Bullet Journal Basics- How and Why

The Bullet Journal is enjoying huge popularity at the moment. Although Ryder Carroll unveiled his idea several years ago to great success, something’s happened in the last few months to propel his system into the public eye. Buzzfeed has run several articles about it too.

What is a bullet journal?

Counting down my remaining time in Italy doing PhD archival research
Counting down my remaining time in Italy doing PhD archival research

First thing’s first. Check out Ryder’s website. He created and refined the system and all credit is owed to him. There’s a great wee introductory video on his site and it’s the best place to start. Go check it out now. I’ll wait- it’s not long.

Ok. So now you know the system in its purest form. As you can see from bulletjournal.com though, there are so many ways you can adapt and customise it to suit your own circumstances and requirements. Check out #bulletjournal on Instagram and you’ll see lots of variations. (But do that later because there are currently nearly a quarter of a million photos there!)

What kit do I need?

Notebook and pens (with optional penholder)
Notebook and pens (with optional penholder)

A notebook of some kind and a pen of some kind.

Whatever notebook and pen(s) you choose are up to your tastes and funds. I use a Leuchtturm dotted A5 notebook which is a popular choice for bullet journaling because of the good quality paper, low price, and range of colours. You can use anything though.

Moleskine notebooks are also popular but the paper is inferior to that of the Leuchtturm and it won’t take fountain pen ink so it’s not an option for me. Should Moleskine ever up their paper game I’d be all over them- they have a great range of sizes and styles, though I think they’re over-priced.

If you like spiral-bound notebooks, use one of those. If you want to try the system out in a cheap school-style jotter, go for it. Already using a Filofax? You can create a bullet journal right there. You can even add it to your existing planner or diary if there’s a little space for it.



These are lovely but you DO NOT NEED them.
These are lovely but you DO NOT NEED them.

Use whatever pens you like. I love fountain pens so I use those. Pilot Frixion pens are erasable so you won’t have ugly scoring out when things inevitably need rescheduled. Pencils are even more erasable, so use those if you like them. That scabby old ballpoint you picked up from who knows where? If you like it and it works, use it!

Whatever you choose, DO NOT get hung up on getting the “right” supplies. You don’t need washi tape. You don’t need all 6892 colours of Staedtler Triplus Fineliner or all 3 packs of Zebra Mildliners imported from Japan.

My adapted bullet journal system

This is a calendar tracker I use to countdown the alarmingly few days until my thesis submission
Counting down the alarmingly few days until my thesis submission

The starkness of Ryder’s system doesn’t work for me. I prefer something more visual- boxing off lists and days and months, and so forth. I like to have a bit of colour in mine and I prefer ticking off boxes to crossing out bullets.

Along with the usual things (appointments, social events, etc), I also have some more unusual things to track. There’s my thesis: the most important thing. There’s also my blog, a part-time job, university tutoring, and some freelance work. I use monthly and weekly spreads to help me with these. Some of the detail (such as my train times) goes on Google Calendar instead. This is purely to keep things from getting too cluttered. It doesn’t make a significant difference to my planning if I get one train or the next one, so I don’t put it in my bullet journal. However, I do need to know if I have a ticket that’s only valid for a certain train, so I put that on Google Calendar and get a electronic reminder.

I also like countdowns so I use my bullet journal for these. For example, I have one that counts down to my PhD submission. I used another to count down the time I had left in the archives when I was doing my research in Florence.

Is it still a bullet journal if I adapt it?

This is a weekly spread I used when doing fieldwork in Italy
This is a weekly spread I used when doing fieldwork in Italy

There have been debates online recently, some needlessly heated, about whether or not the more ornate versions are still bullet journals. I use ticky boxes instead of bullets, so perhaps mine isn’t a bullet journal at all. It really doesn’t matter. I think the only person who has any right to decide if something is a bullet journal or not is Ryder, the inventor, and he seems quite happy to feature non-traditional, adapted, and ornate versions on his site.

I also think that the name we give a system is barely even a secondary concern compared to the key question: does it work for you? There’s no sense in moving from a colourful, decorated planner which works for you to a minimalist one in order to conform to what puritans think is the only way to bullet journal (or vice versa). If someone wants to tell you that you have deviated too greatly from canon and you have no right to call what you have a bullet journal then, meh. Something has probably gone a bit wrong in that person’s life that they are getting upset over the nomenclature of someone else’s to do list. Be kind to the poor wee scone, but ignore them.

Bullet Journal Basics 101- How and Why to Bullet Journal


3 thoughts on “Bullet Journal Basics- How and Why

  1. Nikki says:

    I started a kind of bullet journal back in August, but got a bit lazy with it in November. I’m going to start again for the new year, hoing to keep it simple.

    • admin says:

      I started a bit earlier than you but ran out of steam in November too. I’m not sure why I lost focus, but I did. I think the thing to remember is not to let a gap like that stop you going back to it. I don’t think a bullet journal should be about completeness- as if a month or so’s gap means it’s all spoiled.

      I’ll be using a combined system this year. I have a Passion Planner (which I love) but will also be using a bullet journal. The PP I’ll probably use for tasks and appointments, and the bujo for planning and lists. I’ll see how it goes!

      Good luck. 🙂

  2. mykiaperformancecenter says:

    I’ve been following Bullet Journal Junkies on Facebook for a little while now and while I absolutely LOVE seeing all the cool things everyone else does with their BuJos,.

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