5 Things I Learned About Bullet Journals

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Around this time two years ago, I learned about this magical thing called the bullet journal. It’s a system that transforms a blank notebook into a productivity tool that helps you pretty much sort out your life. After weeks of scouring the internet for tips on setting one up, then months of using it on and off, I finally understand what all the hype is about. However, I can’t say that the entire experience was smooth and stress-free.


Back then, it was tough finding anything on bullet journals. The original bullet journal video did an excellent job of explaining exactly how this analog planning system works. But that’s just the basics. As for enhancements, we were limited to a handful of prominent bloggers and their take on the bullet journal. And now, they’re basically everywhere – countless “plan with me” videos and blog posts, a highly active Instagram tag and so on. Heck, even BuzzFeed wrote a few articles about it.

The best thing about the bullet journal is that you’re not limited to what’s laid out in the original bullet journal system. You’re free to add as little or as much as you need, whether that’s colorful decorations or hacks that help organize all aspects of your life. There’s an abundance of ideas and resources to turn to when it comes to setting one up. Different people will tell you different things, but there are a couple of tips that are almost universal regardless of how you decide to use your bullet journal. After two years, I’d like to share five top tips that I wish someone told me before I started bullet journaling. 

1 | Keep it simple.

More isn’t always better. Contrary to what you see on social media, you don’t have to go all out with your customizations. If you find that it helps to hand-draw calendars, set up weekly spreads in advance, and color code everything, you should certainly go for it. You do you! However, if you add too many unnecessary elements, your bullet journal becomes time-consuming, hindering and even stress-inducing.

I recommend starting with the original bullet journal video. From there, you can add features that you believe will help your bullet journal better cater to your lifestyle. If something isn’t working out for you, simply get rid of it or modify it. The bullet journal’s flexibility gives you the freedom to play around with the system without having to commit to the changes you make.

2 | Get good quality supplies, but don’t get too caught up in buying all the popular stuff.

While any pen and notebook will do, I can totally understand why people are more enthusiastic to keep a bullet journal when they’re using supplies that they like. Now that doesn’t mean that you have to purchase the best stationery money can buy. I said “good”, not the best. Use supplies that fit your budget and needs, supplies that you know you’ll use over and over again. You don’t need to spend an excessive amount of money on washi tapes, brush pens, and other stationery to create an effective bullet journal.

The same goes for notebooks. Not everyone can shell out $20+ on a notebook. Even if the brand is a community favorite, it might not be a personal favorite. For example, I prefer my Midori MD notebook over the Leuchtterm1917 because I like the simple design, paper quality, and price tag. Figure out which supplies meet your criteria, then see which ones fit your budget.

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3 | It’s okay to find inspirations from others, but don’t compare.

First of all, it’ll confuse the heck out of you when you’re just starting out. Many bloggers and vloggers blur the line between a bullet journal and an extremely decorated DIY planner. You might not need hand-drawn calendars, monthly themes, and every tracker in existence, but still feel pressured to spend time making them.

You have habit trackers, mood trackers, food logs, gratitude journals, social media counters, and countless more, all set up in many different ways and styles. While these elements and how they’re set up may work for some people, they might be pointless for others. Again, start with the original bullet journal setup. From there, you can draw inspiration from others with consideration of your own needs.

Secondly, thinking that your bullet journal and your handwriting will never be on par with what you see in many thoroughly planned spreads can, at worst, deter you from using a bullet journal. We all have different styles, preferences and needs so it shouldn’t matter whether or not your journal looks like someone else’s. It also shouldn’t matter what others think of your journal as long as the system is helping you. You don’t need validation to be productive.

There’s nothing wrong with drawing inspiration for the general structure of your bullet journal or stumbling across helpful hacks that you never would’ve thought of. But when comparison gets in the way, it’s time to take a break from browsing the bullet journal tag.  

4 | Allow yourself to make mistakes.

You start out with a blank notebook, and you set everything up yourself. Unless you painstakingly plan every single detail out, hiccups are bound to happen. Yeah, they’re annoying. Still, you have to ask yourself if fixing them is worth the time, effort and material, especially when “perfection” isn’t a requirement for an effective bullet journal. If you absolutely have to fix a mistake, there are quick and easy ways of doing so without scrapping an entire page and starting all over. For example, you can cover things up with washi tape, stickers, and sticky notes.

Mistakes are also how you learn what works and what doesn’t. If you don’t like a layout, no problem; try another one and modify it until you reach something you’re happier with. If you find that some add-ins don’t help you at all, you can skip them altogether during the next setup. Not being afraid to mess up takes off a lot of pressure and allows you to freely play around with ideas that never would’ve seen the light of day otherwise. Once you ditch the notion that bullet journals have to be perfect from the beginning, you’ll be more open to ways to improve your bullet journal experience.

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5 | Actually use it.

This may sound trivial, but it’s something many people, including myself, have struggled with. Setting up your bullet journal is one thing, but using it consistently is another. Like with cracking into a new planner, the momentum of putting it to good use quickly fades if you don’t make it a habit. It’s nice that bullet journals aren’t pre-dated so you can pick up where you left off weeks or even months later. But you didn’t start a bullet journal just to stop using it.

At first, it’s going to take lots of patience to understand and get accustomed to using the bullet journal, as well as discipline to continue using it. It’s okay to stop if you know for sure that the bullet journal isn’t for you. But if you’re still iffy on it or you feel yourself losing momentum, change things up until it’s a system that you’d want to use on the daily.

With all the “Plan with Me” videos on YouTube and picture-perfect bullet journal spreads, it’s easy to get swept up and lost in the bullet journal craze. There’s no limit to what you can do with your bullet journal. Whether you decide to stick to the basics or go all out with the customizations, I hope that these five tips help make your bullet journal experience less stressful and more effective and fun!