6 Things NOT to Do When You Start a Bullet Journal

You have decided (or are on the verge of deciding) to start a bullet journal. Yay! They’re so much fun and I personally have been absolutely in love with the bullet journal system. I’ve been using mine for nearly a year now and am on to my second journal. I’ve done a few videos on my bullet journal experience, and any time I do, or any time I post a picture of my journal on Instagram I always get comments from people saying they want to start a bullet journal but they’re afraid/don’t know where to start/worried they’ll screw it up/aren’t “creative” enough.

A quick scan of all the massive amount of videos on YouTube or pictures on Instagram when you search “bullet journals” can leave you feeling seriously overwhelmed about starting a bullet journal. I’ve been there. But thankfully I kept going and just started. I watched a lot of videos about how to start a bullet journal but looking back I wish I’d had someone tell me a few key things about what NOT to think about when starting. So here’s what I would tell myself last July when I was starting. Hopefully this helps any of you thinking about starting a bullet journal to finally just go ahead and dive right in…

When you start a bullet journal DON’T…

1. Spend a ton of money

When you watch the videos and scroll through Instagram, you see people using really beautiful pens and makers, gorgeous washi tapes, and filling in page after page of their sleek, dotted Leuchtturm 1917 notebooks. You know, the ones that cost about $20 per notebook. When I started my bullet journal I thought about buying one, I looked at them on Amazon. But I already had a $20 notebook from Ted Baker lying around, so I decided to use that. But a $2 notebook would have worked just as well. My current bullet journal is in a £6 notebook from Paperchase. Point is, you can use any notebook you want, and for your first one, cheaper is probably better. It will alleviate some of the stress of “I paid a fortune for this, I can’t make any mistakes!” Find a notebook that fits your budget. My two pieces of advice for notebooks are simply that they are blank or dotted (it looks cleaner than lined) and that it’s spiral bound (especially important if you want to use lots of stickers, washi tape, or stick in ticket stubs or pictures). The cost is far less relevant than it’s functionality and your comfortability with using it and making mistakes in it.

2. Over-think it

Not to sound like a Nike ad, but seriously, just do it. Just start. Don’t think. Just do it. You have to start somewhere, and the more you stare at the blank journal, the more you’re going to freak yourself out about writing in it. I like to think of my bullet journal the same way the Doctor thinks of time, my bullet journal is not a linear progression of time, it’s a bit wibbly-wobbly, time-wimey. (Major points to those who are getting that reference, you’re awesome) One page might have notes for this week, the next is planning my summer budget, then back to the current week, then looking at planning my trip to London in October. A lot of people start their journals with a key, then an index, then future log, etc. But there’s no rules. Your journal can start with the weekly spread for the week you’re starting. Your index could be in the back of the journal (like it is in books). You could sketch in a key a month after you start, just put it somewhere that makes sense to you. I rarely look at my key, so it really doesn’t have to be at the front. Point is, start wherever is easiest and makes the most sense to you. You don’t have to start your journal in the same way other people do. So start with whatever feels like the easiest, and don’t overthink it. Bullet journals should be fun.

3. Worry about your handwriting

I get compliments about my handwriting sometimes but honestly I used to hate it. I’ve never thought it was pretty enough or had enough flourishes. It’s messy and chaotic (a bit like me lol). When I first started using a bullet journal I looked at so many images on Pinterest and different blog posts for learning lettering and calligraphy skills. I wanted sooooo desperately to have “beautiful” handwriting like all the samples I was seeing. I bought fancy pens and markers to try to have the right tools for writing, but I just never had enough time (or patience or real desire) to practice. I would try to mimic certain styles but at the end of it all, my own handwriting was still visible. So finally I just gave up. I use my own handwriting in my bullet journal. I might add a few extra flourishes here and there, but for the most part I just write. My handwriting is one of the few things that makes my bullet journal truly unique. My layouts are a combination of ones I’ve seen online with my own preferences mixed in. I use stickers and washi tape that anyone else can purchase at their local craft store or on Amazon. But no one can really copy my handwriting (not that they’d want to lol). So I embrace my handwriting now, messy and chaotic though it may be. When you start your bullet journal, don’t worry about your handwriting. That’s your own unique contribution to your bullet journal that separates it from everyone else. 

4. Feel like you have to do everything at once

Build your collections slowly. Pinterest is full of ideas for bullet journals. So is YouTube. It can be very tempting to do ALL THE COLLECTIONS! One list and routine and motivational spread after the other. But it can also be overwhelming. So pace yourself. Start slow. You can either mix your collections in with your monthly/weekly/daily spreads, or you can save space in your journal and come back and fill them in later. This is something I’ve done with both my journals. I made a list of the collections I knew I wanted in my journal and that I knew I wanted near the front of the journal, before the rest of my spreads. So I put each idea for a collection/list on a sticky note and then put the sticky notes on the relevant blank pages in my journal. This let me flip through the pages and move the sticky notes to adjust the order of the pages. I then started with my regular spreads and over the course of a couple weeks, went back and drew in those various collections. So take your time and don’t feel like you have to have a beautifully designed and filled out bullet journal the first day you start. It’s a work in progress.

5. Feel like you have to start over if you make a mistake

While I periodically flip back through my journal to past pages, especially for certain notes and collections that I need to reference, for the most part once I flip the page and start a new one, the previous one doesn’t matter. I’ve made so many mistakes since I first started using a bullet journal. I misspell words, I get dates wrong, I try some fancy lettering style and it all goes wrong. I just roll with it. It can be tempting to want to rip out the page or cover the mistake with washi tape (a trick that does work for some minor mistakes) but most of the time, especially if it’s just a daily or weekly spread, I just ignore it and move on. If it’s a larger collection page that I’m going to come back to day after day I might turn the page into something but usually I just ignore the mistake and keep going. Mistakes, like your handwriting, are another thing that make your journal unique to you. If you have to have everything perfect, bullet journaling might not be for you. Bullet journaling has taught me to be more flexible and adaptive and to just roll with the mistakes and not judge myself for them. It’s taught me the importance of valuing progress over perfection and to embrace all my little quirks and flaws. I would encourage others to learn the same from their mistakes in their journal. 

And finally, DON'T....

6. Compare your bullet journals to other people’s bullet journal

This last one is probably the most crucial, but also links to the above five. When I first started using a bullet journal I watched so many videos on YouTube and saw so many gorgeous bullet journals. Everyone had such prettier handwriting than mine and were so talented at doodling and sketching. But comparison is the thief of joy. Use other’s journals as sources of inspiration but do NOT compare or measure your own journal against theirs. Bullet journals are supposed to be unique to each individual. No one wants their journal to look exactly like someone else’s. Bullet journals are so incredibly personal and so much of your creativity, heart and soul, goes into your journal. So if it doesn’t look like someone else’s that’s a good thing! If you feel like you’re starting to compare, stop looking at Pinterest or YouTube or Instagram lol. Just step away from your computer or phone and focus on your own journal. Your journal is beautiful and special and unique. Just like you. 

I hope these tips help you with your bullet journal. They really are such a fun and creative way to plan and organize your life. I almost don’t know how I managed before I started. My first journal was such a learning experience and I’m having so much fun with my second journal.

Do you have a bullet journal or have you started one recently? What tips do you wish someone had told you at the beginning? Let me know in the comments below.




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