Tuesday 23 February 2021


5 Things I’ve Learned From Creating My First Bullet Journal

I love lists, notebooks, arts and crafts, so it was only a matter of time I tried bullet journaling. This diary/planner/creative outlet is a great all-in-one place to keep track of habits, note down important dates, prioritise to-do lists, destress with doodling, and reflect on what's most important in your day-to-day life. I started my first bullet journal at the beginning of 2020 and it's been a real journey this past year. I've learned a lot of important things along the way, from the essential supply kit to discovering how a bullet journal can benefit me rather than feel like a daily chore. I hope my five learnings throughout this process will be helpful for anyone who is either already keeping a bullet journal – or thinking of starting one. 

1. Invest in a few good bullet journaling materials – but don't go overboard

When I started bullet journaling I watched YouTube videos, reads a lot of blog posts, and followed new creative people on Instagram. And I suddenly had a laundry list of art and stationery supplies that I felt I needed to own to be able to do my bullet journal justice.

While I enjoyed collecting all my Ecoline brush pens, Tombow brush pens, Zebra mildliners, watercolour sets, stickers, and die cuts to pimp my journal pages, I don't use them a lot. I tend to gravitate towards a handful of markers and colours at a time, and really I only needed one watercolour set, not three. To make sure you don't fall down that same art supplies rabbit hole, here is my recommendation for a bullet journal starter kit. 

Essential bullet journal supplies:

  • A good bullet journal. It should have thick paper (a minimum of 120gsm) so pens, markers, and paint don't bleed through and a dot grid layout to make it easier to create trackers and draw. A lot of people swear by a brand called Archer & Olive. The journals look gorgeous but they're also very expensive. I use Seawhite of Brighton's 'travel' journal, which you can find for about £7-£8 in good art shops. 
  • Waterproof black fine liners in a variety of sizes. These are great for drawing, creating boxes and trackers, and writing. I'm a big fan of Sakura Pigma Micron pens, which you can find in all art shops. I also like this mother and daughter small business who sell them online. 
  • One set of good markers or art supplies. I highly recommend either Tombow brush pens if you prefer to use just markers, or Ecoline brush pens if you want to try watercolours too (as they're both markers and watercolours). Both brand aren't cheap, but they are excellent quality and a worthwhile investment. Plus there are often special offers in art shops and you only need to get a small set with some of your favourite colours to begin with. 
  • Some basics most people will already own: a sketching pencil to map out your drawings and trackers, a small see-through ruler to create perfect straight lines, and an eraser to get rid of any pencil lines when you've gone over them with fine liners. 
  • I also recommend sourcing a roll of plain brown craft paper (it's a great way to decorate pages or hide any mistakes) as well as a bottle of Tipp-Ex – and you're good to go! 

I can only show the monthly cover pages, as most of my trackers and planning pages have personal information in them

2. Bullet journaling takes time and patience – make sure it doesn't become a chore

Bullet journaling can be a lot of fun, and satisfying when you tick off items on your lists and trackers, but it is also time consuming. Even if you do the absolute minimum it still requires you to create a set-up ahead of the month with a diary page for appointments (ha, who has anything on these days?!) and important dates to remember. If you track lists throughout the year such as books read, movies watched, or even things such as exercise and healthy habits, time to update all of this adds up. Add to that actually writing in it and you'll be racking up many hours poured over the dot grid pages of your bullet journal. 

I lost patience and interest towards the latter half of 2020, which means that some of the trackers and pages I set up ended up half blank. Not a good look, and a waste of space in my journal too. I've found more of a stride in bullet journaling in 2021 as I realised that for me less is more (more on that in the next section). I now have a much better understanding of the time commitment a bullet journal takes. There's a reason it requires dedicated time and headspace, it's so you can be more focused and mindful. For me, that's a work-in-progress, but I've found some ways to make it work better in 2021, so it feels less like a chore and more fun to be creative again and reflect on my days. 

