Hey there Planning Mashers!
Are you getting ready to start a Bullet Journal in 2020? Check out these 7 tips that’ll get you on the road to success in the new year and in your new Bullet Journal.
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As 2020 is approaching we all start thinking about our new year resolutions and what we want to do better in the upcoming year.
For me when I started it was about finding a system to organize my life, and that system ended up being a Bullet Journal. If you’re here you might be considering this as well.
If you need an extra push to jump-start your Bullet Journal adventure, I also created a FREE course: Bullet Journal in 10 days. It will lead you step-by-step through the process of setting up a Bullet Journal. I’ll share the best tips and techniques so in 10 days you’ll have your own fully functional Bullet Journal.
In this post, I gathered 7 best tips to make sure you set up a fantastic Bullet Journal and have lots of fun doing it.
1. Pick a good journal
Your notebook is heart and soul of your Bullet Journal, so picking the right one can make or break your love for Bullet Journaling.
The wrong notebook can mean a lot of trouble and wasted nerves (speaking from experience). The binding can break, pages can ghost, the lining might not be working for you. Even though all those things can be fixed, it can absolutely kill any desire from your side to keep Bullet Journaling. Frustration is a powerful enemy.
You might not know yet what’s a good notebook for you, but here are a few things you might consider:
- Notebook cover. Do you want a softcover or hardcover?
- Paper quality. Paper thickness determines what materials you can use in your journal. The less GSM paper has the more likely you’ll face ghosting or bleeding. Personally, I wouldn’t recommend anything less than GSM100
- Notebook lining. You can Bullet Journal in any kind of notebook, but the dot grid is a favorite among the Bullet Journal community for a reason. It gives you enough directions for drawing but isn’t distracting.
- Paper color. Do you want a notebook in pure white or ivory color? Pure white will give you brighter colors in your spreads, while ivory one might be distorting the colors a bit.
- Amount of pages. More pages mean your journal will last longer, but more pages will also make the journal heavier. On average I would save 170-200 pages last for around half a year.
- Size. How big of a journal you want to have – A5, B5, A4?
- Extra features. Do you want to have some pre-made pages in your Bullet Journal? Do you need the pages to be numbered? How many bookmarks do you need – one or two? Do you need a pen loop?
Sounds like a lot doesn’t it? Don’t worry though, below I listed some of the most popular journals, so you can get started on picking the one that’s best for you.
Archer and Olive
The absolute best journal on the market if you ask me. I’ve been using my Archer and Olive for a while and I’m impressed with the journal quality, customer service and the cutest designs ever.
I’m not even talking about the pure white 160 GSM paper that can withstand any materials, including watercolor!
Scribbles That Matter Pro
Another player in the notebook market with 160 GSM paper! I haven’t used these notebooks myself, but enough people are in love with the journals and the brand.
The new pro collection offers 160 GSM paper that is whiter than in previous editions. Be careful when you scroll for these to pay attention that you choose the latest edition.
- 😍 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
Leuchtturm 1917 Dot Grid Journal
These are some of the most popular notebooks for Bullet Journaling and I know a lot of people use LT 1917 as their first Bullet Journal. The journal has 249 pages of cream-colored paper and comes with everything you might need – numbered pages, elastic closure, ribbons.
I personally never gave a try to these notebooks, but I heard enough good things to know it’s a quality notebook and might be a good choice for you.
- INKPROOF PAPER: Medium (A5) notebooks have 80 gsm paper, which is equatable to 60lb stock, and has 249 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
- ELASTIC CLOSURE BAND: Secure your content with the elastic enclosure band and inner gusseted pocket. Page marker is included for easy access to a specific page
I love my Dingbats notebook and they really have a lot to offer in terms of paper and journal quality. If the ivory paper color doesn’t bother you, this might as well be a perfect journal for you.
They actually have two collections, so it’s a lot to choose from.
These are the basic notebooks with nothing extra. The pages are not numbered and there aren’t any pre-made pages. But the paper quality is great as ever and the pages are actually perforated.
- LOTS O' FEATURES: Durable hardcover bound with PU faux leather, round corners, animal footprint endsheets, micro-perforated 100gsm cream pages, inner pocket, bookmark, a lay flat design and elastic closure. Also includes a pen holder - perfect.
