What is a Bullet Journal and Setup Guide

Whether you’re a novice or no stranger to the P&P blog, you know we cover a myriad of topics related to planning, organizing, and getting things done.

One of the most common and popular topics you see us posting about is (drum roll please)…Bullet Journaling.

Everything you need to get started with a bullet journal. What is a bullet journal + bullet journal setup!

This page contains affiliate links. Read my full disclosure.

It’s the revolutionary way to level-up you life, with a simple notebook and pen. Consider this page to be your one-stop school fully covering what is a bullet journal, how to start a bullet journal, and bullet journal setup.

It’s intended to provide you with all the need to know’s so you can start one of your own, refer back to it whenever you need, and be inspired by how we use it to contribute to a more productive life.

Definition: What is a bullet journal?

‘What is a bullet journal’ is a question we get quite a bit. The Bullet Journal is a fast, flexible, analog system created by Ryder Carroll. It’s an amazing catch-all system you can use for daily planning, project management, jotting down ideas, journaling, and more. In Ryder’s words, it is meant “to help you track the past, organize the present, and plan for the future.” Who doesn’t want that?

We recommend you start by taking a moment to watch the official Bullet Journal introduction video when you are trying to figure out what is a bullet journal.

Overwhelmed? Not sure how in the heck drawing/writing your own planner could be a productive or effective use of your time? Trust me, we I the same doubts. In fact, when a coworker first told me about this system and I watched the video, I completely disregarded the recommendation. You can read more about my doubts and how I got started, here

As a paper-planner addict, I’ve tried most of the popular planning solutions on the market today. I never found one that seemed to fit all of my needs. My needs vary daily, weekly, or monthly based on what is going on in my life. I would also find myself supplementing the planner with another notebook for to-do lists, or digital programs for project planning.

After finding the Bullet Journal Junkies group online, and some great blogs and Instagram accounts dedicated to the practice, I decided to give it a try.

What is great about this system is that it is completely flexible. You can build it to be what you need it to be using different modules, spreads and collections. For a deeper dive into the various systems and terminology, keep reading & later check out the official website’s overview.

Bullet Journal Supplies: What do I need to get started?

A medium-sized notebook/journal and a pen – it’s that simple! You don’t have to spend a fortune. In fact, I used a “test journal” before investing in anything to make sure I liked the system (which I highly recommend). The official Bullet Journal store does sell a custom version–it’s a nice to have, but definitely not necessary. To me, the more personalized it is to you, the better!

It should be big enough to give you room to write, yet small enough to generally carry it around with you.
As we fell in love with the system, we quickly decided to invest in a good notebook and pens. We have compiled all of our favorite bullet journal supplies on this page, but to highlight the core pieces:

  • Leuchtturm 1917 – One of the most popular bullet journal notebooks.Our Favorite – this is the one we both use.
  • Staedtler Triplus Fineliner (black) – One of the most popular bullet journal pens — you’ll never catch me without one of these on hand!This is my #1 favorite pens #1 for both of us – I always have these on me.

Lastly, I would also say you need some time – carve out an hour or two to read up on the system, and do some brainstorming about what your needs are.

Glossary: Need-to-Know Bullet Journal Terms and Bullet Journal Setup

Below we’ve outlined all of the main terms and definitions unique to bullet journaling. They’re all mentioned in the above video, and written out here for your reference!

Spread – This refers to the two blank pages (on the left and right) when you open your journal and it lays flat.

Index – This is essentially your table of contents, complete with with page numbers. It allows you to quickly and easily locate all of your journal’s content and keep you organized.

Everything you need to get started with a bullet journal. What is a bullet journal + bullet journal setup!

Page numbers – Depending on the journal you’re using, you’ll need to number all of the pages (usually in the lower, outside corner).

Future log – This breaks down your spread into a monthly calendar of sorts. To show 6 months in advance, you’d need 3 horizontal lines drawn across the page. The spine of the journal would serve as the middle line. [Note: After drawing it out, add the page numbers of your newly created future log to the index. *You’ll repeat this indexing method for every new entry.]

Everything you need to get started with a bullet journal. What is a bullet journal + bullet journal setup!

Monthly log – This is also a 2-page spread, where the left page serves as your monthly calendar. You’ll write the month at the top and the dates on the left-hand side followed by the initial of the day – i.e, for April 2017 it would be:

April 2017

1 S
2 S
3 M
4 T
5 W
6 Th
7 F

After writing out the entire month’s dates, you’ll make note of major calendar events, holidays, birthdays, milestones, etc. The right hand side of the spread will serve as your monthly task list, goals, or brain dump!

