What is a bullet journal and how to set one up

What is a bullet journal, and how to set one up

I’ve spoken previously about my planning dilemmas, in particular how I’ve gone back and forth between electronic and paper and pen planning. For a little while I was a keen Filofax decorator, although admittedly not a very good one.

Sometime ago I heard about bullet journals, and how effective they are in helping people plan.

When researching them I remember seeing what looked like a complicated system, which used bullet points and other icons to categorise tasks. It looked too confusing, so I dismissed it as an organisational tool.

However, my interest in them recently came back and I’ve decided to give the system an official go.

So, this post is about sharing what a bullet journal is, how I’ve set mine up, and providing steps that you can follow to set yours up too – if it’s something you’re interested in.

Firstly, what is a bullet journal?
The bullet journal system (herein referred to as bujo), was created by Ryder Carroll. It’s a fully customisable organisational system that can be used in anyway you want. It can be your appointment reminder, personal diary, list maker – anything. It’s whatever you need it to be.

Why should you start a bujo?
If you’re looking for a system to keep you super organised, and that allows you to write anything that crosses your mind without restrictions, then a bujo is perfect for you.

How you can get started
I’m super tempted to go through the ins and outs of this system, but there’s no way that I can make it sound as simple as it is.

Instead, here’s the link to the official bujo website where you can learn everything about the system in simple detail.

Upon reading this link, or doing your own research, please don’t get confused about the icons and what goes where. To avoid this confusion I recommend looking at one other website in addition to the official one above to complete your bujo research (a good one is from Cerries Mooney) then look at my how I started setting up my bujo below and jump straight in.

Lastly on the topic of research, if you come across some brilliantly decorated journals remember that yours doesn’t have to be. The reason why I ceased using my Filofax was due to the pressure to make it artsy week in and week out. It just wasn’t something that I was interested in.

As you’ll see from my bujo pictures below, my pages are super simple (and photographed a little dodgy – sorry!), which makes it a system that I find easy to use, which will motivate me to use it for the long term.

How I started setting up my bujo

Here’s how I started:

  • Create a key so you know what each icon in your bujo stands for. Here’s mine:

What is a bullet journal, and how to set one up key and time tracker

  • Start your index and fill it in every time you write something. Here’s mine

What is a bullet journal, and how to set one up index

  • Draw your future log
  • Draw the current month
  • Decide if you’ll do a weekly or daily spread, or both, then once you’ve decided draw it up
  • Add all of these items to your index
  • Fill in your future log with dates you know about
  • Write the current month’s tasks from your future log onto your current monthly spread
  • If you’ve chosen a weekly spread, write down each item next to the current week’s dates from your monthly spread to your weekly spread, plus anything else that needs to get done that week
  • If you’ve chosen a daily spread, write down each item for the day from your monthly spread to your daily spread, plus anything else that needs to get done that day

The order of writing things into your bujo is:


Remember, your bujo is customisable so you can change anything at anytime to suit you. I did this very early, I went from weekly spreads to daily, which I’ll talk more about below.

Do you need a future log?
The idea behind the bujo is to plan as you go. You only have one month, or one week/day planned at a time.

For an over planner like me I thought that I’d struggle with this, but I have the right hand side of my current monthly spread dedicated to any tasks or ideas that I need to focus on in following months, so I don’t have to worry about them until I need to.

Plus, my future log also lists down future appointments or any other notes that I need to transfer to their relevant month, so for me a future log is fantastic, but remember, if you don’t want it, don’t have one.

Monthly log
I’ve been bullet journaling for only one month and I’ve already changed the design of my monthly log – that’s the benefit of this system, customise it to your needs.

Originally I had a calendar of the month on the left hand side, and a task page on the right hand side.

What is a bullet journal, and how to set one up previous monthly spread

With this layout I found that I didn’t have enough space to write down anything in the monthly date boxes, so I changed it.

Now I have the same layout as Ryder’s concept on the left hand side, which is the days of the month listed vertically, and have kept the same layout on the right hand side above.

I will be changing this again in November so the right hand side is for a brain dump / tasks. It will list everything that comes into my brain that I want to do that month, or that can be scheduled to a following month.

Weekly vs daily spreads
A weekly collection isn’t part of the original bujo concept. However, I had a weekly spread when I first started and it looked like this:

What is a bullet journal, and how to set one up weekly spread

It was helpful for a few weeks. I loved how I could open up my double page spread and see everything I had coming up in the week. However, very quickly I realised that it didn’t give me enough room to make detailed notes if  needed, or plan my day out by time. So I recently went to the below daily spread and I love it so much better.

What is a bullet journal, and how to set one up daily spread

You can learn about the time tracker section of this page and get all sorts of massive help and inspiration from Boho Berry, who will soon become your bujo best friend.

If you choose to do a daily spread you don’t have to plan out everyday. Right now I’ve gone for a week without planning as I’m moving and knew that I wouldn’t be doing anything but moving (and sadly still am!!!).

Make planning a night time routine
Every night for about 5-10 minutes I set up my daily log for the next day, do my time tracker and weather, and then dot point each task I want to get done for the day.

Here’s my order:

  1. Fill in the time tracker
  2. Add tasks / appointments for the day from my monthly spread
  3. Add unfinished tasks from the week before
  4. If I think I can get more done, I’ll then add items from my task list on my monthly page
  5. I then prioritise the top 3 things that I definitely want to get done, so if they’re the only things that get done on the day, then I’ll classify it as a good day

How has a bujo helped me more than any other planner?

The fact that it’s totally customisable, there’s no need to decorate, everything is in one place, and there’s room to write as much detail as you can is the biggest plus of a bujo over any other planner I’ve used.

I still use Google Calendar to plan, but want to decrease my reliance on it. To find out how I combine bullet journaling with Google Calendar, please visit here.

I’ve also started a series on providing inspiration on how to set up future, monthly, weekly, and daily logs. If you’d like to read these please visit the future log post here. They’ll be links in this post to the others.

If you’re already a bujo devotee I’d love to hear any tips that you have to make your bujo your ultimate planning assistant.

If you’re keen to become a bujo devotee and need advice, or have any questions please don’t hesitate to ask in the comments.

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2 thoughts to “What is a bullet journal and how to set one up”

    1. Thanks Amanda, that’s a fantastic idea! I’ve seen a lot of gratitude list ideas and it’s something I’ve thought about for a long time as too often we don’t take the time to list what we’re grateful for. This is something I definitely want to look into further. Good luck with your journaling.

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