This is Part 1 of your ULTIMATE bullet journaling guide.
You are going to get:
- 35,000+ words of free bullet journaling advice.
- 15+ free PDF actionable worksheets.
- Thousands of photo inspiration ideas.
- Access to hundreds of free PDF spread printables.
Have fun and keep reading… 🚀
(Are you more advanced? Then jump ahead to Part 2.)
Table of Contents
- Ch 1. What is Bullet Journaling?
- Ch 2. Why You Should Journal Right Now
- Ch 3. Journaling Flashcards
- Ch 4. Supplies Central: Getting You Equipped
What is Bullet Journaling?
Welcome to your 2019 guide to bullet journaling!
I hope you’re as excited as I am, because we are about to transform your journaling skills.
(At any point you have questions, leave a comment or email me directly.)
We have a lot of fun material to cover.
But let’s ease into it and start simple, by defining what a bullet journal is, its purpose, and why it should matter to you
Sound good? Let’s do this…
The Planning System That Revived My Spirit
There’s a quick story I want to tell you:
When I was a little girl in Alabama, I put my entire life inside tiny paper notebooks.
I took my notebooks everywhere I went, filling them with all my worldly observations and all the dreams I was destined to fulfill.
When high school rolled around, I even found a passion for letters and fonts… and I always got in trouble for testing new headers on my homework papers and doodling designs all over my tests.
But then I lost my way.
I broke up with my pen and paper when I went to college and became a computer nerd.
It was a sad time, but then something magical happened:
I was reunited with my childhood love… thanks to bullet journaling.
That’s what makes bullet journaling so special. It connects you with what matters most:
I had found exactly what I was looking for — bullet journaling was an adult version of my childhood journaling.
It was a creative place where I could express my emotions, but at the same time, it was a productivity tool where I could get serious about planning my future and setting goals.
So think of a bullet journal like a giant sketchpad… where you can let your thoughts flow freely, either artistically or with words.
Then you pile on your planner… full of calendars to outline your future.
Then your diary… to reflect on what happens and to get personal with yourself.
And finally, your to-do list… to conquer everyday tasks.
That’s what a real bullet journal is — a collection of all these.
(This might seem overwhelming at first, but it’s really not. I’ll show you how to set it all up in a second).
So as you can see, the bullet journal serves a lot of roles and can be used by any person, in any job.
Here’s the official definition:
The Purpose of Bullet Journaling
Bullet Journaling is an analog journaling system designed to help you track and store everything you do, all in one place.
(Analog in our world, just means “on paper”.)
The “BuJo” (that’s short for bullet journal) was invented by @rydercarroll, an Austrian immigrant and Brooklyn designer, who created his journaling system to manage his attention deficit disorder.
As Ryder put it, “I wanted to figure out a way for me to be able to capture whatever I was thinking, however, I was thinking it and still house it in a way that was organized and easily accessible.”
His method now helps countless people fulfill their goals with greater efficiency and gratification. You can learn more from the bullet journal official video.
But why is bullet journaling so popular?
That’s a great question — there are several reasons, that will help you decide if it’s right for you…
Why You Should Journal Right Now
The Bullet Journal went viral 5 years ago.
But to truly to understand why this is happening, we first need to understand the deeper benefits journaling has on our minds.
… and for that, we’ve got to get scientific. 🤓
The Science Behind the Ink
Why use a bullet journal?
Let’s start with the benefits of writing things down (according to super smart people):
- Your self-esteem skyrockets.
- It significantly reduces stress.
- You’re more self-aware and it improves your memory.
- It increases your productivity.
- You sleep a whole lot better. 😴
- It helps you quit smoking.
- You’re comfortable expressing your sexuality.
- Your immune system improves and you go to the hospital less.
It’s even made its way to the football field — the Cleveland Browns know the benefits of pen & paper.
Start a bullet journal. Track your goals. Your life will get better.
Science says so.
My 9 Life-Changing Benefits
For me, the true purpose of Bullet Journaling is more personal.
Here are the Top-9 benefits I’ve seen from journaling over the last 3 years, that have transformed my life:
1. I’ve seen real improvement in my productivity
I always thought I was a productive person — but I was wrong.
It wasn’t until I began journaling, that I realized I was not nearly as efficient as I could be.
Once I started creating spreads and laying out my tasks, I began to ACTUALLY accomplish all my goals and not feel overwhelmed doing it.
In fact, studies show that journaling significantly helps in completing tasks — it’s called the Zeigarnik Effect.
2. I smile like crazy at all the memories
It’s amazing how many wonderful memories in life we forget, and it’s a shame when we don’t have anything to remember them by.
3. I’m so much more grateful for what I have
Put me on the record right now: gratitude trackers are amazing.
We’ve all heard how important it is to take those few seconds a day to think back on what we’re thankful for… but let’s be honest, who actually does that?
Not many people.
The act of writing these blessings down on paper does something amazing — that small, physical effort to write, triggers your mind to associate greater importance to those words, which causes you to reflect more and unlock a much deeper appreciation for what you have.
And making this a habit will help you notice more things during the day, which will make you more grateful as well.
Trust me on this one.
4. I felt less pressure to be perfect
Your bullet journal is a custom notebook, so you can design it however you want. There are no set rules.
For me, I loved being able to plan at my own pace and use my journal when I needed it the most.
5. I discovered my creativity
I found a new passion for lettering and coming up with my new fonts, headers, and patterns.
(Heck, I even started my own stamp line.)
The journal is such a great place to practice and find your artistic side.
6. I became more aware of other people in my life
Throughout my creative process, I started to expand my mind.
And in doing so, I naturally thought of the people that matter most to me, and I made spreads and layout designs revolved around them (which I never did before).
7. I learned how to prioritize
Flipping back through my old journals and reflecting on my past, really helped me see what’s important and what makes me happy.
When you have a journal, you get to see exactly how you’re spending time, and you can literally track anything — money, health, sleep, etc. — to improve your habits.
8. The community of friends
If you choose to set aside the nerves and share your journal on social media, you’ll quickly learn how supportive our community is.
I’ve made at least 30 new friends that I love to death.
9. Getting healthier
I’m a big foodie… so I love to track what I eat. 😊
Now I can easily see trends in my eating habits and when I’m starting to slack on any diet I’m on.
A bullet journal will help you become more aware of how you’re treating your body.
Those are just my personal benefits, but everyone finds their own unique enjoyment from journaling.
(If you have a story of your own, please share in the comments.)
Now it’s time to debunk some myths…
15 Myths About Bullet Journaling (And Why You Should Ignore Them)
Now that you’ve seen all the awesome things bullet journaling can do, let’s talk about some criticisms that tend to keep people from getting started.
Like anything else, as the BuJo gets more popular, you’ll start to hear more and more excuses about why you should not bullet journal.
Please DON’T get discouraged by all this talk. In fact, ignore all the negativity.
Here are the most common myths about bullet journaling:
1. The Dotted Paper Is Why It’s Called a Bullet Journal
A lot of people confuse this one.
Bullets do not equal dots.
The “bullet” in bullet journaling does not refer to the dots on the paper.
And if you have a dotted journal or any type of notebook with dot grid paper, it does NOT mean you are bullet journaling.
Bullet journaling is the system that uses bullets — custom symbols you put beside your journal entries to classify them.
Here’s what bullets look like:
You don’t need dot grids to bullet journal. You can use any type of paper you want: blank, lined, pink, parchment (well maybe not this one). You get the idea.
2. I Have to Be Picasso
You’ll see a TON of gorgeous artistic spreads, that will make you want to throw your journal in the trash before you even get started.
But listen to me right now:
You don’t have to be artistic to start a bullet journal.
In fact, you’re not supposed to be — the fundamental purpose of bullet journaling is simplicity and minimalism.
So don’t get caught up in whatever it seems like everyone else is doing.
