Why Bullet Journals Don’t Need to Be Fancy to Be Functional

Alex Turner
Oct 14 · 4 min read

Bullet Journaling —is it a pretty fad, or pretty useful?

I’ve journalled for roughly four years now — I struggled with a daily practice in the beginning but I persevered, I enjoyed it, and I benefited from it. So I built the habit and it became second nature.

Half of that time was a long hand daily writing practice, Morning Pages style of journalling.

I’d write every morning, get all my thoughts down, do a bit of reflection, processing, and future planning.

I loved it.

But then I got introduced to Bullet Journalling.

All of a sudden, I wasn’t supposed to write and write and write and pour my heart and soul out on to the page. I was supposed to cut out the crap — I was supposed to be more critical of my own thought process, more discerning.

The idea was to use the practice of bullet journaling to filter through all-the-thoughts and distill the decent ones down to form some kind of plan for my life. Or at least the day ahead.

So simple. So efficient.

So austere.

I wasn’t that comfortable with that.

So I held on to my morning pages journal alongside my bullet journal like a comfort blanket for another year after that.

My bullet journal was a bit of a sprawly, unindexed mess, and it did not really provide much comfort.

It was not beautiful.

I bought colourful pens, but the ink leached through the pages.

I bought a pretty pencil set, but when I wrote in subsequent pages in black ink, it left impressions all over the previous pages like a rainbow coloured spider had run wild all over it.

Oh. And one more thing. I can’t draw for shit.

My bullet journaling efforts were a bit embarrassing, if I’m honest.

I was finding it to be super productive and a really effective tool at organising, well, everything — but I was reluctant to share what worked for me with the world, simply because it wasn’t that fancy.

I had #Bujo Shame.

I most definitely had the BJ-i-s – Bullet Journaling imposter syndrome.

But then 6 months ago, something Very Significant happened.

I read the original book by the Bullet Journal master himself — The Bullet Journal Method.

If you are curious about Bullet Journaling, or are a BuJo fan but have never read the book — I implore you to read it.

I implore you to look past the super pretty but superficial visuals, the fancy fonts and all the hand lettering, the cute layouts and fancy spreads all over Instagram and Pinterest.

I implore you to dive into the nitty gritty of the bullet journaling method.

Because bullet journaling is nothing to do with artwork, or graphics, stencils, stickers or printables.

Bullet Journaling is and always has been a productivity tool.

Now, don’t get me wrong.

I love all the fanciness. I’m terrible at it myself, but yes — I covet it.

However my fear when I see all these beautiful layouts and habit trackers and hand lettering is that I’m just looking straight at procrastination.

Pure and simple.

For all the time spent on making the journal absolutely adorable — is there maybe something more important that should have been done?

While focusing on fonts and cute cursive script, could that time have been better spent on Doing The Work instead?

Let’s see…

  • Want to be a better student? Go study.
  • Want to get more exercise? Go to the gym. Hit the trails.
  • Need to save more money? Stop spending it on highlighters.
  • Want to travel more? Go see the world.

Creating gives tremendous joy.

I get it.

But let’s be honest — unless you’re a professional bullet journaller, isn’t there something else you should really be doing?

Put the pens down. Stop procrastinating. And do that thing you’re meant to be doing.

Whatever your goal is — I’m quite sure there is a pathway to reach it, and I’m pretty sure it doesn’t involve colouring in.

Maybe I’m just being a bit of a purist, but there is a purpose for bullet journaling.

It’s a tool for eliminating distractions. It’s a tool for productivity. It is a tool for keeping on track of your time and on track of the tasks that are important.

I’m not saying creativity isn’t important.

I’m just saying that the bullet journal is about creating a streamlined system that helps you make the most of your life and living intentionally — minimising distractions.

It’s about your goals, and keeping you focused on them — not the superfluous.

It’s about function over form.

So if you’re not sure bullet Journaling is for you — maybe you think it’s all just a bit overwhelming, or your art skills don’t extend that far, or it’s intimidating, look past the form. Focus on the function.

What are you most in need of right now?

What would you love to achieve, or for the bullet journal to most help you with?

Start with that and build out.

It doesn’t require a single pastel coloured fineliner.

Read the book. Take what you need. Customize it to your needs. And leave the rest.

Focus on the process — not the result.

That’s how the bullet journal will work for you.

And if you are into all the artwork and the fancy form, and it works for you?

I salute you for that. You’re my #bujo hero.

Tapping more into creativity is definitely one of my lifelong goals.

But I know what my bullet journal is for, and what it’s not.

Keeping things simple works for the creator of bullet journaling, Ryder Carroll, and it works for me. It can work for you too.

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Alex Turner

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Founder, feminist, entrepreneur, coffee + self care

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +527K people. Follow to join our community.

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