The Bullet Journal: A Useful Analog Tool for the Digital Age
All you need is a notebook and something to write with
Writing in a journal has many positive benefits — it’s been proven to improve mental and physical health, reduce stress, and even boost your self-esteem. A recent study proved that writing down words on paper helps you remember things more than if you typed them. You’re less likely to have an “I totally forgot about that deadline” moment, which we’ve all probably had at least once.
“The physical act of writing accesses the left hemisphere of the brain, which is analytical and rational,” Maud Purcell, a psychotherapist and journaling expert, told Fast Company. “While your left brain is occupied, your right brain is free to do what it does best, i.e. create, intuit and feel. In this way, writing removes mental blocks and allows us to use more of our brainpower to better understand ourselves and the world around us.”
In short, writing on a journal is intrinsically linked to the psychological process, allowing for greater insight and understanding of ourselves.
Enter the Bullet Journal.
The Bullet Journal is a system created by Brooklyn-based designer Ryder Carroll. He dubs the BuJo as “the analog system for the digital age.” It’s a customizable notebook that serves as the ultimate holder of your planner, to-do list, diary, sketchbook, and more. The system aims to give the humble notebook a little more structure.
“Technology is really good at helping us connect outward,” Carroll says. “You know, we can connect with people around the world, we can connect with information. But an analog space, such as a paper notebook, lets us connect inward.”
Using a bullet journal forces us to shut off and disconnect from the internet and technology and data. He says that going the analog way allows you to “better surface your thoughts and focus.”
How the BuJo can help us become more productive
The Bullet Journal, by design, helps you decide what matters and what doesn’t. The simple and extremely effective reason why BuJo is becoming more popular is that if it’s not important enough to write down any number of times, you don’t need to have it in your life.
Despite the availability of task management apps today, keeping a bullet journal provides a more personal approach when you want to keep your productivity in check. It won’t replace your smartphone or tablet, but these devices can’t contain everything the same way something with a book spine can. Once a bullet journal is full, it lives on your shelf with what eventually becomes a lifetime of others, and you’ll have the best recollection of your life thus far, that no technology can match.
Start your Bullet Journal journey
A bullet journal relies on rapid logging to minimize and consolidate information easily. You can reorganize the layout of the bullet journal to fit your needs. That’s the beauty of this system — you can personalize it.
Why rapid logging?
The idea of the BuJo is to make everything short and sweet. Carroll says that “the more complex the entry, the more effort is expended. The more effort expended, the more of a chore it becomes, the more likely you’ll underutilize or abandon your journal.”
Bullet Journaling is simple to learn — you take a journal and list down your tasks with a bullet point next to them and use a particular marking system that shows what tasks you accomplished in a day, what your other tasks are for the rest of the week, and so forth.
BuJo users follow a “key” to assign different bullets to each entry — a process that gives the journal system its name.
The original bullet journal system calls for a key, an index, a future log, a monthly overview, and then daily logs using the key.
The Bullet Journal uses symbols to identify the type of entries that you log. Since you’ll get in the habit of essentially brain dumping onto the page, giving those entries visual categorization is super helpful.
Here’s what Carroll proposes:
Tasks are represented by a simple dot/bullet (•) and include any kind of actionable items like “Buy milk” or “Create a sales presentation”. The task bullet does a lot of heavy lifting in the Bullet Journal so it has three additional states:
X = Task Complete
> = Task Migrated (a task you move to another day)
< = Task Scheduled (a task you plan to do on a specific day)
You can create your own key but other bullet journalists advise that you keep your symbols as few as possible.
The first blank spread is your journal’s index. It is a list of page descriptions and their corresponding page numbers so you can find what you need when you need it. As you fill in new pages, writing their page numbers and topic names on the index page allows you to easily look them up again later. This gives you the freedom to always turn to the next blank page in your notebook, regardless if you want to design a one-page inspirational quote or write a shopping list.
The Future Log
The Bullet Journal takes a focused look at one month at a time which is great for the month but tricky when recording things that will happen down the road. You can follow this format:
Box. Date. Event.
Write “Future Log” at the top of the page, number the page, and add it to your Index.
The Monthly Log
Another awesome thing about the BuJo is that you don’t need to wait for the start of a new year to get into the habit. If you’re reading this in June, your first Monthly Log will be June.
So write the month at the top of the next page, and write the days of the month on the side. It’s helpful to write the first letter of the corresponding day of the week so you know when the actual date falls.