Just focus on being you and taking it as slowly as you need to.
If it makes you feel any better, here’s my very first journal spread:
Picasso worthy? Not so much.
3. I Can’t Make Mistakes
Piggybacking on the previous myth, I hear this one a LOT and it cracks me up:
“I’m afraid to make mistakes!”
If I had to guess, I’d say I mess up at least 10 times in one sitting!
Seriously. That’s why I use a pencil to outline my layout beforehand.
So don’t feel bad if you make a mistake, that’s how you learn. Just laugh at it.
When you do screw up, here are some awesome tips to save the day:
- Use a white gel pen after your ink is dry.
- Try metallic or opaque washi tape.
- Use correction tape (it’s instant and fast).
- Cover mistakes with stickers.
- Cover mistakes with cooler things — wrapping paper, a pic or a card.
- Use Post-it notes.
- Try metallic pens.
- Use erasable pens.
- Turn the mistake into a doodle.
- Glue or tape your pages together.
- Cut it out (don’t rip it out) and put washi tape over any cut edge.
4. I Have to Journal Every Day
No. You don’t.
It is completely OK to miss a day, a week, a month, or anything for that matter (it’s inevitably going to happen; life is busy).
Remember how the bullet journal is all about keeping things simple? It’s equally about keeping things flexible.
Remember that: simple and flexible.
Journaling every day WILL get overwhelming, so don’t do it if you don’t feel like it (yes, it’s that simple).
I recommend trying to get into a journaling routine when you crawl into bed (like I do).
Then give it just 10 to 15 minutes, to plan and reflect on your week.
If that seems like a lot, put on Bravo while you do it, and the time will fly by… 😉
5. I Can’t Start Whenever I Want
This is another huge misconception.
For some reason, the planner inside many of us, make us feel like we have to wait for the start of the new year… a new semester… new month, etc. in order to start our journal.
That’s just not true.
You CAN start your bullet journal in the middle of the week or any day of the year.
Remember, your journal is there for you to express yourself and to get your thoughts down on paper, whenever you have them.
As Mark Twain once said, “The secret of getting ahead is getting started.”
So just get started.
6. I Have to Follow a Specific Format
Do whatever you want, whenever you want, and make your journal your own.
For example, I don’t make a Future Log at the beginning of my journal (I actually don’t make a future log at all).
Instead, I try and jot down all the things on my mind — which I call an “Every Single Thing” spread — at least once a month.
I say “try”, because it’s not a deal-breaker if I forget to do it. My journal will be just fine without it each month.
I also don’t make an Index, a master key or Daily Logs (more on that in Part 2).
Rules are meant to be broken. So break them.
Keep it simple, maximize your time, and focus on the journal parts that you’ll actually use.
7. I Should Plan My Spreads Ahead of Time
I’ve been guilty of this myself — making journal spreads weeks or months in advance.
But don’t do that.
Because if you do, you immediately strip away the flexible power of the bullet journaling method.
Imagine this scenario:
You make a bunch of monthly spreads in advance, then you realize later that your schedule fits better in weekly spreads?
Now you got a major problem on your hands.
So do the smart thing — plan as you go.
You’ll be gifting yourself far more creative freedom, versus backing yourself into a corner when it comes time to put pen to paper.
8. I Have to Change My Style
I hear ya.
But by no means, do you need to reinvent the wheel each week and come up with some master layout with all the bells and whistles.
Here’s what I recommend you do:
- Go on Instagram and search the hashtag “#bujospread” (if you don’t have IG, then search Google).
- Pick 3 or 4 layouts you like, that you can reasonably recreate in your own journal.
- Over the next few months, make each of your chosen layouts and test which one you like best (how easy is it to use, does it collect all the details you want, etc.).
- Then pick a winner and use that design as a template… and stick with it each week!
You don’t have to change your spread design each week or conform to anyone else’s bullet designs.
There’s no set language, so be as creative as you want when making your keys and grouping your items.
9. Buying a Premade Planner is Much Easier
If you do that, then you’re not bullet journaling.
Planning and journaling are two separate activities.
Let me explain:
A premade planner tells you when and where you can plan.
(Remember, with a bullet journal you can start anytime.)
Journaling is SO much more: to-do lists, trackers, dailies, monthlies, indexes…
So you see? Using just a premade planner won’t deliver the same satisfaction as bullet journaling.
10. I Need a Million Supplies
Nope. You only need one notebook and one pen.
Really, that’s it.
After the bullet journal hit the scene, a bazillion knock-off stores sprouted up all over the world, selling all the “best” supplies imaginable.
And then naturally, everyone wanted to be early adopters and social media went crazy with journals, markers, stickers and any other gadget you could imagine.
So what’s my advice?
Since it’s so easy to get overwhelmed with all the supplies out there, start simple.
First, find your favorite notebook and pen, then when you’re ready for the next step, start researching supplies.
11. I Need a Fancy $20 Journal
The supplies myths don’t stop there — many beginners get caught up thinking they need to shell out the big bucks for some super special dot grid journal.
Sure, you can get a dotted notebook or a Leuchtturm1917, but you can also use ANY notebook you find at your local store.
The paper can be blank or lined too. It’s really whatever works best for you.
A few traits you’ll ideally want to look for when buying a journal:
- Go with a hardcover — the good ones will usually last about 2 years.
- You want at least 150 pages (200 is ideal).
- You want no-bleed, quality paper — around 100 gsm weight (think resume paper quality).
- Make sure the pages are numbered (this is crucial for bullet journaling). If you can’t find numbered pages, you can number them as you go.
- These dimensions work best: 26 squares (27 dots) wide x 38 squares (39 dots) tall is most common and the standard size you see with notebooks like, the Scribbles That Matter and Leuchtturm1917 A5 (my friends at JetPens can teach you about paper sizes).
- You want lay-flat binding — a form of book binding that allows your open book to lay completely flat, which makes it ideal for writing.
- Get one with a bookmark ribbon — the thread that connects at the top of the journal spine that makes it easy to save your spot.
- And an elastic band — the stretch band that’s connected on both ends of the spine to keep your journal shut.
One last thing:
Amazon is the best place to buy journals — they’re much easier to find and also cheaper.
It just can be hard to find dotted journals in physical stores (trust me, I basically live at bookstores).
(We’ll talk about all this in Chapter 4.)
12. It’s Pointless If I Don’t Have Anything to Plan
Ok, let’s imagine you have nothing on your calendar.
From your point of view, your journal would then be a complete waste of time and should live in your junk drawer.
But you’d be wrong.
- Here’s a few things you can still use your journal for when you have nothing planned:
- Write out a vision board of all your wildest dreams.
- Draw or doodle what’s around you.
- Practice your lettering and make your own journal font.
- Track your favorite activity: exercise, health, homework, Netflix watch time, etc.
- Brainstorm ideas for when you do have plans.
- And don’t forget all those amazing health benefits you get from writing.
Paul J. Meyer puts it best:
“Writing crystallizes thought and thought produces action.”
Writing your thoughts down will help you make plans, and those plans will turn into positive results in your life.
13. It’s Going to Make Me Less Productive
Karen, a student of mine, told me when she started journaling she wasn’t seeing a big enough improvement in her productivity.
I want you remember one thing:
Karen was working really hard at her journal and putting in a lot of effort. She was reading and watching everything online, but it was taking her too much time for no reward.
So what did Karen do next?
She found her purpose for journaling and learned from my course mantra “you do you” — she stopped trying to fit into the journaling mold, gave up trying to be perfect, and paved her own journaling identity.
I’m happy to report, she’s now discovered a balanced relationship with her journal that was perfect for her lifestyle.
So how do you find your purpose?
Ignore the naysayers, then start by asking yourself what you really want from your journal.
Do you want it to serve as a simple planner? Do you want more advanced to-do lists and trackers?
