Fail-Proof Tips for Bullet Journal Beginners

I feel like the odd woman out here, because when I started my bullet journal, I did it on a whim, with basically no clue how to do it. Now, it seems like every bullet journal beginner in my email inbox and Facebook groups is saying “I’d love to start a bullet journal, but…” It seems like a lot of you are stressing about starting a bujo, because you want to get it right the first time, and I have two things to say to you:

  • There is no “getting it right”
  • Fear not, I’m here to help

If you want a bullet journal because you want a perfect art project, just make a scrapbook instead. This is a tool to help you be more productive, so if making it perfect is just a source of stress… Then don’t do it! But if you know a bujo would help you be more organized and productive, and you’re just not sure how to start, these tips should put you on the right track.

Fail-Proof Tips for Bullet Journal Beginners

If you want to start a bullet journal but aren't sure how, these tips and hacks will help get you started!

If you want to start a bullet journal but aren’t sure how, these tips and hacks will help get you started!

Know your aesthetic

One of my favorite things about bullet journals is how much variety there is. You can have these super-lush spreads, full of stickers and illustrations and taped-in objects from the week. You can have thin-lined, black and white minimalist spreads with tons of gorgeous whitespace. You can have really elegant spreads, with washes of watercolor and luxe handlettering.

Now, let’s be clear: you don’t have to pick “just one aesthetic” and you’ll probably be happiest mixing and matching, especially if you’re just starting out. But before you start a page or spread, have a pretty good idea of what look you’re going for.

Oh, and know the strengths of each kind of spread. If you’re trying to track movies you go to, leaving plenty of room to tape in ticket stubs with cute washi tape is a great idea. If you’re planning your senior thesis, the cleanly separated blocks of a minimalist spread might help you feel more organized. Remember, your bujo is a tool, first and foremost, so make that aesthetic work for you, not the other way around.

(PS – I hate the word aesthetic because of those ridiculous vaporwave-y “a e s t h e t i c” memes that used to go around. You know the ones.)

Don’t be afraid to practice!

Do you think your favorite bujo Instagrammer sat down one day, said “I’m going to make a gorgeous bullet journal!” and then immediately produced something like this?

That’s definitely not what happened. Like drawing, painting, dancing, and origami (I assume), super-artistic bullet journalling takes practice. Heck, even really minimalist bujos take practice, because finding what you like is a trial-and-error process.

Thing is, we hate the way those errors look in our bullet journals. The solution? Practice your ideas on a separate page first. Seriously. I have a gridded Moleskine, so if I want to try something new, I test it on looseleaf graph paper first. If it looks terrible, I either:

  • Practice until it get better, or
  • Scrap it and pretend it never happened

So find a pack of looseleaf that resembles your journal pages or block out a few “testing pages” somewhere in your bujo. That way you can practice banners, doodles, trackers, and even whole layouts without fear.

Get inspired – not intimidated!

Half the fun of bullet journalling is the community. Finding gorgeous spreads on Instagram, Pinterest, and Tumblr helps keep me motivated, and inspires me to try new things with my own journal. The problem comes, of course, when I can’t draw the line between appreciation and comparison.

There have definitely been days when I just want to put my journal aside. I’ve spent pages and pages trying to “perfect” my handwriting, so it looks just right. And none of those things ever, really, helped me make my bujo better. So live by this quote, when you can:

Comparison is the thief of joy.

It’s great to be inspired by other bujo-ers, or feel connected to them, or search for new ideas online. But the moment you start feeling worse about yourself instead of better, get the heck out of there.

Choose your supplies wisely

I have a whole post on bullet journal supplies, which you can (and should!) check out here. If you want to skip the post and just get the printable list, you can find it in the Resource Library!

Not sure where to start?
I've got a supply guide that might help.

I wrote a whole post detailing my favorite bullet journal supplies, but you're busy, I get that. Luckily, an extended version of the list I made is live in the Resource Library, so subscribe below for access!

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Still, my dedication to supplies is pretty ironic, because my first bujo was a tiny, crappy $4 journal from Walmart and a pen I found laying around. It was enough to get me started, but I upgraded to supplies that were better suited to me pretty quickly.

I’m not saying that you have to spend $1 million on fancy imported pens and journals. (Actually, side note – I rec’ed a bullet journal starter kit that will get you started for less than $30.) What I’m saying is, put some thought into what you’ll need and how you’ll use it! Sit down and brainstorm: what does your ideal bujo look like? What would you need to make that happen? If you see tons of handlettering in your future, spring for some brush pens. If you love the cute patterns of washi tape, find a variety pack to get the most bang for your buck.

I guess my best advice is don’t just buy stuff because “this is what bullet journallers use.” Buy what you like, and will use. Otherwise your kick-butt, inspirational, organizational, productive bujo will just devolve into an unhealthy stationary addiction.

Just Do It

The Nike philosophy is not always the best plan, but in this case… Things are pretty low stakes. Nothing bad will happen if your first few bullet journal spreads aren’t perfect. And honestly, looking back at how much my bujo game has evolved is one of my favorite things.

Some things you need to study extensively before you start (like, I don’t know, open-heart surgery). Other things are best learned by actually doing them, and bullet journalling is one of them. You could research the best pens for six hours, but you won’t know for sure if they bleed through your notebook paper until you actually start drawing or writing.

So this is my challenge to you: let the stress go and just try to make something. It doesn’t need to be so beautiful that angels weep, it needs to be a tool that helps you keep track of your life. Focus on utility first – all the pretty decorations are just a bonus, anyway.

If you’re starting a bujo, what are your biggest questions?
If you already have one, what do you wish you’d known at the start?

  • Yes! I love all the gorgeous bujos I see online but… I don’t have that kind of time. And that’s okay! Definitely give it a shot, it’s so helpful once you find the spreads that work for you!

  • This is such a useful post! I’ve been meaning to try a bullet journal for months now but i’m always put off knowing that I won’t be able to make mine look like the ones I’ve seen on Pinterest. Though even if I could, it doesn’t really make sense to me to spend longer on organising tasks than actually doing them, y’know?

    I guess it’s all about finding a system that works best for you and it’s going to take a few attemps to gt it ‘right’.

    – Sarah