My advice for beginners

Even since I “officially” started Bullet Journaling in May it seems like the BuJo has swept the nation! A lot of folks are starting their journey and finding their own version of peace with a system that will help them get shit done.  There’s a lot of stuff out there – how do we start? I talk a little bit about this in a previous post, but this is for Bullet Journaling specifically.  If you’re looking for specific, step by step, I talk about that here as I set up a work bullet journal.

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Why am I doing this? The power of purpose shouldn’t be underestimated, and in this case, centering yourself always on the reason why you’re planning in the first place.  It is SO easy to get swept up in all the crazy stuff that’s out there, endless articles, Pins, Instagram accounts… so it’s important to know why YOU are doing this.  I personally don’t plan just to plan, I plan in order to:

  • Free up mind-space to tackle big creative problems by not worrying about little tasks
  • Honor the commitments I’ve made personally and professionally by making sure I’m on track and don’t lose small tasks
  • Maximize time that I do have to be efficient in things that should be – errands, small tasks, insurance-y things
  • Above all, create intention about how I’m spending my time, making time for people I care about

Often I need this reminder when I get swept up in how BEAUTIFUL people’s layouts are, how neat someone’s handwriting is, or how creative someone’s list is… I’m not personally planning to get stuck in all that – so I need to let go of trying to be someone I’m not in my planner.

Focus on the “how/why” and less on the “stuff”. As with any other industry, it’s easy to feel like what we have is inadequate – we don’t have the “It” notebook, the right pens, the best traveler’s notebook, bag…. it gets. insane.  This economy THRIVES on our sense of inadequacy and we need to remember what marketers wish you didn’t know – you are ENOUGH, your supplies are ENOUGH, and … buying this stuff won’t make you organized just like buying that workout top won’t give you abs. You have to make the changes in your habits, using these supplies, in order to see the results you want.

  • Start cheap to test it out. Target has great dot grid notebooks, Moleskine Cahier notebooks are widely available, your ballpoint pen will work to start out.  I’ve wasted too much money on expensive planners or fancy pens before really giving it a go to see if I even liked them or used them.
  • Buy pens individually instead of diving in with an entire pack – test it out before you commit to the whole box! Don’t spend 15 bucks to discover you hate the Staedtler pens.
  • This may stir some of you but I believe we CAN have too much stuff. No, just because you “like” it doesn’t mean you are justified in purchasing your 19083th roll of washi tape.  Excess stuff distracts from the purpose of what you’re doing, it takes up physical and mental space, it costs a lot of money as well as time in maintaining and sorting it.  Be ruthless in your standards for your things.
  • Note: * Some of the above links may be affiliate links, which means if you happen to buy something I receive a small commission (at no additional cost to you). Thank you for your support! (Learn more here)

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Take the time to reflect on what works. A lot of new folks will come to a decision point of “should I use dot grid or grid?” “hard cover or soft cover?” “which pens?” asking for others to tell them what to do.  This has always seemed crazy to me.  I can’t tell you what to do – I don’t know your life, how you want to use this stuff, or your personal preferences – you have to do the work of figuring that out.  Then, make the decision and take ownership over that, failure or triumph! We can certainly give you pros and cons but we can’t choose for you.

  • Think about what you need the stuff to do and how you will actually use it. See how I reflected on what notebooks to use to see what I mean. This is unglamorous work and will save you a ton of time and money later.
  • What do you want to track and have in front of you? Weather? Meals? Journaling? Social media? Exercise? Moods? Be picky!
  • Grids and dot grids are helpful because you can line up boxes more easily than in ruled – my preference.
  • A big decision is weekly or a daily – I definitely use a weekly.
  • See that photo up there? That highlights many stages of my bullet journal as I refined and refined week after week on what worked for me. Through this I keep the focus of the planner as a TOOL that serves my needs and I can change it however I want to or need to.
  • I change my layouts regularly – see what I did for October, October experiments, NovemberDecember, January, February, March, April, May, June, July  as examples of how I adjusted the layout to work better for me in that moment.
  • When you think about what collections or lists to have in your Bullet Journal, just add whatever you want. Don’t add lists just because other people have them, add them because you’ll ACTUALLY reference them or use them. Here are a few of mine.

Check out this video to see what I mean by “I didn’t get here overnight” – I flip through ALL of my bullet journals from last May 2015 to March 2016 and show you how I had to do a lot of work to figure out what works for ME – I hope you go through a similar process! There is so much joy in becoming.

My other less philosophical advice:

  • There are a lot of terms.  Here is a list of quite a few of them with their definitions.
  • The original system is done in any ol’ notebook. But other options can be disc-bound, binders, Happy Planners, or Traveler’s Notebooks too.
  • Washi tape is massively useful in your planner
  • Fine tip pens (I’ve loved the Pilot Juice gel pens, Faber Castell marker tips, and Pilot Hi-Tec Coleto) help my writing look neater
  • If you mess up, turn the page, don’t tear it out!! 
  • Bulldog clips keep the pages open in notebooks that don’t lay flat – I keep my planner open all day so I keep reminding myself of what I need to do
  • I like adding the things I accomplished outside of my original list – it gives me a more accurate idea of what I did that day. Instead of a task box I just add a checkmark
  • Just DO THE WORK! Nothing will replace that step – which is too bad because I was hoping my papers would grade themselves if I just wrote it down…

What about you? What do you suggest?