After you set your expectations, everything will start to fall in place.
You won’t feel pressure and you’ll start spending your time on your journal much more efficiently.
You’ll also see productivity rewards on the back-end.
For example, if you focus 5 minutes on your to-do list, you’ll make up that time tenfold with how much more productive you’ll be off-page, in real life.
14. The Learning Curve Is Too High
Starting and keeping a bullet journal is NOT hard.
(Me attempting to play the violin or knit a sweater is hard.)
Remember, all you need to bullet journal is a pen and a notebook.
You can keep it as simple as you want — you don’t need to make elaborate spreads or artistic elements — you can simply write down all the things you need to get done.
And again, you don’t need to journal every day. Just open it up when you have something to say.
Your journal is there to be a productivity aid, not a chore.
15. I’ll Turn into Tim Cook Before I Know It
Ok, I’ll admit. I wish this one wasn’t a myth, because I love Apple’s CEO (he’s a wonderful Alabama guy who signed my mom’s yearbook).
Your bullet journal is not going to make you some productivity guru and change your life immediately — it takes more work than that.
But when you make the effort to track your life, so you can reflect on it, you’ll be rewarded greatly.
That’s the greatest gift of all.
Well we did it! We have debunked 99% of the bullet journaling myths.
I don’t know about you, but I’m ready to get my hands dirty…
We’ll start with the basics, then dip our toes into specific concepts.
Sound good? Let’s become journaling jedis together!
Basic Journaling Terms
It’s important that we define some key terms so we’re on the same page for future lessons.
(You should refer back to this chapter when you need a definition.)
Let’s start with the important, top-level terms you’ll want to have in your repertoire:
- Journal — your binded notebook full of blank pages.
- Dot Grid — the dots on your journal’s pages.
- Items — the individual entries you make in your journal. These could be: tasks, events, notes, appointments, reminders, etc. Really any activity you want to track.
- Spreads (aka “layouts”) — the pair of open-facing pages you see when your journal is laid open. Your spread creations will fall under two main categories: time and theme.
- Time Spreads — spreads designed to help you plan your schedule and manage your to-do’s. They are usually in calendar format and come in 3 different variations: daily, weekly, and monthly.
- Daily Spread — a spread designed to track daily activities.
- Weekly Spread — a spread designed to track your weekly schedule.
- Monthly Spread — a spread designed to give you an overview of your upcoming month. It usually includes a “goals” section.
- Theme Spreads (aka “collections”) — spreads centered around a specific interest or whatever is going on in your life right now. For example, favorite movies (or songs, restaurants, authors), travel itinerary, wedding plans…
- Trackers — a spread element designed to record the progress of a specific activity over time. For example, sleeping, exercise, eating…
- Key — a cheat sheet that you create at the beginning of your journal, that unlocks the meaning of the symbols, icons, and colors that you use to represent your journal items.
- Printables — the free downloads of spread designs, measurements or other tools (they usually come in PDF form).
You may not hear these terms as often, but they are good to know (and they’ll make you look super smart):
- Bleeding — when a pen’s ink seeps through paper, making the back side of the page unusable. It usually happens because the ink has a thin medium or the paper is too thin (low weight). These pens are great no-bleed options.
- Ghosting — when you turn to the back side of a page and can still see the shadows or impressions (similar to braille) made by the pen on the front side.
- Feathering — when the edges of your writing appear blurred. This happens when your porous paper absorbs too much pen ink or the ink itself is too wet.
- Dutch Door — when you cut out a section of a group of pages to reveal a single fixed page underneath. You can then flip through the above, cut-out pages normally, with the added benefit of having the fixed page visible the entire time.
- Threading — a page numbering trick to help you locate similar pages in other parts of your journal. You do this by appending extra page numbers to existing page numbers at the bottom of a page.
- Leuchtturm & Tombow — a popular journal and pen maker respectively, that you’ll hear about a million times on your journaling journey.
Got all that? 😉
We’re almost done with our vocabulary lesson:
Let’s wrap up with some official bullet journaling terms…
Q: When would I thread my pages?
When you need to remind yourself that similar topics are also located elsewhere in your journal (at the location of the appended page number). Think of it as a mini built-in index.
Q: How often should I make a dutch door?
Bullet Journaling Trademark
These are terms specific to bullet journaling®.
You’ll want to review this section so things make sense going forward.
(We’ll learn how to apply these in Part 2, Chapter 5.)
- Bullets — custom symbols, defined in your key, that you use to classify your journal entries. For example, dots (●) for tasks, circles (○) for events, dashes (–) for notes.
- Migration — when you move and rewrite items from one collection to the other (usually from a daily log to a monthly spread or back to the future log).
- Modules — the name given to all the building blocks of the original system: index, future log, collections, etc.
- Index — a list of references to your spreads with corresponding page numbers. It’s usually at the beginning of your journal.
- Future Log — a high-level schedule of your upcoming months. It’s usually on an open-facing spread divided vertically into 3 parts, to create 6 boxes to represent 6 months.
- Collections — spreads or pages in your journal that collect similar items you want to track. For example, “books to read”, “movies to watch”, ‘recipes to make”… it’s the formal synonym for theme spreads.
- Rapid Logging — the method of dictating journal entries into your daily spreads, involving bullets and signifiers.
- Signifiers — these are extra symbols you write next to your journal entries, to emphasize their importance. The most common symbol is an asterisk (＊).
Alrighty. Great job!
This glossary should put you miles ahead of other journalers.
Now it’s time to get you equipped…
Q: How are bullets different from key symbols?
They are basically the same — they are both symbols or icons used to represent journal items. However, your key is usually more complex with different colors, marks, etc.
Supplies Central: Getting You Equipped
Finding the best bullet journaling supplies can definitely be a challenge.
So let’s settle this once and for all and get you equipped with everything you need — whether you’re a beginner or advanced — and cheaper alternatives if you’re on a budget.
(I’ve personally tested over 100 different products, so I got you covered. 😉)
In this chapter you’ll learn:
- Where to buy your supplies.
- What to look for in a new journal.
- The best pens for any occasion.
- The accessories that are worth your money.
- How to store and keep your supplies organized.
I also have 3 starter kit printables for you: $15, $30 and $50.
Ready to have some fun? Let’s get rollin’.
Where to Buy Bullet Journal Supplies
Before we dive into specific recommendations, let’s take a second to talk about where you should buy your supplies.
You can Google “bullet journaling supply stores” and lose your mind. So don’t do that. 😂
Here are the 17 best bullet journal supplies stores (in order) that are also budget-friendly:
- Amazon — the #1 choice where you can find all your beginner supplies.
- Tombow — home to all my favorite brush pens, erasers, correction tape and more (use code LIFEBYWHITNEY15 for 15% off anything).
- Michaels — best for stickers, stamps, pens and journal decor.
- Hobby Lobby — pretty much everything, but not necessarily journals.
- Joann — southern fabric and sewing vendor with deals for all hobbies.
- Notebook Therapy — bags, pens, plushies… you name it.
- Kawaii Living — pencil cases, fineliners… everything bujo.
- Target — I get all my stickers and desk organizers here (and other arts & crafts).
- Tuesday Morning — for crafts and DIY project supplies.
- Ross — find name-brand products for nearly half the price of Amazon.
- TJ Maxx — fun collection of art supplies and a variety of unique journals.
- Etsy — handmade stickers, stencils, and much more from unique shops.
- Mochithings — planners, notebooks, and binders.
- Paperchase — stationery and unique journal options.
- The Goulet Pen Co. — for fountain pens.
- Custom Ink — all sorts of cool office supplies and notebooks.
- Dollar General (or Tree) — affordable accessories, tools, and stationery.
Don’t forget about Amazon price matching.
That’s when you walk into a brick & mortar store, open up the Amazon app on your phone, and say “hey, Amazon sells this product for this lower price, so match it so I can save some cash.”