Example of a spread I enthusiastically started at the beginning of the year but didn't finish

3. It's OK to change how you use your bullet journal as your needs change

Before I started my bullet journal I made a list of all the trackers I wanted to create – and all the things I wanted to collect in my journal. Early 2020 I spent hours creating all the trackers at the start of the journal, and within 6 months I was no longer updating them. I realised that I actually didn't care about a sleep tracker, for example, as I already knew what sleeping pattern worked best for me to feel most refreshed. So why was I spending hours ticking boxes to keep these trackers going? They served no purpose in my life. And they were the biggest thing that made bullet journaling feel like a chore, rather than fun. 

Throughout the months my bullet journal has changed and evolved. For example, when we went through our first lockdown in the U.K., I found it hard to differentiate the days because I was stuck in a rut and working a lot. So for a few months I kept a 'happiness log', jotting down one thing a day that made me smile. Small things, but they made me realise that not every day was the same. They were the kind of pages I needed at the time and so felt compelled to keep up with. 

For the past few months I've been using my bullet journal more like a personal diary. There is more writing in my journal at the moment than tracking, and that's OK. I have no need to track anything right now, and if I were to force myself to do it anyway it would make bullet journaling less enjoyable again. I'm also currently using it to be experimental with my art. If I find something new I want to try, I'll make it the design for that month so I can practice it. 

Remember: A bullet journal is whatever you want – and need – it to be in at any given time. Make it suit your preferences and habits so it benefits rather than hinders you.

Example of a work-in-progress page, sketches and all

4. Don't set your standards too high – be proud of what you can create

This is more a reminder to myself than anything else. When I watched all those YouTube videos and Instagram pictures from seasoned bullet journalers, it looked so easy. And their results were amazing. Whereas my pages can be very hit or miss. There are some I like and others which in hindsight I can only see as a few hours spent experimenting with different supplies and styles. It doesn't look professional or cohesive, but it is something that I've created myself with no prior experience, which I'm proud of. 

It's important to remember to not compare yourself and your work to others you see out there. These are people with many years of experience bullet journalling. They know exactly what they're doing and they know their own artistic strengths as well. Don't be afraid to experiment and try things until you find something that works for you, your style, and your skill set. 

5. Find other people who bullet journal for inspiration when you hit a creative block

This may sound a bit contrary to the previous point, but it's OK to look at others for inspiration as long as you remember that the people I'm going to recommend are not only amazingly talented at what they do, but they also have many years of experience. I love watching their creations and be inspired when I have hit a creative block. I definitely am not able to replicate all of what they're doing, but I do pick up helpful tips and tricks along the way. And if anything, their videos and posts are relaxing to watch – just as mindful as working on your own bullet journal. 

AmandaRachLee (YouTube)

Amanda is the queen of bullet journaling. She's the first account I found, and to this day her neat lines and beautiful calligraphy writing are absolute goals. I love that she does a monthly set up with a theme related to that time of year, and an annual look back as well so you can see how it all fits together. 


Plant Based Bride (YouTube)

If you love beautiful drawing and natural colours, the bullet journal pages by Elizabeth are the one for you. Aside from bullet journaling, she also talks about sustainable lifestyle topics, books, and stationery, which is right up my street. 
©Plant Based Bride

metro_boulot_bujo (Instagram)

This Instagrammer posts beautiful drawings and creative themes, such as the recent Fantastic Beasts one. A bit too complex for my skillset, but there are smaller elements and ideas I have picked up and used myself.

wildeyesbujo (Instagram)

I love the doodles on the pages of this Instagrammer! And if they look complicated or unattainable, don't worry, they post some wonderful tutorials too so you can try it for yourself. 

crea.lein (Instagram)

If you have less time or interest in drawing intricate bullet journal pages, check out this Dutch Instagrammer. Her pages are gorgeous and detailed, but she often uses craft paper, stickers, and other design elements that require less drawing. 

And these are the five things I have learned in my first year of keeping a bullet journal, I hope you find them helpful! If you're using a bullet journal – or you've been thinking of starting one – let me know your thoughts, feelings, ideas, and tips below.

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