Journaling at the Speed of Life
“For the list-makers, the note-takers, the post-it pilots, the track-keepers, and the dabbling doodlers. It’s an analog system for the digital age that will help you track the past, organize the present, and prepare for the future.” – Ryder Carroll, creator of the Bullet Journal
What is the Bullet Journal?
The Bullet Journal (also known as BuJo) is essentially an analog to-do list / diary / calendar / notebook system created by Ryder Carroll, a New York-based digital product designer. The idea actually started taking form around 2007, when Carroll saw one of his colleagues frantically planning her wedding amidst a flurry of post-it notes and scrap papers. She spotted Carroll’s journal, remarked on its incredible organization, and he walked her through his system.
Fast forward to 2013. Carroll was in between projects at work and decided to work on something for fun! Bulletjournal.com was launched along with a video tutorial. At first, website traffic was at a crawl. Then, suddenly one day, thousands of views came pouring in. Bullet Journal had been featured on Lifehack and it went viral.
In 2014, after receiving countless messages about how much Bullet Journal had transformed their lives, Carroll realized that this was a community. A Kickstarter campaign was launched in order to support building a new and better website.
The $10,000 funding goal was met. In 8 hours.
By mid-2015, the original video had passed 1 million views and the new website launched.
Today, the website is still thriving, as new members discover its uses and benefits and new content is added, such as “Help” and “FAQ” sections and guest articles.
How does it work?
Of course, I encourage you to watch the video and explore the website yourself, but here’s a quick breakdown of the system:
- Rapid logging – quickly taking notes using page numbers, titles, and bullet icons to distinguish progress
- Modules – for organizing your notes
- Monthly log – a calendar and task list for the month
- Migration – transferring the most important bits from week to week or month to month
“You can reduce the amount of things you have to do by transferring things by hand. If a task isn’t worth the time to rewrite it, it’s probably not important. Spend time with things that are important and be mindful of how you spend your time.”
Carroll is completely in favor of individuals inventing something for whatever they need the book to do. We all see the world through a unique pair of eyes. Where I see words as colors, you may see time as linear. This means that we all need a different layout, style, and flow for our books. Write however your brain works best!
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Who listened to rookie? 🙂 This spread turned from one that I hated and didn't know what to do with, to one of my favourites thanks to the stickers from @londongifties 💕 It's my exam week, so I thought the notebooks and pens were very appropriate 😅. (Can you believe I made this spread DURING finals week? 😜) Also can you see my muji obsession? lol 😂
Diving a little deeper…
You will need to number your pages so that entries can be added to the Index. In most books, the index is at the back, but for our purposes, the index is more like a Table of Contents that comes at the beginning.
Every page is given a topic and topics are called collections. There are 3 main types:
- Future Log – usually spans 6 months. Write down events that you already have planned further out. You can also create a space for future events that don’t have a specific date set yet, such as buying a car.
- Monthly Log – consists of two pages – one is the calendar and the other is the task page. Write a short description of events going on that month, such as a payday or doctor’s appointment, and anything you may wish to remember that happened that month, like your daughter losing her first tooth. The task page will, obviously, be made up of tasks you want to get done that month and any tasks that carried over from the past month.
- Daily Log – This is the bread and butter of the Bullet Journal. Use this on a daily basis. Throughout the day you will log tasks, events, and notes. If you don’t write something down every day, that’s fine! There won’t be any blank spaces if you miss a few days.
Every page is considered to be a collection. However, a collection can be so much more than your logs. For example, meeting notes, trackers, doodles, journaling, brainstorming, meal plans, shopping lists, brain dumps. These are all considered to be collections. A collection is simply a grouping of related ideas, no matter the form.
This consists of bullets and signifying icons meant as short-form notation. Traditionally, a task bullet is marked by a dot • and comes before any task you write down. Then, it will be marked as completed (X), scheduled (<), or migrated (>). For example:
• Print rough draft (task)
X Wash dishes (task – completed)
> Dust bookshelves (task – not completed but moved to another collection/daily log)
< Scheduled annual exam Sept 14 (task – scheduled for a future date)
Events are marked by an open circle (O) and are date- or time-specific. For example:
O 10:00am Associate Meeting
O 8:00pm Conference Call
O Run – 3 miles
Notes are marked by a dash (-). These are things you want to remember such as thoughts, ideas, and observations.
