Beginner’s Guide to a Bullet Journal

I am a physical day planner kind of gal. Don’t get me wrong, I use iCal on my phone, but I always feel more organized when I have a physical calendar. The problem is, I rarely find one that gives me the space to write what I want without having room for extraneous tidbits I don’t need. If you are a day planner person, I imagine you’ve felt the same way. So, this need had me interested in trying a bullet journal. But also a little intimidated.

In the last year or so, I began hearing about bullet journaling. I read a post by another blogger about how she uses hers. I also had a friend who bullet journaled. Anytime, I saw my friend’s journal opened or pictures of it on Instagram, I was attracted to the organic and beautiful nature of her spreads. I was often awed by the pretty, customizable pages she created. But, I also felt like I couldn’t do it myself. Eventually though, I decided to take the plunge.And here we are, a full nine months into 2017, and I am a card carrying member of the Bullet Journal Club. (Insert the nerd emoji here!)

For anyone interested in bullet journaling, I want to share why I love the bullet journal and how my format has evolved over the last nine months. If you know you want to start one, and want to go to a getting started guide straight away, I highly recommend this one.

Rachel Winchester bullet journal

Why Bullet Journal?

First of all, let me say, I was super intimidated by bullet journaling at first, because if you google ‘bullet journal’, you will find all sorts of craziness. And by craziness, I mean elaborate designs. Because a bullet journal can be anything you want it to be and record anything you want to record, it can be as plain or creative as you want it to be. That’s why it’s so great! But that’s also why it’s so intimidating at first.

You have to figure out what you want the journal to be and the best format that works for those needs.

For me, the desire to use a bullet journal as a day planner came down to two main motivations: freedom of format and the ability for that format to morph over time.

Let me explain what I mean by that.

Finding Your Format

When I first started my bullet journal, I looked at inspiration, but I also just started. I began with a basic list for my day like you see in the picture below.

Rachel Winchester bullet journal

It wasn’t pre-designed and wasn’t much more than a glorified to-do list.

During this time, I was figuring out the purpose of my bullet journal. What did I want to record in its pages? What did I need to write down on a given day or each week?

In time, I learned a little more about the structure of a bullet journal. You start with an index page at the very beginning where you accumulate a table of contents over time as you fill out the pages.

Rachel Winchester bullet journal

Then, each month begins with a monthly view. (Even this can be in either a list format or a more traditional calendar format. I’ve tried both, but prefer the list.)

Rachel Winchester bullet journal

Rachel Winchester bullet journal

Rachel Winchester bullet journal

And then, you create a weekly view spread. So, this picture below was the next progression of my weekly view. I gained a better structure though I still didn’t have any margins to work with for non-daily needs.

Rachel Winchester bullet journal

Ability to Morph Over Time

The second aspect I love about the bullet journal is it’s ability to change with your own needs.

As you use the bullet journal, you begin to develop your own system. For instance, I saw the below format on someone’s Instagram feed and gave it a try. I found I really loved having the margins but still blocking off the days. I use my bullet journal for a fairly extensive daily to-do list. If I don’t have a list, I get way off task. I need help focusing on the day. But it also helps see each day in the context of the week.

When I shared my spread on Instagram last month, a friend who teaches commented that she uses her bullet journal differently during the IEP season. I think that’s a great example of the bullet journal’s ability to morph over time. Whether it morphs because you better realize your needs or due to a special season in which your needs change, it changes with you. I love that!

How I Use the Bullet Journal Now

So, now, I have the daily blocks, but the margins allow me to also record weekly items that need to be considered such as dinner and household tasks.

Rachel Winchester bullet journal
Even as I write this, I realize I could use my bullet journal more thoroughly. While I record a lot of things in it, I don’t write everything. I don’t keep extensive notes or any long-form journaling in these pages. My meal plan is in a separate notebook for now. But, I do record each week’s meals so I don’t have to reference the other notebook everyday.

With household tasks, I keep a checklist in the right-hand margin, but I also break tasks into specific days so that I plan to do them. Sometimes, they get pushed forward to a new day. And I struggle, struggle, struggle to ever clean the bathroom. (It is the bane of my existence.) But, keeping a record of household tasks keeps them before me, and helps me remember what I’ve actually done that week.

I recently also incorporated the “What’s Ahead” section which I really enjoy as it helps me look ahead and anticipate upcoming events whether big or small.

Rachel Winchester bullet journal

Usually, in the top right, I record blog to-dos. Posts I plan to write that week or anything I want to work on for the site.

What You Need to Start a Bullet Journal

So now that you’ve seen how I use the bullet journal, what do you need to get started for yourself?

I started informally with a plain old composition book I already had around the house. However, I found that getting a notebook specifically for bullet journaling helped me put more energy into it. It made it special and for a particular use. But I did start with something I already had to see if I liked it before investing money into it.

That being said, once I knew I wanted to try bullet journaling for real, I bought this notebook. Though, Leuchtturm1917 now has a notebook specifically for bullet journalling so that would be a good option too. I like the Leuchtturm1917 notebooks. The dotted grid makes it easy to create the various spreads, plus I prefer to not have lines. And, the pages are numbered which makes indexing easier.

As for pens and other accessories to use with your bullet journal, you can get as fancy or plain as you want. Some people use top of the line pens or a particular pen for their bullet journal. I’m a Pilot G2 girl myself. Though, Jesse introduced me to the PaperMate Ink Joy Gel which is also really nice. While this notebook has two bookmarks, it can be helpful to have a paperclip or dart to mark various pages you turn to often.

Bullet Journal On

Well, now that you know all the info, I hope it was helpful. Let me know if you start a bullet journal. And I hope you enjoy using it as much as I have!

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