Hey Planning Mashers!
Looking for a simple step-by-step guide on how to set up a Bullet Journal? You’re in the right place!
I’ll walk you through setting up a Bullet Journal and by the end, you’ll have a ready-to-go journal to start planning right away.
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Bullet Journal is an amazing way to organize yourself and create a better life with more mindfulness and creativity. Chances are, you already know that, since you probably already got sold into the idea and you’re looking for the final step of information: how to actually set up your Bullet Journal.
In case you’re still not sure, here are a few benefits of actually having a Bullet Journal:
- Using pen and paper will not only help you to remember things better but will make sure you’re more mindful of your tasks.
- Writing takes more time and effort, so you’ll be able to concentrate better and find your focus much easier.
- You can develop your creativity. And don’t tell me you don’t have any – you do! Everybody does! Creativity isn’t a secret superpower just a few own, it’s a muscle and you can absolutely train it. Your journal will be a great place to start discovering it in yourself.
- Self-care. Your journal is your time to spend with yourself, to reflect, and to learn more about your own desires and dreams. Self-care is a wonderful element we all miss in this busy world.
- Increased productivity. Once you set your goals, figure out your priorities and find your focus, you will be achieving more and getting closer to fulfill your dreams much faster. Plus psychologically, just writing things down already gives your brain a signal to start thinking about how to complete the tasks.
- Reduce overwhelm. Having a huge to-do list in your head that keeps growing can be very taxing on your poor brain. This is why you forget things or don’t do them as well as you know you can. Unloading your tasks to your journal will help you to have more focus on actually completing them and achieving your goals.
So yeah, it’s a pretty useful tool!
The Difficult Part
The best thing about Bullet Journal though is its flexibility, This planner is completely customizable for your needs. You can create any spreads you want for any imaginable purpose.
This also is the most difficult part of a Bullet Journal – to pick and choose spreads and setups. When you can create anything, how do you choose where to start? How do you make sure you use the best possible spreads for you?
The answer is …. By trial and error. I’ll guide you today through the basic spreads you absolutely need to have in your Bullet Journal and how to set them up. However, there are many more possibilities with this system and it’s up to you to discover what works best for you.
Supplies You’ll Need
According to the original Bullet Journal method, all you really need is a pen and notebook. However, I can bet you’d want to add something else to your pages. So here are a few recommendations for the supplies you might like.
Make sure you’re using a good notebook. Good doesn’t mean expensive by the way, there are many cheap options that don’t compromise on quality.
Below are a few of my favorite notebooks you could consider.
- BULLET JOURNAL: Leuchtturm1917 brings to you a journal with all the quality of a Leuchtturm journal formatted with the Bullet journal method, Track the past, order the present, design the future
- INKPROOF PAPER: Leuchtturm1917 A6 pocket notebooks have 80 gsm paper, which is equatable to 60lb stock, and has 185 numbered pages
- OPENS FLAT: This thread-bound notebook opens flat so you can write and draw at all angles without compromising the integrity of the spine
- 😍 DONT RUIN YOUR HARD WORK: Pens and markers glide across the ultra smooth ink proof 160gsm acid-free paper. Zero bleeding, ghosting and feathering for beautifully clean double-sided musings. Our journals have a Pen Test page so you don’t ruin all your hard work
- ✒️ START ORGANIZING RIGHT AWAY: Bullet journaling should be fun which is why we’ve made our journal an overwhelm-free zone. Includes key code page, index pages, dotted numbered pages and 2 color coded bookmarks for optimal organization and stress-free set up
- 💪 WONT FALL APART: The silky yet sturdy faux leather cover protects your plans and ideas for years to come. Strong binding means even die hard journalers won’t have to worry about pages falling out from avid writing. Lay flat design for smoother writing
- DURABLE HARDCOVER JOURNAL - Touched comfortably, sturdy hard cover protects your art for years. The elastic pen loop is always available for your pen and kept well.
- LAY-FLAT 180° LARGECLASSIC NOTEBOOK - Let you reading more easy and note-taking efficiency. The tight band of journal keeps it securely closed. And firm binding ensures pages don't get peeled away from the cover. Enjoy your writing by hand with no distractions.
- 180 PAGES DOTTED BULLET JOURNAL - Thicker paper resistant to passionate artist. Dotted grid notebook helps guide your writings, stand out very clearly. Perfect for bullet journaling, compiling recipes, creative writing, planning a holiday, keeping track of your workouts, or just doodling and drawing.
Of course, my favorite journals lately are the ones by Archer and Olive. I’ve been using their journals forever and in 2020 I actually switch to using them as my main Bullet Journal.
If you want to know more about these notebooks and why I love them check out my post REVIEW: Archer and Olive Dot Grid Journal.