- HIGHEST QUALITY COATED 100GSM WRITING PAPER: Size: A5+ Medium (16 x 21.5 cm); Sheets: 96 (192 pages). Lined (Ruled), Plain (Unlined), Dotted (Dot Grid), or Squared (Grid) in the world's highest quality 100gsm (thick) acid free fountain-friendly paper
- MULTIPURPOSE JOURNAL: Can be used as a bullet journal, travel notebook, journal, diary, business/ executive/ office notebook, gift, workout journal, travel journal, school journal, recipe journal etc.
- LOTS O' FEATURES: Durable hardcover bound with faux leather, round corners, animal footprint endsheets, micro-perforated 100gsm cream pages, inner pocket, bookmark, a lay flat design and elastic closure. Also includes a pen holder - perfect.
- FOR BULLET JOURNALING: Bonus features include numbered pages, 3 index pages, 2 key pages and 16 micro-perforated pages. The endsheets of each notebook are also finely printed with an infographic spread of the endangered region. Size: Medium A5+ (6.3 x 8.5); Sheets: 96 (192 pages)
- MULTIPURPOSE JOURNAL: Can be used as a bullet journal, travel notebook, journal, diary, business / executive / office notebook, gift, workout journal, travel journal, school journal, recipe journal etc.
In case you’re looking for something you need to reorganize with time, I recommend you to give a look to Filofax notebooks.
They don’t come with dot grid paper, you’d need to buy it separately.
- A contemporary and stylish look using soft touch & elegant leather look cover great for all kinds of occasions. The sturdy design ensures your journal will be well protected and have increased longetivity.
- Innovative hole design allows the pages to be repositioned to suit personal needs. The unique and clever construction allows the premium pages to be easily added, removed or repositioned.
- 112 premium cream colored ruled pages provide plenty of space for personal reflection, creative writing, sketching, or jotting down favorite quotations or poems. Plus, it's refillable - refills available in ruled, quad and plain. 30% post-consumer recycle
Another notebook I haven’t really tried but always add to all my lists. According to reviews, it’s a solid notebook for a quite affordable price. It might be a good fit for you.
The notebook offers 180 pages of cream-colored 120 GSM paper. This means the notebook will do pretty well with any ghosting or bleeding. However there are no pre-made spreads and pages aren’t numbered, what might be an issue for some.
- 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.
If you’re on a budget, check my post with Best Cheap Bullet Journal supplies, that will help you to choose the best fit for you and teach you how to deal with possible problems you might have with budget notebooks and such.
2. Don’t buy ALL the supplies
Looking at Bullet Journal accounts on Instagram and inspiration on Pinterest it’s so easy to fall in a shopping spree and buy tons of stationery.
I know because I did so myself, and it was not pretty. I bought loads of stationery I saw others used, and I ended up with the buyer’s guilt because most of them remained unused to this day.
The thing is, we all have our own style with certain supplies we prefer. Like, look at me and my washi tape collections for example. I love them, they are all so pretty, but they just don’t fit with my style, so I end up never using any washi at all.
It takes time to figure out your own style and your own needs, so start from cheaper supplies, the ones you won’t be feeling sad not using.
Instead of designer washi tapes, buy a cheaper set and see if it fits your style. Wanna try other media – get Prang watercolor instead of Sakura Koi or Arteza watercolor pencils instead of Faber Castell ones.
In short, start with the basics. Once you get these and start Bullet Journaling, you’ll start getting an idea of what else you’d want to add to your collection.
Here are the things I’d call basics because you’ll use them disregarding your journaling style:
- Black fineliner pens. These are the core of your journal, they are the best to doodle and draw you setups. If you want to invest try Tombow Mono pens or Sakura Micron. But you can also just get a set of my favorite Unipin fineliners for a cheaper price.
- Pen and pencil. It sounds silly that I mention it here, but it’s really an important part of your Bullet Journal. You’ll use your pencil all the time, so it better be comfortable to hold (this one is my favorite). And you want an eraser that will keep your journal clean and won’t smudge. My choice is Sakura Foam eraser.
