Starting a bullet journal can be intimidating. Take one look at all the beautiful examples on TikTok — where the hashtag #bujo has more than a billion views — and it might seem like you need an art degree just to begin. But behind all the doodles, drawings, and graphs, you’ll find a notebook that’s actually quite customizable.
Underneath it all, a bullet journal is a simple tool meant to keep you organized, says DeeDee Cummings, M.Ed., LPCC, JD, a licensed professional clinical counselor. “A bullet journal should help you declutter your mind and allow you the space and the documentation to achieve the goals you set,” she tells Bustle. “Think of it as your all-in-one calendar, journal, and even diary.”
If you’re into the design aspect of bullet journaling, you’ll love the chance to go all out. It might feel very motivating — and even relaxing — to sit down with markers and pens and get crafty on each page of your notebook, Cummings says. But bear in mind that this journal system is still useful even if you don’t want to draw or track every aspect of your life.
“Bullet journaling should not be stressful,” Cummings adds. “Look at some examples of what others have done for inspiration, but be sure to do your own thing! The more your bullet journal reflects you and your interests, the more likely you are to stay with it. The more you stay with it, the more likely you are to achieve the goals you have set.” Here are some bullet journal ideas for beginners TikTokers love.
1. Make Monthly Calendars
As you’ll see in the TikTok above, it’s fairly easy to draw a grid using a pen and ruler, and this makes for a monthly calendar setup that will help get you started. Once you have all your boxes, label the days and then start adding your appointments, dates, chores — or whatever else you have coming up.
Consider creating a monthly spread where you can see the entire month at a glance, as well as weekly or daily spreads where you have more space to write out what you need to do each day. You could also add a box on the side of the page to jot down your most pressing to-do lists and goals for the week.
2. Consider The Pages You’d Like To Include
In this TikTok, you’ll see the creator included a “things to do when bored” page, a birthday page, as well as a page dedicated to the “things that make them happy.” This is a method Jill Winter, who runs a productivity blog, says is a helpful way to get organized and enjoy doing so. She suggests adding a page dedicated to meal planning ideas, a section for short-term goals, one for long-term goals, a bucket list — the options are pretty much endless.
That’s what’s so cool about setting up your first bullet journal. “If you wanted all of those things in traditional planners, you’d be buying two or three or six different planners to keep track of each one,” Winter says. “But in the bullet journal system, it’s all in one notebook. And by only including what you want in there, there are no wasted pages, making your bujo probably the most efficient planner you could set up.”
3. Design Habit Trackers
Next, consider what you’d like to track in the form of a chart, says certified professional coach Kari Zee, PE, CPC. If you want to wake up early, create a grid to track your success, as shown in the TikTok above. If you’d like to get a handle on your fitness and health, draw a workout tracker. If you want to see how much water you drink each day, create a little graph.
“Think of a bullet journal as a record-keeping system,” Zee explains. “When anxiety and overwhelm are high, data can be a powerful stress-reducing agent, and your bullet journal can be the place to provide that data.” It’s also helpful to see your progress as you work towards your goals.
At the end of the month, you can look back on all these data to see which habits worked for you and which ones might need improvement. From there, you can adjust and try again the next month. If you find that you didn’t use a tracker, simply let it go, Zee says. There’s no point in forcing yourself to track something if it doesn’t feel right.
4. Decorate With A New Theme Each Month
Since creativity is a major part of bullet journaling’s appeal, you might decide to experiment with different design themes each month. You could try your hand at drawing, use a new pen color, write in fresh font — whatever sounds fun. Some folks go with a theme that relates to the month, like flowers for April or ghosts for October. Still, no need to worry about being an artiste, especially if the idea puts you off journaling altogether.
Cummings says she doesn’t draw or write very nicely, but she doesn’t let it stop her. “Instead I use stickers and my favorite marker colors to make my journal my own,” she says. “The more fun it is, the more likely you are to stick with it.”
5. Focus On Gratitude
Many folks use their bullet journal as a tool for improving mental health. And that’s where the all-important gratitude list comes in handy. “Practicing daily gratitude can come in a variety of ways in a bullet journal,” says therapist Sarah Kaufman, LMSW. “You can simply write a daily gratitude list, but you can also get creative with it by including pictures or drawings of the people, places, things, or moments that you’re grateful for.”
Documenting your life diary-style can help you appreciate the good things that are going on, especially if you’ve been feeling down. It can also help you to spot positive patterns so that you can keep doing more of what seems to make you happy. If you notice that you felt more grateful and centered on the days you woke up early, for instance, you could make that a new habit going forward.
6. Track Your Non-Negotiables
According to manifestation coach Kathleen Cameron, a bullet journal is a great place to track what she refers to as your non-negotiables. “Basically, these are a list of things that you’re going to do every day whether it's meditating, walking, going to the gym, or even calling your mom,” she tells Bustle. “This list of things will help you build habits to move forward in life.”
7. Set Up An Index
Bullet journals can get pretty full, so look for ways to stay organized. According to Winter, a handy trick is to number all the pages in your journal and then add an index on the front page. That way you can quickly flip to the exact calendar or chart you’d like to use.
A key next to your calendars and to-do lists might be useful, too. If you like this idea, check out the TikTok above for an example of how to set one up. But according to executive coach Michele Mavi, crossing things off the traditional way with an ‘X’ works perfectly fine.
“The goal is to get things done, not for the journal to be artistically perfect,” she says. “Start by managing a project first or by managing your month to get the hang of it.” Be sure to use it daily and refer to it often, she says, and you’ll be off to a great start.
DeeDee Cummings, M.Ed., LPCC, JD, licensed professional clinical counselor
Jill Winter, productivity blogger
Kari Zee, PE, CPC, certified professional coach
Michele Mavi, executive coach
Sarah Kaufman, LMSW, therapist
Kathleen Cameron, manifestation coach