If you want to learn how to set up a bullet journal, you need to read my comprehensive guide to bullet journal setup. I’ll teach you how to start your first bujo spread in just 5 simple steps.
Bullet journaling is the best way I’ve ever found to organize my to-do list and schedule. It’s very simple in its basic form, but infinitely customizable to suit your own needs and lifestyle. Read on for a step-by-step guide to setting up your first Bullet Journal.
Bullet Journal Setup Guide
If you go to any office supply store, you’ll find aisles of planners and calendars. But no matter what I try, nothing works as well for my life as a Bullet Journal.
Do you want to get organized and try the bullet journal planning method? Here is a step-by-step guide to set up your bullet journal for the first time. Bullet journal setup isn’t complicated, and in this post, I’ll outline the steps you need to get started.
What is a bullet journal?
The bullet journal system, or “bujo” for short, is a planning and productivity method created by Ryder Carrol. Bullet journaling helps you organize your thoughts and tasks and intentionally plan your schedule.
In your bullet journal, you can log tasks, events, and notes in short-form sentences — aka “bullets.”
You can quickly capture thoughts and tasks as they occur to you throughout the day. The point is to get ideas out of your head and onto the paper. That way, you can relax and not worry that you are going to forget things.
How to Setup a Bullet Journal: Step by Step Guide
You can set up a basic bullet journal in 5-10 minutes. First, gather some supplies. All you need to get started is some paper and a pen. Later on, you may want to use markers, highlighters, and stickers too if you like — but all you really need is a notebook and pen. Then, you’ll lay out the first pages: Index Pages, the Future Log, the Monthly Log, and the Daily Log. And that’s all you need for a complete, functional Bullet Journal. Let’s get started!
Step 1: Gather Your Supplies
Like I talked about before, all you need to start a bullet journal is a notebook and a pen. That’s it. You can use an old legal pad, some lined paper in a three-ring binder, or a half-used composition notebook. If you find you love bullet journaling, you may want to upgrade to a dot-grid notebook like a Moleskine or a Leuchtturm. But for now, feel free to keep it simple.
As for writing utensils, choose something you love. A pencil, a pen, whatever is handy. Lots of bullet journalers love these Micron pens because of the fine, consistent line quality. And bullet journalers also swear by these light, pastel highlighters to add some color and extra organization to their journal spreads.
Step 2: Create the Index Pages
The Index page is the backbone of the organization in the Bullet Journal system. It’s the first thing you’ll want to set up in your new Bullet Journal. The Index is a quick and easy way to organize the contents of your journal.
The Index page is just what you’d expect — a list of the names of pages in your journal and their corresponding page numbers. Every time you create a new page, give it a corresponding page number and record it in the Index. Then, use the Index pages to help you find what you’re looking for when you are trying to find an old page in your bullet journal.
To set up the Index pages, open to the first two pages in your journal and label them “Index.” If your journal’s pages aren’t numbered already, you’ll need to number them. You can number the pages all at once, or you can number them as you go along.
When you fill a new page in your journal, add its name and page number to the Index. Then, you’ll be able to find it later quickly.
Monthly spreads and collection pages are especially important to add to the Index. But you don’t need to add Daily logs to the Index. You’ll fill up the Index over time as you use the Bullet Journal.
Step 3: Set Up the Future Log
The Future Log is a collection of all the events that are coming up in the future. In its most basic form, it’s a simplified, list-style calendar. Use the Future log to record upcoming holidays, birthdays, vacations, and other important dates. It will become a reference guide that you will refer back to when you plan out your Monthly and Daily Logs.
To set up the Future Log, open to a blank two-page spread, write “Future Log” across the top, number the page, and add it to your Index.
Divide the pages into the number of months you need. For instance, you can divide each of the two pages with two equally-spaced horizontal lines, which will give you a total of six sections for six months.
Add any important upcoming events, deadlines, goals, or test dates to the Future Log. Remember, these aren’t tasks or to-dos, but significant events, important deadlines, or other dates to remember.
Step 4: Set up the Monthly Log
One of the greatest things about bullet journaling is that you can start in whatever month you’re in. You don’t need to wait until January or “Back to School” — just start where you are.
The Monthly Log is a one or two-page spread that helps you organize your month.
To set up the Monthly Log, open to a blank page, write the month across the top of the page, number the page, and add it to your Index.
There are several ways to layout a Monthly Log, but here is a simple version. Write the dates (ex. 1-30) down the side of the page, one per line. It’s also a good idea to write the first letter of the day of the week next to each number (ex. 1M, 2T, 3W)
Some bullet journalers create a two-page monthly spread that consists of a calendar on the left-hand page and a corresponding task list on the right-hand page. This is a great way to organize tasks vs. appointments. If having a monthly tasks list makes sense for your lifestyle, feel free to add this page right after your Monthly Log.
