5 Things You Need to Know to Get Started in Your Bullet Journal

First things first. All credit for the amazing Bullet Journal goes to its creator, Ryder Carroll. I’ve had so much personal success using my bullet journal and I really do love talking about why it’s so useful. While I am going to share my thoughts on 5 things you need to know, I think it’s really important to point out Ryder’s Overview of the system, in it’s most pure form, on the Bullet Journal website. I’ll mention it again at the end of the post.

Getting Started

Before I get into the 5 things you need to know, i’d like to touch on the basic materials you will need to start planning. Remember, the point of you using a bullet journal or any productivity system is functionality first.

Basic Materials:

  1. A Journal
  2. A Pen

My best advice is to start off by keeping it simple. If you are just starting out and need a journal, I always recommend starting with something you already have around the house. If you are really keen on buying something new, my recommendation would be a dot journal, with numbered pages – any brand (I’ll touch on my favorite brands in a future post). If you can’t find a journal with pre-marked pages, that’s cool, you can add your own.

If you want to get a few extra items, I would recommend that you find yourself a small ruler, and if you REALLY want to buy pens, go for micron pens in a few different point sizes, but stop there. The craft stores and people you follow online will temp you. Be strong! There will be plenty of time to buy more supplies in the future.

No amount of stationery will make you a better planner. It’s up to you to make it happen.


So let’s begin

1. The Index

Your Index is how you find everything. It’s the first page of your journal and in my opinion, it is the heart of this whole operation.

When you start your bullet journal or planner, the first few pages of your notebook will be dedicated to your index. Many of the popular journal brands have an index page built in. But if they don’t, save the first 4 pages and on the top of the page write “INDEX”. The index pages are used to write the page number and the topic from that page in your journal. Leave some space between the page number and descriptions. Depending on your page entries or your collection of notes, you could very well go into multiple pages during your time in this journal.

Each time that you create a page, a spread, or a collection, you will go back to your index and write it down. That way you will have no problem finding it later.


2. The Future Log


The Future Log is where you keep future events, tasks, and special dates.

The Future Log is where you keep things that are not happening “this month”. This is where you put birthdays, travel, dated to-dos and tasks that will happen next month or farther down the road. This is also where you put tasks and todos that you migrate back from your monthly and weekly spreads. There are some really amazing Future Log spread designs out there, but the most basic and useful will be splitting your page into 3 and writing the month at the top of each section.


3. Bullets, Dashes, and Migration

To keep things simple, I like to stick to 5 main indicators in my planner.

Bullet (For Tasks)

X Cross out (Task Complete)

Dash (For Notes)

< > Migration (Move forward or back)

! Important (High Priority)


The Bullet •

Many people think that the Bullet Journal gets its name from the dot journal you usually see being used in photos and online. The bullet is actually the indicator for your to-do or task. Some examples you might use:

• Email Mark back today
• Print train tickets
• Call Mom

• Take out the trash
• Cancel tux rental

When you are rapid-logging, another feature of the Bullet Journal system, you are making these bullet marks when an action needs to take place. Once you complete the task or todo, you cross it out.


Crossing out a task may very well be one of the most gratifying and fulfilling marks you make in your journal


The Dash –

The notes dash is something that I had to train my brain to use. My entire life, before bullet journaling, I used bullets for my notes. So when I needed to start using bullets for actions, and a dash for a note, well.. lets just say there was a lot of bullet/line extension actions happening. It does take a minute to affix itself to your muscle memory, but once it’s there you are good. It’s so helpful too, because it really does help you distinguish what-is-what when you are rapid logging.

• Email Mark Back today
• Print train tickets
– The train station has a sitting area so you can charge up before the trip
x Call Mom


Migrating < >

Migrating tasks, todos, events, and notes is something that you will do every week in your journal. The practice of migration enforces the awareness within your journal and helps you think about each item in write down.

< Migrating Back is the practice of moving things from your weekly spread and taking it back to your future log.

> Migrating Forward is the practice of moving incomplete tasks forward to the next weekly spread.


Important !

The important notation, most often seen as ! or * – is an indicator that a task or note needs higher attention. You want to use this indicator for those tasks or notes that will take the highest priority over the others and need to get done. Just remember that not everything is a priority. Thinking about and prioritizing your tasks is a part of the process.


4. Monthly and Daily Logs

Monthly Log

Your monthly log is a collection points for you as you continue to work in your bullet journal. There are a lot of different ways to approach your monthly logs. Some options keep it very simple. The original bullet journal method is a list down the left side of your page with the month name and date. Other options get a little more detailed or creative. Foundationally they all are doing the same thing – calling out specific dates and tasks pulled from your Future Log or migrated forward from the past month.


Daily Log

Your daily log is where you are going to spend most of your day. This is where all your rapid logging and daily going-ons happens. The most simple form of this is to write a day of the week and the date and start rapid logging. Using this foundational approach, there is no need for any layouts or designs. As I have mentioned before, and I will mention next, get the basics down first and then build from there.


If you follow my account on Instagram, you won’t see a lot of daily logs, but you will see a lot of weekly logs. Because of the way I use my journal at work, I have found that this approach works best for me. When I started, I followed the Bullet Journal system to a T – and I am very thankful that I did. It’s like the saying – you need to follow and understand the rules before you can break them. I can’t stress it enough how important following the basics are when you begin. I get messages every so often from followers that say things like, “I’m so overwhelmed with my journal because I spend so much time designing it that i’m not actually getting any planning done” or “I can’t find anything in my journal and I’m not being very productive”. My answer is always, and will always be, go back to the basics.


5. It’s okay if you mess up

My first day in my first Bullet Journal – Instagram @Menwhobullet

You are going to make mistakes in your journal. Bottom line. No one starts off in their bullet journal with perfect pages, with the most perfect handwriting, and with no mistakes. I’ve been bullet journaling for 2.5 years and I mess up in mine ALL THE TIME.

My best advice for setting up your first journal is to use a pencil. Draw lightly so you can erase it later when you pen over it. If you use a pen and make a mistake – cross it out, white it out, black it out, and go to your next line. I know that it’s going to be hard not to tear that page out and start fresh – but you will learn to work with the mistakes versus trying to be perfect.


And think about it this way. In a year from now, when you are starting your next bullet journal, you will be able to look back and reflect on what you did in this first one and see how far you have come.


So there we have it, 5 things that you need to know so you can get started in your very own Bullet Journal. If you didn’t check out the Bullet Journal website in the beginning of the blog post, than I recommend that you check it out. If you have any questions about your set up, or bullet journaling all together, feel free to reach out and leave a comment below.

Happy Bullet Journaling,

Mark – @Menwhobullet

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