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Tips for starting your first bullet journal

So you want to start a bullet journal. Have you been thinking about it for a while but feel intimidated by the beautiful spreads dominating Instagram? Perhaps you started a journal a while ago with loads of spreads and trackers but found it too much to maintain. Or maybe you’re just looking for help with keeping on top of all that life admin. Today I thought I’d share the tips and tricks I’ve learned over the last few years which have helped me keep a minimal bullet journal part of my daily routine.

Inside my new Dingbats Earth Journal bullet journal (January 2019)

Make a list

Before you do anything, think about what you want to use your bujo for. Is it an all-in-one (appointments, life admin, work, etc), a place to record and reflect (goals, memories, trackers), or a bit of a mish-mash?

I can’t even begin to think about keeping everything in one place, so I have a day-to-a-page diary for work, a wallplanner by the fridge with Jenson’s term dates and appointments, a diary in my day bag with my own appointments, dates for bills, etc, and then I have my journal. I guess when you narrow it down it’s my personal and professional development journal; I use it to plan my blog posts, note my collaborations, record and reflect on my goals, and track a few things. I’ll talk more about my spreads in a bit, but taking some time to think about what you’re actually using your journal for will help you when it comes to buying that all-important notebook. The number of pages is important to me as I like to start a new journal every six months. Ideally I’d make each one last a year but I don’t half go on sometimes!

Inside my new Dingbats Earth Journal bullet journal (January 2019)

Choosing your notebook

First thing’s first: the notebook. To be honest, any old thing will do for your first one. I started with an A4 lined notebook but these days I’ve become a bit of a bujo snob. I’ve tried 16 different notebooks so far and have learned that my non-negotiables are: hardback, minimum 100gsm paper, (not too prominent) dot grid, around 200 numbered pages, and two ribbons. I’ve previously used two Dingbats Earth Journals (still my favourite), I’m currently using a Leuchtturm1917 (which I don’t recommend if you’re bothered by ghosting), and my next one will be this beautiful Shine Bright Productivity Journal. I’m also quite fond of the Rhodia Goalbook but prefer a more hard-wearing cover.

Shine Bright Productivity Journal review

Choosing your pens

Now, when it comes to notebooks and pens, it’s a bit of a chicken and egg situation. Do you buy a notebook with paper which will hold up against your favourite pens or do you use pens which suit the quality of the paper in that irresistible notebook? Fortunately, there are a lot of reasonably priced journals with 100gsm+ paper which won’t bleed (when the ink seeps through the paper to the other side), or even ghost (when your writing is visible on the other side), with most pens. In this post I’ve combined all 16 of my notebook reviews, complete with pen tests, so you can see what will work best for your requirements.

Personally, I like a fineliner and highlighter for my day-to-day (I’ve recently switched from the Stabilo Sensors to the Staedtler triplus – review coming soon), with the odd brush lettered heading to jazz it up a bit. We’ll come back to ‘jazzing’ later in the post.

Leuchtturm 1917 Change Journal & Staedtler Triplus Fineliners (pastel) - review

Setting up your key spreads

To stay super organised, you’ll want to start with an index (contents page) and future log (overview of the coming months). Some dot grids come with one or both of these built-in (check out that ultimate review post to compare the features of all 16 notebooks).

Six months of daily journaling - Dingbats Earth Journal. Bullet journal review

I then move on to my yearly trackers. I came across a fantastic ‘year in pixels’ spread last year and it’s so handy for seeing things at a glance. I use this layout to track things like my mood and sleep patterns. You can see that these things don’t have to be super fancy. It’s simply colour coded so that I can update it really quickly at the end of the day (the time when I tend to sit down with my bujo) and stay on top of things.

Six months of daily journaling - Dingbats Earth Journal. Bullet journal review

Then we move on to monthlies, weeklies and dailies. Again, think about what works best for you. I keep things simple with a monthly schedule and to do list for the blog. I found that when I had a daily to do list I just kept migrating tasks to the next day and it became too repetitive and time consuming.

Six months of daily journaling - Dingbats Earth Journal. Bullet journal review

I also have regular monthly spreads to record daily gratitude and reflect on my goals progress at the end of the month. It really helps to look back at the things I’m proud of and reprioritise for the coming month.

Leuchtturm1917 bullet journal review

I use my ‘dailies’ to debrief at the end of the day; I have a bit of a rant, record precious memories (funny things Jenson said, milestones, etc) and try to end on something positive before I go to sleep.

Simple! I just take 5-10 minutes at the end of the day to update my trackers and reflect on the day. Then, at the end of the month, I take a few extra minutes to refocus my goals and set up my spreads for the next month.

Additional spreads

Remember, your bullet journal can be whatever you want to be, so you can use it for meal planning, holiday packing lists, budgeting… I like to create seasonal bucket lists, keep track of gifts for Christmas, and practice a bit of mindfulness. Rachel Wilkerson Miller’s book also has some great inspiration and I’m loving working my way through the Leuchtturm Change Journal.

2019 autumn bucket list

Things I’ve learned along the way

Keep it simple: When I started my first bullet journal, I was all about trying (and failing!) to make it look good. When I had the time to focus on it, I really enjoyed spending my evenings winding down and being a bit creative. But it’s difficult to maintain on a daily basis and I soon abandoned it.

my bullet journal june 2016

Avoid duplication: With my second journal, I set up a lot of spreads that I didn’t really need. I use an Excel document to record my blog stats and Goodreads to track my reading – I don’t need to duplicate this in my bujo for the sake of a pretty spread. If you do want to use your bujo as a reading journal, check out my post on ‘how I use my bullet journal to track my reading‘.

Using my bullet journal to organise my reading

Go back to basics: I read Ryder’s (the founder of The Bullet Journal Method) book at the end of last year and it really helped me to focus on making my bullet journal fit for purpose. I’m not particularly artistic; what I need is to be able to plan, record and reflect. I really stripped it back to make it work for me.

The Bullet Journal Method by Ryder Carroll

Do you: What I missed was that bit of unwinding and colouring but I wanted it to be something I could dip in and out of, without it being an essential part of my journaling practice. This year I started learning to letter, so some months I play around with my headings, sometimes I also like to use a bit more colour, or use washi tape to stick in an inspiring postcard. If you’re looking for fun accessories, or stencils to create a somewhat less minimal spread, I highly recommend the Love Daisy subscription.

Love Daisy bullet journal subscription box from Oops a Daisy - review

Embrace the imperfections: Spelt something wrong? Put a line through it and move on. Created spreads out of order? Don’t worry, that’s what your index is for. Your bullet journal does not need to be Instagram perfect.

I hope that helps. Got any questions? Leave me a comment. If you’re on Instagram, tag me in your posts because I’d love to see your spreads.

Happy journaling!

2 thoughts on “Tips for starting your first bullet journal”

  1. This is SUCH a good bujo guide! I started bujo and then just stopped after a while when I started working full time, but after reading this I am v v tempted to get back into it. I think one of the mistakes I made was not making a list of what I wanted my bujo to do for me before I dove in and so I ended up frustrated in it!

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