Write down this month’s appointments, meetings, and events into the Monthly Log. And, if you like, enter this month’s tasks in the Monthly Task List.
Step 5: Set up the Daily Log
Daily Logs are the heart and soul of the Bullet Journal system. You can start a new daily log each day to keep yourself organized and on task.
To set up the Daily Log, open to a blank page, write the date across the top of the page, and number the page. You don’t need to add it to your Index.
Then, add your Tasks, Events, and Notes for the day to your list. You can set aside time in the morning to list out your bullets, or you can add them as they occur to you.
As you go throughout your day, you can mark items as complete. If you don’t complete all of your daily tasks, that’s okay! Review your Daily Log, figure out which incomplete Tasks are worth working on tomorrow, and migrate them to the next day. You can mark incomplete items as “canceled” or “migrated” if you wish.
If your Daily Log doesn’t fill a whole page, that’s okay. You don’t need to start a brand new page; you can add the next Day wherever you left off.
Signifiers, or Keys
Many bullet journalers use different symbols — or signifiers — as bullets to denote different types of entries. Signifiers allow you to glance down the page of your Bullet Journal to find what you are looking for quickly.
There are many options for signifiers, so you’ll need to do some experimentation to see what works best for your lifestyle. Here are some options:
- A box for tasks and to-do list items. When the task is done, you can fill in the box.
- A triangle for appointments or meetings. When the appointment is finished, you can fill in the triangle.
- A dot for things to remember.
- A star or an asterisk placed next to an item can mark it as urgent or a priority.
- A right-facing arrow drawn through an item can mark it as “migrated” to the next day.
When you finish a task or appointment, you can fill in the symbol. If you need to move the task or event to the next day, you can add an arrow facing right.
If you have a lot of special signifiers, you may want to create a Key Page or Legend to refer to. For more information about bullet journal keys, check out these Bullet Journal Key Ideas.
Other Bullet Journal Ideas
One of the best things about the Bullet Journal system is that you can adapt it any way you want to fit your lifestyle better. Your empty journal is a blank canvas that you can turn into your ideal planner. You can add spreads and collections that enhance your life. And, you don’t have to waste time or space on spreads that don’t work for you. For example, you may really like the Daily Logs, or you might want to use Weekly Logs instead. It’s all up to you!
A Weekly Log is an overview of your Tasks and Events for the upcoming week. It allows you to see a visual overview of your weekly schedule — you can think of it as your Week At A Glance.
Students, especially, find value in a Weekly Log.
A Weekly Log consists of sections for each day of the week and an optional section for additional tasks or trackers.
To set up a Weekly Log, open to a blank two-page spread, write the date across the top of the pages, and number the pages. You don’t need to add it to your Index, but you can if you like.
Divide the pages into the number of sections you need. For instance, dividing each of the two pages with three equally-spaced horizontal lines will give you a total of eight sections — one for each day of the week and one extra section for notes or trackers.
If you like using Weekly Spreads, you may not necessarily need to use Daily Logs too. Many bullet journalers use one or the other. And, that’s not to say you can’t switch back and forth between Daily and Weekly spreads, as you wish. Use what works for you!
Collections or Habit Trackers
Collections are places to catalog ideas, track progress toward your goals, or write down things you want to refer back to later.
They aren’t to-do lists, exactly, but rather useful reference lists of ideas and goals you want to remember.
You can create a collection or habit tracker on just about any subject. Some common Collections include:
- Books to Read list
- “Year in Pixels” mood tracker
- Fitness/weight tracker
- Savings tracker
- Cleaning schedule
- Meal Planning
For more inspiration, check out this list: 51 Habit Trackers That Every Bullet Journal Needs.
Recommended Bullet Journal Supplies
This is my favorite notebook because it is high quality and relatively inexpensive. I like the dotted version, but you may prefer the lined or gridded versions better.
Many bullet journalers prefer this Leuchtturm notebook, even though is a bit more expensive than other notebooks. I like it a lot because it has an Index already set up, all the pages are already numbered, and it comes with two ribbon bookmarks.
These precise black ink pens will give your smooth writing with consistent line quality. This is a pack with different widths so that you can have fine lines and bolder ones.
I like the more subtle, pastel colors of these Stabilo Boss highlighters.
Washi Tape is easy to stick and reposition. You can use washi tape to make decorations, flags, tabs, or other organizational dividers. This set of grid washi tape comes in the cutest colors!
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Sarah Stearns is an artist, maker, and blogger at sarahmaker.com
Her work has been featured in Scientific American, Good Housekeeping, Vox, Apartment Therapy, and more.
Sarah lives and works in North Carolina with her husband and young kids.