Colored pencils, markers, highlighters and a notebook. Supplies for Bullet Journal.

Bullet Journaling: The Basics (and Slightly Beyond)

Jess Change Your World, Following My Dreams, Organization 4 Comments

It’s time to get to the heart of the matter, the first “key” in our roller coaster to success: organization. I know this is not an exciting topic for everyone, but it is for me! Organization can be the difference between an anxious mind and a peaceful one; or the difference between a depressed day and a manageable day. I can almost hear you right now- organization can do that? Yes, my friends! It’s not only a key to success; it’s a key to good mental health.


In this post I’ll be talking about one of my major organization tools: my bullet journal. Today I’ll tackle the basics of putting together a bullet journal (or BuJo), and on Thursday, I’ll explain some ways that you can use a BuJo to greatly benefit your mental health, especially if you have a mental illness. Don’t get me wrong, a bullet journal does not equal an organized life. It’s one step—an awesome, big, hugely helpful one—but organization is something that I will continue to talk about because it is massively valuable to living a healthy life. Think of the BuJo as the brains of the operation. Instead of having a planner, to-do lists, an organizer, a journal/diary, various other trackers, notebooks, lists, etc. to keep track of; all of the information is in one place where it can be easily accessed, transported, changed, and completed!

The Bullet Journal system was developed by Ryder Carroll, who describes it as a way to “track the past, organize the present, and plan for the future.” If you have never heard of bullet journaling before, I recommend starting out by watching the brief video made by the creator:

These terms may sound foreign to you (they certainly did to me at first!) but once I actually set up my BuJo and started journaling, I quickly realized these terms are just fancy names for things that I already know. I understand why a yearly calendar is called a “Future Log” in bullet journaling (and will explain further) but it sure does make things confusing when you’re first starting out!

Here are the basics that you need to know in order to get started with a bullet journal, plus some easy tips that I found useful in setting up mine. I have also included links to some of my favorite products, conveniently available on Amazon, and blog posts that were helpful to me.

The Bullet Journal system was developed by Ryder Carroll, who describes it as a way to “track the past, organize the present, and plan for the future.”

The Setup

Colored pencils, markers, highlighters and a notebook. Supplies for Bullet Journal.

First: Make sure you number every page (if you don’t purchase a journal that is already numbered). This is important so that you can include everything in your index, as well as being able to look back on entries in the future.

  • I love the Leuchtturm 1917 Medium Hardcover Notebook with dots, which can be found on Amazon:  I’ve found it to be the perfect size; the pages are already numbered; it’s easy to write on due to the hard cover and open-flat design; and it comes with an index, a pocket, a strap, and two bookmarks. I also love the dot grid- it makes setting up for lines, tables, graphs, doodles—you name it—super easy!
    • This post from Buzzfeed was wonderfully helpful to me when I was first starting my bullet journal. (“Seriously people, It’s just a notebook.”)


 Exactly what it sounds like! The first 2-4 pages (depending on how detailed you plan on making your index—they fill up fast) of your notebook should be labeled “index” and set aside for the contents to be recorded onto. Make sure that everything that you put into your BuJo goes back here on your index for easy future reference. Organizing your organization-brilliant, right?!


  • It’s easy to overlook, but make sure that everything you put in your bullet journal goes in your index. This is what makes this system so handy. Feeling down and want to go back and read all your gratitude lists for the months in that particular journal? If they’re listed in your index, that’s a super easy thing to do, and a great instant mood boost (more tips like this coming Thursday!)
  • Next, I included a 2016 calendar in my journal for reference throughout the year. It only took a page and has proven extremely helpful numerous times. It takes a little patience, but if you have it, this has been very useful for me.


Future Log

  • A future log is essentially a yearly calendar with space given for each of the months. What is your future log for? It’s your year at a glance: this is the place to put important dates, birthdays, travel, holidays, special events, major goals or deadlines; and most importantly your future log provides a place where you migrate long-term tasks. It is essentially a log of your important future plans and dates! The easiest way to set up your future log in your new journal is to count the number of lines you have, divide by three, then draw a line horizontally across each of those lines. Do this across four pages and you will have 12 evenly divided boxes. Title each box with a month and you have a future log! (Make sure you add this to your index)
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After my future log is where I like to place all my other long-term pages that I KNOW I’ll be including (because there will likely be more added later). These can include overall goals, long-term trackers, collections (I’ll talk more about these below), lists, routines, graphs…anything you want! I’ll be discussing which ones I chose for my BuJo and why next week, but if you want to start browsing I highly recommend bohoberry’s guide or littlecoffeefox’s guide . You can always check out my Pinterest Board “Journaling By The Shot” (haha, get it?) where more ideas are always being added!

Monthly Log

  • A monthly log includes the monthly calendar and task/to-do list. In traditional bullet journaling, there is not a weekly breakdown, so the monthly calendar is important to bring forward dates from that month’s future log; include less important events, appointments, deadlines, etc. that may not have been known months in advance but definitely need to be noted the month of; and have a reference for the month. The task list is where you migrate (i.e. “move”: more on this down the list) your current to-do list for the month. (Make sure you add this to your index)
    • I find that my monthly log is used more for the monthly task list and less for the calendar, as I create weekly calendars. I like to include my appointments, classes, events, etc. on my weekly calendars (which is too much for a line in a monthly calendar), but if you do not want to include this much detail than a monthly breakdown should work just fine for you!
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  • I add a few more monthly pages and to do this I need some mighty fine tools. I’ll list my recommendations below.

