How to Start a Bullet Journal in 2021

What’s your New Year’s resolution? Me, I’m not sure I believe in New Year’s resolutions — but I do believe in goals. One of my goals for 2021 is to keep up with my bullet journaling, especially when it comes to my Instagram (@journalwithhaley) and my Youtube channel of the same name.

If you’re someone who is goal-oriented with a mile-long to-do list, then a bullet journal might be just the thing for you. I started bullet journaling because it was the perfect way to combine my interest in art with my love for planning. But despite what you see on Instagram, there are many ways to bullet journal: you don’t need to be a collage artist or an influencer to get and stay organized.

Some people are fans of the fuctional bullet journal, lovingly referred to as “ugly bullet journaling.” Others, such as me, prefer the more elaborate spreads featured on Instagram and Pinterest. Whatever your cup of tea, bullet journaling can serve an important purpose in your life by helping you keep track of your appointments, habits, and goals. (I like to think of the bujo as a planner on steroids!)

Bullet journaling doesn’t need to be complicated, but there are a few things you should know before you dive into it. Firstly, you’re going to want to stock up on supplies. Below, I’ll talk about some of my favorites — and then walk you through the process of setting up your first bujo.

Bullet Journal Supplies for Beginners

Before you start bullet journaling in earnest, you’re going to need a few supplies to help you get started.

Bullet Journal

The bullet journal itself is the most important ingredient in the recipe for bujo success. What’s most important is finding a bullet journal that suits your personal tastes and style. If you aren’t happy with your bujo, you aren’t going to want to use it as often. The best thing you can do to get and stay organized is to choose a bullet journal you love — even if it means shelling out a few extra dollars for a higher-quality product.

A favorite in the bullet journaling community, and my personal pick, is the Leuchtturm 1917 dotted journal. This is a great bullet journal for pros and beginners alike because it’s already equipped with page numbers and a table of contents to help you keep track of your spreads. It also comes in a variety of colors to help you express your bright personality!

Some people prefer lined or gridded pages, but I am a fan of dotted because they let you draw neat lines without adding too much clutter to the page (or requiring a ruler). However, my favorite thing about the Leuchtturm is the quality of the paper. It’s neither too thick or too thin, and your fineliners and mildliners won’t bleed through to the next page.

Pens

Most people prefer to use pen (vs. pencil) in their bullet journals — and many bujo fanatics have strong opinions about their favorites. It can feel like listening to a foreign language if you aren’t familiar with the vocabulary. Here are some different types of pens you’ll want to know (and get your hands on) while bullet journaling:

  • Pigma Micron pens. A black artist’s pen is a must-have for any bullet journaler. Pigma Micron pens, made by Sakura, are fine-tipped artist’s pens perfect for drawing — or bullet journaing. The ink used in these pens is known for being incredibly long-lasting and pigmented.
  • Mildliners. Zebras Mildliners are pastel dual-tipped highlighters that won’t bleed through paper and aren’t as harsh on the eye as your typical neon school highlighters. They have a thick end and a thin end, making them perfect for detail work in your bujo.
  • Sarasa Clip pens. Zebra Sarasa Clip pens are extra-fine pointed gel pens that come in a rich variety of colors. The Milk set, made up of pretty pastels, is a favorite of bullet journalers the world over. If you can only choose one, go for the white, which is great for adding highlights to your hand-lettering.
  • Staedtler Triplus fineliners. Fineliners are extra-fine felt-tip pens used for adult coloring or bullet journaling to create incredible artwork and colorful accents. The extraordinarily fine tip of the Staetler Triplus fineliners allows for rich detail work in your bujo.
  • Pilot FriXion pens. Using pen makes many people nervous, since it cannot be erased. Enter the Pilot FiXion pen. Its innovative ink disappears with friction, allowing for the world’s first “erasable” gel pen. These are perfect for new bullet-journalers who worry about making mistakes, or for filling in your tasks and other items that might need to be changed in your spreads.

Washi Tape

Washi is a traditional handmade paper from Japan that has since been turned into decorative tape. One of the hallmarks of washi tape is its thin and delicate nature. Because of the lightweight texture of washi tape, it can easily be hand-torn to use as an accent in your bujo spreads.

You can find washi tape in thick or thin, and solid and printed, varieties. Every bullet journaler wants a diverse collection of washi to ensure that no two pages are exactly alike. Etsy is my favorite place for decorative, printed washi tape, while Aliexpress is a great place to find thin, pastel solids for accenting your everyday spreads.

Stickers

Stickers are the flair that makes every bullet journaler’s style unique. They allow you to easily theme your bujo pages, without needing to sketch out every detail. While some people, like myself, occasionally like to draw in their journals, the ultimate purpose of the bujo is functionality. Thus, there always comes a time when you want cute pages without expending a lot of energy — hence why stickers come in handy!

There are so many great places to find cute and unique bullet journal stickers. I like to support small artists on Etsy whenever possible, but you can also find stickers at your local craft store or online at retailers like Amazon or Aliexpress. If you’re on a budget, you can also create your own stickers by sketching or printing free clipart on adhesive paper, which can be bought for $10-15 at Amazon and most craft stores.