-Saw Mr. Jones at the store
-To Kill A Mockingbird
Signifying icons add extra context to the bullets. Not every bullet needs an icon, only the bullets that you want to stand out for when you are quickly trying to find something while glancing over a page. Like a star (*) for something important or a dollar sign ($) for something you need to buy. You can create your own system of bullets and icons as needed. I choose to use a checkbox for tasks instead of a dot.
I know, it seems like a lot. Above all else, keep it simple. If journaling is making your life harder, then it’s not serving its purpose.
Who is this for?
I would argue that it’s for everyone! Creative types and more traditional, structured types as well. The idea of the Bullet Journal is just a set of recommendations. Everyone is free to take the modules and mold them to their own uses. Unlike a pre-printed calendar or templated organizer, there are no limitations other than your own imagination and inspiration. Regardless of your lifestyle, you can adapt the system for your unique needs.
You can use the book as a calendar, a sketchbook, a shopping list. Anything. And unlike a more traditionally rigid analog system, you can put it down and pick it back up whenever and wherever you please. No pages have to go blank and wasted. Mistakes can just be torn out or ignored completely.
One of the book’s biggest benefits is its ability to be flexible enough to work for people in many professions and walks of life. Moms, healthcare, education, sales, manufacturing, marketing, project managers. All of these people utilize and love the Bullet Journal, both for their professional and personal lives. Sometimes even in the same journal (yes, you can use more than one at a time).
Wait, isn’t this moving backwards?
In a day and age where almost everything is digital, why are we seeing a surge of users return to pen and paper?
“Putting pen to paper helps retain things significantly better. At the same time, technology allows you to share that information, parse the information, and compartmentalize it to work with it in new ways.”
If you like your digital calendars and notes, there’s no need to go full analog and pretend that technology no longer exists. Many Bullet Journal users integrate their books with apps like Evernote. Digital and written systems complement each other well! You can write notes in your journal about tasks you need to do on your computer and we would not be able to share with other users were it not for the advent of social media sharing apps like Twitter or Instagram. Everyone will have their own preferences on which format works best for which tasks – digital or analog.
For me, handwriting has the advantage of minimizing distractions. I can’t just “quickly” check my phone for one little thing. I have to clear all of those annoying notification bubbles and feel the need to catch up with Facebook, add things to my grocery list, Google an obscure quote, etc. But I still use my Google calendar (personal) and Outlook calendar (work) since my daily schedule can change at the last minute. My book does not replace my computer nor my smartphone, but they all work amazingly with one another as companions.
Part of what makes this system so beautiful is that it is constantly evolving and being refined by the individual using it and the community at large. Inspiration is scattered throughout this post. Whenever I have a new collection that I want to start, I seek out what others have done before me rather than starting to build from the bottom by myself.
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The #TimeMountain: a visual representation of active & downtime. A play on the ideal day timeline, but with animated numbers going up for activity and down for quieter moments. I'm still playing around with what my ideal day looks like. Here's something to aim for and what a typical workday likely looks like for many. I added morning activities/morning routine and winding down/bedtime routine to bookend my day positively in a way that supports me. What does your #timemountain look like? ☺️🏔 I want to stress that this is not done daily, just an exercise to do perhaps once or every once in a while to assess your daily activities and what you'd like your ideal day to look like…you could also superimpose what your actual day looks like. #BulletJournal #BuJo #Leuchtturm1917 #timeline #idealday #notebooklove #BulletJournalCollection
Wow, those are fancy.
Yes, some people put a lot of time and effort into making their spreads quite picturesque. Yours does not have to be beautiful, but it should probably at least be legible. If your handwriting is just plain awful, try slowing down or writing in all capital letters. This may help alleviate some of the chicken scratch.
It’s recommended that you keep things as simple as possible so that you will be more likely to continue using the system.
What do I need to get started?
While you are certainly without your rights to go run out and get calligraphy pens in 100 colors and washi tape and stamps, really all you need is a notebook and a pen. Any one will do.
Personally, I use and recommend (as do many others) a Leuchtturm1917 notebook. It’s already perfectly set up for Bullet Journaling and you can easily pick one up on Amazon.