How to Set Up a Bullet Journal

One of the questions I’ve been asked a lot recently is how to set up a bullet journal. So many people tell me they’ve started one in the past, but found they weren’t able to stick with the habit. In my experience the reason behind this is usually the set-up. In this post I’ve going to walk you through how I set up all my bullet journals. And in particular how, in just one hour, I set up a bullet journal specifically for my home / diy projects. Let’s start!

Bullet journal cover page for a dedicated Home journal

Step 1: What is the purpose of your journal?

This might seem obvious but I find it’s a step that so many people miss. You want to start bullet journaling; you order a beautiful notebook, stare at the blank pages, feel overwhelmed by where you’re “supposed” to start, don’t want to ruin the lovely pretty -blank – pages, and put the notebook back on the shelf.

Start with deciding exactly what prompted you to bullet journal. What is the function you want it to achieve? If you imagine looking back through this notebook 12 months from now, how do you envisage it will have helped you?

This could be anything from:

  • Greater time management,
  • A place to keep your sketches,
  • A timeline of your life,
  • A way to track your personal goals separately to work planning; or as in my case,
  • Manage the 1001 renovating or DIY jobs needed to make our house into the home we dream of.

Bullet journaling is about so much more than daily, weekly and monthly to-do lists. Decide on your purpose and that will be the greatest motivator for sticking with your journaling habit.

Step 2: Map out the Contents

I love a good mindmap almost as much as I love to bullet journal. As a visual learner it works well for me but the way you plan your contents is up to you. The important part is to think about what sections you might need in your journal. This is the part of the set-up that seems like the most faff, but it doesn’t take long and it will save you time in the long run. When I did this exercise I just lightly drew it out in pencil on one of the pages.

The sections I decided on were:

  • Cover page
    1 double page – I love my journals to have a cover page at the front that states what the book is for. And it’s a good excuse for some hand lettering!
  • Index
    4 pages – I don’t bother with an index for my daily journal but it seemed like a good idea to include one here as I might want to easily find a particular project.
  • Floorplans
    3 pages – One page each for ground floor, first floor and garden. We only have one major renovation planned this year which will affect our layout. But it might be nice to keep track of how the house evolves year on year.
  • Quick Fixes
    1 page – A list of all quick fixes from throughout the house. So if my other half has an hour free at the weekend, I can easily find him something to occupy himself!
  • To Buy
    2 pages – I wanted a central place to keep track of all purchases needed. If I’m making a trip to the hardware shop, I can quickly see everything we need instead of having to refer to several lists.
  • Seasonal Planning
    2 pages divided into quarters – I’ve found that some projects are best tackled at certain times of the year. For example garden plans will probably fall mainly into Spring and Summer. We learnt the hard way that Winter is not the time to try and landscape your garden! Decluttering might fall in to Autumn and a kitchen refurb might be Spring. Planning ahead seasonally feels like it might help us to focus on the projects to hand, instead of everything all at once.
  • Room by Room
    This is nothing more complicated than a page for every room in our home. I go through each room and list down everything, and I mean everything, that needs to be done. From the lightbulb that (still) needs replacing, to the door that has a habit of falling off its’ hinges. It can feel like this list is long, but for now all I have to worry about is spotting the issues and writing them on to the list.
  • Specific Projects
    Essentially, once the pages above are sorted, the rest of the notebook will be given over to projects. Each project will vary in the number of pages it needs so I’ll set these up as the year progresses. I’ll show you a few pages further below so you can see how I’m laying things out for our bedroom redecoration.

Step 3: Choose your notebook and pens

This beauty was a gift for my birthday (I’m afraid I don’t know the make, I think it came from a design museum in Germany!). It’s roughly A5 with a dotted grid and there’s plenty of pages for what I’ll need over the year. There’s a huge variety of notebooks to choose from of course, so my recommendation is to think about what will work best for your purpose. Dotted grids or squares work well for anything that needs layouts or drawing. Lined books work well for writing. Blank pages are great for sketching. Personal preference here.

Pens

This book is all about the practicality so I want to keep my pen choices simple. It might seem overkill to think about pens at this stage, but the reason I mention it is because some pens don’t work with some notebooks. I have a gorgeous pink, paisley patterned notebook that smudges every damn pen I use, apart from my most expensive fineliners. And if you want to create a book that doesn’t require that level of precision, do a pen test first. There is nothing more annoying then setting up a book, only to find each page you create looks like a muddy mess after you accidentally move your hand over it.

In this book I plan on using:

  • Zebra gel pen – I use this as my go-to list making pen. Rarely smudges and applies evenly.
  • Gelly roll size 08 pen – perfect for writing in white on black
  • Tombow brush pens – never smudge and I’ve consciously chosen just a few colours to keep things simple:
    • 985 – yellow
    • 526 – blue
    • 772 – pink
    • N95 – grey (this is the one I use to create stripy rows

Step 4: Number your pages

If your notebook isn’t already numbered, it’s a good idea to do so now. This means you can use the index to reference a specific page for each section. I number every right hand page, in the bottom right corner.

Step 5: Set up the pages

Seasonal planning

Bullet journal index

All of my headings are super simple in this book. I wanted something that I could create using the most basic of pens and in only a few minutes. The focus is on functionality in this book, not art.

I also take this opportunity to look through the lists for each page, transfer all quick tasks to the Quick Fixes list and all purchases required to the To Buy list.

Step 6: Project pages

Redecorating project page in bullet journal

My first project in this book is the redecoration of our bedroom. Hallelujah, it’s only taken us 7 years to get around it it! I wanted to include a little moodboard (I just printed out my Pinterest board), a task list and a budget/expenses table. We’re not changing the room layout, but if we were I’d have included a page for that too.

Budget and expenses tracker for bullet journal

I love how this has turned out. I’m even excited to start filling in the expenses! But maybe I’m just a bit weird like that.

Over to You!

So there you have it. My process for setting up a bullet journal for home / diy projects. This particular book might be home / diy but the process works just as well whatever you want to use your notebook for. And if drawing all these headings and layout seems like a massive pain in the you-know-what, hopefully I can help you out there in my shop. So far there are printables for starting out in bullet journaling, tracking your reading, planning places to visit as well as weekly and monthly views to track your tasks. I’ll be adding new layouts each month and I’m working on prints that you can order and have delivered straight to your door.

Share Your Journal

Hopefully what you’ve taken from this is that bullet journaling serves a multitude of purposes. And can be customised in a way that helps you get organised and reconnect to the things you love.

Let me know if you give this a go, I’d love to see how you set up your bullet journal. Tag me on Instagram @thehappysideof40 or DM me if you have any bullet journal questions.

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How To Set Up a Bullet Journal in an Hour

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