I can’t draw. I can barely doodle. Don’t ask me about calligraphy. Add that in with the fact that I’m a busy freelance writer, and a bullet journal does not seem like something I have the skill or time to do. But I was wrong.
Three years later after I started bullet journaling (and three journals down), I’ve figured out the secret to an aesthetic and functional bullet journal that doesn’t take forever to create. If you’ve been on the fence about the practice and are intimated by the journals all over Instagram, here’s what you need to know about getting started.
The bullet journaling method was created by Ryder Carroll and designed to be a customizable, efficient, and yes, simple way to organize your daily to-list items and priorities for your day and plan for upcoming events, needs, and tasks.
The method utilizes a system of, well, bullets (such as em-dashes, Xs, circles, etc) to organize the different aspects of your day. Each bullet corresponds to a different category (like tasks, appointments, and notes) for a simple, visual system.
The Bullet Journal Method
This is the Bullet Journal bible, written by the inventor of the method itself. It's not just how to set up the journal but a look at the philosophy behind it.
While Carroll offers specific items to track and scheduling options in his book on the method, you can customize the journal based on your needs. Want to create a monthly goal list? Do it. Want to track the number of hours you spend online? Go for it. Just want a single, daily run-down? Feel free to keep it simple.
Ultimately, bullet journaling is all about finding a way to organize your life and goal that’s specific to you.
As I mentioned earlier, I’m on bullet journal number three. Honestly, I didn’t expect it. I thought I’d quit two weeks into the process, but here I am—no thanks to social media.
Bullet journaling gets a bad rep based on its online presence. One glance at the #bujo or #bulletjournal tag on Instagram, and you’ll see hundreds of beautifully illustrated, calligraphy-filled journals that are beyond most mere mortals’ expertise.
But I learned it doesn’t have to be that way.
My first few months of bullet journaling back in 2019 were a mess, quite frankly. I attempted the themed spreads (the name for your monthly and weekly layouts) I saw all over Pinterest only to come away with a sad, doodle-filled page that wasn’t functional (or even pretty). So, I stopped.
I started looking up minimalist spreads, ones created with only a pen and some lines. From dates organized in boxes to columns where I could map out my entire day by the time, I began using simple shapes to organize things. As I did, I found myself better able to map out my day and see the visual cues set forth by Carroll.
As the weeks went on, I began to incorporate color using markers to highlight the days of the week and color code events. I discovered the magic of washi tape to add patterns I couldn’t draw by hand. Now, I have easy to create spreads that are both functional and pretty (if I do say so myself).
If you, like me, began your bullet journal experience attempting artistic spreads that never panned and feeling generally bummed that your journal was functional but not “aesthetic,” here is everything you need to create a journal that’s can do it all without all that pressure.
Can you upgrade a lot of my picks below to premium versions? Sure. But if you’re just getting started or experimenting with bullet journaling, now is not the time to buy super expensive gear.
There’s no shortage of bullet journals out there, but I decided on the official brand Carroll recommends, LEUCHTTURM1917. Some are branded with the bullet journal name, and others are not. I opted for a plain journal sans bullet journal logo for its clean, sleek appearance.
The notebooks come in a variety of shades from plain black to a vibrant hot pink. They also feature 80gsm paper—a thicker density than typical notebooks—that helps to prevent bleeding from pen and marker use. In the back, there’s a built-in pocket perfect for storing receipts and notes, and two ribbons help mark your place as the year goes on. With 251 pages, there’s plenty of space to last the entire year.
LEUCHTTURM1917 - Medium A5 Dotted Hardcover Notebook
The LEUCHTTURM1917 is the official brand of the Bullet Journal method. With heavier weight paper that helps prevent bleeding, a back pocket, and ribbon markers, its a great option.
Pencils are key to bullet journaling whether you’re a seasoned pro or beginner.
Sketching out your spreads in pencil is an oft-cited trick to mastering the bullet journal, and it works. Whether you’re attempting new lettering, a fun doodle, or a new shape for your weekly spread, doing it in pencil first takes some of the pressure off and allows you to easily rectify any mistakes.
These BIC mechanical pencils are my personal choice as they feature a thin lead that allows for a very light sketch that’s easily covered when drawn over with a pen. It doesn’t hurt that they’re colorful and cute.
