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How To Start A Bullet Journal When You’re Overwhelmed

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A bullet journal can be amazing once you figure out how to use it. This bullet journal starter kit will simplify the ins and outs of bullet journaling so you can organize your life.

journals with pen; how to start a bullet journal when you're feeling overwhelmed

I started my bullet journal at a time when I felt so overwhelmed by the day to day responsibilities of life I felt like my brain would burst. 

I was struggling to find that sweet spot of productivity. You know like in the movies when their husband gets home and the kids are well put together, the house is immaculate, and there’s a 7 course meal prepared. 

Yeah, I was nowhere close! 

I knew there had to be a way to get this never-ending to do list out of my brain so I could actually enjoy time with my family instead of constantly thinking about the meals for next week or how I forgot to start the laundry

You win this time dust bunnies! 

If this sounds like you, a bullet journal may be the perfect solution! 

You’ll be able to stay organized by jotting down important information right when it pops in your head. 

Find out everything you need to know about starting a bullet journal and getting the most benefit from your bullet journal.

What is a bullet journal?

It’s an organizational system that’s customizable to you. A bullet journal can be a mix of a diary, to-do list, sketchbook, or anything else you want to use it for. 

That’s the awesome thing about a bullet journal, you make the rules!

It’s a small notebook you can carry with you wherever you go that’ll help you organize your thoughts and keep you productive.  

Since it’s completely customizable, you can use your bullet journal however you’d like.

The basic concept is that you jot down notes or bullet points so you can quickly look at your information.

You want to keep your notes short and simple while still getting your idea across.

Bullet journaling is a way for you to record things currently happening and to record your future plans.

The key to having a practical bullet journal is to not overthink it and make it useful for your needs.

There are so many possibilities. Make it as simple or complex as you want it.

Eventually, you’ll figure out a method that works best for you.

Bullet Journal Lingo

In the bullet journaling world, they use a lot of words that don’t make sense to us common folks.

Here’s a simple guide to words commonly used when people talk about bullet journaling.

  • Bujo: this means bullet journal – Bu (bullet) Jo (journal)
  • Spread: pages in your bullet journal notebook
    • Single spread: one page 
    • Double spread: both pages
    • You can also have a weekly spread or a daily spread
  • Collection: each topic in your bullet journal
    • Examples: shopping list or gift ideas tracker
  • Rapid logging: making quick notes
  • Daily log: anything you make notes about on a certain day
  • Monthly log: a calendar marked with everything you plan to do that month
  • Future log: things you have planned for the year
  • Migration: moving uncompleted tasks from one month to another month
    • Typically done at the end of the month
  • Index: table of contents
  • Task page: a list of stuff you want to get done
weekly spread photo via unsplash-logoEstée Janssens

How it works

Trying to explain how to use a bullet journal can get wordy and confusing.

Luckily, the creator of the bullet journal, Ryder Carroll, has made this easy to follow video explaining the ins and outs of starting a bullet journal. 

If you’re unable to watch the video, I’ve done my best to explain how to set up your bullet journal.

To get started, brainstorm a few pages so it’ll be easier to create your index. 

Then, begin numbering a few pages of your journal.

Start creating your logs as you see fit.

Future Log

It’s easiest to start with your future log first. This will cover four pages.

When I schedule a new appointment or if something comes up, I can open right to my future log and jot it down before adding it to my monthly log later.

Keep in mind that you don’t have to plan your entire year. Just do a few logs at a time until you figure out what method works best for you.

There won’t be much in your index so don’t let that make you feel like you’re doing something wrong. As you add new pages, go to your index and update it.

Monthly Log

Next, create your monthly log.

Monthly tasks are things like “cancel gym membership” or “clean out the fridge.”

Do one month at a time when you’re first starting out.

Once you’ve finished your monthly log you can move on to your daily log.

Daily Log

This is where you’ll do your rapid logging.

At the end of each month, take a look back at everything you’ve accomplished.

Then look at what you didn’t accomplish and decide if you want to try again next month.

If you don’t want to migrate those tasks just mark through them. Try not to erase them in case you decide later on you want to tackle that task another month.

If you’re not sure when you want to do that task, move it to the future log.

Signifiers to consider using:

  • “X” - use this over the bullet to mark completed tasks
  • “<” - use this over the bullet for scheduled tasks
  • “>” - use this over the bullet for uncompleted tasks that you plan to migrate

Why you should try it

What you need to get started

When picking your bullet journal, make sure it’s small enough so you’ll actually carry it.

