Before I started a bullet journal, I was skeptical that bullet journals would be any use. I thought, how is it any different to any other journal? Surely it’s just an overhyped trend that doesn’t actually work? What’s the point?
So, I tried it for myself!
What is a bullet journal?
At its simplest, a bullet journal is just a notebook, in which one uses a system of bullet points and modules to plan one’s life. Invented by Ryder Carroll, the core idea behind the bullet journal is flexibility and personalisation. You set up a few basic pages – such as an index, to keep track of what is recorded on which page, and a future log, to keep track of what’s happening in the future. The rest of the journal consists of modules called monthly and daily logs, which you can set up either in advance or as you need them. In these spaces, you use the system of bullets below to record your monthly, weekly, and daily tasks in short, quick notes. You “migrate” events from your future log and last month’s log to the current monthly log, then from your monthly log to the relevant daily logs.
It may be a simple system, but since you can use any notebook as a bullet journal and set it up yourself, you can really do whatever you like with it. You can also change the system of bullets and signifiers, and which modules you use, to suit your own journaling needs. For example, some people have symbols for all sorts of different types of activities. Many bullet journalists include weekly logs, habit and expenses trackers, project planning pages, and to-read or to-watch lists in their bullet journals. While it was intended to be a quick, no-nonsense journal, the online bullet journal community has transformed it into a work of art, full of colour and creativity.
You can read more about it on the official bullet journal website.
Why I Started A Bullet Journal
I have spent all of my time at university being disorganised. Even before that, I didn’t exactly have everything planned out. During GCSE and A Level, I failed again and again and again to stick to my revision schedules, but at least I was able to stick to my enforced school timetable.
Of course, that strict timetable vanished at university, and apart from a few scheduled lectures and seminars each week, I had to learn to manage my own time to study. It’s something I really struggled with. I tried study schedules, I tried various planners, I tried apps, and yet whatever I tried, something didn’t quite seem to work. Maybe I’d forget to check my planner and it would end up blank for several weeks, or whichever app I was using at the time didn’t have quite the functionality I needed, or something would come up that disrupted my study schedule and I would completely forget about it after just one day.
And yet when I first came across bullet journals, I passed them off as just another hipster fad, an easy fix sold by glowing, smiling faces that wouldn’t actually work. I thought, how is this any different to any other journal or planner? Surely I won’t be able to stick to other planners, I won’t be able to stick to this one either.
But when a friend gushed about her bullet journal and how much she recommended trying one (for at least two months, she said – otherwise you can’t tell if it’s helping or not) I reconsidered.
I started off by using the bullet point system in the student planner I already owned, and then trying out some habit trackers which I posted up on the whiteboard in front of my desk. While I again struggled to keep up with using the habit trackers, I found the bullet system very useful, and soon abandoned my specially-designed student planner for a cheap but cute notebook I designated as my new bullet journal.
That was in March of this year, and in the four months since then, I have never skipped more than a week in my journal. It’s the first time I’ve managed to stick to something like this since I was at school – which is four years ago now.
What I Like About Bullet Journaling
I know, it sounds like a faff, having to transfer all your events and to-dos from future log to monthly log to weekly log to daily log. And I won’t deny that you have to take a period of maybe ten or twenty minutes out of your day to do it. You may think, if I’m looking for an easy, seamless way to get organised, why would I pick one that requires putting in time like this? I know that’s what I thought.
But I have actually found it helpful. Yes, it takes time up, but it’s worth it. The repetition of writing my to-dos in my monthly to-do list, then in my weekly one, then in my daily one helps me remember the task. I can also do the same with monthly goals: I have to think about what, exactly, I want to achieve this month so I can write it in my monthly log, and writing it in my monthly log not only helps me keep it in mind, but also means I can flip back to it and check it whenever I like.
It also helps with allocating and prioritising tasks. Since I have written all the important tasks I need to achieve this month in my monthly log, I can easily look through them and sort out which I should do in which week. Then I can do the same with my weekly logs, taking some time at the beginning of each week to allocate weekly tasks to specific days. If I don’t manage to do a task on the allocated day, then I can migrate it to a different day, and do it then instead.
I think the important thing here is that the time spent on migrating tasks to different journal pages is not time wasted, it is time invested in your organisation. After all, you can’t become good at, say, drawing without investing lots of time to practice. Why should it be any different with organisation?
Having everything in one place
Since the journal is set up by me in my own notebook, there are no rules as to what I can or can’t put in there. It means I have everything I need – from events and reminders, to notes and to-do lists, to anything else I choose to put in there – on hand and accessible, whenever I need it, all in one place. And if you can’t remember where in your journal you wrote it, you can just check your index! (Assuming you remember to update it when adding new pages, of course!)