BIC Xtra-Strong Mechanical Pencil
To alleviate the pressure of mistakes, pencils are a must. These mechanical pencils are fun and colorful but also has a thin lead that allows you to lightly trace out your spreads.
Lead pencil erasers don’t last forever. That’s why having a supply of Ticonderoga individuals is a must. When I first started experimenting with different looks and fonts, mistakes came frequently, and I quickly whittled the pencils’ erasers down to nubs.
These erasers last forever—even if your mistakes are plenty. They’re also durable and completely eliminate pencil marks. Grab a pack of these so you’ve always got one on hand.
TICONDEROGA Pink Carnation Erasers
Mistakes happen when starting your bullet journal. Keep these erasers on hand so you don't wear down the smaller ones on your pencils.
Two Pack Plastic Ruler Straight
Sure, there are people on bullet journal Instagram who can draw perfectly straight lines. I am not one of them. That’s why a ruler is a must.
Many minimalist spreads use lines and boxes to separate everything from dates to events to tasks. To create the cleanest lines, you need a ruler. It’s a simple tool, but it helps your spreads look clean and neat. These clear rulers allow you to see the dots on your journal pages for precision spreads.
2 Pack Plastic Straight Ruler
Rulers are a must for creating straight lines and boxes in minimalist spreads.
If you’ve been browsing stationary and bullet journal collections on Instagram or Youtube, you’ve likely seen stacks and stacks of multi-colored pens and calligraphy markers. I’m here to tell you that you don’t need them.
Sharpie’s S-Gel Gel Pens are cost-efficient, quick-drying to help prevent smudging, and don’t bleed through pages. Use them to fill in your pencil-drawn layouts, and then keep one handy to use as you fill in your journal throughout the week.
While they don’t come in multiple colors, for those just starting to venture into different types of layouts, the black shade is ideal for minimalist spreads.
Sharpie S-Gel Gel Pens
Sharpie's gel pens are affordable, smudge-resistant, don't bleed through pages, and offer bold, black color.
No matter how meticulous you are with your pencil outlines, mistakes will happen once you go in with a pen. That’s why Wite-Out is a must.
BIC’s classic pen formulas are the perfect option for bullet journaling. Thanks to the pen-like tip, you can amend the thin lines you’ve drawn in your journal or write over the text you no longer need. Unlike brush-on or ribbon options, these allow for precision which makes them ideal for your journal.
BIC Wite-Out Shake 'n Squeeze Correction Pen
Thanks to the pen tip, BIC's Wite-Out allows for precision corrections in your bullet journal.
Floral Washi Tape Set
Washi tape is where things get extra fun.
For those who have never used this common stationery accessory, it’s easy, peel and stick decorative tape that adds easy patterns and colors to any page of your journal. You can opt for florals, stars, stripes, holiday themes, polka dots, and more. Use it as a border around your weekly spread, separate your months by taping it over the edges of a page, or just add a few pieces for some color. Plus, with most washi tapes, they’re easy to peel back and retape if you don’t like the placement.
It is a versatile, customizable accessory that immediately adds that extra bit of color and often features an affordable price tag.
Floral Washi Tape Set
Add color and pattern to your bullet journal spreads with easy peel and stick washi tape that comes in a multitude of patterns.
When you see Crayola markers, your brain probably takes you back to elementary school art classes. That’s fair, but they’re also great for your bullet journal.
Once you’ve graduated from minimalist, black pen-drawn layouts, add a bit of color by switching out your pen for multi-colored markers. You can also add fun, colorful shadow boxes, highlight important events, color-code your tasks, events, and notes, and create simple doodles like polka dots and stripes.
This pack of 40 features every color you could need, and they’re washable (an important feature if you’re prone to those marker stains on the outside of your hand like I am).
Crayola Ultra Clean Washable Markers
Add color to you bullet journal spreads with this 40 pack of markers that feature a thin, precision tip and washable ink.
Sure, these supplies won’t have you crafting those fancy dutch door spreads, drawing elaborate floral designs, or crafting perfect calligraphy fonts, they will allow you to add some color and pops of pattern to your functional bullet journal spreads.
If you’ve been nervous about starting a bullet journal, start here. Instagram, Pinterest, and YouTube might serve as good inspiration, but ultimately your bullet journal is all about making it work for you.