- Rulers. Rulers will help you make your pages look more neat and clean. Start from a basic $1 rule from Walmart. But here are a few extra ones you might want to add to your collections – Helix circle ruler will help you create those amazing circle monthly logs and habit trackers. Westcott ruler will help you with all the other shames you might use as your symbols or maybe as decoration.
- Color supplies. Don’t overinvest in this just yet, as I mentioned before, you’d better start from Crayola Supertips, while you’re still figuring out what else you want. My personal favorites these days are Karin Markers and Zebra Mildliners.
3. Think about your WHY
The reason why a lot of people fail with Bullet Journaling is that they aren’t sure what they want from their journal.
You don’t want your Bullet Journal to be something you do in January and completely forgotten by the time March rolls in.
To make the habit stick what you need to do is to realize why you’re doing it, what you want to achieve with your Bullet Journal.
Do you want to reach fitness goals? To do more during the day? To close the work project? To finally start working on your dreams?
Knowing your “why” will make sure you stick with the habit and succeed in the end, disregarding whatever might happen on the way.
4. You don’t need to be artistic to start a Bullet Journal
Looking at all the Bullet Journal Instagram accounts, it might look that you need at least an art degree to start yours.
This couldn’t be further from the truth! The Bullet Journal is made to make your life better, decorating it with Renaissance paintings or childish doodles, it’s your choice.
If you want to spend hours of your BuJo you can, but if you don’t want to or don’t really have those mad skills – it’s still fine. Just go minimal.
It’s your journal, your rules. What you need to do with it is making it work for you. If that means going with the original concept and only using a black pen – so be it! You roll the way you roll baby, nobody to judge you!
Now, if you want to decorate your Bullet Journal (I know you do, we all want our notebooks to be pretty!), there are still plenty of ways you can do it, even if you can’t draw. So don’t let it stop you from starting a Bullet Journal.
Here are a few tricks you can use:
- Stencils. If you check Amazon, you’ll find tons of Bullet Journal stencils, that will help you with anything you want, starting from daily and monthly boxes, ending with drawings and lettering.
- Washi Tapes. Washi tapes can be a great addon to your Bullet Journal pages – there are so many pretty ones, some of them will definitely resonate with you! But there are also washi tapes with days of the week, days of the month and other useful things like that. Just cut them out and use them as headers in your setups.
- Stickers. Don’t know how to doodle? Use stickers instead! Plus there are stickers that can help you with setting up habit trackers and other things. Explore!
Finally, creativity is not a special skill just Neo has, it’s a muscle we all possess. So the more you practice, the better you become.
This is a whole new topic, but I’ll just direct you to a few blog posts that I think will help you out on this journey to discovering your creativity.
5. Just start
A lot of people come to me asking where should they start their Bullet Journal. The notebook and pens are bought but still, they sit in front of that empty page not knowing the next step.
This is a first-page fear and I have the same every time I need to do something with a new notebook.
The tip here is pretty simple – start from the first page.
There are so many things you can do with your Bullet Journal, that it’s pretty understandable that you freeze when it’s time to start your setup. So take it slow and start from the first step.
Here are a few ideas on what you might want to have as your first page:
- Just write the date when you started your Bullet Journal. I love this option and it’ll be very convenient in the future when you’ll look back at all the notebooks – the first page will tell you all you need to know and the time of your life it was created.
- A quote. Way to start your year on a positive note – find your favorite quote and decorate your first page with it.
- A word. Think about what you want to achieve in the upcoming year, what are your goals and aspirations. Choose one word that would represent it and write it on your first page. It’ll be a good reference for future self when you need extra assurance or a reminder.
- Mandala or patterns. There is nothing more calming than drawing those, and maybe that‘s exactly what you need to calm your nerves and break that first page.
- Key. Make the first page the heart of your productivity and create the key with all the symbols you’re planning to use. My tip here – leave some space, since you might want to add some more symbols on the way.
Once you’re done with your first page, everything else will come bit by bit. I know however many people are wondering how to organize your pages. And my reply here is that everyone is doing it differently.