I also can get you a 10% discount on any purchase from Archer and Olive with code MASHA10 you can apply at checkout.
The black pen is the blood of your journal, and I recommend having several. Use fineliners of different sizes for drawing and doodling. You should also get a good and comfortable writing pen. Below are my favorites.
- 4 PITT ARTIST PENS - Features 4 Black Pitt Pens in a variety of nib styles, perfect for a variety of art applications. Includes S (Superfine .3mm), F (Fine .5mm), M (Medium .7mm) and B (Brush 1-5mm) artist markers
- PREMIUM QUALITY INK - Faber-Castell Pitt Pens feature the very best quality India Ink ink that is highly pigmented, lightfast, water and smudge resistant, permanent, odor free, acid-free and pH neutral
- BLACK PITT PENS - Faber-Castell Black Pitt Artist Pens are a universal artist marker that can be used for a variety of sketches! This highly lightfast marker is a favorite for artists, calligraphers and hand lettering enthuasists of all ability levels
Splash Of Color
Personally, for most of my yearly pages, I go with the black and white color scheme, since I always prefer to have them neutral and not really connected to any theme.
If you decide to use color, here are some of my favorite supplies for that.
- Crayola washable super tips markers are perfect for drawing, coloring and writing
- Great value
- Will not bleed through paper
- 5 Colors x 3 sets
- Model : WKT7-5C / WKT7-5C-RC / WKT7-5C-NC
- Size : 18.8 x 17.27 x 2.03 cm
- Ideal for fine art, brush lettering, faux calligraphy, illustrations, water color illustrations, journaling and more!
- Durable nylon brush tip can create fine, medium or bold strokes
- Fine tip gives consistent lines
Finally, don’t forget about your basics – pen, pencil and a ruler. I recommend having a pencil that feels comfortable to hold because you’ll be using it a lot and an eraser that wouldn’t leave any trace on your journal pages.
My favorites are:
- PILOT DR. GRIP: This smooth-writing ergonomic ballpoint pen features our smear-resistant Advanced Ink & a wide barrel with an ergonomic, latex-free cushioned grip to help reduce writing stress.
- ERGONOMIC PEN: Commended for ease-of-use by the Arthritis Foundation, Pilot's Dr. Grip Ballpoint pen comes in medium & fine point & is available in blue, black, or red smear-resistant ink.
- PRESCRIPTION FOR WRITING COMFORT: If you love Pilot Dr. Grip ballpoint pens, try our full Dr. Grip line including Frosted, Multifunction, PureWhite, & FullBlack retractable, refillable ballpoint pens!
- Helix Angle and Circle Protractor
- This item is manufactured in China
Now you’ve got all your supplies prepared, let’s talk setup!
Before You Start
Before you start, however, here are a few tips for creating these spreads:
- Don’t overthink it. You don’t need ALL the pages, and even if you forget something – you can always add it to your next empty page. Remember, that thanks to the index page it will be very easy to find any collections, whenever you decide to write them.
- Don’t forget to add your pages to the index. It might take some time to make it a habit, but it’ll really be useful in the future, when you look back at your Bullet Journal desperately trying to find one particular collection.
- Don’t overdo the designs. Of course, if you want to get creative please feel free to! But! Don’t let a creativity block stop you from starting a Bullet Journal. If you’re not feeling it, just go with something simple and functional, nobody will judge you. Plus believe me, your first pages will never be the best ones in your journal.
Ok, I’m done sharing my wisdom, let’s dive in and start setting up your Bullet Journal.
Bullet Journal Setup
In this example, we’ll go through the basic pages everyone must have in their Bullet Journal. If you want to see this in the video format – there is a plan with me video at the end of the post.
Step 1: Cover Page
You can really skip this step, but I find it very useful. First of all, this is your first attempt at being creative in your journal, which is always fun and exciting.
Secondly, I always use the cover page to write down the year when I started the notebook and later the time when I finished it. This makes looking back that much easier!
Here are a few ideas for your cover page:
- Year when you start the notebook
- Zegtangle pattern
- Botanical doodles (you can easily learn how to draw those here)
- Work of the year
Step 2: Key
Your key is the place where you write down the symbols you’ll be using for rapid logging. You assign different symbols for a different type of information:
“•” for task
“–” for note
“O” for event
Use this spread to write down all the signifiers. As a beginner, you’re likely to look back at this spread a lot before you memorize them, so it’s more convenient to have this spread on the left side of the notebook.
Step 3: Index
An index is a table of contents for your BuJo, a treasure map to bits and pieces of information you randomly write in your journal.
Make sure you leave enough space to log all the information here. I’d say leave at least three pages for that.
