Beginner’s Bullet Journal Quick Start: Free Up Brain Space

Alright, you’ve stumbled upon the awe-inspiring world of bullet journaling. You’ve been wowed by the impressive layouts splashed across Instagram and had your friend rave endlessly about the wonders of the bullet journal. If you’re still on the fence, you might want to check out the advantages of keeping a bullet journal right here.

Now, you’re pumped to kick-start your bullet journaling journey. However, you’re not sure where to start. Welcome aboard! This is your go-to guide on ‘Bullet Journal Quick Start for Beginners’. In this succinct guide, we will swiftly guide you on how to get started with your first-ever bullet journal.

Once you get a firm grip on the basics of bullet journaling, you can dive deeper, learn about diverse bullet journal applications, and get your creative juices flowing with splendid bullet journal layout inspirations.

What is a bullet journal?

A bullet journal, often abbreviated as BuJo, is a personalized and flexible method of organizing your schedule, reminders, to-do lists, deadlines, brainstorming ideas, and other varied aspects of life. The bullet journal is an analog system. Put away that phone – you don’t need anything more complicated than a notebook and a 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, a digital product designer from New York. 

The bullet journal is based on a modular system where you use sections or “modules” known as collections. These collections include an index, future log, monthly log, and daily log, which are used to keep track of tasks, events, and notes in bullet points.

Since it’s so flexible, you can tailor it according to your needs. You might use it to manage your daily activities, keep track of habits, plan for the future, jot down thoughts and ideas, or even use it as a space for creativity.

The essence of a bullet journal lies in rapid logging, where you use bullets and signifiers to note tasks, events, and other details quickly. The main idea is to keep things succinct rather than writing long sentences. 

How do you start a simple bullet journal? (A Quick Start Guide)

bullet journal laid out on wooden desk with pens and coffee, bullet journal quick start


  • A notebook: The type of notebook you choose is up to your personal preference. You could use any notebook that you have on hand.
  • A pen: Again, any pen will do, but you might want to consider one that doesn’t bleed through the pages of your notebook.
  • Optional: Colored pens, pencils, markers, stickers, washi tape, or any other materials you’d like to use to personalize your journal.

Setting Up Your Journal

  1. Index: The first few pages of your journal will serve as the index. This is where you’ll note the contents of your journal and the pages on which they can be found. You’ll fill this out as you go along.
  2. Future Log: This is where you note events or tasks that are happening in the future, beyond the current month. You can set this up as a yearly overview.
  3. Monthly Log: This is a two-page spread for each month. On one side, write down all the days of the month, followed by the day of the week. This is your calendar for the month where you’ll write important dates, events, appointments, etc.
  4. Daily Log: This is where you’ll spend most of your time in the journal. Each day, write the date, then list the tasks, events, and notes for that day. Tasks are marked with a simple bullet point. When a task is complete, turn the bullet into an “X”. If a task needs to be moved to another day, change the bullet to a “>” symbol. Notes about the day are marked with a dash, and events are marked with an “O”.
  5. Collections: These are pages where you group similar ideas together. For example, you could have a collection of movies you want to see, bucket list items, or use them as a habit tracker. You can add collections whenever and wherever you want, just be sure to add them to the index.

Tips for Success

  • Keep it simple: You’re just starting out, so don’t worry about making your journal look like the ones you see on Instagram or Pinterest. The most important thing is that it works for you.
  • Be flexible: The great thing about a bullet journal is that it can be whatever you need it to be. Don’t feel like you need to stick to a certain format if it’s not working for you.
  • Review regularly: At the end of each day, review your tasks. What did you complete? What needs to be moved to the next day? At the end of each month, do a larger review and set up your logs for the next month.
  • Use your index: It can be easy to forget about your index, but it’s a powerful tool. Regularly update it with the contents of your journal.

What should I put at the beginning of my bullet journal?

Starting a bullet journal can be an exciting project, and what you include at the beginning will set the tone for your journaling experience. Here are some more elements you might consider including at the start of your bullet journal:

  • Goals: You may want to dedicate a page or two to list out your goals for the year or break down what you hope to achieve each month. This can give you a sense of direction and purpose.
  • Inspirational Quotes/Doodles: Some people like to start their bullet journals with something motivational or something that sets the tone for their personal journals. This could be a quote that resonates with you, a doodle, or even a collage.
  • Personal Information: You might want to include a page with some basic personal information, including emergency contact numbers. It can be useful in case you lose your journal.
  • Birthday/Important Dates: A list of important dates like birthdays, anniversaries, or special events can be helpful as a reference point.

Remember, the beauty of a bullet journal is that it can be whatever you want it to be. Feel free to add, omit, or adjust any of these elements to suit your needs.

Beginner’s Bullet Journal Setup Guide

Ok – you’re ready to give bullet journaling a try. Here’s the ultimate step-by-step guide.

Choose A Bullet Journal

Before you start your first bujo, you need to decide on the type of journal you want to use. I’ll give you a quick overview of the main styles of bullet journals. Most importantly just start, get your feet wet, and if needed switch to a different type of journal until you find the one that’s right for you.

A Plain Notebook

The easiest (and free) way to get started is with any notebook that you have lying around. Of course, you can also pick up an inexpensive one at the store. If you just want to give this a try, it doesn’t matter if it’s ruled, lined, or has blank pages. Any type of notebook will work.

The advantage is that it’s easy and inexpensive to find something to play around with. The disadvantage is that cheap notebooks tend to fall apart after a while and you have to number the pages yourself. 