This is great because it means I no longer have to search through all the pieces of paper floating around on my desk, the memos on my phone, and Word documents with vague titles to find the note or list I need. And since I carry my journal around with me, anything I write down on the go is also exactly where I need it to be. No more losing shopping lists or forgetting dates and story ideas for me!
It also just feels so much more elegant and streamlined than other systems I’ve tried. Previously, I’ve had events and to-dos listed in planners or apps, while everything else is scattered around on post-it notes, on my whiteboard, and in random notebooks, which means I still feel as disorganised as I did before I started using the planner or app. Or neither the planner nor the app has spaces for all the things I want to record, and I just end up frustrated with it. Not to mention if my phone is malfunctioning or low on power and I can’t access my organisation app.
The bullet journal, meanwhile, cannot be slow or out of battery, and it offers space for anything and everything I want to write in it, in whatever way I want to write it. In short, I feel so much more on top of things with my journal on hand than I do otherwise.
What allows you to put absolutely everything in your bullet journal is its flexibility. Since it’s created by you, for you, you can put in exactly what you want, when you want it. Recipe? Write it in the journal! List of things to take with me on my trip? Turn to the next blank page! Notes on my novel or a schedule for my blog? Take up ten or twenty pages if you want; you can just resume the normal journal afterwards!
This, I think, is the most important factor for me. I’m not restricted by the boxes in pre-printed planners; I have the freedom to use my bullet journal as I see fit, and change the way I use it from month-to-month, week-to-week, or even day-to-day. If one day I decide to write a Dear Diary type entry that rambles on about feelings or whatever for an entire three pages, I can. And if all I want to write the next day is a single half-a-line or two to-do bullet points, I can do that too. One month, I can make it all arty and fancy, and the next I can just scribble a few bits and pieces with no embellishment. I can try out as many different set ups and systems and trackers as I want.
That’s the real beauty of the bullet journal for me: it is exactly what I want it to be. And I can keep changing how I use it until I eventually find the optimal way for me. Or I can just keep changing it and changing it and changing it, so I never get bored of the same planner set up every day, and keep sticking to it.
At first, seeing all the beautiful bullet journal spreads on Instagram, with their intricately designed set ups and gorgeous doodles, actually scared me away from starting my own bullet journal. How could I possibly have the time to create anything even remotely as pretty as that? And surely all those doodles mean less space to, you know, actually write in the journal?
But when my friend recommended trying a bullet journal to me, and I did some more research, I discovered that all the perfect prettiness I had seen on Instagram was not actually what bullet journaling was about at its core. Bullet journaling is the simple system I described earlier, and nothing more. Your own journal is what you make it. There is absolutely no pressure to make your bullet journal Instagram-worthy.
About a month and a half after I started my bullet journal, though, I discovered something else: I actually enjoyed making my journal look pretty. I found doing it was relaxing, and looking at it once I’d done was so satisfying! It made me want to open and use my journal more, because look at the pretty! I did that! I was also surprised at how easy it could be, if you wanted it to be. Just add some colourful highlighter to the page and voila! Pretty!
There are also lots of tutorials online showing you how to do really quick, easy doodles and titles that still look really effective! Here’s an Instagram post showing some cool, simple titles you can use; here’s a YouTube tutorial on how to draw banners; and here’s another showing some of the cute doodles you can put in your bullet journal.
I have since bought some marker pens and over the last couple of months have started adding doodles and fancy titles to my bullet journal. While I may not have initially intended to spend as much time as I do making my journal look pretty, I love the time I spend on it, and feel proud of the pages I produce. And, as I said earlier, it makes me more likely to check my journal, because it looks nice!
But the creativity isn’t just in the doodles and the fancy titles. It’s also in how you set out your pages. This was one of the first things I enjoyed about bullet journaling. What if I tried putting my day-of-the-week titles on alternating sides of the page? Should I position my daily logs horizontally or vertically, and where can I put a notes section on this page? If I do that thing I saw on Instagram where you cut a page in half and have your weekly spread over two and a half pages, what do I put on the half-page flap in the middle?
I have found it really fun to experiment with these different set ups, to see what I like and what I don’t, to see what works for me and what doesn’t. It keeps me engaged with it, and I think that, along with the pretty doodles, is what keeps me coming back to my bullet journal again and again and again!
I have already mentioned the bullet journal community several times, but it’s definitely worth discussing in more detail! A huge number of people share their bullet journals on sites such as Instagram and YouTube, and it’s a great source of inspiration and encouragement. It’s great to see all the ideas that are out there, that I could use for my own bullet journal, if I want. If it weren’t for the online bullet journal community, I wouldn’t have tried out as many different set ups and decorations as I have. And that variation and creativity in my journal pages is one of the things that keeps me using it, so seeing all these new ideas is actually helping me stick to my bullet journal!
Finally, knowing that so many others are also on board with the same hobby and organisation system as I am really motivates me to keep filling my journal in! It’s so nice to see everyone encouraging each other to stay organised and keep going.