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Everything you need to create your bullet journal key: minimalist and creative key ideas

Your bullet journal key is a staple component of your bullet journaling practice. Whilst it might not feel like the most exciting or creative part of your practice, the key acts as the foundation for everything you write and create inside your journal, so it’s important to get it right.

What is a bullet journal key?

A bullet journal key is a page at the start of your bullet journal where you keep track of the symbols, colours or other signifiers you use to represent various tasks and ideas stored inside your journal.

As with all bullet journaling, your key can be customised to meet your unique needs. You can build it around the way you use your bullet journal, updating and evolving it as you go. So you can use rapid logging to get your thoughts down onto paper, in the easiest way possible.

close up journalling

The original: Ryder Carroll’s bullet journal key

The original bullet journal key comes from Ryder Carroll, the creator of the bullet journaling system. Since bullet journaling was originally intended to be very minimal and simple, Ryder Carroll’s key is exactly that. It goes straight to the point.

a list of Ryder Carroll's bullet journal key

And that’s it! Each symbol has been selected to help you get your thoughts down onto paper fast. The idea is that the symbol dictates the type of idea, so all you need to do is write the accompanying thought.

Your bullet journal key will become a resource that you refer back to each time you use your journal, unlocking the potential of the bullet journaling practice with every use. However, you’ll likely find that, after some practice, you’ll start to remember what each symbol means without having to check back with your bullet journal key.

This practice is known as rapid logging, Ryder Carroll’s incredible system behind bullet journaling.

How to create a bullet journal key that works for you

Our favourite thing about bullet journaling is that it offers a blank canvas, with a simple system that can be customised to suit your needs. This means that your bullet journal’s key can grow and evolve as you do.

Since the key is an integral part of the bullet journal set-up process, it helps to consider how you’re going to use your journal when you’re designing your key. What will the purpose of your bullet journal be? This will dictate the type of key you need.



Here’s how to create a bullet journal key that’s just as unique as you are:

  • Set the purpose for your bullet journal. Will you be covering just one area of your life e.g. school or art projects? Or will you be journaling every aspect of your life?
  • Write a list of everything you expect to journal, from to-do lists to mood trackers, playlists and everything in between. Get it all down on paper.
  • Group this “mega list” into types of notes. Is there anything that could be combined into the same note type e.g. school tasks and home tasks?
  • Assign each note type a unique symbol and add it to your bullet journal key.
  • Choose your colour codes. If you’re journaling different areas of your life, you could categorise these by colour e.g. red for school, green for home, and so on. Or, use your colour codes to assign different priority levels to your notes.

There you go! You’ve just created your key. Need some more inspiration? Read on for our favourite bullet journal key ideas to get you inspired.

Bullet journal key symbols to get you inspired

Whilst Ryder Carroll’s bullet journal key acts as a great foundation for your journaling system (especially if you’re a fan of the minimalist aesthetic), there are plenty of ways you can build off it by creating key symbols of your own.

If you need some ideas to get you started, here are some favourites inspired by the way our Yop & Tom community use their journals.

Related: 8 Bullet Journaling Fonts You Have To Try (For Every Level)

⏰ = deadline
💡 = ideas
⏳ = task in progress
💰 = financial target
😀 = mood status
📺 = TV show
🎵 = song or playlist
📗 = reading list
💙 = goals
🕯️ = birthday

Minimalist bullet journal key ideas

This is a great example of key symbols that have been customised to suit that bullet journal’s specific purpose (we love the idea of adding a “task started” symbol!) whilst still keeping that minimal bullet journal aesthetic that so many of us love.

See how this bullet journaler has used different colours to represent different areas of their life? This is a really simple way to use the same symbols throughout your bullet journal, whilst making it nice and clear what area of your life you’re referring to. 

Sometimes, tasks get held up by situations out of our control. We love how this minimalist journaler has used the side timer symbol in her bullet journal key, for those times when projects get stuck. 

This is also really helpful for your motivation, since an item lingering on your to-do list can easily conjure up feelings of self-criticism (even when the situation is out of your control). 

This minimalist bullet journal key has taken the traditional approach to key symbols and tweaked it slightly, to suit their own personal style.

The circles typically used for tasks have become squares, shaded in to match the grid style of the journal itself. Whilst triangles have been added to differentiate between standard events and appointments. We love this simple yet purposeful approach!

Even more bullet journal key ideas

This bullet journal key is a good reminder that you can still have a minimal key even if you have a more colourful bullet journal style. We love the use of the key illustration to remind the reader that each of these symbols is unlocking the power of bullet journaling for them!

This is one of the more detailed keys we’ve seen, and we’re here for it! It’s colourful and intricate, yet you can clearly see the thought and consideration that’s gone into each symbol. The use of the trackers is a fantastic way to remember what your mood trackers actually mean, without having to find the right page each time.

This key is also intricate but in a very different way. The illustration is stunning and so striking, we’re pretty sure that this journaler will notice the key each time they open up their bullet journal - which is so important! We also love the addition of the travel suitcase symbol to add extra excitement to those upcoming trips. 

Remember, your bullet journal’s key is likely to change over time, as your bullet journaling practice changes too. 

If in doubt, start with a key that’s relatively simple and try to use symbols that are easy to remember. It’s far easier to add more symbols in than to take them away - nobody wants a messy key at the start of their bullet journal!

What will you unlock with your key?

All of our dot grid journals have an outlined key section, so you can start journaling from day one:

Hummingbird dot grid journal in deep ocean on white background
zoom in on humminbird emblem
zoom in on Yop & Tom logo - hummingbird journal
Hummingbird gift journal with colourful pens
open journal with pens
Hummingbird journal with dark background
A5 Dot Grid Journal - Hummingbird
Yop & Tom Index Page
Yop & Tom Key Page
Yop & Tom Hummingbird journal thick paper
Open journal showing grid guide insert
A5 Dot Grid Journal - Hummingbird
A5 Dot Grid Journal - Hummingbird
zoom in on yop & tom emblem on spine - burnt orange
A5 Dot Grid Journal - Hummingbird
A5 Dot Grid Journal - Hummingbird
A5 Dot Grid Journal - Hummingbird
A5 Dot Grid Journal - Hummingbird
A5 Dot Grid Journal - Hummingbird
Hummingbird dot grid journal in deep ocean on white background
zoom in on humminbird emblem
zoom in on Yop & Tom logo - hummingbird journal
Hummingbird gift journal with colourful pens
open journal with pens
Hummingbird journal with dark background
A5 Dot Grid Journal - Hummingbird
Yop & Tom Index Page
Yop & Tom Key Page
Yop & Tom Hummingbird journal thick paper
Open journal showing grid guide insert
A5 Dot Grid Journal - Hummingbird
A5 Dot Grid Journal - Hummingbird
zoom in on yop & tom emblem on spine - burnt orange
A5 Dot Grid Journal - Hummingbird
A5 Dot Grid Journal - Hummingbird
A5 Dot Grid Journal - Hummingbird
A5 Dot Grid Journal - Hummingbird
A5 Dot Grid Journal - Hummingbird