A Few Thoughts On Getting Started With A Bullet Journal

John BosleyBullet Journal 7 Comments

I was chatting with a friend recently and the topic of bullet journals came up. She thought it looked like a good system and, knowing I use one, wanted to hear my thoughts on it. I am not a strict bullet journaler, but do try to keep one for my daily schedule and routines, as well as lists I use regularly. After talking for a bit, it turns out she had some preconceived notions about bullet journaling that I was able to change her mind about. Not surprisingly, I had some of the same concerns when I started my first bullet journal. In this article, I want to talk about a few of the concerns that she (and I) had and why you shouldn’t let them keep you from starting your first bullet journal.

How Do I Even Get Started? It Seems So Overwhelming.

Bullet journaling is a fantastic system for tracking your schedule and routine that is very flexible and modular. Not only can you keep track of things like appointments, to-do lists and birthdays, but you can also track things that are more personalized to your daily routines and habits. Need a way to track your plant watering schedule? No problem. How about your currently-inked fountain pens? Easy. While spreads and trackers are a central aspect to bullet journaling, they may also be the most overwhelming part of getting started with your first bullet journal.

bullet journal currently watching tracker

I like to keep track of what I’ve watched in a bullet journal spread.

If you’ve done a bit of research, you know that people have created spreads to track everything. From workouts to hydration, books you’ve read to your daily mood, trackers are a very popular and useful part of bullet journaling. Deciding which ones to use is not an easy task. When you’re first getting started, I would suggest trying a variety of trackers and spreads and seeing which ones you use on a regular basis. Keep in mind, your bullet journal will change over time. Some things will not work for you and other new things will eventually get incorporated. You’ll get a feel for which spreads or trackers are actually useful for you and which ones are just taking up your time.

bullet journal abandoned spread

Apparently my condiment making interest didn’t last long and I abandoned this spread.

In my experience, I started out very much mirroring the suggested spreads and trackers in The Bullet Journal Method. When it came time to start a new notebook, I probably left half of them out, simply because I had stopped using them. Initially, leaving out things that I assumed everyone else used felt a little strange to me, but once I realized that this was my tool that had to work for me, not anyone else, I found the freedom to create a bullet journal that was full of spreads that were actually useful to me and didn’t make me feel guilty because they never got used.

Helpful Read: The Bullet Journal Method

How Do I Pick The Correct Notebook?

The pen and notebook that you use really doesn’t matter. A functional bullet journal can work with any type of notebook and you can use any type of pen. Chances are if you’re reading this, you enjoy using fountain pens. If that’s the case, you will want to put a bit more thought into the notebook that you choose.

You will want to weigh out the pros and cons of different notebooks and paper types. Do you prefer a notebook with pre-printed page numbers or do you want to write them in yourself? Do you want a notebook with a rear pocket or elastic closure band? How about hardcover or softcover? Should your paper be fast drying or do you want it to show more shading and sheen? How about lined, blank or dot grid? These are all questions you’ll need to ask yourself when choosing a notebook. You may end up learning that what you prefer in a notebook for writing isn’t the same thing you prefer in a notebook for bullet journaling.

fountain pen friendly notebook variety

You can bullet journal in any type of notebook you like.

After using a few different types of notebooks for my bullet journals, I have found that I prefer notebooks with good paper that shows off the properties of the inks that I use. This typically means higher drying times and can sometimes lead to a bit of smearing with high-sheen inks, but the physical writing experience of using good paper and having my inks look great is worth it to me. Other notebooks I used with faster drying times were more convenient, but I just found them boring to write in.

What Are The Best Fountain Pen Friendly Notebooks
For Bullet Journaling?

What Should I Do About My Digital Calendar?

A bullet journal is not meant to be the only organizational tool that you use. While it can fill many different roles, you will most likely still have a digital calendar that exists alongside your bullet journal. A digital calendar is great for schedules that are constantly changing, access from any wired device, appointment reminders and even navigational help when you’re out and about. These are things that a notebook, no matter how well organized, just can’t do.

bullet journal plus digital calendar

Your bullet journal and digital calendar can peacefully coexist.

This was one of the most important lessons I learned. I assumed that once I started my bullet journal, it would be the only thing that I used for keeping track of what I needed to do. I quickly realized that, even with my relatively calm schedule, I would still need a digital calendar. The biggest stumbling point for me was that I just couldn’t imagine trying to keep track of appointment times. Major events on specific dates? Yes. Small events with specific times? No thank you. Once I freed myself from that expectation, I felt so much better diving into the world of bullet journaling.

I’m Not Artistic. Can I Bullet Journal?

This was another huge sticking point for me. If you’ve spent any time on Instagram or YouTube looking for bullet journaling inspiration, you may feel supremely inadequate. Don’t get me wrong, if I had the time and talent to create spreads like many people do, I probably would. As it turns out, I have neither. That hasn’t stopped me from bullet journaling. The trick is to not hold yourself to the expectation of creating something that isn’t within your talents to create.

bullet journal mood tracker example

This mood tracker by Instagram user @enemesis_4 is beautiful, but way outside of my talents to create.

When I sit down to create my weekly spreads, I know that they’re going to be fairly straightforward and contain more information than art. To make them more enjoyable to use and create, I try to use a variety of different inks and pens that I think are fun. Other people may tend to use washi tape or stickers in place of detailed drawings. I have also learned to leave a good amount of negative space that I can fill with doodles. This way, I know that I am creating a useful tool that I can also use to be creative (in my own way).

bullet journal sticker

Using stickers is a great way to decorate the inside or outside of your bullet journal.


When first getting started, bullet journaling can be both very exciting and very overwhelming. The images and examples that can be found in the community are very inspiring. Unfortunately, the excitement and inspiration can quickly turn into paralysis. The key to creating your first (and future) bullet journals is to recognize that this is a tool that you are creating for yourself, not anyone else. It doesn’t need to include every type of tracker you can find. It doesn’t need to get shared online. It’s fine if you create spreads that don’t get used. You can use any type of notebook that you want. Take ownership of this flexible tool and system and make it into something that works for you.

Comments 7

  1. Sorry John, I’m still not convinced that I have anything to say that a journal, bullet or not, would want to hear.
    It would be nice to know the date I wrote a poem or song in case I get famous, but I could simply write the date by the title.
    The fact that I don’t means that probably I wouldn’t write it in a journal either.
    Also, I dream of not knowing what day it is, and in my perfect world I wouldn’t know the month either.
    I’ve never managed to keep a diary for more than three days after Christmas.

    1. Post

      Haha, well at least you know yourself well enough to know what works and what doesn’t. It would be nice to lose track of what day/month it is, but for most people that’s just not a realistic option (and for those who could do such a thing, keeping a bullet journal would probably be low on their list of things to do).

  2. Have been keeping a Bujo for about 5 years. Have kept it very basic, no stickers or washi tape with only colour from the fountain pens and some colour pencils. Use it mainly for tracking, brain dumps, lists and recording.

    1. Post
    1. Post

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.