That’s also why it is important to have your pages numbered. If they are – simply go back to your index every time you create a new spread and write the page number there.
If your pages aren’t numbered – just make sure you add a number to each new page you use. Yes, it’s kind of cumbersome, but it’ll be worth your time. Trust me!
Step 4: Future Log
A future log is a space for you to store all the information about future events. Here are a few ideas on what you can add here:
- National holidays
- Business trips
That way, you create an overview of the year and always have space to write down any events and happenings.
There are many different ways to set up your future log, and you don’t even have to set it up for the whole year. As all the pages in your Bullet Journal, you can completely customize it.
Step 5: Monthly Log
Next step – monthly log. This is a place for you to create your monthly overview and plan all the things for the month.
Traditionally, it also comes with a monthly to-do list, which can be on the same spread as your monthly overview, or on a separate one if you want to create a detailed master list of ALL the things you should be doing.
I want to mention here, that I also love creating monthly cover pages. First of all, this will separate clearly your monthly spreads from everything else. Secondly, this helps you get into the theme you’re using.
And finally, it’s a great place to develop your creativity, since you really can doodle or draw as much as you want on this page.
Step 6: Weekly Spread
Finally, we’re down to the smallest spread in planning with a Bullet Journal – a weekly spread (or a daily log).
The weekly spread is an overview of your week with boxes for each day, so you can create task lists for every day separately.
Daily log only contains the information for one day and they are great when you have very busy days with lots of things to track and do.
These are the must-have spreads and the bones of your Bullet Journal, however, there are a few more that are also universally used and by now can be called must-haves.
If you’re doing your yearly setup, creating a goals page can be very beneficial, since it will help you to improve your life in the upcoming year and reach for your dreams.
There are tons of different ways to set up the goals page and make it work for you. Be sure to check my post Setting And Crushing Your Goals With Bullet Journal for more inspirations.
Another spread that I definitely have in every monthly setup. A habit tracker is a tool that helps you to create new better habits, or get rid of some old bad ones.
If you’re not sure how to use a habit tracker and what to track, be sure to check my list with 155+ Habit Tracker ideas.
It’s really a universal instrument that can help you in so many ways. It’s not even just about habits, it’s about self-discovering, learning your patterns, and developing better routines.
Plan With Me: Bullet Journal Setup
Here is a Plan With Me video for all the spreads I mentioned above.
Bullet Journal Setup Ideas
If you want something more specific to your own journey, check out some spread ideas below. Let’s also summarize what we learned so far.
How To Set Up My First Bullet Journal
Are you just starting your very first Bullet Journal? If you need any help, be sure to check out my free course – Bullet Journal in 10 days.
I’ll walk you step by step through the process and share all the tips and tricks so in a matter of just 10 days, you’ll have your brand new Bullet Journal ready to use!
Now speaking of the pages, I’d recommend you to start from the basics we talked about before:
- Cover page
- Future log
- Monthly log
- Weekly spread
At the same time, you might want to add some collections as well. I really don’t advise you to create ALL the suggested collections, since it’s very likely you’ll end up not using them and/or feeling overwhelmed by the number of spreads you need to fill out.
Some collection ideas for you to get started:
- Yearly goals
- Habit tracker
- TV shows to watch
- Books to read
- Year in pixels
Remember, less is more. And it’s ok to drop spreads that you don’t use or don’t really help you with anything.
New Journal For The New Year
If you’re starting a new journal for the new year, here are a few collections you can add:
- Yearly goals
- Work of the year
- Looking forward to this year
- Spreads like 20 for 2020
- Yearly trackers such as year at a glance or a year of workouts
Moving To A New Journal
If you’re just moving to a new journal, it’s a completely different game.
First of all, review your previous journal. See what things worked for you, what spreads you liked, and which ones didn’t. Consider not using the ones that didn’t.
Think of the pages you don’t really need anymore. For example, the key isn’t really something I use these days, because I already know all the symbols and what they mean by heart.
Analyze things that work and think about how they align with your current situation and intentions. Think about how you can improve the pages for your life at the moment.
Finally, go through your collections, see which ones you don’t need anymore. The ones you need to have with you – move to the new journal. The ones that are ok to be kept at home – leave in your current one and reference them when needed.
Something else you could do is to add a few new collections. Bullet Journal is a journey of discovery, so it’s always fun and useful to try new types of spreads or new designs for your favorite spreads. You never know when something will click and suddenly change your life completely.
Finally, a new journal means a new paper, so consider adding tons of swatch pages! You definitely ALWAYS want to make sure your materials are friendly to your notebook so why not turn your swatches into cute creative pages.
Where in your journey are you? What are some of your favorite spreads? Let us know in the comments!
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And always remember: Keep Bullet Journaling and Don’t be a Blob!