Bullet Journaling: How Do I Start?

Getting started with Bullet Journaling can look different for different people... as it should. You don’t have to jump right in with multiple notebooks, categories, and habit trackers to see the benefits, but you do need to find the first steps that work for you.

Before we dig into the “How,” it’s worthwhile to remember the “Why.” What are the benefits?

  • We can read articles and listen to podcasts all day, but nothing beats knowing yourself.
  • You’ll start to make changes that actually affect your life positively.
  • You will start to understand other people better — you’ll become a social scientist of sorts.

For the purpose of this article, we’re going to focus on how different types of people (A, B, doesn’t matter) can get started with Bullet Journaling. If you need a refresher as to WTF a Bullet Journal is and why you might want to use one, this article will help.

Let’s get started.

To know how to start, you need to know where you are. It’s always important to acknowledge your true starting point, not the starting point you wish was yours.

#1: If it’s all really overwhelming and you don’t know where to start.

First, breathe. Next, say a calming mantra to yourself like, “I am enough, just as I am, but I always want to be better,” or “This is just one more step towards greatness.”

Let’s begin.

Give every page a page number so that you can feel a mark of progression each time you complete an entry. This will also help you after a month or so, when you go back and count the pages that had one certain piece of data in common. But we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

Start logging your daily tasks and observations using a bullet system. 

Most people do something like this:

o = to do
x = completed
> = postponed
< = overdue
# = unexpected
^ = feeling or emoticon

Choose two categories to track for one period of time. 

For instance, you can pick WATER and FEELINGS for ONE MONTH. Each day during that month, track how much water you want to drink, how much water you actually drink, how you want to feel, and how you actually feel. This will help show you how much water affects how you feel. Make sense?

You can add more categories as you go! Or, if that sentence just gave you a mini panic attack, stick with the two.

Last thing — if the details overwhelm you but creativity and art calm you, fill your journal with quotes and designs. 

Own your right-brained self and keep your pages filled with things that inspire you to meddle in the left-brained details for awhile. Trust me, it helps.

#2: If you’re convinced enough to start, but intimidated enough to give up.

This is the category I fit into. I have enough FOMO to get me interested in bullet journaling, but I’m scatter-brained enough to be tempted to call it quits. You’ll use a lot of the same rules already mentioned, but take it a little bit further so you can get more out of it.

The best place to start is with 4-5 categories.

It's a little bit more than the previous section, but still manageable. And, just like mentioned above, the best thing to do is remain consistent. Set an alarm on your phone that will ring right before bedtime, so that you actually remember to write an entry.

Using symbols is still critical.

If you want to get fancy you can start to create more symbols. For instance, if you plan on tracking water usage, use a water drop symbol. Or if you are going to track emotions, draw out some emojis. Not only will this add creative flare to your pages, it will also help you see at-a-glance how you feel each day. WIN WIN.

For each category that you track, you want to make sure that you are actually in a season of life where those categories make sense. 

For instance, if you have desires to one day train for a marathon, but you know you aren’t right now, maybe wait to add that category. There’s already too much pressure and you don’t need to make yourself feel guilty. Start with your basic needs — food, water, sleep, health — and go from there.

This is also a great time to add a category that you may have honest questions about. 

Wondering how much different types of alcohol affect your energy levels? Curious to see if you have developed a milk allergy? Did your mom mention that sugar affects your skin and you want to prove her wrong? Start tracking, baby.

Commit to one month of bullet journaling for all five categories. 

I KNOW. But you can do hard things, you are stronger than you believe, etc etc.

At the end of one month — go back and tally all of the symbols in each category over the span of the entire month. 

How many days did you get the amount of sleep you wanted to? How often did you feel the way you wanted to? How many days did you have a headache, or feel low-energy? You can use colored markers to make this section easier to read, and you can use a list-format or make it look like an at-a-glance calendar.

Take 15 minutes on the last day of the month to use one page in your journal to write your observations about your data. 

Did it show you anything interesting? Do you want to adjust any of your goals for the next month? Was your mother right after all?

Rinse and repeat and trust that you are learning more about yourself than you knew you needed to. 

You and your glorious, beautiful self are well on your way to enlightenment. YAS QUEEN.

#3: If detail is your middle name, then bullet journaling is your game.

Do you have an average of 100 to-do lists on post-it notes that float around your desk/purse/bathroom mirror? Have you tried to use apps like TrelloWunderlist, or Google Keep, and find immense joy from their aesthetics and efficiency? Do you constantly think about the things you have to do with a huge smile on your face? Do you put things on your to-do list that you’ve already completed, just to get the satisfaction of crossing it off? (Guilty.)

Well, bullet journaling is like a diary and planner and to-do list on steroids. If the above two sections felt like you could do them in your sleep, then it’s time to take it to an even more detailed level.

My best advice is to stay organized, even amidst all these details. 

Use categories — as many as you want! Create a rhythm in the pages of your journal, like this: symbols, monthly to-do list, calendar of events, weekly to-do list, weekly events, tracking. As you repeat this rhythm each month, you’ll start to develop a set way of learning about yourself, which can only lead to good things.

As you do your monthly reviews and analysis, start to make specific goals based on those learnings. 

For example, if your data shows you that you are the most productive when you wake up and start your day at 7:00am, you might be motivated to hit ‘snooze’ a little less often.

If it ever feels overwhelming, scale back on the categories. 

Focus on just one or two per month if it helps you get the swing of it better. Who knows what you can learn by zooming in on one aspect of your life?

If you’re looking for more, you’ll probably love this.

Remember that starting something new is always hard.

Here are a few of the ways you can expect Bullet Journaling to be hard too.

  • It’s a thing that you have to do consistently in order for it to work.
  • You might become obsessed with learning all about yourself, which can feel vain at first. But hey, we’ve only got one life to lead, why not become your own biggest fan?
  • You will be confronted with all of your most vulnerable habits — the good and the bad. It turns out that binging on donuts and documenting that you ate broccoli is not going to get you the data you need — so ya gotta be honest.

No matter where you start, or where you end up, or how hard it is in the middle, the goal should remain the same: to know thyself. That can only result in good stuff.


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