How to start a bullet journal for mindful productivity

How to start a bullet journal for mindful productivity

Bullet Journaling lives at the intersection between mindfulness and productivity. A system that adapts to your life every single day. (Source: Bullet Journal website)

I think bullet journals are one of my favourite discoveries ever and the quote above sums up why I love them so much. This post will give some tips on how to start a bullet journal but first here’s some of the reasons you will want to give this a go!

Bullet journals themselves are brilliant for organising your life. From your daily schedule to five-year plans, shopping lists to bucket lists, there is nothing that cannot find a home in the bullet journal. But the process of bullet journalling is equally brilliant, enabling a moment of mindfulness. Whether you keep your journal simple or dive into colourful creativity there is nothing like sitting down and focusing for a moment (or more) on where you are right now and what you want to focus on next. In fact, I found it so mindful that I included bullet journalling in my post on fifteen alternatives to adult colouring books!

So what is a bullet journal?

Bullet journalling is a system of organisation invented by Ryder Carroll. As it explains on the website, a bullet journal can be “your to-do list, sketchbook, notebook, and diary, but most likely, it will be all of the above”. You can read about the basics of the system on the website or watch the video below to get the idea.

Now the basic system on its own is pretty incredible. But what I find so lovely about bullet journalling is how it becomes a reflection of you. You can take Ryder Carroll’s system and adapt it to your life.

Start a bullet journal

Tip one: How to make your bullet journal work for you

It is easy to feel a bit daunted by all the “perfect” examples out there when you start bullet journalling. But I found that the secret to bullet journaling is to dive straight in, experiment and don’t be afraid to make “mistakes”. In all likelihood, you’ll need to refine things. But it is through this process that you’ll find your own bullet journal style, something that works perfectly for you and your life. And when that happens, it’ll be hard not to fall a little bit in love.

So in my bullet journal, I don’t worry about an index (yet), I have swapped daily logs for weekly logs and I tend to stick to just a few of the bullet symbols. These small tweaks on their own already make the journal more “me”. But it is the Collections that make my journal undeniably mine and it was at this point I fell in love.

Tip two: Customise with collections

Collections are pages that, as the name suggests, collect everything that is relevant to a certain topic. So, for example, instead of putting books I would like to read throughout my journal’s weekly logs, I have a page where I can jot down my to-read list. Similarly, I have a page for creative projects I want to do. Other collections in my bullet journal include goals, a savings tracker and ideas for blog posts.

There is no limit to the kind of collections you can include. If you are studying then you could have a collection for each topic or essay. You might want to include self-care ideas, favourite blogs, shopping lists, a holiday destination wish-list or meal ideas. You can pop in people’s birthdays or contact details or use it for little journal entries. The beauty is that everything fits in one place. And if you use the index (unlike me) you’ll be able to easily find everything too!

Tip Three: Personalise the presentation

Now you can really put your stamp on your bullet journal by the way you choose to present it. This was demonstrated to me most clearly when a colleague and I were comparing bullet journals over our lunch break. My bullet journal was overly-concerned with straight lines and colour co-ordination. My colleague’s was free-spirited and full of artistry. Both were beautiful but they were so different. Different and very obviously ours. Another colleague was able to identify immediately which journal belonged to which person!

The first big decision you will make in terms of your bullet journal’s aesthetic is what notebook you want to use. There is an official bullet journal (swoon) and Leuchturm 1917 have lots of other dot notebooks in a wide-range of colours and sizes that could work too. Moleskine is another popular choice but for my first bullet journal I used the Rhodia Orange Dot Reporter Pad. Of course, you don’t even need to use a dotted pad if you don’t want. You can start with any notebook you have to hand. Be warned though: it’s likely at some point you’ll find yourself wanting to invest in something really special for this project!

The next thing to decide is what pens you want to use. Depending on the quality of the paper you are writing on then you may need to think about how the pens will bleed through the page. To help you with this, dedicated bullet journal fans, such as Boho Berry film video reviews that include pen tests. Yep, that really is a thing and a very helpful thing when you become as obsessed with bullet journalling as me!

After that, if you want, you can move onto stickers, washi tape and stamps! The list is endless. And because of that, I do have to throw in a word of caution here.

Tip Four: The bullet journal life test

There is a balance to be struck between productivity and creativity if your journal is going to really work. Of course, where that balance sits is a personal choice. It will depend on how you use your journal and what aspects of bullet journalling you most benefit from. But the balance matters because you’re likely to stop journalling if the creative demands become too stressful. That won’t be helpful if it’s your main scheduling tool!

So don’t worry if your first attempts at bullet journals have to be modified. One of the wonderful things that can emerge from bullet journalling is you become a little less afraid of imperfections. In spite of scribblings out, you find yourself completely in love with your bullet journal because it contains all the things you care about most. Although if you do still find yourself bothered by mistakes then I am reliably informed that there is nothing that some washi tape and stickers can’t fix!


I hope that you’ve enjoyed this little introduction to the bullet journal. If you would like to find out more then here are some great resources below. There’ll also be some more bullet journal posts coming up on Soothing Sense covering self-care collections. I might even do a tour of my bullet journal. So if you want to be kept up-to-date then you can follow Soothing Sense on Twitter, Facebook and (as of today) YouTube.


  1. 7th October 2017 / 7:18 am

    I really enjoyed this, since I started a bullet journal myself over the summer. I have a perfectionism issue, so find myself writing out everything in pencil first! But anyway, I really enjoy it and find the fact that it’s so customisable brilliant. Thank for the post!

    • Soothing Sense
      7th October 2017 / 8:13 am

      I have that tendency too! My compromise has been to reserve pencil for setting up collections pages, future-log etc. Things I am going to be living with for a while. Then I have a simple, easy-to-draw weekly log format. Plus with the notebook I use the pages pull out so if the worst comes to the worse I can always rip it out without ruining the look of my notebook. We’ll know I’m really over my perfectionist tendencies when I dare go into a notebook where that pages don’t rip out! I may do a little post soon with some of my collections/weekly spreads etc but might just start setting up for 2018.

      • 7th October 2017 / 8:18 am

        Yes, mine don’t come out, so pencil for everything… and I still hate my handwriting sometimes ? please do a post with spreads for 2018, it’s always good to see new ideas!

        • Soothing Sense
          7th October 2017 / 8:22 am

          I know that with handwriting I find myself comparing mine to others sometimes and wishing I had their calligraphy skills but I heard a beautiful quote yesterday, which speaks to this a little I think: “Don’t compare your life to others. There’s no comparison between the sun and the moon. They shine when it’s their time”. Okay, I will pop the post onto the schedule. Might even film a little video for YouTube, which I ventured onto this week as I always love watching Bullet Journal videos there! It might be another month or so but it’ll be on its way!

          • 7th October 2017 / 8:27 am

            Great,thanks. And that’s a lovely quote, I shall remember it ?

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