Let me put this article in perspective: I have ADD. I was diagnosed about four years ago, and it’s given me plenty of time to experiment with different ways of tackling the ongoing symptoms that plague the forever-distracted brain.

The following approach to bullet journaling is designed to accommodate the kind of brain that overcommits, constantly forgets, is impulsive, and gets side-tracked. It is designed to be flexible. That flexibility is bullet journaling’s strength and makes it perfect for students. Need to organise work placement and sporting commitments? Bullet journal can help. Full-time student slash Etsy entrepreneur who struggles to keep track of invoicing? Bullet journal can help. Have health issues and need to manage medication and doctor’s appointments? Bullet journal can help.

All that said, it can be difficult to know where to begin. So here are nine pointers from someone who sucks at getting started, on how to get started.

1. Buy a journal that you will actually use.

This one seems obvious, but if you have a lackadaisical prefrontal cortex, decision time can be paralysing. You want a nice one, but too nice is intimidating. You want one that’s big enough, but still fits in your bag. Floppy cover or hardback? 190 pages or 300? Paperblank or Leuchtturm1917? UGH.

Image by Cat Cotsell.

If you reach this stage and can’t push past it, buy a cheap notebook from the post office. You won’t be afraid to use it because it’s cheap. You can experiment with layouts. When the notebook is full, you’ll have a handle on your journaling style – what works for you, what you need, which PVA glue works best. You can bring that knowledge with you when you go to Eckersleys or Dymocks to upgrade to a Moleskine.

2. Pens do not matter.

Use whatever doesn’t bleed through the page. Shut down the little voice that only wants to use micron fineliners. That little voice is an elitist bastard. Pick up a biro. Those things are everywhere.

Or, if you are a pen-hoarder and you have weird pens laying around, use them! That’s what they’re for. Your drawers will thank you for uncluttering them.

Image by Cat Cotsell.

3. Mess up the first page.

If you bought a nice journal and you’re afraid of getting started because you’re worried you’re going to ruin it, pick up a crayon or a sharpie. Open your journal to the first page. Do it.

Now scribble all over it.

Congratulations! Nothing you do beyond this page is going to “ruin it”. Your journal is there to be utilitarian, not pretty. You have so many pages, and there is so much space for lists and mood trackers and doodles to work side-by-side. And hey, if you really, viscerally hate the look of crossed-out words, no stress. That’s what whiteout is for.

4. Do a chapters page.

This will be one of the most useful pages in the whole journal because it lets you find stuff. Most journaling guides call this an index. If you’ve got a journal with numbered pages, cool. If not, whack the numbers on the page as you go. Then you can find your shopping lists or important phone numbers without flicking through.

Another helpful tip for finding stuff – put a bit of tape on the corner of VIPs (very important pages) so you don’t even have to look at the index. Washi tape, if you must.

And I must.

5. Create a key.

This page is to remind you what you meant when you crossed out that one word in red pen, and then the next word in green pen, and then did a little illuminati symbol.

Symbols help you mark stuff for future reference. When you constantly want to note in shorthand but tend to forget your own shorthand, a key can be a lifesaver.

6. Choose Your Own Adventure!

FUCK. I know. I know. We are halfway there and the vast expanse of possibility has left us with more decisions to make. You could go by the standard guide which calls for monthly and daily calendars, but if you only want to do the calendar once and make a bunch of lists, do that. If you like charts for scheduling, do that. There is no right or wrong. There is only useful and not useful.

And guys – don’t be afraid to get extra. Use glitter glue, use gel pens, use confetti. If your friends roll their eyes at your mood board covered in Minnie Mouse bandaids and One Direction magazine cutouts, whack that fucker right in the arm.


But hard enough to leave glitter.

7. Security Measures.

If, like me, you forget all your passwords and PINs and want to carry them with you, note them down in a secure way. I cannot stress this enough. Write memory prompts rather than spelling them out. Hide them in a way only you will understand. Make them weirdly specific, or draw them, or use a code.

8. Talk to yourself the way Bob Ross would talk to you.

Would Bob Ross call you an idiot for skipping two pages or smudging your ink? No. Bob Ross would tell you that you don’t make mistakes; you have happy accidents.

So make room for happy accidents. Fight the urge to tear out a page when things don’t work out. Use post-its. If the happy accident has made the page totally unusable, guess what? Doolally page!

I dedicate these pages to Not Caring. Cover them in stickers. Doodle on them when you’re bored. Draw gremlins all over the page. It’s not that these pages don’t matter – they matter a lot. They matter because you can do things on them that you can’t do on your “nice” pages.

9. There is no wrong way to journal.

Again, this is obvious. But for something so obvious, a lot of people seem to get stressed over journaling “properly”. I’m a huge advocate of personalization. Perfection is unattainable. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try, it just means that you should learn to see stuff-ups in a positive light. Forgive yourself and turn the stuff-up into something good, like a doolally page.

I hope some of this is useful, and if not, awesome! Finding out that something doesn’t work for you is just another step on the road to finding what does work. So have fun, and best of luck for the school year!