On the Bullet Journal – A Recap

A few months ago I discovered a cultish following of the Bullet Journal. And then the Buzzfeed articles started popping up. The bullet journal’s gone “mainstream.”

What is a Bullet Journal? Well, it’s a journaling and planning system created by Ryder Carroll, a Brooklyn-based product designer. And it’s all pen-and-paper (to put it very simply).

Now, Carroll didn’t invent the concept of bullet journaling. The pen-and-paper systems of journaling, planning, tracking, and list-making have been around for some time. What’s made Carroll’s BuJo (“boo-joe”), as it’s affectionately called, special and popular is the way in which he was able to streamline everything. Kind of like a “distraction free” version of writing apps online.

The BuJo is not new to me. I started one back in 2014 when I came across a friend’s post about it, and adopted it for myself. After two years of using the system and seeing it pop up all over my RSS, Facebook, Twitter, and other miscelaneous feeds, I figured now was a good time for a recap.

My BuJo

Before starting my BuJo I used an unorganized system of separate tools, like Google Calendar, scrap pieces of paper and PostIt Notes that got lost, Google Keep (not very organized), and so on. (You would think I learned something or two after meeting with a time management counselor in college but the “how to” of integrating the systems was missing…)

This disorganization seemed to work at first, but that’s before I learned about BuJo and how its streamlined system was even better for productivity (and my sanity). After I figured out the basics JI took it for a test-drive. Miracle.

The Set-Up

My set-up hasn’t changed much since I first started in 2014. I did try to fancify my BuJo earlier this year after joining looking at other people’s set-ups on Instagram and Facebook.

My conclusion: Who has time for this?

My quick answer: Stay-at-home moms and others who have all the time in the world to fancify their BuJos into Instagrammable badges of awesomeness. (That is a very shallow way of looking at it, yes…)

And the subhead of Josephine Wolff’s piece at the New Republic seems to sum it all up:

The craze for bullet journaling shows that sometimes pen and paper is best—as long as the results can be Instagrammed.

It’s easy to raise an eyebrow at the practicality and utility of some of these layouts. But I have to remind myself that if creating a very detailed and intricate spread is part of the process for these people, then more power to them. Who am I to say that taking an hour to hand-script the days of the week into a Leuchtturm is a waste of time? (This is also why Carroll’s BuJo system is great. It’s foundation is simple to use for those who want something quick and clean, but it’s also highly customizable to fit your unique needs. And you can see this by looking up some hashtags, like this one.)


My attempt at making “flags” for days of the week.

Although my set-up has retained its minimalist simplicity, I did try to fancify experiment this year.

I like the idea of incorporating art into the BuJo but I quickly learned that I did not have the patience for it. Fancifying the days of the week, adding a “clock,” and a few other experiments only cluttered my BuJo. It was distracting me from the utility of the Bullet Journal. I became more concerned with how the little “flags” or script writing looked than getting my events, goals, to-dos, and other whatnots organized in my beat-up Moleskine.

I went back to the simple layout. With some modifications.

The Changes

I may not be drawing and handlettering things with different sized pens and markers (or event stamping individual letters into my BuJo), but my experiment did yield some useful changes. (Remember when I said that the BuJo is highly customizable?)

My set up is very simple. The monthly pages consist of a straight list of numbres from 1-30 or 31, with corresponding weekday letters (M-Su). Here I include events for the month. The following page is reserved for monthly tasks and goals, major events that are coming up in the future (like a friend’s wedding in January), and random notes. The next few pages are devoted to the days of the month as they come.

Prior to my “new” set-up, I just wrote the day, that day’s events and tasks in a straight column. Nothing fancy. Kind of messy. Almost like an ad-hoc diary.

But after perusing some of the designs by the more devoted BuJo-ers and experimenting with a few designs, I settled on a “weekly” spread. It looks messy but is much more contained than my previous version.

This set-up helped me streamline my day-to-day tasks a little better. Instead of indicating that a task was moved to the new day and rewriting that task every day, the “notes” segment allows me to list out key tasks and goals for the week. When I complete that task or goal, they get crossed out. If they don’t get done that week, I use an arrow to indicate its move to the following week. Much simpler, more streamlined. Less hand cramps.


Calendar sheet: messy, but to the point.

This leaves space for events and micro-journaling (inspired by the way my mom journals, and the way many people use their TNs).

Rather than write out long journal entries (which I was never very good at despite multiple, half-used journals as proof of trying), I find that micro-journaling, jotting down significant events or musings of the day was more manageable. For someone who has a tendency to dwell on negativity, the micro-journaling helps to focus on single moments and more positive things (think gratitude journals).

Next Steps

Since reworking my BuJo to its current layouts, I also discovered journaling tool with a following of equal cultishness.

Hailing from Japan, the Traveler’s Notebook is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a portable notebook system that comes in two sizes with interchangeable inserts, including calendar-type notebooks, blank notebooks, among other accessories.

I recently bought a starter bundle from the Virginia-based, Goulet Pens Company, and I’m still getting the hang of how best to use it for my needs. I have three “inserts” in my TN (a gridded notebook for tracking things, a blank notebook for sketches and drawings, and a blank sketch book for writing quick thoughts, mind mosaics, and other ramblings. I’ll eventually add the calendar notebooks once my current Moleskine BuJo is filled up, but I’m loving the concept of the TN and it will definitely be the subject of some future post.

In the meantime, check out this Google image search. As you can see, it’s just as customizeable as the BuJo.

How do you use your BuJo or TN?

🗺 🏞

Top photo: Dariusz Sankowski|Stocksnap.io


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