A Non-Intimidating Guide to Starting your First Bullet Journal

Feb 15, 2019

So you’ve heard of the term “bullet journal” and you’re looking for your way in. It took me months of prep before starting a bullet journal because it was difficult to pinpoint what a bullet journal actually is. The best way to learn is through the official site (they say) but it can be confusing to an absolute beginner! I quickly fell into a rabbit hole of “Plan with Me’s” and Pinterest searches trying to figure out how to begin. This is my guide to those who just want a straightforward understanding and approach of the bullet journal. I’m going to tell you what you need to know, leave out everything else, and give my solid, encouraging push to get you started. After reading this, you won’t need to do much else aside from actually getting your journal. Let’s get on with it.

*note that this guide will be pretty lengthy - that’s because I’m covering ALL the areas you might need. Feel free to scroll around and stop at points you need the most! I also use affiliate links which cost you nothing - I only recommend my favorite things!

bullet journal guide

what is a bullet journal

If you’re looking to get into the technicalities of a bullet journal, I suggest the official site. But from a less “brandy” perspective, it’s a custom planner. What matters about the bullet journal is that you structure it in a way that works for your productivity. Note that I said your productivity, not you. Because bullet journals aren’t just diaries or sketchpads (although they can be!) for the sake of it, they’re tools to help you get things done. And that may happen through an art piece or diary entry! Let me explain. The traditional “pre-made” planner implies that productivity only consists of calendars or time frames (think planners you find at Target). Bullet journals imply that productivity consists of ANYTHING that works for the individual. That is why it’s an empty, dotted notebook. You fill it with whatever you define as useful. So writing a diary entry can make you productive. Tracking yourself can make you productive. Cute, artsy spreads and whatever inspires you to open your journal and get work done can make you productive. And time frames can make you productive (if that’s your thing!). I think the stigma around bullet journal users is that we forget about the function and decorate for fun. Not true. These are books very personal to our individual productivity.

supplies for bullet journal
supplies for bullet journal

Dotted Journal: I don't think I need to explain this one! The one I linked is the "official" notebook.
Daily Pen: Whatever you like using the most. I need NO smudging (left-handed).
Highlighter: It's best to have at least one - the Mildliners I linked are my absolute favorite. You will use this to make really important notes pop!

That’s it! Surprised? The very basics to bullet journaling is minimalism. That’s why you’ll see lots of shorthand on the official site. It is meant to make things easier for yourself.

extra supplies for bullet journal
extra supplies bujo

If you’re into the more decorative side of bullet journaling, you’ll need:

Pencil: This is for outlining your spread before you commit. Not needed if you have a knack for spread-making.
Ruler: If you prefer straight lines over freehand. I especially like this one because it's small enough to fit in my pencil case!
Eraser: To erase pencil parks when you're finished.
“Spread” Pen: I use a special pen for spreads because it's bolder than my regular pen! These plastic nib pens are perfect for clear lines.
Stickers: Literally the easiest way to decorate a spread.

what are bullet journal spreads
Spreads = pages with themes. Typically, they are spread (ya see where the word comes from?) across two pages so you can see everything when you set your journal down. You can make these depending on what you need to work on! My spreads range from blog brainstorming to restaurants I want to check out. You use the designated "spread" space to do all your planning or logging.

popular bullet journal spreads

year at a glance bullet journal spread

Year at a Glance: a full calendar view so you can see the year at a glance! This is found at the very start of your journal.
Month at a Glance: same concept, but these larger calendars are found at the start of each month so you can get an overview before diving into your daily activities.
Week at a Glance: the main area in your journal. It’s a daily rundown in the form of a full week so you can plan all on one spread (or you can use a page per day if you prefer).
Habit trackers: a tracking system for your habits such as water intake, exercise, sleep etc. You can make a chart or get creative with this one. I use a social media tracker for my online growth. Again, it’s based on your needs!

*note that these are ALL optional.

diy bullet journal spreads
This is the fun part! I’ll be honest, I don’t always come up with my spreads. Yay for the internet! Browse on Instagram, Pinterest, or YouTube and you will be flooded with ideas. I find spread inspiration on Instagram (#bujoinspo) and riff off of anything I like. I’d recommend searching for specific things. For example, “monthly spread bujo”, “weekly spread bujo”, “habit tracker ideas”. My spread-making process: Sketch with pencil, go over with ink, erase all pencil marks, then decorate. Time to make a spread ranges between 10-30 minutes.

maintaining a bullet journal

Let me say this first: YOU WILL GET BETTER AT SPREADS. Don’t tell me otherwise! The photo below will reveal what my first spread ever looked like. OKAY? Never put pressure on yourself when using your bullet journal. The whole idea is to do the opposite. Start archaically basic, at your own pace, and gradually get comfortable with your journal. The more you make spreads, the easier it will come. You will eventually understand what you want it to do for you. I 100% promise. I've been using my bullet journal for almost two years after juggling with pre-made planners for over TEN years. This has been the best solution to my planning struggles.

weekly spread bullet journal

first bullet journal

Please tell me if you do! If you’re a seasoned bullet journaler, let me know what your favorite things about your bujo. As always, I’m open to helping anyone who needs it. I post my personal spreads every Sunday on Instagram Stories and I save them under a highlight, so if you need inspiration from me that’s where you can go! Best of luck with your bullet journal journey.


  1. I love this! I already bullet journal for everything related to my blog, but your post reinforces the simplicity of the system while leaving room for creative flair.

    1. I'm so glad you think so! Simplicity is something I think most forget about the amazing bullet journal.


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