Bullet Journal Beginner Setup and Productivity Tips

Bullet Journal Beginner Setup, Ideas, Supplies, and Productivity Tips | ProductiveandFree.com

Productivity systems is always an interesting subject. 

The reason for this is there is actually no perfect system out there, though many people might still try to convince you of otherwise. 

The best system, however, is the one that aligns with your goals, your priorities, and your lifestyle. 

And so, this is precisely the reason why I was drawn to bullet journaling in the first place. This method is completely customizable to fit anyone’s needs — it’s both fast and flexible. 

According to Ryder Carroll, the inventor of the bullet journal system, this is an analog way to track the past, organize the present, and plan for the future. 

If you prefer the video format, click 'play':

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Here are five things to do to get started with bullet journaling:

  1. Get a pen and a notebook.

  2. Assign an index page where you can list down anything you write on whichever page of your notebook.

  3. Number your notebook pages (if they aren't numbered yet).

  4. Use bullets and signifiers to classify and easily recognize everything you write on your notebook (examples are provided in the video but feel free to use your own).

  5. Remember to always go back to your index page to keep track of what you write down.

And just like that, you already have your own basic productivity system. 


By writing things down and keeping tabs on them, you're clearing your mind to facilitate a higher level of thinking. This is when you're able to reach a level of focus that permits you to do deep and meaningful, high-value work. 

Now that we've covered the essentials of bullet journaling, let's talk about what actually goes in those pages. According to the bullet journal website, a section of anything you write on your notebook is called a collection. 

Here are the four core collections of bullet journaling:

  1. Index

  2. Future Log

  3. Monthly Log

  4. Daily Log

Again, the Index is where you jot down the page numbers and the corresponding description of whatever you write on whichever page of your notebook. 

The future log is where you list events, holidays, birthdays, appointments, meetings, to-dos, and more. This gives you a bird's eye view of what's to come and what to expect. 

The monthly log is where you gather all your tasks and assign them to specific days. This ensures that everything gets scheduled and prioritized in their own time. 

The daily log is where you can rapid log all your tasks, notes, ideas, etc. on a particular day. Don't forget to classify them with bullets and signifiers. Also, if you plan to migrate a task, write it down on a future date or if you schedule it, make sure to jot it down in your future log. 

As I mentioned early on, whatever you do with your bullet journal is completely up to you. So aside from these four core collections, here are other examples of what you can put in your notebook:

  • Weekly log

  • Habit tracker

  • Reading list

  • Gratitude log

  • Mood tracker

  • Brain Dump / Ideas section

  • Client list

  • Project list

  • Content calendar

  • Blog/Vlog stats

  • House chores

  • Expenses list

  • Grocery list

  • Meal planner

  • Favorite recipes

  • Fitness log

  • Quotes page

  • TV show or movie list

  • Travel list/places you want to visit

  • Word for the day

  • Student calendar

  • Study/Homework progress

  • and many more.

There is a new term introduced over in the bullet journal blog called a Stack. A Stack is simply a group of collections. For example, if you were to ask me what my stack is, it's the following:

  • Future Log

  • Monthly Log

  • Weekly Log

  • Monthly Trackers

  • Keystone Habits

  • Gratitude Log

  • Reading List

  • Blog Mapping and Stats

  • Expenses List

  • Ideas Section

  • Adventures List

Now that you know how the bullet journal system works and my suggestions on how you can setup your very first bullet journal, here are some supplies I recommend as well as the notebook I use:

Once you get the hang of bullet journaling, you'll find that it's actually a really effective productivity system. Aside from writing things down as I mentioned earlier, here are seven tips on how to increase your productivity using this system. 

Do you prefer the video format? Click 'play':

01. Write down your goals

It's no secret that having goals is crucial to being productive. This is how you know you're spending your valuable time, energy, and attention on things that really matter. But do you know what's even more powerful than having goals?

It's having goals that are written down. 

Since your bullet journal is something you already write on on a regular basis, it's only logical to map out your goals in there as well. 

> You can list your goals according to what, why, how, and by when

> You can have a wish list and match each task to a particular reward. 

