productivity

A bullet journal is a great way to stay productive at work, at home, or in school. Just about anyone can benefit from bullet journaling – from college students to busy working moms.

If you feel like you don’t have enough hours in the day to get everything done you want to accomplish, use a bullet journal to help you plan and prioritize. The benefit of the bullet journal if you’re super busy is that it is actually so quick to log everything, due to the bullet journal keys.

The Bullet Journal Makes You Plan Ahead

As you make out your daily tasks lists, you have to think about what you should be working on. This makes you plan ahead and think things through instead of sitting at your desk doing busy work. A little bit of planning can help you make progress that much faster and it will boost your overall productivity.

If you find daily to-do lists helpful, bullet journaling is a way to get even more productive faster.

Some people find it helpful to make out their next day’s task list at the end of the day. Others prefer to make out their list first thing in the morning, while they are drinking coffee and getting ready for the day. Both are valid approaches. Give both a try and see what works for you.

bullet journal with coffee and pink pens

The Bullet Journal Motivates You To Get Stuff Done

Once you have your daily tasks recorded, you’ll be motivated to work on checking them off. This will greatly increase your productivity in several different ways.

The first is that you know exactly what you should be working on. You won’t waste time figuring out what your next step is, or sit there and watch cute doggo videos instead of doing something productive.

The daily list of tasks will also make you push just a little harder to make sure everything gets done before you call it a day (if only so you don’t have migrate and re-write it again for the next day). Try it and see how much more you can get done in a day with a daily list in your bullet journal.

The Bullet Journal Is A Great Record To Help You Reflect

Last but not least, the bullet journal is a great record of what you’ve been doing on a daily basis. Set aside a little time to look through your notes at the end of the week or the month. Reflect on what’s working and what isn’t. Where do you need to work harder, what can you stop doing. Use the record your bullet journal gives you to improve your processes and tasks. It will make you better at your job, in school, and at home.