Daily Log

  • A quick fire system for daily journaling that includes your to-do list, events, happening, notes, and anything else you want to include. All throughout the BuJo system, but most used in daily logging, are these traditional symbols:

° Task

o Event

– Note

* Important (Signifier)

Writing your important tasks, events, and notes in this manner is what is referred to as rapid logging. Add an asterisk (*) to any of the above if something is especially important. This method allows you to take a complete look at your day: from what you did, the obligations you had, the events that you partook in, to the ideas and thoughts that you had about the day—all in one place! (Make sure you add this to your index)


  • It’s important to customize the symbols you’ll be using to fit your needs. For example, I have several appointments I have to go to- I thought those were more than tasks, but less than events, so I made a symbol for them. Making a key for your symbols—including the migration symbols listed below—is a smart move. I like the fold-out kind, so I made one from heavy card stock and glued it to the back of my journal.


  • On my daily log, I also keep track of what I’ve had to eat, how much water I’ve drank (as one of my goals is to drink 64 oz. of water per day), what I’ve done for exercise, as well as my rapid logging, and any longer journal bullets that I write. All that information—a snapshot of my day—is condensed onto one page!



  • At whatever interval you find comfortable (ex. I migrate each day’s tasks at the end of every night, then look back over the monthly task list at the end of the month), but a minimum of the end of the month, take a look back at your tasks for the month and migrate (or move) using these traditional symbols:

x Tasks that have been completed

—— Cross out tasks that are no longer relevant

< Tasks that are not due for several months: move to Future Log

> Tasks that are important right now: move to next month’s Daily Log Task List


  • These are a way of keeping together all important items of a single group, i.e. books to read, recipes, bucket list, places traveled, restaurants to try, quotes, etc. If you know that you want to build a specific collection, then you simply title the page(s) by the Collection Name (i.e. “Recipes”), add that to your index, and can add items to that collection at anytime simply by referencing your index to see where the collection is located. If you already have items of a single collection located on several different pages, then you again title the Collection page & write it in your index, but underneath you can alternatively write the page numbers that contain item(s) that belong in that collection.
  • I decided to keep the majority of my collections in a separate “Collections Book.” This way I can continue to go back to it throughout the bullet journals that I cycle through. I don’t have numerous bullet journals yet, but I imagine that day will come, and this will prevent me from having to migrate over collections from journal to journal.


I personally use and recommend all of these products. Though I cannot guarantee that you will love them as much as I do, I certainly hope they will bring you joy, as they bring me.



Most importantly, you have to invest in a good notebook. This will make all the difference. There’s a lot of good ones out there, but I can’t imagine straying from my Leuchtturm 1917 Medium Hardcover Notebook with dots.




This may sound silly but good rulers are a must. I thought I could get by with a cheap plastic one and I didn’t even last a week before I was ordering a good 12 inch and 6 inch metal ruler with cork backing.


Faber Castell Drawing Pencils31c1c6wixml-_sy300_ with grip—there is a lot that I will write on or mark on first in pencil, so having a quality one is essential. These pencils write well, feel good in my hand, and erase nicely (I purchased the sharpener and erasers as well).



Okay, let’s talk pens. My two favorites are the uni-ball Signo 207 Gel Pen, Medium Point: and the Pilot Precise V5 Stick Rolling Ball Pens, Extra Fine Point. I like the uni-ball Signo pens because I normally write with a medium point pen and this one has a nice glide to it, but the ink doesn’t run or smudge like you sometimes get with a thicker point pen, and the line somehow seems more fine point than expected. The Pilot V5 pens give you that precise writing you need in a confined area, like on grid paper, but continue to have that smooth touch you look for in a writing instrument. I’ve become a real pen snob lately!

Staedtler’s Triplus Fineliner Pens, 0.3mm 51wcrdsr-7l-_sx300_are amazing.  Think of these as a cross between a fine marker and a thicker pen- with precision points, in bright, amazing colors. These are enough to make your bullet journal pop on its own. They’re too thick to write with everyday, but they sure add some fun and excitement without a lot of effort!


Coloring/Doodles/Effects: Do you like Colored Pencils? Markers? Or Both? I’ll give you recommendations on both and you can choose, one, neither, or both!



Colored Pencils: Prismacolor colored pencils are like butter. There’s really no other way to explain them. I have never worked with such soft, silky pencils before. These really are a treat and the colors are spectacular!



81vicsh5kll-_sy450_Markers: I love the rich pigmentation in Stabilo point 68 markers. The markers have a delicate enough point that you can use them in small areas but they are still able to fill larger sections with relative ease. There’s little to no bleed-through on the Leuchtturm pages either!

There are tons of stickers, tape, stamps, planner effects, stencils, highlighters, etc. that you can buy and use with your planner. I’ll talk about some of these in future posts (because they are fun), but none of this is essential to getting going. If you have a journal, ruler, pencils, and pens that’s all you really need to get started—the rest is just bonus!!

On Thursday, I’ll explain some of the many ways that a Bullet Journal can be set up to help with mental health and well-being. Stay tuned!

Comments 4

  1. Joel

    So much information! I love Organization and have written about it on my site as well. Now, to be truthful, I have never heard of Bullet Journaling, but it has gotten my attention.

    I’ll have to give it a shot.

    1. Jess

      Organization is a beautiful thing! I’m so glad you share my passion for it! Bullet Journaling has truly organized my very messy life, give it a “shot” (haha, you’re very punny 🙂

    1. Jess

      Thanks, Jay! My handwriting has actually gotten a lot better since I started my bullet journal… sometimes it’s still pretty messy lol! The beautiful thing is, unless you’re sharing it on the internet, nobody needs to be able to read it except you!

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