Stores I know that price match: Walmart, Target, Staples, Office Depot, Michaels, Office Max, and Joann.
Hobby Lobby doesn’t price match, but here’s how to get their sweet deals.
Now let’s talk journals…
Best Bullet Journals
Choosing the right notebook will be your most important decision.
It’s like picking a new boyfriend — you want to make the right choice now, since you gotta live with it for the next few months. 😏
But don’t forget this:
Your journal represents you.
So devote the time to research the one that truly fits your personality and lifestyle.
What to Look for in a Journal
The fundamental appeal of a bullet journal is the flexibility to organize it however you want.
You’re not bullet journaling if you have a fancy templatized planner, with pre-made calendars and task lists.
All you need is a blank notebook and a pen.
Sure, some come with a few reserved pages in the front — for an index or key — but really it’s a blank canvas for you to plan your life, in your own style.
Let’s say you’re ready to invest in a journal. What do you look for next?
First of all, you want a hardcover journal that lays completely flat on your desk, so it’s easy to write in.
Second, you want at least 150 dotted pages (200 is ideal).
Dots are awesome because they give you the cleanest guides with minimal interference.
Here’s the most important part:
(Better paper = more fun journaling).
You’ve probably heard that paper is made from trees.
But what you may not know is that paper is much more complex.
It’s important that your pages can withstand different pens and their inks, or else you’ll run into common pen problems, like bleeding, ghosting or feathering.
The best way to avoid all these problems is to look for thick pages with a grammage of at least 100 GSM.
Grammage is a measure of paper density (mass) and is expressed in grams per square meter (GSM).
Denser pages are thicker, which usually means higher quality paper that is less porous.
Porosity refers to the ratio of pore volume in your pages. Highly porous pages (like tissue paper) will absorb your pen’s ink faster and bleed.
Got all that? 😂
Let’s sum that all up real quick:
- Paper people use a term called grammage to classify the density of their stock.
- Grammage is measured in GSM (g/m2).
- Thicker pages have a higher GSM.
- Higher GSM means a higher mass and compression of paper fibers.
- Mass is the amount of matter an object contains, so paper with more mass is less porous.
- Low porosity means less pore volume or space between physical page fibers.
- Less space between fibers means less capillary action with your pen ink, which means less bleeding, ghosting and feathering.
Now we’re both paper nerds! 🤓
Let’s pick a journal we love, shall we? I think we deserve it.
My #1 Pick
- Best for everyday use
- Includes a key and index pages, dotted numbered pages, and 2 colored bookmarks
- No bleeding or ghosting
- Pro version has a doodle-free cover
Archer & Olive
- Popular among seasoned journalers
- Ultra thick pages (160 gsm)
- Includes a back pocket, elastic band, 2 bookmark ribbons and pen holder
- Just released a version with black pages
Cheat Sheet: Journals
Here are some quick tips to remember about journals.
- Get a journal that already has page numbers (Scribbles That Matter, Leuchtturm1917).
- Hardcover is best. Always.
- You want at least 150 dotted pages (200 is ideal).
- Look for these dimensions: 26 squares (27 dots) wide x 38 squares (39 dots) tall.
- Page thickness is more important than page count.
- A journal >$20 is usually worth the price… and paying more will actually keep you more motivated.
- Set aside a couple “test pages” to experiment with how you paper quality responds to different pens & ink (Scribbles That Matter come with pen test pages).
- Pick a cover color that makes you happy. 😁
- Look for journals with at least 2 ribbon bookmarks.
Here are some answers to common journal questions…
Q. Is GSM a measure of thickness, weight or something else?
Q. What’s the difference between grammage and basis weight?
Basis weight is the weight of 500 sheets of a particular grade of paper cut into its basic sheet size, expressed as pounds. This term is used in the U.S. instead of grammage.
(Grams measure mass. Not weight. Pounds measure weight).
If you want to convert your GSM to basis weight, use this tool.
Q. What is a Caliper (Micrometer)?
It’s a tool, that looks like a wrench, used to measure a page’s thickness. Its measurements are expressed in 1/1000 inch increments called “points”.
For example, a 0.009 inch reading would be “9 points”.
Q. Why do the most popular journals on Amazon specify GSM?
For example, Scribbles That Matter (United Kingdom) and Leuchtturm1917 (Germany).
Here’s a cool website with a guide to paper weights and sizes.
Q. What is the most important trait to look for in a quality notebook?
Q. What are the ideal dimensions for a bullet journal page?
You want a page size approximately 5.5 x 8 inches (26 squares wide by 38 squares tall). The dot grid boxes should each be about 5mm.
Q. What does A5 mean again?
A5 is a paper size that is used for notepads or small books. A5 measures 5.83 x 8.27 inches (148 x 210 millimeters) and is half the size of A4.
Q. Should I buy a Scribbles That Matter or Leuchturm1917?
Scribbles That Matter is best for all skill levels.
It has white dotted paper (vs. ivory) and 2x thicker pages (160 gsm vs 80 gsm), so you don’t have to deal as much with typical ink issues: bleeding, ghosting, feathering.
Q. Do I need an extra journal cover?
No. Most journals already come with a quality cover.
But if you want an extra layer of protection — especially if you plan on journaling outdoors or use it a lot at school — then try a leather cover. Men like these a lot too.
Remember, take your time and pick a journal you love.
But… if you’re too excited to wait…
You can’t go wrong with the Scribbles That Matter Pro (I’ve gone through 4 full ones).
Best Journaling Pens
Pens will be your #1 motivational tool.
There’s just something special about finding that right pen for the job, letting it rest between your fingers, and magically expressing yourself with ink.
Now I want to help you make some magic of your own.
(I’ve tested over 200, so I have some experience here. 😇)
In this section, you’ll get an inside look at all the best pens for any journaling job, how to do a pen test, and answers to all your pressing pen questions.
What to Look for in a Pen
There are ton of different pen types out there: fountains, ballpoints, rollerballs, brush, gels, fine tips, and many more.
There’s a lot.
But don’t worry. There’s no need to get overwhelmed when picking the right pen for the job.
Just focus on these 2 pen traits: Tips and Ink.
Let’s quickly break down each of these…
Tips (or points)
Most of your journaling time will involve exactly what you expect: writing.
And for that, you want clear, sharp lines that are created with fine and firm tips.
“Fine” refers to the tip size.
Pen tips generally come in two sizes: fine or broad (thin vs. thick).
The sizes are measured in millimeters, and the lower the number, the finer the line.
In this United States, less than 0.7mm is considered fine. Anything greater will be broader and bolder.
“Firm” refers to the hardness.
The hardness is either firm or soft (not flexible vs. flexible).
A good rule of thumb:
Fine tip pens are firm, while broad tip pens — which you see more with brush pens and lettering — are soft and have some flexibility.
The lines you make and the thickness of your strokes, depend on the size and hardness of the tips, as well as the amount of pressure you apply.
Pens with broad tips (or fountain pens with wide nibs) give off a lot of ink when they hit the page, so they are much more likely to saturate the page, especially if the page is porous.
For sharp lines — that give off less ink — you’ll want a fine tip that is firm and doesn’t bend too much.
So choose your fine tip carefully, since you’ll be putting it through the wringer.
(My specific recommendations are coming up in the Daily Pens section.)
To avoid bleeding, smudging and ghosting, you want a pen with quality ink that dries quickly.
Drying time depends on many things: ink, pen, paper, pressure, and even the humidity where you live.
The primary factor though is ink.
Let’s go back to science class for a second — what is ink?
Your ink cocktail has two main ingredients:
- Pigments (or dyes) for color.
- Solvents — either oil or water, to help dissolve the pigment.
Ink formulas have been closely guarded by chemists for centuries, but we know that most recipes are either oil-based or water-based (or a combo of the two).