All I can do is share with you what I think works the best, at least for the beginning while you’re still figuring it out:
- Future Log
- Any extra annual pages you need (some ideas are: goals, level 10 life, movie tracker, book tracker, TV tracker)
- Monthly cover page
- Monthly Log
- Other monthly pages (for example: monthly to-do, monthly goals, monthly habit tracker, mood tracker, gratitude log)
- Weekly spreads
If you run out of space in your collections or want to create more – remember, that as long as you have your Index you can create them at any page in your journal, So don’t stress about that.
In case you’re not sure what pages to add, I’ll advise you to start from the minimum, and maybe add more pages on the way. You don’t want to get overloaded with trackers and collections and turn Bullet Journaling in a chore.
But you can get some ideas to get you started from my Extensive List of Bullet Journal Page Ideas.
6. ALWAYS do a pen test
Save yourself some grief and always pen test before using any new pen in your Bullet Journal.
First of all, it will help you understand which pens work in your journal and which ones don’t and you’ll save yourself the heartbreak of using a new pen and seeing that it completely ruined your pages.
Also, it will show you the true colors your pen will have in your journal. As I mentioned before, as long as your journal doesn’t have pure white paper (like Archer and Olive), the paper color will change the colors. Having a pen test will allow you to see what results you can count for.
Finally, pen test pages are great to keep track of your stationery collection. You might have just one set of markers right now, but once your collection grows and you get more and more pens, some can get forgotten, especially if they aren’t very visible and you store them in pencil cases.
If you have a pen test with all the colors you have, all you need to do next time you’ll be choosing a color is to just look back at the pen test page.
Here are some tips on creating a pen test page:
- Make sure there isn’t anything important on the other side of the page. There is a chance that the pen will bleed or ghost, you don’t want to ruin anything important. That’s why I usually do my pen tests at the end of the notebook.
- Try layering your ink. Don’t just add one stroke and be done with it. When you’re using your pens for decorating you’re likely to layer them in some places, so be sure to test that as well.
- Try different pressure. When lettering the key to the whole thing is using different pressure on your pens. So make sure you do the same when you pen test to avoid unpleasant surprises later on.
- Make sure to label your tests. If you don’t it will be pretty useless and you’ll have to start from the beginning.
7. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes
We ALL make mistakes, it’s in human nature. It doesn’t matter how far you are in your BuJo journey, mistakes happen even to the best of us.
Just the other day when I was setting up my November, I spilled some SOUP on my habit tracker. I was hysterical, just ask the husband. But after a few cups of tea and a whole lot of chocolate, I was ready to face this and solve it.
The thing is, no one can prepare you on how to avoid accidents – they will happen one way or another. What you need to do is, learn how to accept and fix them!
Here are some tricks I find the most useful when dealing with Bullet Journal mistakes:
- White gel pen. My choice is Sakura Gelly Roll. White gel pen works as a corrector and allows you to fix mistakes very neatly, so much so that they become pretty much invisible. It might not work for larger things, but it’s perfect for those little things that drive you crazy.
- Washi Tape. These are great for fixing larger mistakes, especially headers. Black washi tape was my savior in my 2019 Bullet Journal setup. Darker washi tapes usually work better for this, since they are more likely to cover the ink completely, while the lighter ones might need two layers for full coverage.
- Blackout. My other favorite method – just blackout whatever area where you made a mistake and use a white gel pen to write over it. In fact, I loved this effect so much that I did it on purpose in my November setup.
- Cover with paper. If you ruined a whole page or at least a large part of it, there is an easy fix. First, you can print out a dot grid paper, or cut out a piece from the back of your journal and stick it to over the mistake.
- Use printables. If it’s completely unsavable – just cover it with a printable! Print whatever you want, use a Tombow adhesive and stick it to your page. Just like that, you have a pretty page and nobody knows what it’s hiding underneath.
Speaking of printables, we always have something new being added to our Resources Vault, so be sure to drop by and get something for your Bullet Journal.
If you aren’t a part of Planning Mashers yet, make sure to join us in the signup form at the end of the post and get access to a wonderful community and TONS of free printables.
Couldn’t find the printables you need? Drop me a line and let me know what you need, I’d be happy to create more!
Hopefully, I answered most of your concerns and you’re ready to start your Bullet Journal right away!
What is your biggest struggle with starting a Bullet Journal? Let me know in the comments.
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And remember! Keep Bullet Journaling and Don’t be a Blob!