I’m thinking of starting a bullet journal, what are some of your must haves?
There’ve been quite a few helpful answers already, but as the inventor of a smart grid ruler that makes Bullet Journaling easier and more fun, I feel like I should chime in on this so you can learn from my beginner’s blunders (and whoo boy, did I make some doozies!).
In the interest of time and money, if I had to boil down my must-haves to only my top 3, here’s what they’d be:
A notebook with quality paper.
Whether you like lined, grid, dot grid, pre-numbered, or blank sheets; field guide, A5 8“ x 5.
5”; or Letter 11” x 8.
5” size; 50, 180, or 250 pages for your BuJo (Bullet Journal); I highly recommend not skimping on the paper QUALITY.
I learned (the hard way) how frustrating it is to fill a whole page, flip it over, and not be able use the other side because the sheet is thin enough to see what you just wrote.
Which is why many Bullet Journal enthusiasts recommend Leuchtturm1917, Moleskine, Rhodia, Midori and other brands of notebooks with good paper – because the only other option would be to paste a piece of paper over the 2nd side before using it.
(Which, unless you like to tote around a glue stick, isn’t easy to do when you’re in transit.
It also makes your cheap notebook more of a hassle than an easy-to-use tool.
Need more reasons? An expensive pen can’t make up for cheap paper.
Poor-quality paper rarely holds up to much erasing or abuse.
I’ve also found stickers, glue, and sticky notes typically don’t stick to cheap paper very well.
So, do you have to buy a $20 notebook? The short answer is – No.
I’ve found notebooks as cheap as $5 with decent paper (craft, book, and outlet stores are great places to look for them).
However, you’ll want to do your own testing, which brings me to #2…
A pen that writes smoothly, dries quickly, and doesn’t bleed through.
Another super colossal annoyance of mine? Dragging my hand over freshly-written text or lines and smearing it.
Or, worse yet, trying to draw or write, but finding the pen and paper completely incompatible – the ink skips, you need to press down hard to get the ink to show, it doesn’t write much at all, the ink color is too light or too dark, etc.
And even if you use quality paper, some inks still bleed through practically anything (I’m looking at you, permanent markers and dye inks…).
To help decide which pen(s) you like best, test them on a page in the back of your notebook.
If you label each test with the brand/name/model of the pen and a short sentence regarding how the pen-to-paper feels to you, you’ll be able to refer back to it when you can’t remember why you’re not using a particular pen and were wondering if you should try it … [ yeah, no, I’ll never admit to gapping out and forgetting something like that….
From purely an ‘essential’ view, if you find the right pen you technically don’t need any other writing utensils (although the artist in me loves me some rainbows).
This is especially true if you don’t have to pre-sketch your grid layouts in pencil before tracing over them in pen (making two passes over the same marks).
It’s easy to avoid double the work if you have …
A small (smarter) ruler.
Some, but not many, BuJo enthusiasts recommend a ruler as an essential Bullet Journaling tool.
Maybe it’s because, like me, they find it isn’t useful for anything other than being a straightedge (ironic, for a tool meant for measuring)?
Imagine this: You’re baking a cake.
The recipe calls for a cup of flour, but the only measuring tool you have is a teaspoon.
Or how about this: You need to pound in a nail.
All you have is a screwdriver.
Now picture this scenario: You’re trying to make evenly-spaced rows and columns on a sheet of paper printed with a grid laid out in 5mm increments – using a ruler that measures in inches and centimeters.
Can you bake that cake using only a teaspoon? Pound in a nail with a screwdriver? Measure Pinterest-perfect evenly-spaced rows and columns with a regular ruler? Sure you can.
Inconvenient tools won’t stop you from accomplishing a task, but they can make it take a lot of extra time and effort.
“Make it Better” and “Question Everything” are running themes in my life, so I thought – since I’m using paper that uses measurements in 5mm increments, why am I not using a ruler that measures in millimeters? Even better, why not have it show me a visual representation of breaking up the page into halves, thirds, quarters, fifths, and more? I could use it like a stencil to make two sets of marks on the page and then draw lines between them with one pass.
Best of all, I’d have a template to show me my options instantly rather than wasting hours measuring and calculating every layout! (I mean, a BuJo is for SAVING time, not wasting it, right?)
I figured someone else must have come up with something, but I couldn’t find anything as cost-effective or simple as I wanted it to be.
So I got to work and made it myself.
(You can make something similar by creating your own grid spacing cheat sheet, but if you’re interested, I wrote more about the invention process on my blog.
A decent quality journal (so the ink doesn’t bleed through to your next page), a pen you enjoy writing with/can write neatly with, and a small ruler.
For my regular spreads, that’s all I use.
I have a set of black micro-line pens in various sizes so I can write big and bold for headings and small anywhere else, but that is purely aesthetic preference.
The journal I use is a pocket sized Leuchtturm 1917 dot grid journal.
I like that it has a small pocket in the back cover (where the ruler can fit) as well as a built in table of contents.
It is also a pretty sturdy little book that can fit in pretty much any purse of mine.
I do like the artsy spreads, and have a small collection of stencils and stamps, but tend to save them for one-shots in my books (such as my books to read page or my important dates/birthdays page).
My must have recurring spread is my habit tracker.
It allows me to track health/mental health symptoms as well as whether or not I took my medications/vitamins.
I do it monthly.
Pinterest has been my main resource for finding ideas for spreads.
Really, no kidding, that’s it.
The bullet journal is a very simple system and nothing fancy is needed to have a good one.
The idea that you need a lot of fancy equipment is antithesis to the system.
I mean, don’t get me wrong, there are people who make a Bullet Journal a work of art.
That’s not in the least a requirement to use the bullet journal system.