It was only a short time ago that I was the epidemy of disorganized. Sticky-notes with to-do lists were littered all over my desk and virtually every task on them went unaccomplished; the clothes that covered my floor were never picked up, the textbooks on my desk were never read, and any habits that I sought to implement found themselves residing in the bottom of the trash bin. My life, was more or less, a complete mess. Now don’t get me wrong. I was still ok, but everything that I had to do was completed last minute – and everything that I didn’t have to do, was largely forgotten. I passed my classes, excelled in athletics and continued to participate in the things that I loved, yet like many other individuals, I was largely unhappy. I was constantly anxious, constantly worried about my lacking productivity, and very few of my goals actually manifested themselves as a reality.
Then one day, while neglecting my daily sticky note of tasks and watching youtube instead, I came across a Ted talk titled, “[How to declutter your mind – keep a journal](How to declutter your mind — keep a journal | Ryder Carroll | TEDxYale)” by Ryder Carol. In my procrastination, I not only traced through several interviews with Ryder Carol and his journaling method (most notably his interview with Matt D’Avella) but realized that I might have found the perfect system for me.
Below, you will find a reflection on my personal experience with the Buller Journal method, an analysis of the system’s strengths/weaknesses, as well as a brief guide to starting your own “BuJo”
Why Bullet Journal?
The traditional method of Journaling never worked for me, and this was not something I hadn’t tried more than once. Each time, I would sit down at my desk, fueled by a sudden spur of motivation, and take the time to make/decorate a journal for myself. The result? A stack of three or four decorated journals, each with a page of scribbles; the long from writing was often time-consuming and laborious, making the process yet another task to accomplish rather than a simple means of placing my thoughts on paper. My mind was constantly racing, and I tried to-do-list apps, sticky notes, and virtually every other method of journaling/planing my day. Not one method stuck. Apps never worked – invariably my finger would find itself opening youtube, instagram, or snapchat rather than my to-do list – and my messy nature made sticky notes little more than another mess I had to clean up; there had to be another way.
When I discovered Bullet Journaling, I couldn’t help but feel yet another spur of inspiration. I grabbed a notebook, sat down at my desk, and made my first Daily Log. The difference was that unlike every other method I had previously attempted, this one stuck.
When asked about what a Bullet Journal is, it is often hard to describe. One could say that it is a book of to-do-lists, but that barely skims the surface. In my own use, it has been everything. It’s been my planner; it’s been my task-list; it’s been my notepad, and it’s been my habit tracker. It’s simultaneously a journal, and a planner: a place for scribbling down ideas, and a place for checking off a shopping list. It may sound unbelievable, but this one tool has utterly transformed my life. Never have I been so productive and the entropy of my mind so structured.
- Efficient – Unlike long-form journaling, the use of short bullets and an intuitive system help make the Bullet Journal Method one that is quick and effective. If you have to set aside thirty minutes of your day to plan out a project, track your progress, write your daily diary, and reflect on what you did that day, then this simple method will surely expedite the process. By coupling short notes with intuitive signifiers, the “BuJo” method doesn’t require actively spending a long period of time to reflect on one’s day; by scribbling down thoughts, tracking/migrating tasks, and marking events as the day progresses, one is left with both a filled diary, and functioning planner – all without taking up valuable time.
- Future-Driven – If you are looking for a method that allows for deep rumination upon your day, filled with reflection and analysis, then perhaps this method is not for you. On the other hand, Bullet Journaling over the last few months has drastically altered my mental outlook to one based on the future. Each night, rather than looking back upon my day and worrying about what tasks I failed to accomplish, I instead find myself looking to the next day, week, and month as fresh opportunities to make-up for anything that was missed and simultaneously take on new events, tasks, and projects. As such, I spend less time worrying about the past – which cannot be changed – and instead focus on the future and the possibilities it holds. This has not only been helpful for boosting productivity, but also had profound impacts on my overall mood, contentment, and happiness.
- One Journal, Many Purposes – Unlike traditional methods, the Bullet Journal is a blend between a diary, task-tracker, planner, notebook, and a to-do list. Rather than having three or four separate places to track all of your ideas, a Bullet Journal acts as a centerpiece for your mind. All of your events, assignments, notes, and scribbles are in one place, and no utility is sacrificed: you can plan out events, track tasks, keep a record of your day, and note your ideas all just as easily as if you were using a specific journal or application for each.