Found in ballpoint pens, oil-based ink dries the fastest, so it’s less likely to smudge.
(This makes it a smart choice for lefties and fast writers.)
Also, the ink is highly viscous (thick), so it doesn’t soak into the paper as much to cause feathering or bleeding.
It’s these oils that mix with pigments to create a smooth writing experience and vibrant ink that dries quickly.
But what if we wanted an even smoother writing experience, with the latest and greatest in ink technology?…
Water-Based Ink (Gel)
The cleanest pens for journaling paper use water-based or gel ink.
Rollerball pens have water-based ink that requires less pressure on your part, giving it its trademark comfortable feel.
The downside? Since the ink is thinner, it can leak and bleed.
Bleeding is when the ink soaks through the page to the other side, often staining the pages underneath.
So what ink gives you the best of both worlds?
Enter gel pens.
Gel pens are popular because they use a water-based gel solution that magically changes its viscosity once it hits the paper.
It gets better:
The ink flows freely out of the tip so you get that smooth feel, but then it re-thickens on the page so it doesn’t absorb and bleed through the page.
Pretty cool right?
Many bullet journalers love their gel pens, and you’ll want to keep an eye out for water-based inks while you’re pen shopping.
Now that we are pen experts, let’s apply our new knowledge to bullet journaling and get our hands on the best pens out there…
Pen Categories for Journaling
The pens you choose will depend on the task.
For example, certain pens are better for daily use and rapid logging.
While others are better for bold letters or colorful decoration.
We can classify bullet journaling pens into two broad categories:
- Daily pens — these are your workhorse pens that you’ll use for everyday writing and journal entries. They come in mostly black and have fine, firm tips.
- Brush pens — used for headers, lettering, calligraphy, fonts, decorations, and aesthetics. This category includes all pens and markers, with broad, flexible tips.
You just want to associate your typical writing duties — when you want sharp, legible lines — with daily pens.
And your fancy lettering and creative designs, with brush pens.
That’s all there is to it!
Now for some specific recommendations…
These babies are your go-to pens.
You’ll use them 90% of the time for all your everyday journal items.
My #1 Pick
These 0.3mm pens are my absolute favorite for everyday task writing and entries.
This 20-pack comes in assorted colors that I use for everything: weeklies, keys, symbols… top of the line and worth every penny.
This pack comes with three tip sizes – 01, 03 and 05. They’re skip-free with no smudging since the ink dries almost instantly.
These guys are perfect for really fine details, doodles and drawing black tracing lines over your pencil sketches. Watch them in action.
Super versatile pens that work exceptionally well on post-it notes, cards, work stationary and school material.
They really are amazing value for their quality, since the tips are super strong and draw crisp, precise lines. The ink is water-resistant and doesn’t smudge or bleed either. Plus, you can buy them pretty much anywhere.
Brush pens tips are made of 3 things: natural hair, synthetic hair and felt.
The brush pens you want are of the synthetic kind and are usually made of nylon.
With brush pens, you’ll also hear a lot about the hardness of the tip: either soft or firm.
Soft tips require more precision since they are more difficult to create fine lines with.
Firm tips on the other hand, make it easy to create fine lines, but you may need to apply more pressure for thicker lines.
Those synthetic (nylon) tips you want, tend to be on the harder side.
Here are my brush pen recommendations…
Set of 9 colors and 1 blender pen, with a flexible brush tip on one side and a fine tip on the other.
These excel at watercolor illustrations, doodles, and custom art.
Quality medium-size felt tips (0.7mm) that create bold lines and come in a ton of colors.
The tips don’t fray and the ink rarely smears or bleeds.
A smart choice for your first color pack.
Bonus: Budget Pick #2
Very comparable to Tombow dual brush pens, except the fine-tip side is smaller ~ .2mm.
Blendable to colors that you can even use it to ink rubber stamps.
Q. What’s the perfect ratio of daily pens to brush pens?
How to Do a Pen Test
Over time, your favorite bullet journal pens will change.
You’ll want to test your pens to see which ones you outgrow or no longer fit your writing style.
The good news:
There is a SUPER easy way for you to test your own pens!
All you need to do is take a seat, pop open your journal, and follow the steps below.
Once you finish your test, reevaluate your pen inventory so you can make smarter financial decisions moving forward.
Here’s how to do a pen test in 10 easy steps:
- Open up a blank spread.
- Title it “Pen Test” and date the page.
- Optional: note the page number on the bottom, flip back to your index, and add the page number plus “Pen Test.” For example, “19 Pen Test”
- Flip back to your pen test page and think of your favorite test word. For example, “Doodle”.
- Choose your first pen to test.
- On one row, write the exact name of the pen. For example, “Sharpie”.
- Then write your test word next to it. For example, “Sharpie Doodle”.
- Optional: Add your own pen rating next to it. For example, “Sharpie Doodle 5 stars”.
- Now repeat the process, testing a new pen on each row with the same formula: new pen name + same test word + pen rating.
- Once you’ve run out of pens, review the test word you wrote for each pen, and see which pen wrote that word the best. That’s your winning pen!
But here’s what to do next:
Depending on the actual amount of pens you tested, I’d re-buy the top 3 pens from the list.
… and toss the bottom 3 in the junk drawer.
(You don’t have time for pens that don’t make you happy.)
Then you’ll be left with a much cleaner stockpile of pen pals.
That’s all there is to it! You’ve aced your first pen test.
Rather watch how it’s done? I tested 200 pens in this video:
Q. How often should I run a pen test?
About every 6 months — that way you can monitor your writing progress and your pen preferences, so you can see which ones you might want to explore next (you’ll also save money in the long run).
Cheat Sheet: Pens
- Always look for pens that say they don’t bleed or ghost.
- Quality pen ink will be acid-free, which means it has low sulfur levels that won’t degrade your journal paper.
- You also want elastic pens. You won’t see this term as often, but it refers to the tip’s ability to reform back to its original shape after each use.
PRO TIP: Order pens in bulk (10 or more) so you have extras at work, at home or in your backpack… and you’ll get a nice price discount. 😉
Q. Why are so many popular pens labeled with Asian characters?
It’s because East Asian and Japanese pen cultures have a much smaller definition of fine tips: 0.4mm or less to be exact. And it’s those fine tips that make for clean, quality writing.
Q. What other ingredients are in ink?
Besides pigments and solvents, inks also have other secret additives that are generally used to help ink flow, reduce clogging or speed up drying time.
Q. Who invented the ballpoint pen technology we use today?
John Loud, an American leather tanner, invented the ballpoint pen in 1888. He was a very handsome man.
Q. What other factors impact ink drying time?
Drying time depends on many things: ink, pen, paper, and even the humidity where you live.
Q. How do I clean my brush pen?
Many tips are self-cleaning, but I would roll the tip around on some scrap or tissue paper after heavy use (especially if it looks wet).
Q. Should I try fountain pens?
Old-school fountain pens use customizable nibs (tips) with different size ink cartridges that take forever to dry. That’s why you won’t see many journalers — including myself — using fountain pens.
Q. What’s the difference between a fountain, ballpoint and rollerball pen?
I personally don’t use any of these for bullet journaling, but the difference between them lies in the ink type. Learn the difference in pen types.
Q. What is Archival ink?
Ink that is resistant to fading and weathering, so it remains visible for a longer amount of time.
Q. What is Write-out?
Write-out is another term you may hear during your research, which is how long a pen lasts before it runs out of ink. Think life-expectancy.
Q. What type of oil is in pen ink?
We now have the pens we need and the journal to use them in.
But wouldn’t it be SWEET if we had some extra goodies?…
Bullet Journal Accessories
They are like the best friends of your essential supplies (your journal and pen).
They just make everything easier, prettier, and much more FUN!
Before we begin, I should warn you:
It can be super easy to get caught up in all the shiny products on Amazon.
