A fabric-covered notebook with a red heart on a blue wooden surface next to a metallic pink pen.
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You only need these two things to start a bullet journal

27 Aug 2018

Want to give the bullet journal system a go but scared off by intricate online templates? Fear not, as it’s easier to get started than you might first think.

Whether you’re a person who loves being organised or a person who wants to get organised, you’ve probably come across the bullet journal method.

Developed by New York-based designer Ryder Carroll, the bullet journal (also known as BuJo) is a flexible note-taking and planning system that eschews digital devices and apps for the tried, tested and trusted old favourites: pen and paper.

I’ve been giving bullet journalling a rough go the last few months and, to pare it down to its bare bones, the only tools you truly need are just that – a notebook and pen. However, that’s not enough to teach you the process and get you started on your quest for bullet journal nirvana. For that, you will need to find your spirit guide.

Unfortunately, if you google ‘bullet journal’ right now, you will find yourself falling headfirst down a rabbit hole of written guides, YouTube tutorials and Instagram influencers creating stunning, intricate and intimidating journal spreads.

Yes, the world of bullet journal perfection is a lot to take in when you are new to the fold. Which is why I want to share just two resources that will get you started on the right foot.

1. The original bullet journal video

Carroll, the bullet journal creator, has gone on to develop a website and products devoted to his note-taking system. While the website is packed with resources you can use when you have found your feet on this road, the starting point is this video.

This will give you the very basics of the system. Once you have covered them, grab that notebook and pen and start bulleting. Integrate the symbols into your daily to-do lists, and get to grips with indexing your pages. What makes bullet journalling so popular is the flexibility of the system but, to find the unique format that works for you, you need to tackle the first stage of just feeling it out.

In terms of what notebook and what pen to use, the answer is whatever is within reach when you decide to start. Use whatever you have to hand because, at the early stages, you’re really just drafting your style. If you dive straight in with the fancy materials, you’ll scare yourself off the rough stuff.

Learning to bullet journal is a process and, if you’re the kind of person looking to learn it, you are also likely to be the kind of person who is precious about your stationery supplies. (If you have a stack of pretty notebooks you can’t write in because what you have to jot down isn’t worthy of their leather-bound good looks, I’m talking to you.)

Once you have a handle on it, this can be a very satisfying way of putting that stash of stationery to work. Get messy, then get good.

2. The Lazy Genius guide

There are many, many ‘ultimate guides’ to bullet journalling but, for someone easing themselves into the process, a lot of them get too advanced, too finicky or too specific too fast. So, stick with step one for a while until you are confident that you’re ready to progress to the next level. Then, the guide I recommend highly is from the Lazy Genius Collective.

This practical guide dispenses with the fancy frivolities more experienced journallers indulge in and sticks to the basics. I’m at this phase now where I’ve spent a few months trying the system and finding out what does and doesn’t work for me, and reading this guide helped me figure out how I want to improve my method without getting lost in time-sucking and unhelpful details.

You’re ready!

That’s it. You’re a bullet journaller now!

You don’t need to start off with stunning Instagrammable spreads to get your plans in order. In fact, aiming for boss-level journalling skills too soon will only make you fall out of love with what can be a hugely helpful system.

I’m only on step two myself, but it has been a good journey and I’m now committed to the bullet journal method. I’ve tried many apps for to-do lists and planning but I truly haven’t found anything better than this. So, grab that notebook and pen and get started!

Elaine Burke
By Elaine Burke

Elaine Burke was editor of Silicon Republic until 2023, and is now the host of For Tech’s Sake, a co-production from Silicon Republic and The HeadStuff Podcast Network. Elaine joined Silicon Republic in 2011 as a journalist covering gadgets, new media and tech jobs. She later served as managing editor before stepping up as editor in 2019. She comes from a background in publishing and is known for being particularly pernickety when it comes to spelling and grammar – earning her the nickname, Critical Red Pen.

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