A Beginner’s Guide to Bullet Journaling

Let’s face it, it’s the beginning of second semester, and all of your goals to stay organized and make this year “your year” from first semester sound like a distant memory. Somewhere along the way, life got too busy to keep a regular planner. But not anymore! Bullet journaling is your answer to staying organized this semester without spending a lot of effort.

What is a bullet journal?

A bullet journal is a customizable planner. It’s an ever-evolving to-do list. It’s a budget, a diary, a workout journal and a goal-setting guide. A bullet journal is a sketchpad and a habit tracker. Anything that you want it to be, a bullet journal is. While the content of a bullet journal differs from person to person, similarities do exist between them. Bullet journals are credited to be created by Ryder Carroll in an attempt to overcome his learning disability and stay focused and creative. His focus was on quickly capturing his ideas on paper and organizing various tasks for the future. Since then, the internet community has expanded upon the bullet journal. The basic organization and planning components are still there, but people have added additional modules—or sections—to their journal to help encompass every aspect of their life they want to have more control over.

Why have a bullet journal?

If used regularly, bullet journals can increase productivity. Because they’re completely customizable, they allow you to track everything you deem necessary to keep your life organized. Kaitlyn Keel, a freshman at Carthage College, uses her bullet journal primarily as a planner. Kaitlyn says that she “feels a lot more organized by creating my own sizes and shapes for each page, rather than the set ones in store-bought calendars.”

Bullet journals also allow you to unleash your creative side. Some bloggers have beautifully colored sketches covering their bullet journal, as well as perfect calligraphy on the headers. However, art skills and neat handwriting aren’t a requirement for bullet journaling, so if you’re not an artist, don’t worry! There are other ways to use your bullet journal creatively. The blank journal pages allow you to experiment with page layouts. If you aren’t interested in drawing, you can still be creative by answering daily journal prompts.

What do I need to start a bullet journal?

To start bullet journaling, a blank journal is the first thing you need. The type of journal is completely up to you. Some journalers like grids, others prefer to have lined pages. A popular brand of journals for bullet journaling are Moleskines. Moleskines can be expensive, depending on your budget, but they’re high quality and there’s a lot of variety in page layout. A similar, but less expensive, option is Greenroom journals. Their leather-look journals have the same soft feel as soft cover Moleskines, but their paper is made from recycled paper fibers. Before purchasing a journal, I recommend leafing through the pages and getting a feel for what it would be like to use it every day. Target sells a variety of journals, including Moleskines and Greenroom journals. Most bullet journaling supplies can be purchased at Target.

Another important tool for bullet journals is pens. If you look up bullet journaling online, you would probably see a lot of bloggers using Staedtler pens, which are fancy, fine tip pens. A cheaper option is Stabilo pens. In my experience, the type of pen isn’t incredibly important. As long as it doesn’t smudge or bleed through the page, I’ll use it in my bullet journals.

Aside from the basic pen and paper, there are a few other tools you might find useful while bullet journaling. Megan Maurer, a Carthage junior, recommends rulers and stencils for getting neat, straight lines, but still values “freehanding” when she is feeling creative. Another way to add a creative flair to your bullet journal is with stickers or washi tape.

How do I start one?

While bullet journals are completely customizable, most people follow a similar bullet journal structure while starting out. There is a wonderful beginning guide created by Ryder Carroll to walk through the basics of setting up. Most bullet journals start with a key and an index. The key includes a list of all of the symbols used during rapid logging or daily entries. The index allows for quick reference to various sections of your bullet journal that you’ll access often, such as monthly calendars and budget pages.

The next step is to begin rapid logging. Rapid logging relies on shorthand and symbols to create tasks and log notes for the day. Bullet journals get their name from rapid logging, where different bullet points and arrows indicate various tasks that need to be done. Everyone uses different symbols, but closed dots are typically used to indicate tasks. ‘X’s over the dots indicated that the task is completed, and “>” over the dot means that the task has been migrated to the next day. Open circles signify important events for the day. Notes are usually marked with dashes. Different rapid logging entries can also have signifiers, such as asterisks that note that a task is extra important.

Photo courtesy of Taylor Beck


Once you’ve mastered rapid logging, it’s time to customize your bullet journal! Bullet journaling doesn’t have to consist of constant rapid logging. The uses for a bullet journal are endless, and it’s up to you to modify it to fit your life. Pinterest boards and blogs are a great place to find new ideas. Customization is what keeps bullet journaling fun!

Now go forth, and conquer your day!

Rep image courtesy of RayeDigitalDesigns