WTF is bullet journaling, and should you try it?
Whether you keep a detailed calendar on your phone, jot down to-do lists on sticky notes, or carry a planner with you everywhere you go, you know that organization is the cornerstone of getting shit done. (Well, that and actually having the motivation to cross off each task.) If you’re into staying organized, you’ve probably heard of bullet journaling, which has exploded in popularity in the past year.
Search “bullet journal” on YouTube and you’ll get over 580,000 results. On Instagram, you’ll find more than 800,000 posts using the hashtag. In fact, there are entire accounts solely dedicated to bullet journaling. Even the Reddit community has become fond of the organization system, sharing bullet journal tips and tricks as well as pages they’re proud to have designed on a daily basis.
But is bullet journaling actually beneficial or is it just another Pinterest-worthy trend?
First of all, what is bullet journaling exactly?
The bullet journal, or “BuJo” as some people like to call it, is an analog system created by digital product designer Ryder Caroll to keep track of the past, organize the present, and plan for the future. It’s a mashup of a calendar, to-do list, reflection tracker, and life log.
Caroll originally developed the system to help him manage his childhood attention deficit disorder (ADD). After he overcame the condition, he continued to use bullet journaling to achieve his goals, stay organized, and live an intentional life.
“There are so many ways [the bullet journal has improved my life], and my favorite part is that I keep finding new ones,” Caroll told A Plus. “Overall, my bullet journal practice provides me with clarity, gratitude, patience, strength, and direction.”
Once he realized bullet journaling may be able to help others too, he started sharing his method online. With just a notebook and a pen, people could recreate his system themselves.
How do you create one?
You can either purchase one of Caroll’s official bullet journals or use your own empty notebook. On the first page of the notebook, create your Index. The Index is that table of contents which you’ll update as you add pages to your bullet journal.
You’ll use what Caroll calls “rapid logging” to fill in the book. Each page you add to the bullet journal should have a topic which will be the header of the page, bullets to organize what’s on it, page numbers to be added to your Index, and short sentences to ensure you’re using as little effort as possible to organize your life.
After the Index page, most people start a Future Log on the next two pages. Some people decide to just do six months at a time, while others choose to do a full year-at-a-glance calendar. Here, you’ll fill in important dates and goals.
Caroll has developed a bullet system to organize tasks, events, and notes. Tasks are represented by a simple dot “•” and include anything on your to-do list, such as “learn to figure out when avocados are ripe” or “text Mom so she knows I’m definitely not dead.” Put an “x” over the dot when the task is completed. If you have to migrate it to another day, use the “>” symbol over the dot. Use the “<” symbol over the dot when a task has been scheduled.
Events should be scheduled using open circle. Notes of any kind, whether that be a random thought you have, fact you learned, or observation you made, should be added using a dash, “–”. You can also use “signifiers” to add additional context to each item. A star shows priority and can be used for the most important entries, an exclamation point should be used to emphasize your best ideas, and draw a tiny eye when there’s something you’d like to explore further.
On the next two pages of your bullet journal, create a Monthly Log. On the left page, create a monthly calendar with the dates, days, and important events. On the right page, create a list of the tasks you plan to finish by the end of the month.
Then, you’ll make your Daily Log which will be used to log tasks, events, and notes on a day-to-day basis.
After you’re done with your Index, Future Log, Monthly Log, and Daily Log, the rest of the bullet journal is up to you. You can create pages dedicated to meeting your career goals, tracking your fitness progress, or a gratitude list to keep track of the things you’re thankful for. You can make an on-going list of books you want to read by the end of the year, restaurants you want to try, or recipes you want to cook.
One popular idea is to use the “in pixels” method where you create a calendar and color in each box with a color that signifies something about that day. For example, if you use it as a mental health tracker, you could color a Tuesday you felt content the color yellow and use the color red to signify a Wednesday you felt angry.
In general, the bullet journal is supposed to give you one place to organize your calendar, tasks, lists, and thoughts all in one convenient location.
What are the benefits?
Part of the reason the bullet journal became so attractive is because of how easily customizable it is. Depending on your current goals or lifestyle, your bullet journal can adjust to your needs. It can serve as an agenda, but also a sketchbook, bucket list, meal planner, exercise tracker, and wish list. Or whatever else you want it to be.
“Bullet journaling is about self-learning and discovery. [It] empowers its practitioners to design solutions to their own challenges, one day at a time. Some use it for their day, some to declutter their minds, others use it to cultivate a mindfulness practice of deep introspection,” Caroll said. “It also accounts for the temporal nature of our lives. As our lives change, so do our needs. Bullet journaling continues to evolve with its author. Your bullet journal will always meet you where you are.”
Should you try it?
After learning more about bullet journaling, and giving it a shot myself, I can conclude that bullet journaling seems ideal for people who like writing to-do lists down on paper, enjoy journaling or sketching, enjoy tracking progress toward their goals, and, overall, want to become more organized. However, I think most people could benefit from giving it at try. I just have a few words of advice before you do:
First, don’t go into it feeling pressure to design beautiful pages. While many people have clearly found satisfaction doing so, this isn’t the purpose of a bullet journal — and its creator backs me up.
“A lot of people discover bullet journaling through Instagram or Pinterest. Some of these examples are beautiful and intimidatingly elaborate,” Caroll said. “At it’s core, bullet journaling is very simple and lean. It’s not about how it looks, it’s about how well it works, how it makes you feel. Keep it simple.”
Of course, if creating elaborate pages in your bullet journal is enjoyable and serves as a creative outlet, go for it. You just don’t want it to add unnecessary pressure or take up more time than it’s worth. If you spend more time making the page to write down the things you need to do than actually completing the tasks, you’re doing it wrong.
Second, adjust the method to make it work for you. The best part about bullet journaling is that it’s so personal and customizable. So, if something doesn’t work for you, or you have no interest in one aspect of it, don’t do it.
“There are a lot of different levels to it, and even if you don’t end up becoming a bullet journalist, there may be something you can glean that you can take with you,” Caroll said.
For example, I already have a pretty planner I purchased earlier this year that I use to keep track of my calendar, daily tasks, and upcoming events, so I didn’t personally find that part of bullet journaling to be useful. But I do plan to to use Caroll’s bullet system to organize my tasks, dates, and thoughts within the planner I already use.
However, the aspect of bullet journaling I enjoyed most were the reflective pages. Bullet journaling makes taking note of your mental health, tracking the progress of your goals, and holding yourself accountable as simple as filling in a box. So, I’m going to use my bullet journal to keep up with those pages.
Ready to give it go? Caroll recommends using the free tutorials on bulletjoural.com to help you get started. “Try it out for a few months until it starts to click,” he said. “Once you get the hang of it, make it your own.”