So you want to start bullet journaling. Awesome! I’m so happy you’ve started and you’re on your way…. Wait? What? You haven’t started yet? What are you waiting for?
We’ve all heard the saying that the best time to start a new diet is with the next meal. So why do we always wait until Monday or the New Year before we begin? I think it’s a universal mindset that we think we need to prepare before we can begin. For dieting we want to plan out all the meals we’ll eat, buy all the special groceries, create a big calorie-tracking worksheet, join the gym and buy a FitBit, and before you know it, this diet you’re about to begin becomes this huge ordeal that adds all kinds of pressure to your life.
But really, the best way to start a diet is to just make a healthy food choice for the next meal you eat and afterward, lace up your shoes and go for a 20-minute walk. Bam! You started! All the rest of the stuff will come eventually… but if you just start small and take one tiny baby step in the direction you want to go, you’re creating the momentum you need to continue.
So let’s apply that philosophy to bullet journaling.
You’re overwhelmed with bullet journal information
You don’t need to wait until the New Year to begin. You don’t need to wait until you “learn” how to bullet journal to begin. You don’t need to figure out how to draw before you begin. You don’t need to buy a bunch of fancy supplies or special notebooks before you begin. You need to just begin.
By the time you’re reading this article, I’m sure you’ve already spend countless hours on the blogs, YouTube, Pinterest and Facebook asking questions, collection screenshots of beautiful bullet journals, creating lists of pages you want to create, comparing notebooks, testing pens, and probably buying too much washi tape. But I also suspect you’re paralyzed with the fear of starting.
I’m here to help. We’re going to do this a bit different than what everyone else teaches. We’re going to start with baby steps. Ready?
The official bullet journal information
Of course, I’m going to share with you the official video from Ryder Carroll about how he teaches the Bullet Journal method. Go ahead and watch it if you haven’t already. Then come back and I’ll tell you how we’re NOT going to start that way.
The unconventional method for starting a bullet journal
This is going to be radical … but then again, nerds tend to be non-conformist, so it won’t feel radical to you if you’re one of us. We like to research a topic to death and then do our own thing. And starting a bullet journal is no different.
My unconventional method for starting a bullet journal is a three-step process:
- Gather supplies
- Write down everything
- Evaluate and modify
Step 1 – Gather Supplies
Here’s where things get crazy. Brace yourself. DO NOT buy anything. Instead, FIND the supplies you need. You already have what you need, you just need to find it. You need paper and a pen. That’s it. Nothing more.
This can be any type of paper. If you’re like me, you probably have plenty of mostly-empty journals on bookshelves. You bought a beautiful journal and intended to use it and got 3 pages in and abandoned it. Go find that journal. That’s what you’ll use.
If you don’t have a journal, go find a composition book or a spiral school notebook or a binder with loose leaf paper or go rifle through your kid’s school supplies and
steal a notebook kindly ask if you can have a notebook they aren’t using. It doesn’t matter what size it is, how many pages are in it or if it’s half-used for something else. Find something that gives you enough space to write in, but not so big that you can’t throw it in your bag and carry it with you.
No paper at all? Really? Nothing at all at the house or office or the neighbor’s house that you can use? If that’s really true, then you have permission to buy a notebook at the store. But you’re only allowed to spend $2 on that notebook. Finding a notebook at the Dollar Store would be better. I’m serious… do not buy an expensive journal yet. And don’t wait until next week – go to the store today and grab whatever you can find.
Any pen will work. Or if you prefer pencil, that’s great too. There’s gotta be one lying around the house somewhere. Don’t worry about fancy colored inks or markers or highlighters or anything. Just grab whatever pen is handy. Personally, I’ve got a bunch of ballpoint clicker pens that I get from my bank – they have the best ballpoint pens ever! I told them once that I loved their pens and the lady handed me half a dozen to use at home.
2 – Write Down Everything
Open your journal to the first page and write today’s date at the top of the page. Under that write a list. On that list you’ll want to add things like:
- All the tasks you need to accomplish today
- Appointments you have on the calendar
- Notes or information you need to remember or reference at a later time
- Ideas about a project you’re working on or something in the future
- Special quotes or facts you hear throughout the day and want to record
- Whatever else comes to mind during the day
Notice I say “during the day” — that means you’re carrying this notebook with you throughout your day. Just throw it in your bag and take it with you wherever you go. And write down everything.
Then tomorrow, write the date on the next available line in the book and begin writing a new list for that day. Each new day just gets a new list. If it’s easier for you to flip to the next blank page and start the day at the top of the next page, that’s cool – do that. But don’t get caught up in any of the official bullet journaling method or pretty pictures online, just keep writing your list each day.
