Personal Growth

How To Start a Bullet Journal for Beginners (+ Free Checklist)

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2020 turned out to be, in many senses, a new year for me.

I tried different things, started looking after myself and taking care of my mental health. My life has changed completely, from the daily routine to overall plans and priorities. 

On top of everything, I started and – for the first time in my life – stuck to journaling. More precisely, bullet journaling.

Have you heard of it? If you read articles on self-care, intentional living, or mental health, you should’ve. At least that’s where I saw it for the first time.

To be honest, I’ve never been a fan of journaling per se. As an introvert, I like to write – but writing about me? As in personal details, plans, feelings? No, thank you.

Side-note: actually it’s very good for your mental health to write down personal details, plans, feelings, etc. 

I still hope that one day I’ll learn how to be honest with myself. (Even though some of my posts are quite personal – I talked about my depression in detail after all.) 

But bullet journals changed my view on journaling as a whole. I even keep a small diary inside of my own, isn’t it cool? 2 for 1!

It’s an extremely helpful tool – and here’s my take on why and how exactly you should try it.

But, if you’re eager to start ASAP, grab my BuJo checklist instead of reading it all! Sign up down below – and you’re all set.

  • What’s a BuJo

There are many ways to start a bullet journal, but first let’s figure out what it is and why you’d want to have it.

Bullet journaling (or BuJo in short) is a unique way of organizing your life developed by Ryder Carroll. If you google anything about bullet journals, there’s a 99% chance his website – bulletjournal.com – will pop up first.

It has everything you need to know about the BuJo method, its benefits and ways to use it, so definitely check it out after this post!

But what’s the difference, you may ask? What’s so special about a bullet journal that makes it so unique?

Well, the fact that it’s barely a journal.

BuJo is not about filling pages with your thoughts and feelings, sketching flowers here and there, writing down quotes wherever you like (although you can do it all). It’s just that the main idea is different.

A bullet journal is closer to a planner, actually. You pick up a regular journal, you choose how your index and logs are gonna look like, you draw them, all by yourself – and go on with your daily plans.

Sounds simple? I thought so too.

  • Why I Decided to Give It a Go

Articles on mental health had been casually mentioning it, self-care lists contain at least one way to use a bullet journal, and the sheer amount of ideas for decorating? Spreads, doodles, checklists, mood trackers!

It’s hard to resist when you see pretty things on Pinterest.

If I have to be honest, it was the main reason I decided to try bullet journaling. I love doodles, and intricate fonts, and bright markers, and organizing things, and making my writing neat and pretty.

In my student years, I could spend hours going through my notes and marking things with different colors – it made the process of studying less stressful and more efficient. Side tip for students!

So, no big revelation here – I started bullet journaling to organize my life and self-care routine, and have a reason to try pretty handwriting.

Turned out even a few calm minutes spent with a journal and a couple of markers is enough to start a day with a smile.

  • How I’m Using It

You can start or end a day with your journal, you can take breaks now and then to check on your plans, you may reach for it only when needed – or keep it close throughout the day. Everything works just fine!

But you’ve got to find a method that suits your needs. For a beginner, I recommend starting with morning sessions.

Am I biased because I like to BuJo first thing in the morning? Maybe. But what can be a better time to plan the day?

As an option, you can write down your plans the night before and see if it works better.

Personally, I go straight to my bullet journal as soon as I wake up and make a cup of lemon water. 

However, I keep my morning checkups short and simple. I write down the time, date, positive affirmation, agenda for the day, plus notes or reminders – done!

I then come back to it at the end of the day to choose a color for my mood tracker and write a short entry to wrap up the day.

And that’s all! As simple as it is, even such a small habit can make a great impact on your life.

  • Benefits of Bullet Journaling

I’ve been talking and talking about how great BuJo is – but what about something specific? Well, here we go!

  • Start the Day with Clear Mind

I’m an avid fan of daily routines. I love it when I have something to do from the moment I wake up, no matter how my mental health is doing that day.

And reaching for a journal is one of the best ways to start a morning.

First, you get to spend a few quiet minutes with your thoughts, and for an introvert it’s already a blessing.

Second, your mind has time to calm down and focus before the day fully unwinds.

And finally, filling out a journal means being mindful, being present, which has an additional soothing effect on your mental health!

  • Organize Your Days

As you remember, a bullet journal is more of a planner than an actual journal, meaning its main function is to keep you organized.

When you sit down to write the day ahead, you unintentionally make a clear plan of what you want and what you need to do. It’s already enough to be in control of what’s going on in your life.

I never liked building plans and organizing stuff. I’m more of a person that goes with the flow, you know?

But BuJo has that perfect amount of planning involved that gives me a clear route for the day ahead without bothering when I have to change something on the go.

  • Daily Affirmation

This one is totally optional, and you can easily skip it. But! It helped me, so I had to mention it.

Every day I choose a positive affirmation for the day and write it down in my BuJo (usually in a colorful pretty font). Sometimes it’s my own thoughts, sometimes – from Google or Pinterest, sometimes – just a quote or lyrics I remembered.

The point is to start the day with a positive thought that’ll stay in your head for longer.