Tools

Other useful (and optional) tools to keep on hand for use in your bullet journal include:

  • Ruler. Dot journals allow you to connect lines freehanded, but rulers can still be helpful for neatness’ sake.
  • Compass. If you don’t feel comfortable hand-drawing circles, a compass can come in handy.
  • Scissors. Cutting up bits and pieces to glue into your bujo adds your own unique touch.
  • Glue sticks. Glue allows you to save ticket stubs and other memorabilia in your bujo. I like Elmer’s Craft Bond.
  • Scrapbook paper. Sometimes, you want a more interesting backdrop than plain dotted paper.
  • Stamps. Stamps can either be decorative or functional, preventing you from needing to freehand details.

How to Start a Bullet Journal

Once you’ve gathered your materials, you’re ready to get organized. If this is your first bullet journal, here are the steps you should follow to set up your bujo for 2021:

1. Create an index.

Some journals, like the Leuchtturm 1917, come with an index already made, but others require you to draw your own. An index is basically a table of contents for your bullet journal. Feel free to make it as functional or creative as you like. Check out the examples below for inspiration!

2. Optional: Create a key.

If you use symbols in your bullet journal, you may want to create a key to remember what they mean. The original bullet journal system had its own set of symbols with their own prescribed meanings, but many people are making it their own with color-coding and additional details. Others, like me, don’t use symbols at all and skip creating the key altogether! Below, you can see what the OG symbols and their meanings were:

3. Optional: Create a future log.

A future log is essentially a master calendar for 2021. Some people like to add lines where they can make note of important future events, such as birthdays and vacations. Personally, I usually don’t include one in my bullet journal. Because I also use a regular paper planner and Google Calendar in addition to my bujo, I don’t really need it. However, if you’re someone who’s constantly planning ahead and wants to rely exclusively on their bullet journal for planning, I highly recommend it!

Creating a future log can be time-consuming and frustrating. If you’re hand-drawing and numbering every month, it can take hours to get it exactly right. Plus, pen is an unforgiving medium. To make it easier on you, I would consider using a stamp or printable to create your future log. You can also check out the layout ideas below for inspiration.

4. Create a monthly cover page.

Here is where bullet journaling starts to get fun! After setting up your bullet journal for the year, your next step is to get ready for the month ahead. This typically starts with a cover page, which can be as simple or as creative as you like. The design is completely up to you! Some people choose to theme their cover pages and coordinate their weekly or daily spreads with the cover page, while others prefer a minimal style.

5. Create daily or weekly spreads.

Whether you prefer a daily or weekly planner layout, your next task is to set up your monthly pages the way you like. Some people choose to set up their bujo for the entire month at once, while others like to go one week at a time. For me, Sundays are my bullet journaling day, when I set up my weekly spread for the week ahead. As with anything else in bullet journaling, it’s up to you. Just remember that this is the area where you’ll be listing tasks and events for the week, so be sure to leave at least a little bit of blank space while you’re decorating! Check out the spreads below for inspiration.

6. Optional: Create collections.

If you’re ready to stop there, then go right ahead. Remember, this is YOUR bullet journal, and you make the rules! (Taylor Swift reference slightly intended.) But if you’re looking to get more creative or add more functional pages for tracking habits, logging your reading, categorizing your mood, or anything under the sun, that’s where collections come in. “Collections” is the name given to these miscellaneous pages that each serve their own purpose. Some people create collections for memories, like ticket stubs or polaroids, while others use them for further tracking and planning. Keep on scrolling for some examples of collections that might serve a purpose in your life.

7. Update your index.

Anytime you add a new page (or set of pages) to your bullet journal, don’t forget to go back to your index and update it! (Depending on your bullet journal’s style, you might need to go in and add page numbers by hand, too.) This is an ongoing task, but it’s essential to organizing your bujo and staying on top of your life in 2021.

Tips for New Bullet Journalers

  1. Don’t worry about it being perfect or looking like what you see on Instagram. Everyone’s bullet journal is unique — and everyone has messed up pages they’d rather hide from the universe. As Bob Ross said, there are no mistakes; just happy little accidents 🙂
  2. That being said, there are a few tips and tricks I’ve learned for fixing mistakes — namely, covering them up! A strip of washi tape or a strategically-placed sticker can help you hide a smudge or scribbled-out word in style.
  3. If you aren’t confident using pen, try drawing in pencil first and going over the lines in pen. Eventually, this will help you become more confident in your ability to draw freehandedly using pen!
  4. Use the dot grid as guidelines to help keep your handwriting neat and straight. If you’re using a blank journal, I recommend using a ruler to align your handwriting so it stays even.
  5. Resist the temptation to over-decorate your bullet journal pages. As much as I love stickers and washi tape, I’ve occasionally impacted the functionality of my journal by failing to leave myself enough blank space for tasks, events, and to-dos!
  6. Make your bullet journal your own. You don’t need to follow the exact rules of the so-called “bullet journaling method,” or create every page you see in your favorite IG-er’s journal.
  7. Learn from previous months’ layouts. If something about your past spreads hindered you from using your journal or finding it helpful, try changing it this month, until you find one that works for you. Bullet journaling is supposed to help you stay organized — and the minute it stops doing that is the minute to start reflecting on why.
  8. Last but not least, take the pressure out of bullet journaling. Keeping up with a bujo can be exhausting, especially if you feel the need to make every spread pretty and perfect. Not only should you forget about perfection, but you should also feel free to take breaks or choose more minimalistic layouts on weeks when you’re too busy or stressed for an elaborate journal spread. Remember: bullet journaling is here to help YOU!

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