29 thoughts on “My advice for beginners

  1. I could not agree more with everything you’ve written. Lol. Seems like your journey of planner discovery has been very similar to mine this year. Great advice for people just starting out.


  2. I think that is a passionate, thoughtful, full of common sense posting. So many things we forget or get caught up in when starting something new. So many truths. Thank you for the reminders that me, my notebook and a few pens (I like colour) ARE ENOUGH!
    Sue (London UK)


  3. I agree wholeheartedly with what you are saying. How I keep my journal/planner isn’t how anyone else does or should. I have my calendar and journal in one book. I love how it fills up with ‘things’ I stick in there as the months go by and I do things or see a pretty picture I like. So no, my planner isn’t a Bujo as such. But that’s how I keep a lot of my tasks is bullet journaling. I have taken a little bit here and a little bit there and molded it to fit me!


  4. This post is great! I’m just starting with Bullet Journal and there are amazing things but there are a lot too. I’ll start using mine in January and I can’t wait to experiment what works for me and what doesn’t.


  5. You are on target! I just decluttered 117 markers, Gelly roll pens, brushes and the like this week. PLUS rubber stamps and embellishments, paints AND A LOT OF FREAKING PAPER and other craft and journaling supplies this year. Hundreds and hundreds of wasted dollars. Real money. Because I needed to have all the cool stuff that went with my craft of the month. At last I became so claustrophobic in my office/craft room because there was too much stuff to even put it all away. I have learned a big big lesson this year and I’m still getting rid of stuff. And all the containers and organizers to hold it all. (All nicely matched and decorated) it breaks my heart.
    My planner has changed, like yours has, over time. So I only print out a few weeks worth of pages at a time since I’m still in flux. I can’t live without a planner, and I have found the right BuJo hybrid layout and the right pen for now, but in March, if my life takes a left turn, the planner will change with me.


  6. Great advice. I actually read the whole thing. I’m looking forward to January 1st when I will “officially” be using my graph paper Miquel Rius. I have been writing “future log” and notes in it already, but soon I will be using it all the time. I like the idea of the clip to hold it open.


  7. I have been toying with trying the bullet journaling for some time. I see all these fun examples and then I talk myself out of it because I am afraid that I would obsess over how it looks. Thanks for pointing out that I need to be happy with how I can make it look and not compare it to anyone elses.


  8. Crazy good advice….I have been obsessing about all the planner “stuff” to get/buy. It really can consume a person. Which is kinda pointless since I am endeavoring to make my life less consumed BY ORGANIZING!


  9. This is the best post. My husband gave me a Cinch bookbinder for Christmas. I was excited to make my own planner/journal for 2nd semester and BOOM! Journaling must be done in a Lecheturn1917 dot grid with a blah, blah, blah… Teaching middle school math, loving ♡ interactive notebooks, that just isn’t “me”. Your post made me happy.


  10. Stumbled upon your page and loving the advice. I have so many sticky notes in my planner and need a system to just keep it written in one place. Am going to give it bullet journaling a try this year. I will keep reading your posts for more advice. 🙂


      1. It’s a bit more work but does help with organizing my thoughts. I have not tried different pens. Will venture with that after I figure out a better routine. I need to practice my handwriting so this is good.


  11. I have set up 2 bullet journals a work one and a personal one. They are very different. My work bullet journal is much bigger. Somewhere between A5 and A4, and has around 500 pages (needed as meeting notes can take 2 or 3 pages and my tasks for the day often take a whole page). All I use in it is a black bic biro and a yellow Steatler boss highlighter and is very very similar to the original bullet journal system. My personal bullet journal still uses the index, and the future, monthly and daily logs and though I do use it to remember and track things, it is mainly a tool to remind me how fantastic my life is. I have tried keeping journals before but gave up because I thought I didn’t have enough to say. Now I just list my tasks and events and just stick in photos, tickets, brochures and menus with whatever tape I have. I did splash out on a leuchturm 1917 dot grid in Berry, but I love using it, and there is no way I am buying another journal until this is full. I also use those bic pens that have 4 colours in the barrel, 1 has red green blue and black the other has pink purple lime green and turquouse blue……just 2 pens. So I fully agree that whatever you have is enough, what is important is what you need it for. I’ll also be a bit controversial here. It’s not necessary to put stuff in your bullet journal every day….if you’re having a duvet day what are you planning or reminding yourself of? The important thing is that it serves a purpose. ☺


    1. Mary, you are striking a chord! I love that you can document your life in it. When I hear hilarious quotes, I’ll write that into my bullet journal too. It’s fun to look back on later for sure. I integrate my work and personal tasks together, but keep my notes separate at my work notebook. I have such a short attention span I just keep jumping to different supplies! Sigh.


  12. I’ve seen how it works on different websites. Is there a way to use different symbols so you’re
    not using the same symbols over in your journal.? Do you know of an easier way to change the
    Pattern to something that’s not going to side track your attention away from trying it and never
    doing it? I could use some help with this. If I were to come up with a new way to outline a good
    system then I will let you know what I come up with.☺


  13. Thanks for the tips! I found blog from Dawn Nicole Designs; I see it a couple of years old but I found some useful tips! I don’t actually bullet journal, I am list maker so some of the ideas apply. I really like the reflect idea because I find myself excite to use my planner and I find myself dreading it so I think reflecting on past lists/layouts will me with that.


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