Maybe you’ve thought about starting a bullet journal before, but don’t know where to start. Or maybe you’ve wanted to give bullet journaling a try, but you’re intimidated by all the beautiful bullet journal pages on Pinterest. If you’re afraid to start a bullet journal because you fear you don’t have the time (or artistic skills) to make it work, there’s hope:

You don’t have to be an artistic genius to start a bullet journal. Nor do you need to devote days every week to sketching pretty pictures in kaleidoscopic colors.

In fact, while making your bullet journal “pretty” can be fun, it’s not required. The most important thing about bullet journaling is that it is FAST, FUNCTIONAL, and it WORKS FOR YOU.

With that in mind, here is a step-by-step guide for beginners on how to start a bullet journal – the easy way.

(Don’t know what a bullet journal is or why they’re one of the best parenting tools I’ve discovered? Then check out my other posts on bullet journaling first.)

RELATED POST: The Ultimate Bullet Journal Gift List

RELATED POST: How Bullet Journaling Has Made Me A Better Parent

How to Start a Bullet Journal (The Easy Way)

1. Get over your mental blocks

This was the most important thing I had to do before I started my first bullet journal. I didn’t really know much about BuJo (as it’s sometimes called for short) at the time, but I knew I did NOT have the time or energy to make all those mesmerizing spreads that so many bullet journalers love to post on social media.

Once I told myself that my bullet journal was going to be purely functional, and NOT beautiful, I felt a weight lifted.

If you’ve thought about trying BuJo, but all that artwork intimidates you, DON’T let it! That was the complete opposite of what Ryder Carroll, the founder of the bullet journal, intended. Look at his Getting Started pages for a useful reality check.

Also, don’t forget that you can start a bullet journal any day of the year. I only learned about BuJo in mid-January of last year, and didn’t set up my first notebook until the month was almost over! So if the fact that the year is already underway is the only thing holding you back, don’t let it!

2. Gather your supplies

A. The Must-Haves

Want to start a bullet journal, but not sure how? This step-by-step beginner's guide to starting a bullet journal will help you overcome your mental blocks and get going!

There are only two supplies you truly need to start a bullet journal:

  1. A notebook.
  2. A pen.

That’s it. While many BuJo lovers are addicted to their expansive collections of gel pens and washi tape, these are NOT essential. Oodles of fun, yes. Money- and time-sucking, yes. But not essential.

Want to start a bullet journal, but not sure how? This step-by-step beginner's guide to starting a bullet journal will help you overcome your mental blocks and get going!

My two 2017 notebooks, taped together and covered with clear contact paper.

You can use any notebook or notepad for bullet journaling, but many bullet journalers like dot-grid format notebooks, because it’s easy to make columns and charts. And a 5″x8″ format fits nicely into a purse, tote bag, or backpack, so you can easily bring it with you everywhere. (The fact that it’s small enough to fit in my purse, and I can use it even when I’m offline or somewhere phones aren’t allowed, is reason #1 why I’m a BuJo convert.)

Compare prices on dot-grid notebooks anything under $20 for a hardcover notebook is a great price!

When I began my first bullet journal, I wasn’t sure if I would stick with it, so I bought a single 96-page dot-grid notebook. Halfway through the year, I bought another similar one, and taped the two together.


Want to start a bullet journal, but not sure how? This step-by-step beginner's guide to starting a bullet journal will help you overcome your mental blocks and get going!

New year, new Bullet Journal book. So now that it’s a new year, I have a single 192-page notebook, with an expander pocket in the back for holding receipts and stuff. (It even has a pen loop!)

Want to start a bullet journal, but not sure how? This step-by-step beginner's guide to starting a bullet journal will help you overcome your mental blocks and get going!

 

UPDATE: Beginning in 2019, I finally splurged on the notebook most Bullet Journalers prefer, a hardcover 1917 Leuchtturm dotted 250-page notebook. This is by far the best notebook I’ve tried, and worth the cost. They usually run around $20, so if you can find one for less than that, grab it.
Check prices on the notebook most Bullet Journalers prefer.

 

B. Optional add-ons

As noted above, a lot of bullet journalers love gel pens in a rainbow of colors. These are fun for drawing gorgeous pictures and amazing embellishments in your bullet journal. But they are NOT required.

Want to start a bullet journal, but not sure how? This step-by-step beginner's guide to starting a bullet journal will help you overcome your mental blocks and get going!

Nor is washi tape, though there are plenty of clever things you can do with it (as the examples in this post illustrate). Nor, for that matter, are bullet journaling stickers or stencils.

These things CAN make bullet journaling easier; they’re the tools used in many fancy BuJo layouts on Pinterest. But they are truly optional.

I don’t use any of these things. Instead, my must-have “optional” tools for bullet journaling are correction tape and a short (8-inch) ruler. It’s easy to mis-number a calendar, for example (hence the correction tape). And while some people like Xing a box to indicate that a task is complete, I prefer coloring in the box. A short ruler makes this easier to do neatly; ditto for drawing straight lines to divide sections.



Want to start a bullet journal, but not sure how? This step-by-step beginner's guide to starting a bullet journal will help you overcome your mental blocks and get going!

I confess that I’m also a huge fan of color-coding. So while my Bullet Journal isn’t full of marks from gel pens, I do have a collection of colored ballpoint pens, with which I note (for example) the habits I track each month. My pens and correction tape all fit in a small zippered pencil case that’s easy to toss into my purse, along with my bullet journal.


3. Start with breaking in and page numbering

When you open your new notebook for the first time, “breaking it in” (see this post for how-to and why) is a good idea. This will help to keep the pages intact as you work your way through it, so they don’t fall out of the notebook.

Want to start a bullet journal, but not sure how? This step-by-step beginner's guide to starting a bullet journal will help you overcome your mental blocks and get going!

Next – before you forget – write your name and phone number inside the front cover, just in case you misplace your bullet journal.

After that, number the pages. Be careful NOT to miss any as you go; if you do, that’s what the correction tape is for. To save time, you only have to number every other page (usually the odd pages, in the lower right hand corner). But if this will drive you nuts, go ahead and number them all. Or number the even-sided (left) page whenever you open to it and start writing on it. Whatever works for you.

(Note: If completing this step will drive you bonkers, you can buy notebooks with pre-numbered pages that are designed for bullet journaling.)

4. Set up your notebook’s basic structure

Once you’ve got your supplies and prepped your notebook, all you need to start a bullet journal is five basic sections. Nearly all bullet journalers include some form of these sections, or “modules,” in their bullet journal:

  • A Key, which is where you list the marks and symbols you’ll use to track things, or any color-coding you’ll use throughout the book.
  • An Index (table of contents), where you list what is on each page of your bullet journal as you fill it in.
  • A Future Log,<