How to Start Your First Bullet Journal in 2020 [An Illustrated Guide]
“Meet the analog method for the digital age that will help you track the past, order the present, and design your future.”
Said Ryder Carroll, father of the bullet journal method.
So What Is a Bullet Journal?
In its essence, bullet journaling is a system that boosts our productivity and mindfulness by organizing our lives through a notebook and a pen.
Looking through all the tutorials on how to start a bullet journal, a lot of people would feel discouraged by all the glam, decorations, and pretty penmanship. But that’s not what bullet journal is actually about.
So here is the simplest and most straightforward guide for you to start your bullet journal.
Step by Step to start your Bullet Journal
Step 1: Get The Necessary Supplies
To its core functionality, you can start a bullet journal with 2 things: a notebook and a pen.
It should be an A5-sized notebook, preferably a dot-grid or grid for flexibility with at least 80 pages.
A lot of tutorials recommend Leuchtturm1917 notebook for the most optimal bullet journal experience. But I say any brand that fits the above criteria is good to go.
You can go the extra if you find having high-quality supplies boost your motivation for bullet journaling.
A lot of tutorials also recommend expensive pens and markers. But I find a basic ball-point gel pen works just as fine and it will probably save you a couple bucks.
Step 2: Choose your Collections
After getting your pens and notebooks, let’s decide the content of your bullet journal with collections.
A collection is a running topic that you want to keep track or remember over a long period of time.
Usually, a bullet journal contains at least 3 collections: future log, monthly log and daily log. But you can consider these collection items.
- Books to read
- Good Habits to Install
- Bad Habits to Break
- Recipe to try
- Finance Tracking
- Things you are grateful for
To differentiate between the future, monthly and daily log, we will keep these collections separated to keep the bullet journal lean and clean.
This feature turns multiple journaling ideas into one single bullet journal, which makes a bullet journal so useful and compact: you can have your to-do list, your goals and ambition checklist, your habit tracking system… all in one place.
In case you will need to add a few collection pages later, you can even start your collection pages at the end of the journal and write them up backwards.
- Together with Future/Monthly/Daily log, identify your set of collections.
- Write the collection pages at the end of the notebook.
Step 3: Start Your Index Page
The index is usually the first page, acting as a navigation board for your journal.
The index will be updated as you start bullet journaling: with each new collection, mark them in the index page.
- Mark a number to each page of your journal so you can start indexing your collection.
- Index your current pages
Step 4: Start Your Logging
The bulk of a bullet journal is usually 3 collections that follow a sequence: a future log, 12 monthly logs and daily logs.
But before we dive in to the log, let’s discuss the language of bullet journaling.
Understand Rapid Logging
Rapid Logging is the language in which bullet journal is written in.
Through a system of bullets and signifiers, we opt to simplify a log while still give them the full context.
Dots (•) can be used to indicate tasks.
Other symbols for tasks include:
X = Task Completed
> = Task Migrated
< = Task Scheduled
Circles (O) for events.
Dashes (–) for notes, ideas, and thoughts.
Asterisk (*) to mark priority tasks
Exclamation point (!) to highlight ideas or inspiration.
Question mark (?) for items that need further research or exploration.
With a system of signifiers and bullets, we transform the traditional way of journaling to rapid logging:
4.1 Start Your Future Log
Future Log – the collection where you plan for the major milestones (events, goals, reminders) for the upcoming months.
The future log, or it can be viewed as the yearly log is the road map to design your future.
Define what you want to achieve in the upcoming months. Plan out the challenges that you will need to be well-prepared to face them.
Maybe your big exam? Or the deadline of your quarterly project? Or the side hustle business that you want to launch this year?
U.S President D.Eisenhower had a fantastic quote on this matter:
‘What Is Important Is Seldom Urgent and What Is Urgent Is Seldom Important”
Chasing trivial stuff, no wonder so many of us feel lost and exhausted.
Seldom do we actually take the time to sit down and plan things out for the next month, let alone next year. We are trapped in a busy life with other people’s priorities that no long-term planning is possible.
With a bullet journal and the future log collection, you get clear on what you priorities and focuses are.
That’s how we win back control over our lives.
- Take 4 full pages for this section.
- Write down the upcoming events.
- List down your goals you want to achieve for each month.
- Leave some space for each month so you can add new milestones later.
4.2 Monthly Log
Monthly Log – the collection where you strategize how to achieve monthly goals and keep our lives in order.
The future log sets big goals and vision.
The monthly log breaks down those goals into tasks and smaller goals that we strive to achieve within a deadline.
Monthly log starts at the beginning of each month and we start strategizing to turn every goal into actionable step that informs us what to do on a daily basis.
How to break down a goal: If my February goal is to start learning Spanish, I will have to break it down into smaller goals and tasks such as:
- Research how I can learn Spanish by myself.
- Research on which Spanish course for beginners to take.
- Research on any app that can help me learn Spanish in my free time.
