Bullet Journaling for beginners

At the start of each new year I would take great excitement in purchasing a new diary, knowing that there was something special about putting pen to paper each day and having my week laid out in front of me. By this time of the year, early March, I would have notes scribbled on receipts and cryptic sentences saved to my notes app. I would flick through the empty pages of my diary and feel guilty about the wasted pages, sometimes filling them in with events already past.

I'm not entirely sure how I first discovered bullet journaling, but it was definitely on some form of social media. When you search Pinterest, Instagram or YouTube for “bullet journal” or “bujo” there's a terrifying number of beautiful spreads that seem truly impossible to recreate. This left me feeling like there was no point in even getting started. Thankfully, humble ol' Google saved the day and took me to the creator of Bullet Journaling - Ryder Carroll. The premise behind the bullet journal is incredibly simple - a way of coding your notebook using a selection of symbols, to ultimately organise your thoughts and streamline your way of recording ideas, events and tasks. It was all in black pen, far removed from the pages that resembled elaborate scrapbooks and watercolour paintings.

The beauty of the bullet journal is that you can make it as simple or as complex as you like, and this can change week to week or month to month, to suit what you have going on. If you miss a week or two, you simply turn the page and start fresh. No blank pages glare back at you with disappointment, no special tools or even a new notebook required. Just start where you are, with what you have. I began my bullet journal when I was a student, but I've kept it going through fulltime work, and have seen fulltime athletes and even fulltime mums keep their routines on lock using a bullet journal. The flexible format allows you to prioritise whatever you need, creating the perfect journal for your lifestyle.

Getting started is easy, find a notebook that you like, a pen that you love and start having a play around. There are an endless number of ‘plan with me' videos online, and it can pay to watch a few to get some ideas for what may work for you. It's all about experimentation. My first bullet journal had an index, a key to follow and a year overview, but in subsequent journals I've done away with all of that. Some people need to see all birthdays for the year, and some people have events planned six months in advance, I however, do not.

I've seen ‘bullet journalers' describe the creative side of it as being a bit like mindful colouring, a therapeutic form of creativity, but it took me quite some time before I felt this way. It began with frustration, crossing words out, tearing pages out and throwing stickers in frustration. I suppose it is a bit like meditation, I eventually grew better at accepting mistakes and abandoning perfection. I still glue pages together if I think they are truly too hideous for the light of day, but they are becoming fewer and farther between.

Once I had my weekly layout determined, repeating it week after week took less than 15 minutes to set up. I would usually do it on a Sunday afternoon or on a Monday morning while I had a coffee. I was almost always embarrassed to have it out in public, I was forever being bombarded with questions, as if writing the date with a pastel pink pen was a revolutionary act of rebellion. Some weeks my weekly spread has stickers and headlines adorned with metallic pens, other weeks it is just black pen and bullet points, scribbled in some chronological order. Sometimes the entries are weeks apart, but in the end, I keep coming back.

In the beginning, I tried all kinds of additional pages, like sleep trackers and savings goals, but none of those seemed to stick. My bullet journal is as chaotic as my life, there are weekly spreads, monthly goals, training plans, interspersed with books I want to read and overheard conversations on the train. For many, it's an accessible outlet for creativity and for some, a healing form of self-care. There are no rules, and for someone like me, that's the most enticing part.


Chanelle is a vegan, amateur athlete, social advocate, environmental enthusiast and blogger at mynameischanelle.com.