If it’s too big it’ll become a hassle and you won’t bring it which means you won’t use it.

If it’s too small you won’t be able to write everything in it that you’d like which again means you won’t use it.

Make sure you get a good quality bullet journal that can withstand being opened frequently and tossed in your purse or wherever you plan to store it.

And lastly, don’t spend a lot of money on supplies. Especially if this is your first bullet journal.

You’re still learning what works for you so you don’t want a bunch of colored pens laying on your desk drying out and collecting dust.

1. Leuchtturm 1917 Medium A5 Dotted Hardcover Notebook

 This is the most popular choice of bullet journalers. People will even recognize this notebook!

The dot grid allows more freedom than having lines to write on.

What you’ll love:

  • It’s a great size which means you’ll carry it
  • Plenty of color choices
  • Pens don’t bleed through the pages
  • Great quality and size
  • Has 2 bookmarks
  • Designated space for index
  • Ivory paper so it’s not too bright
  • Pages are already numbered
  • Back pocket to store items
  • Ribbon to keep the notebook closed

What could be improved:

  • The paper might be too thin

2. Water Resistant Pens

Sharpies will help information stand out more.

Plus if you love to doodle, these sharpies are worth a try.

What you’ll love:

  • No smudging
  • No bleeding through pages
  • Waterproof
  • Easy to make precise lines
  • Case stands up
  • Can last for a long time without drying up

What could be improved:

  • Doesn’t have a hand grip

3. Colored Pens

Colorful pens will help you keep things organized.

You can use your key to color coordinate certain topics or you can use different colors for everything.

What you’ll love:

  • Smooth to write with
  • No bleeding through pages
  • Multiple color choices
  • Precise writing
  • Last awhile without drying
  • Ink dries quickly- no smudging

What could be improved:

  • The tips sometimes split making them useless

4. Washi Tape

Washi tape is great for decorating and sprucing up your journal!

What you’ll love:

  • Awesome color and pattern choices
  • The rolls are long
  • Easy to tear and use

What could be improved:

  • The tape may not always stick well

5. Helix Stainless Steel Ruler

A ruler is great for when you’re just starting your journal and making your future log.

What you’ll love:

  • Cork back so it moves smoothly
  • Fits in journal pocket
  • Great small size
  • Slightly transparent

What could be improved:

  • If you peel off the price tag you might have a sticky area

6. Pencil Case

Having a pencil bag is great because you can carry all of your supplies with you.

If you’re going somewhere you’ll be waiting, like a doctor’s appointment, you can pull out your bujo and your supplies to keep you occupied.

What you’ll love:

  • Great for travel
  • Holds a lot
  • Easy to find what you’re looking for
  • Velcro pouch doesn’t flop open
  • Durable
  • Separate compartments
  • Multiple color options

7. Post-it Super Sticky Notes

If you want things to stand out a bit more, these post its should do the trick.

They’re small enough that you can stick them right on the page.

And they actually stay put!

Plus the great bright colors will make them stand out so these make great reminders.

8. Tabs

Tabs are great if you don’t want to look at your index all the time.

Just place tabs on important pages so you can flip right to them.

These stick well and can be reapplied multiple times without falling off.

9. Planner Stickers 

This is the best part! We get to take a break from adulting and tap into our 5-year-old self again.

These stickers are fun to add to your journal.

They stick well, but can also be gently pulled off and moved somewhere else.

The colors are cheerful and have a glossy finish.

Some also have inspiring quotes, reminders, and stickers for special occasions as well.

Bullet Journal Kit

If you want something that’s already put together to see if bullet journaling is even “your thing,” you should start here.

This journal is a great size and already comes with everything you should need.

The pocket in the back is great for storing supplies you plan to use like stickers and your ruler.

The pages are not numbered so when you get your journal that’s the first thing you should do.

Still on the fence?

Ryder, the inventor of bullet journaling, has a useful Q&A that might answer some of those questions floating around in your head.

Famous last words…

Bullet journaling is definitely worth a try. It’s complicated to explain how it works, but it’s easy to do. 

This is your journal. You can make your own rules. 

You’ll feel more organized and productive. 

You can only remember so much information before you sit in your chair and stare blankly into space with your never-ending to-do list pacing through your brain. 

If you start your bullet journal and decide paper and pencil isn’t for you, Goodnotes is a great electronic alternative. 

It’s time to take your day back and be present in the moment.

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