So in this section, we’re going to focus on only the most useful accessories (without getting too indulgent). 😇
Let’s go down the rabbit hole together…
(I’d marry washi tape if I could.)
What Is Washi Tape?
It is loved by bullet journalers for its versatility, beauty, and functionality.
Washi actually means paper in Japanese, which is why it always looks like wallpaper with all its decorative designs and textures.
The term “washi tape” is used primarily in the west. The Japanese just call it “masking tape”.
But what makes it so unique?
Washi paper is made from local Japanese shrubs. We don’t have those in the west, so our paper is made from tree pulp.
There’s a lot to love about washi, but here are my 3 FAVORITE facts (that I bet you don’t know):
- Washi is a 1,000-year-old Japanese paper.
- It tears in any direction you want because there are no grains in the plant pulp.
- Unlike western paper, it is literally warmer to the touch due to the tactile properties of the fibers (which makes it ideal for gift wrapping and packaging).
I not only lacquer my journal with it, but I also use it to label everything in my kitchen, to gift wrap presents, decorate cards, package my door hanger shipments… basically for all my crafts and DIY projects.
How to Use Washi Tape
Here are 7 ways to use washi in your bullet journal:
- Dividers — standard washi is about 15mm (0.6 inches) wide, but you can tear it into thinner strips to use as makeshift dividers (especially if you’re not artistic).
- Bookmark — fold a 1-inch piece around the outside edge of a page to mark your spot.
- Fix mistakes — use it to cover up any misspellings, smudges or smears.
- Layout designs — make box outlines and other fun, unique designs.
- Decoration — stick different size pieces on your spreads (if you don’t like art or know how to doodle).
- Labels or headers — write on washi to make headers on your pages or even on your journal cover. Be sure you use a sharpie or permanent marker.
- Filler — stick pieces in fill up awkward empty spaces.
Where to Buy Washi Tape
Washi is not always made in the traditional way, so watch out for the cheap knock-offs.
The bad stuff is usually sold in bulk (like packs of 30) and if the deal sounds too good to be true, then it usually is.
I’ve actually had much better luck finding fancier washi at Target — they have a great assortment of designs for good value.
The Scotch brand makes some really pretty styles with sturdier washi material.
So I recommend trying Target first for their cheap prices, then your local craft store, then order online from Amazon or Etsy (try and get it shipped from Japan). 🇯🇵
You’ll love it (and so will your kids).
Stencils are cut-out guides you can place over your journal pages to make quick art, patterns, and designs.
They are very easy tools to help us “non-artistic” people create icons, straight lines, and other shapes.
Look for these traits when buying stencils:
- You want stencils that are flexible, but not super thin.
- Stencils made of quality plastic work best.
- Make sure each stencil sheet has many cut-out designs (at least 8).
Remember earlier when we talked about keeping your bullet journal simple?
You definitely DO want to keep your journal lean & mean, but…
When you’re ready to take a baby step forward, stencils are a great place to start.
Q. How do I store stencils?
Keep them in their own pencil case (the pouch looking kind).
And if your collection gets large, you can use a 3 ring binder with page protectors, and just slide your stencils on in!
Q. How do I clean my stencil?
Gently wipe away any ink with a damp cloth.
Q. What pen should I use with stencils?
Q. What stencil shape is the most common?
Circle. You’ll see circle stencils used most often with habit trackers and fancy future log designs.
Making your own stickers is all the rage — and with new technology — has become a whole lot easier for people to make on their own.
The good news for you?
Now you can find virtually any design imaginable!
You can buy custom stickers from super fancy Etsy shops OR do what I do…
And go to Target or Walmart.
There you’ll discover a goldmine of cheap sticker sheets for only about a $1.
(You can also try Michaels or the Dollar Store too.)
I would recommend you start with individual letter stickers and use them for labeling page titles and headers.
That way, you can at least get a feel for the brand — how well they stick, peel off their backing sheets, etc. — before you decide to buy more.
To sum it all up:
Go to your local stores first, like a Target, to scope out their sticker inventory.
(You should find some gems. 💎)
Then choose letter stickers first and use them for titles and headers.
For example, you can stick the same apple sticker on top of school-related spreads or a briefcase sticker on work spreads.
How to Use White Out Tape
- Hold it like a pen at a 45-degree angle to the paper.
- Press the edge of the applicator on the page and drag it over the written mistakes you want to hide (you don’t need to press hard).
- Once applied, flatten out the tape by gently pressing down with your fingers.
- Wait 1 minute.
- Then write your corrections directly over the tape (you can use any type of pen).
Use correction tape. It’s super easy to use and helpful in a pinch.
Q. How do I fix white out tape?
Q. How do I remove white out tape?
DON’T do that.
It’s never a good idea to add extra liquids to paper — you’ll feather the ink and get soggy pages.
So I’d suggest scratching off the tape with your fingernail (or razor).
Q. Why not use an erasable pen?
Erasable pens use thermosensitive ink — fancy ink where the pigment disappears when you heat it up with the friction of an eraser.
The now “invisible” ink particles are still on the page though, they’ve just lost their color.
So it ends up being kinda weird having an extra film of invisible ink that changes the page texture. It just doesn’t feel clean.
But of course, it’s all up to you.
I don’t use erasable pens often, because I sketch out my spreads in pencil first, then just erase the pencil guides later.
Before we wrap up…
Let’s talk about a few extras: stamps, rulers, and Post-it notes.
Because who doesn’t love a few extra embellishments right? 🤣
When you search Amazon or Etsy, you’ll notice the best journaling stamps are rubber and generally fall into 2 design categories:
- Letter stamps — alphabet and individual letters to make your own headers and fonts (these are my favorite).
- Decorative stamps — images, symbols, dividers, symbols, etc. (basically anything that is not a letter stamp).
Now you might be wondering:
Which Stamps Should I Buy for My Journal?
I definitely recommend letter stamps, over decorative stamps, especially if you are just starting out.
Since your journal will have many more text-based elements (headers, page titles, etc.), you’ll end up using letters way more often than decorative stamps.
(Not to mention, you’ll also save time and money.)
Lettering stamps come in 2 types: Clickable and Clear
You can then snap the individual letters together to create your own custom words.
That’s what makes them so awesome — you stamp a whole word instead of stamping each letter one-by-one, which can be hard to keep in a straight line.
But with each letter stuck together into one word block? Problem solved.
I use clickables for a TON for bolded letters and to add special emphasis in almost every part of my journal.
Finally, we have clear stamps…
They show you exactly where you are stamping so you can make crisp, smudge-free images right where you want them.
I use them all the time, especially for larger spread titles, like “May 15 – 21”.
I recommend a clear block with lines, so you can see through the block to help you line up the block lines with the dot lines on your paper.
How to Use Stamps
- Open up your ink pad and place it close to your journal (use permanent, acid-free ink).
- Place a stamp rubber-side down onto your ink pad.
- Tap (don’t press the stamp 3 to 4 times into the ink so you don’t over-ink it.
- Gently pick up the stamp from the sides, then hold it up to the light to ensure you have full ink coverage.
- Then place it rubber-side down onto a page.
- Now gently press the back of the stamp with your finger firmly against the page, so you get an even image.
- Remove the stamp and gently blow on the page to help dry the ink.
- Then clean the ink off each stamp with makeup wipes or a damp cloth, before you store them.
Stamps are beautiful and will help you save time and energy.
If you’re like me, you may come to find that stamps are not worth it, simply because you’ll end up using them less and less as your journaling skills improve.
But they are definitely worth trying, and if you do, get your hands on those clickable or clear rubber stamps.
Q. Which ink should I use for rubber stamps?
Q. How do I clean rubber stamps?
Just use a makeup wipe or a damp cloth.
Or check out my stamp FAQ page.
Also, don’t use any cleaners with alcohol, since they are known to dry out and deteriorate the rubber.