After doing the research, I can start defining the habit of learning Spanish:
- Go to the Spanish class once a week.
- Use Duolingo every day.
- Watch one Spanish movie a week.
We also define the responsibilities that we have to attend to: your doctor appointments, getting your car fixed up…
These small things can be the important things that are never actually urgent. So it could take months instead of 1 week to get them done. Give them their dates on the monthly log and get your life in order.
- Use 2 pages for one monthly log.
- List the important milestones and important dates of the month on the left page
- List your goals, tasks, notes, contemplation or thoughts of the month on the right page.
- Repeat this process monthly
4.3 Daily Log
Daily Log – the collection where you keep yourself accountable on a daily basis.
Future log is the Why of your bullet journal - your purposes.
Monthly log is the How of your bullet journal - your strategies.
Daily log is the What of your bullet journal - your executions.
You set out what needs to be done each day with tasks and events.
At the end of each day, revise on what was done and what wasn’t.
You can use a daily log as a to-do list and squeeze a week in 2 pages with the rapid logging system.
Or you can dedicate one page for each day.
You can study and the day and look for improvements points.
You can write down the things that you are grateful for.
You can do a self-reflection session or let your mind free itself on the page.
But whatever it is, stay consistent with the daily logs.
None of your vision will come true if you fail to execute them on a daily basis. Daily logging is the long and repetitive grind that makes all the difference if you are willing to commit.
This is the process that keeps you accountable with your goals and remind when you are slacking off.
- Define the focus of the day
- Update your execution after the day is over
- Repeat this process everyday
Step 5: Adjust and Maintain
Once a day or a month has passed, a task or a goal may not have been completed.
You choose if the task or goal is still relevant and important enough to be migrated into the next log.
If it is, use the > = Task Migrated.
If it isn’t, cross it out.
You will realize how many tasks or goals are actually trivial and aren't worth worrying about.a
From my personal experience, I find that being productive doesn’t always come with a sense of fulfillment.
There are days where I checked every box in my to-do list and felt empty.
There are days where I only managed to complete one task, but it felt amazing at the end of the day.
Ryder Carroll stated that bullet journaling, at its core, is a mindfulness practice: to get clear on our purpose.
To successfully use your bullet journal, you must spend time evaluating the relevance of each goal to your values.
And all the time that you waste on trivial matters will be redirected to your most important goals.
- Re-evaluate the goals at the end of each month.
- Migrate the task if it’s still relevant, cross it out if it isn’t.
Bullet Journaling Tips Before You Start
Tip #1: Functional First, Style Second.
Write and organize your set-up that you feel most comfortable in.
You don’t have to try to compete with the Pinterest-worthy bullet journal layout out there unless you want to.
A bullet journal works just as well if you have chicken-scratch handwriting and absolutely no artistic talent.
What’s most important about a bullet journal is its ability to make you organize and simplify your life.
If you find the decoration taking too much time, choose a more simple way to decorate your journal or even no decoration at all.
This is Nathaniel’s Daily Log: just plain and simple, no fancy decoration needed and it does the work!
Tip #2: Treat this as a Long-term Habit
Installing a new habit takes time.
And the logging may seem like a boring repetitive chore after a while.
But that repetition is what will bring you closer to your goals every day.
This a system to keep ourselves accountable with our goals and vision, especially on the day that we don’t feel any motivation.
It takes hard work and perseverance to reach our big goals. And the bullet journal will be a long-term companion on our journey of achieving those goals.
So carve out at least 10 minute per day for your bullet journal.
Tip #3: The Two Day Rule
This amazing strategy to deal with failure in forming a new habit comes from Matt D’Avelle
In whatever you do, never miss twice.
In the case of bullet journalling with our daily logs, never skip 2 days in a row.
It’s okay and expected for us to have a misstep here and there and skip a day. There will be days where we simply forget, or days we will too tired or fall sick.
So don’t be yourselves over a mistake of not keeping a clean streak.
Instead, remind yourself the next day and get back on track.
Once is acceptable.
But if you let yourself off two days in a row, it can creep up and derail you for weeks.
Tip #4: You can start at any time of the year
If we look into Google trend for the term “bullet journal”, a great spike will shoot up over later December and early January.
And after the new year resolution phase, a sudden loss of interest in bullet journaling.
If you find yourself not starting a bullet journal in March or August, it’s okay to simplify it into a 3 months Future Log or 8 months Future Log.
The importance is not letting the “I didn’t start this at the right time” as an excuse for not starting a bullet journal.
As Robert Greene, best-selling author advised Ryan Holiday, another best-selling author:
“There are two kinds of time: dead and alive. One is when you sit around, waiting until things happen to you. The other is when you take control, making every second count, learning, improving and growing.”
Act on a Bullet Journal with your alive time.
It’s Time to Start Your Bullet Journal
Whether you are starting your bullet journal as a fresh start for 2020 or gaining back control of your life in the mid year, you now know how to do it.
If you have had experience with bullet journaling in the past, can you share the struggles you faced when starting out?