> You can have a checklist to see if your goal aligns with goal-setting strategies such as SMART, Stretch, BSQ, or OKR. 

> Or, you can simply have a statement of what you want to achieve each month, day, or week.

02. Identify your ideal productive day and compare it with your actual day

Since we all have 24 hours in a day, the simplest way to do this in your bullet journal is to create a time map and visualize what your ideal productive day looks like — what are things you should be working on and what are activities you should not be doing. 

Then choose a regular day and log everything you do in each hour or half-hour. Afterwards, compare the two lists and evaluate where you need to improve on. 

Are you spending too much time checking emails? On social media? In meetings? Watching tv? You might be surprised how much of your day is actually spent on distractions and multi-tasking instead of deep work. 

03. Track your habits and activities

This is a favorite among many bullet journalists since we already know the habits we should be developing and the activities we should be doing on a regular basis. 

Simply search 'bullet journal tracker' in Google or in Pinterest and you'll find beautiful and inspiring layouts from others. 

Some things you can track are your keystone habits, your fitness, your meals, your projects, your blog/vlog stats, finances/expenses, your morning routine, and your evening routine. 

When it comes to habits, I highly suggest identifying the habit loop. According to Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, a habit consists of three steps: the cue, the routine, and the reward. By establishing what triggers a habit and what reward we associate with it, we'd get better at developing or reshaping our habits. 

04. Identify your SMITN

SMITN is just a catchy acronym I came up as a thought trigger to remind myself whenever I wasn’t prioritizing. It stands for:

Single Most Important Task Now

As I mentioned earlier, a huge portion of our day is usually wasted on distractions and multi-tasking. But if we always highlight our single most important task now, then we can more effectively act on things that actually move the needle. 

This is related to concepts found in Eat That Frog by Brian Tracy, The One Thing by Gary Keller, even Essentialism by Greg McKeown. 

So, in your bullet journal, it’s as simple as marking your top priority, high-value task with a star or an asterisk and making sure you work on it before your other activities. 

05. Schedule a regular review period

It can be as simple as listing what you need to do 'more' of and 'less' of. Or your can review different areas of your life and rate them using a scale of 1 to 10.

This is what some bullet journalists call the level 10 life or wheel of assessment, which was taken from The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod.

You can even make a simple “stop doing” list to recognize which activities hinder your self-development and are essentially time-wasters.

The concept is that since we will always have areas of our lives that we can improve on, why not check in with yourself on a regular basis — yearly, monthly, weekly, even daily if you’re up for it. 

06. Make a "go over later" list

Again, it’s really difficult to be productive when you’re constantly bombarded with distractions all day long. 

But what if that distraction is a brilliant idea that just popped into your head? How do you turn that off when you’re trying to focus and get things done? 

Well, one simple but effective way is to acknowledge the idea and write it down in a “do later,” “brain dump,” or “go over later” list. 

This way, you’ll have a record of the idea and still be able to choose to work on it later when you’re ready to devote 100% of your time, energy, and attention to it.

07. Have a gratitude list

When it comes to productivity, sometimes it’s NOT about achieving more, being everywhere, and doing everything. 

A lot of it is saying NO to things that don’t really matter and instead, being content with who you are, where you are, and what you have. 

I love the question posed by Tim Ferriss in his latest book, Tools of Titans, where he asks, 

Could it be that everything is fine and complete as is?

He was talking about how our obsession with being productive can sometimes make us more anxious, stressed, and lose sight of what’s really important. 

This is related to what Productive and Free is all about. Our aim in being productive is NOT to simply do more work, but so we can be free to pursue the things we love. 

And so in your bullet journal, my last suggestion is to list down and contemplate on things you should be grateful for or simply, to recognize and celebrate your small wins on a regular basis. 


Now as I mentioned many times before, what you do with your bullet journal is entirely up to you. And so, the same goes with these seven suggestions —

If something is unnecessary, eliminate it. If something isn’t entirely applicable, improve it. And if something works, use it. 

Now I’d love to hear from you — which of these are you already implementing? What are you itching to try out?