That being said, I recommend this is where you start. Give it a try and see if bullet journaling will work for you. If so, you can move on to one of the other types of notebooks.

Dot-Grid Notebook

Many people prefer dot-grid notebooks for bullet journaling because they provide a guideline for writing and drawing, but are less obtrusive than lined or grid paper. A dot grid notebook features pages with a series of dots arranged in a grid-like pattern. The dots are typically spaced evenly, both vertically and horizontally, so they form a subtle grid that you can use as a guide for writing, drawing, or aligning other elements.

Dot-grid notebooks are popular among bullet journal enthusiasts, designers, architects, and anyone who likes to have a flexible guide for their work. 

A Moleskin or Leuchtturm Notebook

When you’re ready to upgrade to a journal you’ll enjoy writing in and are proud to display, consider upgrading to a Moleskin or Leuchtturm notebook. You’ll end up with a nice sturdy book that you can carry around with you or keep by your desk.

In addition to making your bullet journaling a nicer experience, a quality book has some added benefits. The paper will be nicer to write on (so satisfying), it usually has quite a few pages, so you may be able to fit an entire year’s worth of stuff in one journal.

Bullet journaling requires you to use numbered pages in your journal for indexing. There are a few editions available that include numbered pages including the Leuchtturm 1917 journal (my favorite part).

A Travel Journal or Midori

A third option is a travel journal or Midori. This consists of a piece of leather used as a cover and a series of replaceable inserts held in place by elastic bands. The big advantage of using a Midori-style journal for your bullet journaling is that it’s highly customizable. Instead of using an index and having your collections and lists randomly spread throughout your journal, you can keep a dedicated insert for collections.

If you’re missing a more traditional calendar layout for your monthly pages, you can use a more traditional monthly and weekly calendar in your bullet journal.

Last but not least, by having the essential parts of your bullet journal (monthlies, dailies, and collections) separated, you can replace only the parts you need to replace. That means when your daily journaling notebook is full, you simply start a new one, and there’s no need to go back and copy over any essential collections in a new journal. You keep your collections until you’re ready to replace them and start a new journal for those.

The Bullet Journal Key

The first page of your bullet journal will include your key/legend. This page contains the symbols that you will use throughout your bullet journal to signify tasks, events, notes, and more. 

Here are the traditional symbols used. Later on, you can add to it or modify it, but if you’re a bujo beginner you should follow the original bullet journal key:

infographic of bullet journal symbols, bullet journal key, bullet journal quick start for beginners

The Index

Your next two to four pages will be set aside for indexing. It’s basically like a Table of Contents, which is also what makes Bujo different than ordinary journals or diaries.  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, and anniversaries, or block out vacation time. Add or note the page number and record your future log in your index.

Monthly Logs

bullet journal on white desk with coffee, bullet journal for beginners

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 spread will come in handy for those times when you have a dentist appointment or your friend’s birthday party.

Weekly Logs

Many people who use a bullet journal system also incorporate weekly spreads into their routines. This can be particularly useful if you have a lot of tasks or events throughout the week, and you want to get a sense of your week at a glance. This is typically optional if you are just looking for a bullet journal quick start though.  

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 daily to-dos and cross them off as you finish them. 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 spread 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.

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.

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


bullet journal with pens and highlighter, how to start a bullet journal

These are pages where you group similar ideas together. For example, you could have a collection of books you want to read, places you want to travel, a gratitude log, or Christmas present ideas (I use mine for all of these).

Every time you start a new blank page for a Collection, make a note of the page number you’re on and add this “Collection” to your Index. Now, when you want to add a new book title to the list or reference it for what book to read next, you can easily find it via your index.

A popular adaptation of Collections is to turn them into a habit tracker.  Track habits you want to build or change – such as exercising, or meditation. My daughter uses hers as a mood tracker, menstrual cycle tracker, and a way to record her overall mental health trends.

Bullet Journal Kit, Hardcover Planner Notebook Set For Beginners with Journaling Supplies Stencils Stickers Pens Accessor

Benefits of Using A Bullet Journal

Boosts Your Productivity

A BuJo 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 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.

Helps You Stay Organized

Once you get in the habit of recording and checking off anything important, your bullet journal will help you stay organized in ALL areas of your life. Keep track of work tasks, dentist appointments, and your grocery list in one convenient place. The key and index make it easy to keep track of everything.

Since it’s nothing more than a notebook and marker, you can carry it around with you everywhere. Throw it in your purse, keep it next to you on your desk, and review your day before you head to bed at night. Once you get in the habit of using your journal throughout the day, it will become second nature to carry it around with you, the way you keep your phone on you.

Frees Up Space In Your Brain

By far the biggest benefit of using a bullet journal is that it frees up a lot of brain space. You’ll be pleasantly surprised how much of a difference this will make. Most of us don’t realize how many appointments, tasks, and random pieces of information we keep track of. You know what I’m talking about, the invisible workload we seem to carry in our brains that make us exhausted.  

Beginning to write them down in a bullet journal allows you to use those brain cells for more creative and productive endeavors. You may even find that you sleep better because you’re no longer worried about forgetting an important task or appointment the next day.

bullet journal with coffee and pink pens

The Bullet Journal Method Makes You Plan Ahead

As you make out your daily task 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.

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 to 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.

Can you start a bullet journal in the middle of the year? 

Absolutely! One of the main advantages of a bullet journal is its flexibility. You can start a bullet journal anytime, whether it’s the middle of the year, a random Tuesday, or even the last day of the month. There are no set rules or timelines that you need to follow.

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