Bullet Journal 101: Getting Started

Welcome to Bullet Journal 101—the beginner’s “course” where I’ll be guiding you through the bullet journal. I only started using a bullet journal in March 2016, but I’ve been watching it and internalising so many bullet journal things since the beginning of 2015 that I think I know my stuff.

So let’s get into it! I’m introducing the absolute and utmost basic, beginner parts of the bullet journal.

The bullet journal official website has a decent walkthrough for getting started on the bullet journal. But if you look at anywhere in the bullet journal (or “BuJo”) community, people have adapted this planning system substantially.

Frankly, I think that the purist bullet journal approach—following the official system developed by Ryder Carroll—is sterile. It lacks inspiration, personality, and intrigue. So the best way to use the bullet journal is to understand why and how it started, and then adapt as you go along. You’ll find what works for you if you let yourself explore.

So what are the essentials? What are the basics that come even before the introduction on the official website? Let’s get down to the grains in the sand that built this castle.

The essentials to the bullet journal are the following:

  • Index
  • Bullet-point lists
  • Collections

There are more parts to the bullet journal than these three, but if you want to dip your feet into the system, these are the three you should first be aware of. More can be added later. For the time being, let’s keep it simple.

Index

The index on the bullet journal website is a misnomer. It’s actually a table of contents. At the beginning of the bullet journal, a few pages are left blank in order to write the page number and contents of the page. (An index, on the other hand, would be at the back and work with key words and phrases, not a literal list of contents with page numbers. For shame, BuJo website.)

Personally, the index doesn’t work for me. I don’t go to the front of my bullet journal, get the page number for what I seek, and then find the page number with the contents. I can usually flip through my BuJo easily to find what I need. It’s up to you if you want to include it. After three weeks, I abandoned mine.

However, one great function of the index, if it’s maintained, is the ability to see at-a-glance all of the contents in your bullet journal. You can see a list of which days you logged, where you meal planned, the collections you have; and you can assess which of these things work, don’t work, or need to be changed.

Bullet-Point Lists

This is where the bullet journal gets its name. You use bullet points to signify and list tasks, events, reminders, notes, and anything else you may want to include in your journal.

Within the bullet-point system, there are two types of “points” you can use: bullets and signifiers.

Bullets are the dots, circles, boxes, triangles, hearts, arrows, checkmarks, X’s—whatever you’re using to create your list. The original system uses dots, circles, and dashes. Each bullet corresponds with a specific type of notation: dots are for “tasks” (typical of a to-do list); circles are for events (I classify these as time-sensitive tasks); and dashes are for notes (pieces of information to remember for something else).

Signifiers add context to the bullet. This context can put the list item into a category (such as inspiration or finances), show importance, or group the item with other items throughout the journal. The original system has signifiers for priorities, inspiration, and exploration. Each of these categories has an additional function to it: priorities with asterisks mean that list item is more important; inspiration shows a list item intended for migration; and exploration denotes a list item that needs more information researched on it.

The bullet-point system also includes variations in the bullets to say whether that list item is 1) done; 2) in progress; or 3) migrated (AKA scheduled for later).

I think everyone should find their personal style for bullet points. This function is the core of the bullet journal, so it will be present throughout. Here’s a sample of some bullet points I’ve thought of. I use triangles, circles, hearts, and double slashes because they’re easy to draw and easy to differentiate.

Bullet Journal Different Icons Bullets and Signifiers

Collections

Collections are very self-explanatory. They are pages that hold similar information, whether it’s a calendar for a specific month, a meal plan, a list of books to read, or quotations for motivation. The official website breaks collections into different logs and modules, and I think collections are more of a community-created aspect to bullet journalling instead of part of the original system. But I’m using it here as an umbrella term.

I consider collections to be anything from the calendars in “Logs” to a page of scratch notes for an active project. I also think the more unique spreads, such as goal-setting pages and trackers, are individual collections.

To put it simply, collections are places where you collect information, regardless of the format it’s collected in. Some collections are lists. Others are calendars. Each one is different, otherwise it would fit into another collection.


These are the parts I consider the most important to getting started with a bullet journal. The introduction to the BuJo is incredibly content-heavy, with tons of different things that may or may not serve you.

Pick up something and try it out. If it doesn’t serve you, leave it behind.

This week’s challenge

Get a piece of paper, whether it’s lined, grid, blank, or even a sticky note, and a writing implement. Write the date—however you want!—at the top. Start a to-do list, whether it’s for yesterday, today, or tomorrow. Use the bullet journal system’s key to categorise your list items, including signifiers. Try this for a few days, then assess the following:

  • Do these bullet designs work for me?
  • Do these icons for signifiers work for me?
  • What categories do I need on a day-to-day or week-to-week basis?

This is a quick and simple (and 100% fake) bullet journal to-do list that I’ve created, but using my own bullet icons to suit my own brain.

Getting Started Example Bullet Journal Entry Log

Look at my meaty hand. I wrote this on a sticky note and it works well! The exclamation points denote two priority items, with the filled-in one being more important than the other one.

Come back next Friday for “Bullet Journal 101: Modules, Logs, and Migration” to learn more about expanding your bullet journal out from to-do lists!

Bullet Journal 101: Getting Started for the Absolute Beginner

4 Comments


  1. I actually really hated the index and the fact that the BuJo website suggests just doing a new page for a collection. I want all my collections in one spot and have my daily lists in order after one another. 😛 I am a bit meticulous like that.

    I have found that I just start a new page with each day and that is literally all I need. I use the back of my notebook for any other scribbles and doodles, and each page has a title of course. That is about all there is to it for me. 😛

    Reply

    1. That’s really similar to how I do mine! I’ve been thinking of switching to a new notebook soon (a dot grid one) with tabs to section it out so I can keep collections under better control.

      Reply


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