Everything you need to get started with a bullet journal. What is a bullet journal + bullet journal setup!

Daily Log – These are your entries, which will be denoted with category marks (see below). You’ll start with the day’s date written at the top (i.e. 0403 Mon.) and then list out everything it entails (tasks, events, notes, etc.)

Bullets/Category Marks Under the day’s date, you’ll list out any items using the following markings, known as “bullets”, in short-form notation:

Tasks (a closed dot)
Events (an open circle)
Notes (a dash)

Note: This are the standard bullet journal signifiers, but you’re of course also free to create your own.

Core Modules – collectively known as the index, future log, monthly log, and daily log, these are what make up the ‘core modules’ of the Bullet Journal. They’re the primary components, whereas the rest are up to you to really customize and use as needed.

Rapid logging – By using category marks under the daily log, this is when you quickly write things out ahead of time &/or as they occur. This is used on a day to day basis, which gives you the freedom and flexibility to skip and not waste pages – (hello planning-free weekends & vacays!)

Signifiers – These are how you denote whether things are priority, have been completed, are being moved to the next month, being moved back to the future log to add to a later month, or being removed all together. You mark these over top of the previous bullet/category marks.

The most common signifiers are as follows:

* (important)
X (completed)
> (move to the next day)
< (move to future log)
strike out (disregard)

Additional Signifiers:

-eye (explore)
-! (inspiration)
-$ (money/purchases/to buy)

Note: you can create your own bullets and signifiers as you see fit. It should feel intuitive. Just make sure you stay consistent or you might end up confusing yourself. 

Collections (topic pages) – Essentially, each entry is considered a collection. They’re great for shopping lists, classes, ongoing projects, brainstorms, goal-setting, etc. These are totally customizable and completed on an as needed basis.

You can also ‘migrate’ (see below) any related tasks, events, or notes to a collection. Just be sure to index it for later reference.

Migration – This is the signature process of moving tasks/events/notes from within the bullet journal. Although every bullet doesn’t need a signifier, every organizational or planning system needs active review. In the Bullet Journal, this is completed with migration, so don’t miss this important step! This is done at the end of every month, while preparing for the next month. This is done in a few ways:

  • When a task needs to be completed more than a month into the future, it gets added to the corresponding month on the future log (and gets marked with the ‘<’ signifier).
  • Any tasks/events/notes that are incomplete but still important, get transferred to the next month’s log using the ‘>’ signifier.

You will also want to assess what feels worth doing, and stop doing what isn’t. The goal is to streamline your efforts, not to create collections for the sake of creating entries.

Getting Creative with your Bullet Journal Setup: Other #BuJo Uses

One of the best parts about the bullet journal is the abundance of white space. You’re not confined to scribbling in little boxes, or making use of space in one traditional fashion. You can literally doodle, draw, and craft to your heart’s content.

Everything you need to get started with a bullet journal. What is a bullet journal + bullet journal setup!

Your bullet journal setup can be whatever you want it to be! Some additional creative uses for the bullet include, but certainly are not limited to:

  • mindmaps
  • sketch notes
  • blueprints
  • design mock-ups
  • lettering practice & other doodles
  • fitness/food trackers
  • goal trackers
  • book/reading lists
  • gratitude logs

Literally, anything. Just index it!


Handwriting: Making it Pretty

Fretting Over Your Handwriting? Well first of all, don’t! And second of all, consider visiting the P&P Hand Lettering Vault – your other one-stop school for all handlettering tools and resources!

Now What: How do I get started bullet journaling?

I see this question asked so much in the Facebook group. My suggestion is to just dive in! If you plan to take a decorative approach, don’t aim for perfection as it will only cause paralysis and prolong you from starting. You are going to have mistakes and you are going to create pages that don’t work for you. So what – move on! The system is built so that every day is a clean slate.
If you ever find yourself without your bullet journal in hand, you can always jot down your thoughts on your phone, or in a pocket notebook, and then later transfer them to your Bullet Journal at first opportunity. Make your Bullet Journal work for your life, not the other way around!

So, what are you waiting for? Join the Bullet Journal community and when do you give it a go, be sure to tag your photos @productiveandpretty  for the chance to be featured!

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