Now take your current calendar system (Google Calendar/iCal/phone) and move this month’s appointments and events into your Monthly Log. Remember to keep the text simple and concise. As you can see, I also added a giftbox icon (you can find on my Key page) to take note of birthdays.
The Daily Log
The Daily Log starts with a brain dump of everything that needs to get done today. So feel free to jot down any thoughts, tasks, ideas, or notes — basically anything that you need to remember. You can process your new notes at the end of the day and migrate them to any relevant checklist or collection.
Don’t feel pressured to instantly make Instagram-worthy Bullet Journals (something I’ve been telling myself since I started my own BuJo journey). Functionality is key.
When you start with your first Bullet Journal, practice with the most basic symbols and stick only to log pages. Most of the design hacks out there are for folks who have found their Bullet Journal rhythm and have a lot of pages to show for it. Give yourself time to figure out what matters to you.
Creative Ideas for your Bullet Journal
If you like the idea of logging what you’re grateful for and want to see them all in one place, the gratitude log is something you’ll fancy. “It’s a great way to instantly perk you up,” Carroll says.
Create a tracker to improve your time management skills. You can integrate the Pomodoro Technique with this one, since you’ll be more aware of how long things actually take.
Here at Crossover, we use an app called WorkSmart. It measures a variety of data to give us insights on how we work and how we can meet our goals. Crossover CEO Andy Tryba calls it The Fitbit for work. Both tools let you study and analyze your work habits.
If you love making lists, you’ll love writing collections. You can make a list of the movies you want to watch, your birthday wishlist, travel bucket list, article ideas for your blog, and so on. In my journal, I made a list of the books I want to read.
Bullet Journal Inspiration and Tools
- Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages has become the go-to site for unlocking creativity. “Today’s fast-paced life can affect our creative energy from flowing — our struggle isn’t whether we’re creative, it’s how to let it flow.”
- Another great resource: Cristina Tamas’ My Life in a Bullet, a website dedicated to all things BuJo.
- The Bullet Journal Junkies Pinterest board
Using the bullet journal system doesn’t require you to have specialty paper and a fountain pen. Your notebook will soon become your lifeline, so the durability of your notebook should be your topmost priority. Whether you choose a wide-ruled, college-ruled, grid or dot grid journal, make sure the pages are thick enough.
Pro-tip: Most BuJo enthusiasts use dot grid paper, but you can use lined or unlined paper too.
- Leuchtturm1917 notebooks
German stationery brand Leuchtturm1917 (Loysh-tom, in case you were wondering) has become a household name in the world of BuJo. This is perhaps the most popular notebook choice among bullet journalists because of its pre-numbered pages. It comes in a variety of sizes, and has grown a solid following because of its tried and tested high quality paper (no need to worry about ink staining the other side of the page). It also has a sturdy elastic band to keep your notebook secure.
- Moleskine notebooks
Moleskine notebooks boast a plethora of options for the BuJo enthusiast. It has soft and hard cover choices, unlined, ruled, dotted, gridded, or dot-gridded paper options, elastic or hard paper closures, inner pockets, as well as built-in bookmarks.
- The Official Bullet Journal
The official Bullet Journal notebook is perfect for lovers of minimalist design. Its dot grid paper supports the bullet journal method very well, and has dedicated spaces like index and key page.
We all have our preferences when it comes to choosing our tools for writing: the brand, pen tip size, the color of ink we use but it all boils down to having a good pen that will encourage you to to sit down and write everyday. Once you get the hang of things, you can add colors if you need them. Some people flourish when they color code the world, whereas others are more efficient in black and white.
- Staedtler Triplus Fineliner Pens
These are a fantastic set of pens that makes your handwriting crisp and bright. They are great for adding a touch (or a ton) of color to your pages. If you’re feeling fancy, you can just do all your normal spreads with these colorful pens — no extra effort required.
- Sharpie Fine Point Pens
Here’s another fine tip favorite. It’s not like the regular Sharpie that bleeds through the page.
- Tombow Fudenosuke Brush Pens
BuJo experts recommend using these pens when writing headers, hand-lettered quotes, or making small embellishments to your journal.
Other Design Tools
- Post-it Notes / Sticky Notes
- Washi Tape — if you’re feeling fancy and want to decorate your pages
- Ruler — preferably clear plastic, for keeping things neat and aligned)
- Correction Tape — because it’s totally okay to make mistakes!
Remember: You’re free to make adjustments, try new things, and build your own approach to suit your workflow.