Q. How often do I need to clean stamps?
If you start to notice your stamp images are getting a little blurry, it’s probably because you have an ink buildup.
So make sure you clean that rubber ASAP.
Q. How do I make my own stamps?
I’ve worked with companies across the country to make my own stamp line, so I have learned a lot throughout the process.
You’ll need to design your own characters (preferably in Adobe software) and then have them professionally printed, cut, and shipped.
Q. How long do stamps last?
Because rulers are COOL… and I love mine like my child.
Your ruler will be your #1 tool for designing weekly or monthly spreads.
You’ll use it much more at the beginning — when your designing your layouts — rather than later when you’re filling out your spreads throughout the week.
So don’t skimp on a ruler. It’s easy to overlook, but well worth it in the end.
What’s the Best Ruler
Here are a few things to look for in a bullet journal ruler:
- Stainless steel — metal is better than plastic, because it is more durable and doesn’t smudge the ink like plastic does.
- 6 inches or less — you want a ruler that fits within your standard A5 journal and is also easy to travel with.
- ½ cm increments — makes for easy measurement since the dot grids on your journal paper are usually ½ cm apart.
- Cork back — for no slipping and sliding, and since the cork provides a little cushion (the actual ruler doesn’t touch the page), it prevents smearing if you get ink on the metal part.
- Flexibility — a flexible ruler will bend with your pages and won’t break — like a clear or plastic one would — saving you money.
The most important quality is stainless steel.
Then remember to keep it short (6 inches) and to get that cork backing.
Q. How do you clean a stainless steel ruler?
I’ve had my stainless steel for 3 years and never had to clean it once.
But if you get some ink on it (and your ruler is truly “stainless”), simply wipe it off with a damp towel.
Q. Is it better to use a pen or pencil with a ruler?
You’ll use a pen much more with your ruler (I only use pencil when outlining my layouts).
That’s why it’s important to get a stainless steel ruler (with cork), so you don’t smudge or smear.
Q. What’s the difference between a ruler and the Door Hanger?
The Door Hanger is a straight edge tool and designed specifically for A5 bullet journal pages.
We use them for everything around our house, and they are equally useful for bullet journaling.
Which leads me to my next point:
How to Use Post-its in a Bullet Journal
Remember really way back, when we defined migration?
That’s when we move alive items — outstanding to-do’s, open appointments, etc. — from one journal spread to the next.
Want to know a cool way to migrate?
That’s right: Post-its
Use Post-its in your bullet journal to migrate or move lists of items to new places in your journal.
Here are my favorite lists to migrate:
- Grocery lists — didn’t get a chance to go food shopping that week? No problem. Stick the Post-it in the current week’s spread.
- Gift ideas — forget someone’s birthday? Need to go gift shopping? Move this list to your current schedule or a holiday month.
- Meal planning — have a menu on the mental backburner (I know I do)? Put a recipe on 7 different Post-its and change them around for each day of the week.
- ANY shopping list — basically anything you need to buy for anyone can go on a Post-it.
You can also make your own color key (on a spread page) for your Post-its.
For example, pink for shopping lists, red for meals, blue for task… or use a different color for each of your kids.
That way you can easily prioritize items and focus on what matters at the moment.
Post-its are sturdy and worth every penny.
Use them in your bullet journal to migrate lists or as task markers for floating items — things that don’t have a set time or can be done at a later date.
PRO TIP: Do you have something you want to hide? Like private info or maybe you were posting on Instagram, but didn’t want anyone to see the details of your journal?
Use a Post-it to cover it up.
Q. What size Post-its are best for a bullet journal?
Q. How do I keep sticky notes from falling down?
Second, break out your washi or scotch tape to secure them in place.
Q. How many times do Post-its re-stick on journaling paper?
On corrugated walls (or walls with textured wallpaper) they’ll stick less.
Starter Kits: $15, $30, $50 (+Printables)
These curated starter kits will give you a HUGE leg up and make it super easy for you to get started.
Just choose a kit based on your budget:
The basics to get you started.
Reward yourself with a little extra.
Wait, we’re not done.
Let’s look into the future for a second…
Let’s imagine a new school year is about to start or you’re about to begin a new chapter in your life.
You’ve researched the perfect supplies for the job.
You buy them online and they arrive on your doorstep in one beautiful package.
Life is great, until… you have no idea where to put anything.
Well, guess what we cover next?
Do you need a case for all your pens and pencils? What about your accessories?
How do you carry everything from your office to another room? Or what about traveling?
Let’s role play each of these scenarios one by one:
First, let’s talk about the basic components of your office, that will make your bullet journaling life much easier.
After all, your office is your home base and creative command center, so it’s important that we get this right from the start.
Remember this one thing:
Our goal is to have a super efficient and streamlined working environment, so you can access what you need when you need it.
Let’s start with the foundation of any office…
You want a simple desk that has only one drawer.
The drawer needs to be as wide as possible, and at least 2 inches tall to fit your drawer organizers (more on those in a second).
What desk do I have?
I use these white desks from Target, that come in around $100.
I have 3 of them actually.
They are easy to put together (and even EASIER if you get your man to do it 👍).
Cubbies are clutch.
Because they make your supplies easy to access and manage.
No more digging through cabinets or opening drawer after drawer — all you need to do is visit your favorite cubby hole and grab what you need.
Our goal is to have an open and clean working environment. 👌
Which cubbies do I use?
This 6-cube organizer is cheap and does the job.
You can even buy two and stack the blocks on top of each other (for a total of 12 cubes).
Or you can do what I do:
Lay one cubby block (with 6 small cubbies) on the ground.
Fill the cubbies with less frequently used supplies:
Like stamps, stickers, accessories, office materials, etc.
And then put one cubby block on a desk (or side table) with more common stuff, like pens.
I like to lay mine down low (3 x 2) if they block any window sunlight.
FOCUS: Don’t buy any canvas drawers (the ones that fit into the cubby cubes), because you can’t see inside them without pulling them all the way out.
Q. Should I label my cubbies?
Surprisingly, no (or not often) — just because you’ll put a lot of things into a single cubby, and your mix of things will change often as you figure out what works best for you.
But if you can’t resist, label the bottom shelf of each one using a simple labeler from Amazon (or you can use washi tape).
… and keep your label title one line and concise as possible.
And now to my secret office weapon… the whiteboard.
Whiteboard (kinda optional)
Want to know the trick to all those fancy spread designs out there?
They’re pre-planned and pre-designed.
You’ll notice that many journalers (including myself) use a pencil to sketch rough outlines of their layouts before they ink them on paper.
But an even more effective way to plan — without messing up your precious journal pages — is to map your ideas on a whiteboard.
This works especially well when making weekly spreads AND it’s a great brainstorming exercise to identify new tracker ideas.
Helpful whiteboard advice:
- Get a whiteboard with wheels that lock.
- Use a variety of marker colors for keys and to color-code your items.
- Don’t let a dry erase marker sit on the board for more than 48 hours. Erase your work daily.
- Take a picture of your board with your smartphone before you erase any important notes.
Whiteboards can be expensive, but trust me, they are a game changer.
Ok, let’s finish this section with some tips…
Office Setup Tips
- Pick an office color scheme and stick with it for all your office purchase (mine is white).
- Try to hide as little as possible — think open drawers, cubbies, shelves, and spaces.
- Quality cubbies can be hard to find, but they are super helpful, since you’re more likely to use the supplies if you can see them. 😉
- Let as much natural sunlight into the room as possible — this will help tremendously with your photography and coloring.
- Planning on shooting videos? Check out these video supplies.
Follow those rules and your office will be primed for success!
Alright. Ready to move on?
We’re about to give your desk some much needed special attention…
Let’s prepare it for your bullet journaling journey, shall we?