It doesn’t matter how messy this list is. It doesn’t matter if you have neat handwriting. It doesn’t matter if your list is unorganized. It doesn’t even matter if you’re using bullets or dashes or checkboxes or nothing at all. Just write it down.
If it’s a task and you complete it, check it off. If it’s an appointment and you went to it, check it off. But otherwise, just keep writing things down.
Continue to write everything down in your new notebook for the next couple weeks. Learn how to live with this ongoing list of your life. Figure out how you interact with the notebook. Get into the habit of recording everything that comes to mind in this analog way. Don’t worry about anything besides the simple act of making the daily list of stuff.
3 – Evaluate and Modify
After 2 to 3 weeks of keeping a running list in your notebook, you’ll start to see patterns emerge. You’ll figure out what types of things are important to you and what you have a tendency to track. Some questions to ask yourself are:
- How often did I write something down in my bullet journal? Did I skip days?
- Was it easy to carry the notebook with me everywhere or did I forget it at home often?
- What did I write down?
- Which of those things were most helpful to me?
- Did I track appointments in my journal or is there another method that already works for me?
- Did I use my notebook for taking notes or jotting down ideas?
- How much space did I need for each day’s list?
- Did you feel and act more productive by creating a daily list of tasks and thoughts? How so?
- Did I feel excited to use the journal or did it feel like a chore?
- Did the size of the page seem right for the information I needed to capture? Too big or too small?
- What was the design of the page I was using (lines, dots, grid, blank) and did that work well for me?
- Which pen did I use most often? Did it work for well or do I need something specific for comfortable writing?
As you can see, there are a lot of things to figure out as you begin the bullet journaling process, especially if you’ve never done anything like it before. Really paying attention to yourself and how you feel when using this first notebook will help you form the methods and systems you’ll need when you move into your “nice” bullet journal.
I’ve practiced bullet journaling, now what?
Now that you have a few weeks of practice bullet journaling under your belt, you have a couple choices about how to get started in your real bullet journal. But first I want to reveal a little secret. This is going to be shocking and sometimes it’s best to just say it fast… like ripping the band-aid off. Ready? Pssst… you cheapo notebook with those unorganized messy lists from the past few weeks.
Your practice bullet journal is already a real bullet journal.
<gasp!> I know! Shocking news. But it’s true. Bullet journals don’t need to be beautifully drawn out months and weeks with drawings and doodles. You don’t need to draw charts or use fancy stickers or washi tape. You don’t need to use a ruler to make straight lines. You don’t even need a notebook that has a specific page type — a dotted page does not a bullet journal make.
Now you have a decision to make. You can either keep going and finish out that notebook you started in, or you can move into your “dream” notebook that everyone insists that you must own. There’s no rule that says you must spend $20 (or more) on a notebook and even more on pens, stickers, washi tape, markers, and a case to carry it all in. But if you feel like you will never feel comfortable in that first practice bullet journal you started, by all means, move into something more expensive. The choice is, obviously, yours to make.
A composition notebook and the pen you got from the bank teller works just fine as a bullet journal. This is an organizational and productivity tool first and foremost. If that’s what you need to keep your life in order, then use what you started and keep going. Don’t let the peer pressure of the bullet journal community influence you into doing something you don’t want or need to do for your own life. This is YOUR journal. You need to figure out how it works for YOUR life and then do that thing.
Want to see my first journal?
I’ve been tracking my projects, tasks, schedule and important information in various planner systems for years. Right now I happen to be in a bound, hardcover book that’s similar to the traditional bullet journal notebook. But in the past, I’ve used a 3-ring binder, a discbound Arc system, traveler’s notebooks in various sizes, and now a hardbound notebook. I’ve tried them all. I love them all for various reasons. Right now, the bullet journal notebook seems to be working for me and I’ll continue using this method until it no longer works for me and I need to move into something different.
I’ll create a flip through video soon – but until then, here are some photos of my first hardbound notebook that became a bullet journal for me. In fact, it wasn’t until I was midway through this book that someone pointed out to me that I was bullet journaling. That was never my intent – I just needed a notebook to keep track of everything I had going on.
As you can see, I kept daily task lists alongside recipes, book notes, quotes from podcasts or movies, packing or shopping lists, drawings of rooms in my house when I needed to make a trip to the hardware store for trim, and pages where I glue in pretty scrapbook paper and write commitments to myself on a whole page. Is it a bullet journal. Yes! Absolutely. And flipping through this notebook to take some photos for you has made me realize that my bullet journal has evolved a lot of the past several months and it makes me miss this sloppy hodgepodge of messy life stuff. I think I’m going to start getting messy in my current journal a bit more.
Show me yours
I’d love to see what your first messy pages of practice bullet journal looks like. Share with me on Facebook or Instagram or link me up in the comments. Let’s embrace the beauty that we create in our journals, no matter how messy life looks when we put it on paper.