How to Start Your First Bullet Journal

When you get frustrated with your bulky day planner, desk monthly planner or calendar app, you might want to give up. Organizing life feels impossible. So many planners are not structured to match your individual needs. How can you find a planner with the right balance of structure and flexibility? For many people, bullet journals are the solution.

Ryder Carroll developed an organizational system that is catching like wildfire. The community of planners and artists using these journals have dubbed the journals “BuJo”’s for short. To help get you started, here are some of the basics along with BuJo Stamp hacks to speed up your process.

Follow these 5 steps to jumpstart your new calendar system.

1. Get the BuJo Basics

Begin by purchasing a lightweight journal with dots in it. You can find blank, dotted journals at bookstores, craft stores or online. Choose an affordable notebook that you will feel comfortable toting around in your purse or car. It’s not critical to have a moleskin color and all the bells and whistles. You just need the dotted type. Get a writing utensil. You can use a regular ballpoint pen, though many die hard BuJo fans prefer Micron pens which have a defined tip.

A notebook and pen are the only two necessities you need to start. However, you can streamline your layout process a bit by getting a ruler for dividing your pages into sections.

2. Plan Your Monthly Layout 

Start your book with an index. It’s good to leave two whole pages, so that as your journal develops you can flip through to the part you are searching for.  Your index will include sections and page numbers. Fill out your journal with page numbers to make this an easy reference. Your first journal might have a simple index that begins with your yearly goals and a monthly log. Ryder Carroll defines these sections as “modules” for your journal. His system includes an index, future log, monthly log and daily log.

As a newcomer, it can be intimidating to try and include everything included in Carroll’s guide. You may want to begin with a few pages for years goals and then go right into monthly planning. As you get into the practice of relying on your BuJo, your yearly goals may develop and need a larger section. But that is the beauty of creating the book as you go – your structure and layout can adapt to meet your need

3. Fill Out Week One

You can start your journal immediately. One advantage of this planning process is that it is not a yearly planner that begins based on January 1st. Begin with writing a page for the current month on one side and on the other make a sequential list that goes straight down with the dates in the month. Write commitments next to those days, and anything else you want to remember like birthdays, bill due dates or other items.

Now turn the page and start the week you are in. Include the month at the top of this weekly page. Many planners divide both sides of the page into three main sections. The last third of the right page can be split into two smaller section for Sunday and notes. Add the day and date to each page. This completes the layout for your week.

Some people find that planning one week at a time is helpful way to build their calendar. Others will set up weeks in advance. Either way, once your layout for upcoming weeks are done, you can transfer items from your monthly page for the week you are entering.

4. Buju Stamp Hacks

You might feel stuck as you put together the first section. Perfect handwriting and designer flourishes don’t come naturally to everyone. One way to combat this frustration is by simplifying your layout with stamps made just for journals.  Avoid penmanship mishaps when you’re setting up your daily log by getting day and month stamps. Shop stamps with pennant flag stamps and framed wreath stamps for a place to write the day of the month.






As you spend the first few weeks with your journal, make sure you are crossing off activities once they are finished. You can use check box stamps for that satisfying feeling of marking off completed tasks. That sense of completion is part of what can make this process satisfying. You can also carry priorities week to week if they get missed. Make sure you cover all your priorities and chores with stamps that remind you to water your plants and drink enough water.

Divide up important sections and clear the clutter in your mind with defined border stamps. Browse scallop borders and dotted designs or more geometric looks for a modern layout.

It can be disappointing to compare your evolving planner with the likes of Instagram and Pinterest features.  Borders, rulers and stamps can be the thing that takes your personalized BuJo look from messy to inspirational. Have fun creating your calendar by adding reminders and embellishments to your favorite aspects of planning.

5. Trial & Error

Figure out your own system – whether that involves highlighters, bujo stamps or a handful of colored macron pens- to find a design you like. Sometimes the simplest system of dots, dashes and strikes through is what you need. No chaos of flowers, frills, borders and trackers. However, some people will warm to the detail creating and enjoy the artistic expression the planner allows room for.

See what you need more or less space for and adapt the format to your needs, patterns, goals. This planner is about your life, your headspace. You can set it up months in advance or week by week. Get into your own groove. Include any critical reminders, from watering stamps to buying a baby shower gift.

Bonus Tip: Time for Extras

The more you become comfortable with using your journal, the more you may find it a convenient place for making plans, defining goals, describing hopes, tracking moods and recording your life – however that looks. You can include everything from grocery lists and financial budgets to weight loss goals and favorite book quotes.

As you invest your energy in bullet journal and find that it suits you and your lifestyle, the possibilities for how you will use each nearly blank page are endless. Draw inspirational pictures or find a seasonal design. Highlight achievements.  Shade month titles for a unique look. Color coat and decorate dividing pages.

Make it your own.




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