And on a bad mental health day, it can be a true savior.

When depression’s creeping in from the very morning, I latch onto the affirmation I chose and repeat it to myself whenever negative thoughts get too loud. It doesn’t make them disappear – but it reminds me that I can say nice things to myself. That, not matter how hard it is to love myself sometimes, I have to keep trying.

  • Mood Tracker

Now, to the evening part.

First of all, remember that mood tracker I mentioned? You’ll see them often when searching for bullet journal inspiration. There are thousands of ways to track your mood, from simple dots next to a date to fancy hand-drawn flowers, each representing one day of the month.

Personally, what I love the most about it is that you have to come back every night and assess the day that’s coming to an end.

You have to think about what happened today, how you felt, what triggered you, what made you feel good. You can even write everything down, include a proper mental health journal in your BuJo, but just picking a color is already a big deal.

You can also analyze how your mood was changing throughout the month – maybe it’s related to some events or weekdays, maybe it’s changing in cycles. It’s always a good practice to keep track of your mental health, results will help you understand yourself better.

  • Letting Go Of The Day

Some days are as plain as they can be: you wake up, shower, eat breakfast, go to work, eat lunch, etc. Nothing new, everything’s as usual.

Some days are great! Maybe it’s your birthday, maybe it’s a movie premiere, maybe the weather is just a bit warmer, a bit sunnier, and you just feel a bit better than usual.

And some days, well, some days are just bad. With or without a reason, they just come back and you can do nothing about it. (Although you can check my post on bad mental health days, I compiled a guide to make them easier.)

But whatever happened any chosen day, you have to learn how to let go and go to bed with a clear mind and light heart. Dumping your thoughts into a journal makes it that much easier.

And if you’re struggling with regular journaling like I was, keep it short and simple! Even a couple of sentences will be a great help already, trust me.

  • How To Start a Bullet Journal

I hope I convinced you that bullet journaling is a great habit you should try ASAP! After all, you can always cross out all the logs and pages and use the journal for doodles or notes.

But for a smooth BuJo journey, follow a few simple tips:

  • Good Journal

One of the biggest mistakes I made at the very beginning was choosing whatever journal I found lying on the shelf. I wanted to start as soon as possible, so what does it matter what I picked!

Turns out it matters. Really matters.

Yes, I didn’t do my research properly – but I’m here to help you out.

First of all, your journal should be your journal. It has to be good for your needs and your taste. Whether you like it fancy or simple, dark or bright, with little bookmarks or inner pockets, choose the one that you like.

But what’s inside matters too.

Do not go for lined paper, please, never go for lined paper unless you want a regular journal for writing.

Blank paper is somewhat better, but the best thing I tried was a dotted one. Thick dot grid paper is essential for a good bullet journal.

Down below I listed some of the best journals I found on Amazon – click on the image and it’ll take you to the item (all links are affiliate).

  • Markers, pens, pencils

Of course, you can use just one pen – that’s enough for any kind of a journal.

But if you want to make your bullet journal not only pretty but uniquely yours, you gotta invest in some tools.

As I mentioned before, I like to keep my notes colorful, so I’d had some tools from my student years lying around. But no matter how many highlighters I’d found, even that wasn’t enough to tame my desire for coloring.

In the end, I spent more time choosing markers and pens than the journal itself. But I enjoyed it, because, again, I like to draw and color!

If you don’t, a simple black marker should be enough. (And remember about thick paper!)

But if you’re like me, I recommend you to spend some time in a local office supplies store and see for yourself what you need. 

Or grab my checklist here and order everything in one go! It contains all the tools you need for a colorful and enjoyable BuJo experience.

  • Start – and See How It Goes

But you don’t need markers, or rulers, or pencils, or bookmarks, or tea, or a suitable mood to start. All you need is yourself, a journal and a pen.

As soon as you have these, you’re all set for bullet journaling!

But starting is the hardest part, huh? As a person that’s been casually writing for 8 years, I know how scary a blank page can be.

But you know what? That journal is yours. No one will see it unless you want to, not even the first page.

Don’t be afraid to misspell, to write in weird handwriting, to mess up with dates, or cross a whole page altogether. Every mistake will only make it more yours.

For a smooth start, though, I suggest you check the bulletjournal.com website. They explain everything in detail, including the first few pages, and the guidance makes it easier to find your own point to start a bullet journal.

  • Find What Works For You

Filled out the index, prepared your monthly log, and finished with your first BuJo day? Great, now you’re ready to customize!

Or, alright, not so quickly – wait a few days at least, get the feel and all.

But then you’re all set up to try something new.

Keep track of your daily self-care, try different mood trackers, choose a separate page for a collection of movies you want to try. It’s your journal, use it to the fullest!

(Ps-st, I have a separate board on Pinterest for bullet journal inspiration, make sure to check it out.)

It’s a bit of trial and error: some things will be helpful while others will stay untouched for weeks. But that’s the beauty of figuring out your own style.

That’s the beauty of making something yours.

And here I’m leaving you to have fun with your journal.

Remember to come back and tell me what worked for you! Are you using a bullet journal now? How helpful is it? Have you found any benefits for yourself?

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