What is a Bullet Journal and How To Set It Up in 8 Easy Steps

A bullet journal could be described as a flexible notebook – a kind of a mix of a to-do list, a diary, a notebook and a calendar. It is structured but also flexible and leaves enough space for creativity.

A bullet journal is a great tool for people who:

  • are into goal setting and habit tracking,
  • are fans of planners and calendars,
  • have a million to-do lists floating around,
  • want to be organized, and
  • like pen and paper, journaling, scrapbooking, stationery, etc.

A bullet journal is a method of journaling and note-taking that uses bullet points as the core structure. It has a basic structure with categories like the index (=table of contents), a future log (=yearly overview with events), monthly, weekly and daily logs (=overviews/ calendar pages).

The main idea behind the bullet journal is that you jot down quick notes instead of writing long sentences. With a bullet journal you can keep track of the most important tasks, events and other things (like for example individual lists like your “favorite quotes” or “books I want to read”).   

Keeping things organized with minimal effort makes it easier for people to stick to journaling and to structure and “migrate” (=take over to the next day/week/month) tasks if you didn’t manage to get them done.

In a bullet journal you jot down things very quickly using different symbols to categorize them. The bullet journal website calls this “rapid logging”.

Bullet journaling helps you record all of the things that are going on in your life and makes it easy to keep track of the things you want to do in the future. But it is also just a nice way to unplug or unwind before bed or to sort your thoughts, ideas and plans for the day in the morning.

Some people put a lot of effort into making their bullet journal look beautiful and fancy…using all sorts of pens, patterns, stickers or washi tape…

And you can do that, too, but you certainly don’t have to do it.

You can keep it in the simplest form and if you don’t want to spend too much time journaling, the bullet journal allows you to write down the most important things in just a few minutes. And I’m pretty sure that even just 5 minutes a day will give you more structure and clarity.

I believe that journaling can improve your life immensely and take away a lot of stress because you will never again forget important things, you’ll have your weekly goals at a glance  or never again search for the to-Do or best-of lists you’ve put somewhere…   

Step 1: Get a Journal you like

Setting up a Bullet Journal, also called “BuJo”, starts with getting yourself a good notebook. You can get journals in different sizes and designs. My personal preference is an A5 size journal with dotted pages and an artistic design like this one but I also like the black Leuchtturm1917 Journals.

So let’s start to set up your Bullet Journal:

Step 2: Your bullet journal should start with an index

All pages need to be numbered so if you got a journal without numbering you should start numbering the pages first. The bullet journal index is like a book index, where you list all the important topics and the corresponding page numbers. Reserving 2 pages for the index should be enough.

bullet journal index

Every time you add a piece of new content (a daily log, monthly log, or a collection), you write down the title of that page and the page number on the index page.

Step 3: Create Your Future Log over the next 4 pages

The future log is basically a yearly overview of all events, holidays or birthdays you want to remember. You don’t have to fill it out in detail right away, just set up the pages for it, and then add to it as needed later.

You can choose any layout you like. One simple method is to divide each page in 3 sections (for 3 months) and schedule all the events, holidays, birthdays etc. you already know are coming up.

Note: Don’t forget to add the page number of your future logs to your index.

After creating the future log you could already start with your individual pages (the so-called “collections”). You could create a “movies I want to watch” collection or a “weight tracker” collection. And if you decide you want to add one of these pages later on (when you see that one movie page is not enough…), you can just create them wherever you are in the journal. Just add the page number to your index so you can easily find them. The “movies I want to watch” collection could be on the pages 4,22 and 63.

If you’re looking for more bullet journal page ideas, here are 58 Bullet Journal Ideas – Inspiring Page Ideas for Beginners & BuJo Experts.

Step 4: Create your monthly spread on the next two pages

A monthly spread of a bullet journal is a monthly calendar, where you list all the things you want to get done in that month on the right page and the dates on the left page. Then match your to-dos with the dates and list the things you want to get done next to the dates that you want them done.

 Don’t forget to check your future log for things you are supposed to complete this month.

Step 5 (optional): Create your own BuJo key page

Ryder Carroll came up with the Bullet Journal because he wanted to create a system where people can quickly jot down ideas and to-dos in bullet point form when they come up.

To distinguish between a task, a note and an event, he created different symbols to allow people to simply write it down, when they come across an idea/ to-do. So, a BuJo key or legend page is simply a quick reference guide to remind you of the meaning behind each symbol, if you’re choosing to create your own symbols.

Here’s an image of his basic symbols (left side) but you can get creative and use your own keys and symbols (right side).

bullet journal key

Step 6: Create your weekly log

Some people are just using weekly spreads (and no daily logs), others like to have both.

Weekly log can have various layouts and designs…

bullet journal weekly spread

Here’s another example of a weekly spread:

Step 7: Create you daily log

These are pages where you will jot down anything and everything worth noting like events, ideas or activities. You start with checking the previous days for any open to-dos and migrate them to the day (if they are important). You’ll also check your monthly spread for any planned to-dos or events.

As the day goes on you cross things off your to-do’s and make notes about ideas you came across.

You can also split your tasks in personal and business tasks like in this daily spread:

bullet journal daily spreads

Step 8: Create your bullet journal idea / collection pages

Collections are grouping your ideas. You can create collections like “movies you want to watch”, “countries you want to visit” or keep a page for all your “favorite motivational quotes”. If you want to get more ideas, head over to the 58 Bullet Journal Ideas – Inspiring Page Ideas for Beginners & BuJo Experts.

Here are some examples:

A Mood Tracker…

… or a health tracker like this…

bullet journal ideas weight tracker

You can create a page for anything that matters to you. Just remember to add the title and the page number(s) to the index page every time you create a new page.