- Unique to you – Unlike other planners, apps or methods the Bullet Journal allows for an individual approach. Because the journal lacks any pre-printed pages, you must craft each individual page as you go. This allows for as much experimentation and personalization as your heart desires. Have a better way to organize your Monthly Schedule? Use that instead. Prefer color coding? Go ahead and change the Key. Anything is possible, and it is up to you, as the individual, to find what works best for you.
- Habits that Stick – Everyone is almost always wishing that they had some sort of habit. For some, it is a daily exercise, for others, it is reading more. Whatever your habit goals may be, the Bullet Journal and its daily logging can be highly beneficial as a habit tracker. The hardest part of creating a habit is consistency. By tracking your habit on a specific interlude of time (daily, weekly, every other day, etc.) you are forced to hold yourself accountable. Procrastinating and willing a habit into existence no longer become an option as this form of self-reflection forces you to actually take the tangible steps towards achieving your desired goal(s).
- Learning Curve – Unlike a traditional planner that comes with pre-made pages, the Bullet Journal Method takes time to thoroughly learn. No only must one understand how the Index, Monthly, and Daily Logs work together through Migration, but they must also memorize the Key. While none of these are exceptionally difficult (it only took me a week or two to grow truly comfortable with the system), the need to memorize signifiers and methods of Migration requires additional time and effort that other methods do not.
- Slight Sacrifices – Although the Bullet Journal combines many different tools into one, cohesive system, some sacrifices must be made. For example, the benefits of long-form journaling, such as deep, retrospective insights, are largely lost in favor of the faster, more efficient planning and tracking tools. While this may be a negative to some, the majority of people who are interested in creating their own “BuJo” are not looking for this form of logging; they are looking for a system that gives structure, increases productivity, and furthers one’s ability to plan for the future.
So How Does It Work?
Perhaps the best explanation of this method comes from the following youtube channel where Ryder Carol, the brain behind the Bullet Journal, describes the basic method:
If you don’t have time for the video, or want to see the method in real application, I have attached a rough outline of mine below.
While the Bullet Journal technically sells its own notebook specifically designed for Bullet Journaling, any notebook will suffice. I personally use a small spiral notebook purchased as a souvenir from a past trip, but anything from a 99 cent college-ruled notebook, to a Moleskine, will do.
This is the key used to mark each piece of text in the journal. Although it looks like a complicated method, it is really quite intuitive; within a few days, I didn’t even have to think about which signifiers and symbols to use.
The “Index” is largely the same thing as a personal Table of Contents. As you fill up the pages in your journal, make sure to mark each one in the Index. This serves as a reference and allows you to find any fo your bullets/notes with ease.
While this Monthly Log is largely empty – February being my first month – this is where the major planning/goal benefits of the Bullet Journal Method lie. On the left side, each day of the week is signified by a corresponding letter (M, T, W, T, F, S, S) and numbered in accordance with the date. This section can be used to mark events, due dates, and anything else that requires a date ahead of planning. On the right side, your goals for the month can be written down. These can be projects, habits, resolutions, and practically anything else. By setting goals for the month, there is no pressure to commit to large, yearly goals; instead, you can take your ideas/visions one step at a time. This not only helps make your goals feasible but allows you to adjust for future months.
The daily log is where you will send the majority of your time writing, crossing, moving, and scribbling down any ideas, tasks, notes, and events on a daily basis. As you can see, signifiers separate ideas, notes, possible interests, events, and tasks. There is no need to keep a separate page for everything, but if you so choose, you can always dedicate a page to a specific list, weekly tasks, or as a page for notes. Otherwise, the daily log serves as an extension of your mind; anything that happens, anything you think of, and anything you do is jotted down at paper: providing structure to each day and storing your thoughts like a diary.
Habit Tracker [Extra]
Although not necessarily a part of the “Bullet Journal System”, this simple habit tracker, is something that makes tracking your habits a breeze. All you have to do is make a key, and draw in a dot underneath each habit that you would like to add on the days that you would like to add it. If its a daily habit, put it down for every day, but if it is, say, going to the gym on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, only place a dot for those 3 days. Simply cross the bullets of at the end of each day and watch yourself finally take action on those habits you’ve always wanted to build.
*As stated in the pro/con part of this post, the bullet journal can be molded to fit your own design. While mine is largely simple, and has no extra drawings, sections, or colors, that is completely up to the individual – I choose to forsake beauty for efficiency, but not everyone must do the same. If you are looking for a source of inspiration and examples of beautifully designed journals, make sure to check out the Bullet Journal Instagram.