This section is all about keeping with our theme:
We want to keep things simple, since we are bullet journalers after all. 🙂
Let’s start with your desk’s biggest challenge: your pens.
Once you’ve got over 30 pens… you’ve got a problem.
They’ll be a pain in the butt to keep organized (believe me, I’ve got hundreds now).
But there is hope:
How and where you store your pens really boils down to which pens you decide are your favorites.
Here’s how to organize your pens, step-by-step:
Step 1: Choose Your Favorite Pens
Your first step is to decide which pens deserve your time and attention.
- Start by separating all your black pens from your colored pens.
- Then from each of those groups, separate your daily pens (fine tip pens) from your brush pens (mostly broad tip pens). You should be left with 4 groups of pens: black fine, black brush, colored fine, colored brush (don’t worry if you don’t have pens for all these groups yet).
- Ask yourself, “Which pens are my favorites that I will probably use daily?” Pick a max of 10 from each group and set them aside (don’t mix the groups). These are your favorite pens that you’ll want at your desk.
- Count them and take note of the total number. ✋
Step 2: Pick a Cool Caddy or Tote
I highly recommend you keep your favorite pens in a caddy or tote, that has at least 6 open compartments.
Well, we have 4 pen groups from the previous step, but we also want to reserve two more wildcard compartments, for things like highlighters and tools (scissors, correction tape, erasers, etc.).
And guess what?
Since you counted all your favorite pens earlier, you can now make an educated choice when it comes to the size of your new caddy.
If you have ~10 pens per group (10 black fine tips, 10 black brushes…), then you want dimensions of at least:
3.9 (H) x 9.5 (W) x 5.7 Inch (D)
(Feel free to go bigger. You DO want a tote that is scalable, that you can grow into.)
But size isn’t all that matters.
Make sure your caddy fits your office’s style and personality — matching colors, circular design (if you use Lazy Susans), etc.
DIY: Don’t want to buy a caddy or tote? You can also use a cardboard six-pack holder (the beer kind) or a fancier wooden one that you can find in the wine section of your grocery store.
Step 3: Fill Your Tote
It’s time to fill her up!
Put each of your favorite 4 pen groups into their own compartments.
In the remaining 2 compartments, put your tools (ruler, eraser, scissors, correction tape) in one, and highlighters in the other.
All you need to do now is keep that tote by your desk, and you’re all set.
Is there a way to make pen organization even easier?
Yes, yes there is…
Step 4: Optimize Your Tote for Easy Access
Don’t leave your tote naked.
It needs some labels — that way you can quickly find and grab the pens you need when you need them.
So just label the side of each of your 6 compartments with a pen group or accessory name.
For example, black fine, black brush, colored fine, colored brush, highlighters, and tools.
Use a labeler like this or simply write on a piece of washi tape.
Step 5: Store Away Those Leftover, “Non-Favorite” Pens
For those extra Tombow Brush Pens…
If you have a ton extra brush pens lying around (I know I do), you should store them in the accordion Tombow Marker Case.
It fits nicely right on top of your desk and has 108 pen slots to hold of your colored caps upright, so you can find them quickly.
I made a free Color Guide Printable Grid to help you organize all the 108 colors.
You want to keep your finished journals close by for easy access.
Because you may find that you want to migrate spreads from your older journals to your new one.
So what’s the best way to store your journals?
Put them on a bookshelf with bookends, ordered from oldest to most recent.
(If you don’t have an available bookshelf, then stack them from the oldest on the bottom to the most recent on top.)
These upright letter holders also fit well on a desk surface.
Simply organize them like you would any book, but make sure to keep them close by for reference.
Q. Should I buy a journal cover?
No. I don’t use journal covers (or cases) at home, because the journals I buy already have super high-quality covers.
Covers are usually made from bulkier material (like leather) to protect against the weather. No need for that extra bulk in your office.
What about all that washi rolling around?
I use these 4-inch washi dispensers — they hold my top-five rolls and have a cutting edge to get just the right length I want.
(They are also super lightweight and easy to move from cubby to cubby.)
But let’s be honest:
You probably have more than just 5 rolls of washi lying around.
So what do you do with them? Simple.
I toss all my extra washi rolls in a drawer organizer or a silverware divider, which I keep in my main desk drawer (or in a cubby).
Room to Room
That’s why I love to lay by the pool or just cuddle on a blanket with my pups.
So this quick section is all about moving room-to-room around the house.
(We’ll talk about traveling away from home in a bit.)
When I move from room-to-room, I take my caddy with all my pens.
But what about those unique accessories, like stencils, stamps, and stickers?
I carry those in one of my all-time favorite accessories:
When you pick a pouch, you want dimensions of at least:
11 3/4″ W x 9 1/2″ H
That way you can fit all your rectangular accessories.
(It’s especially helpful for stencils and sharp objects, like scissors or a compass.)
This pouch doesn’t just stay at home. It also travels…
On the Go: Traveling
Sometimes you just can’t leave home without that bullet journal.
I go to the beach A LOT (I live in Gulf Shores, Alabama) and I always bring my journal.
But whether you’re going down the street or to Bora Bora, here are a few storage pointers to make your experience the best it can be…
Short, Weekend Trips
If you’re going on a road trip for just a couple days, try the Monaco Storage Case.
It’s ~12 inches long, has 9 pen loops, and can even hold stamps, ink, and stickers in a cool transparent pouch.
I like it on the road because it has a tough exterior, and can fit in my carry-on bags or larger purses.
Are you planning a dream getaway?
You better not forget your journal to capture all your memories!
So you may want an all-in-one case to bring extra pens AND accessories along for the ride.
The Happy Planner Storage Case-Stripe is a popular choice.
It’s 12 x 10.5 x 4 inches and comes with two detachable pouches for washi tape, scissors, and all your pens.
The best part?
One side includes a large pouch designed specifically to hold most journal sizes.
If you’re looking for just extra pen or marker storage, I LOVE the ColorIt Large Pencil Box Case Storage.
It holds over 100 pens or pencils and is built for excessive use.
(Going back to school? This baby is tough enough for the job.)
Quick Bullet Journal Travel Tips:
- Make sure to prioritize which pens you take on your trip.
- If you’re going on vacation, take more brush pens, markers, and fun stuff, like stickers.
- Going on work or school trip? Take more fine-liners and everyday pens.
- Don’t forget your pouch, with stencils, stickers, stamps and other rectangular goodies.
- Are you checking your bag? If so, pack your scissors and other liquid supplies. If not, leave them behind.
- Probably not a good idea to take fountain pens at higher altitudes.
- Take a backup journal, in case you get it wet and end up vacationing in a location that doesn’t have a supply shop or cell service (for digital logging).
- If you know your daily itinerary ahead of time, pre-make as many spread designs as possible with any stamps or fancy headers — that way you can save space in your cases AND don’t have to bring any ink or extra stickers.
- While planning your trip (scheduling your tours, making reservations), write down important numbers and events in your journal so you have it on the go.
We’ve gone over a TON of supply ideas.
When you’re ready, the next chapter awaits, where we start learning how to bullet journal.
But Whitney, “What if I want to get started right now and create a travel spread?”
In that case, here are 10 ideas for you! Pick your favorite:
- Plan a Dream Trip
- Weekend Getaway Ideas
- City Spreads
- Packing Lists
- Trip Planner
- Map of Places You’ve Traveled
- Mileage Tracker
- Games in the Car
- Gas Consumption
- Travel Souvenirs
Get details on these travel ideas and hundreds more in this ideas post!
Hey, guess what?
You’ve finished Part 1. Congratulations!
(That was a lot of info, so great work.)
But it gets better:
There is a Part 2 to this guide.
You’re about to discover the good stuff: how to set up your journal, make it pretty, and keep it organized for years to come…
Are you ready for Part 2?
Before you jump to Part 2, please do me a favor and tell me what you thought about Part 1 of this guide in the comments. 👇