I am something of an “organization junkie”. I make lists — way too many lists — of all sorts, and I am a borderline-fanatical keeper of notebooks and journals. I love to write ideas down, to track things, to have a plan. I prefer feeling like I (sort of) know what’s going on in my life and what all I’ve got on my plate at the moment. And when I’ve got my heart set on achieving some kind of long-term goal, I truly enjoy the challenge of thinking and scheming about how I am going to tackle it.
But part of what fuels my love of organizing is that I need to be organized. I’m someone who tends to be doing a lot at any given time, and I’ve found the need for some system to hold and keep track of it all. I’m always seeking, always looking for novelty and ever-curious about trying new things — I live passionately, and I could never tire of that. My weakness is that I don’t always know how to rein it in; many times in my past I’ve taken on too many things and completely overwhelmed myself in the process. For as much as I love exploring all that life has to offer, I am also easily overstimulated, and when it all becomes too much I can burn out pretty quickly.
I have other thoughts about why being organized is so important, and I’ll save those for a later date. For now, suffice it to say that, to me, organizing isn’t a luxury; it’s a necessity. And it’s also always been a bit of a challenge; I’ve used plenty of calendars and day planners but I never found a way of being organized that really “clicked” or worked for me.
Which is why I’m so thankful that, a few years ago, a good friend of mine introduced me to a new system she had started using to keep her life organized: Bullet Journaling. I’d never heard of it before, but the name intrigued me. Basically, she said, you take a blank notebook, divide it into sections and use it to keep track of your various ideas, projects and goals. I started to do research online, and as I read and thought about this unique, quirky system, I realized I needed to try it for myself. I’ve never looked back. The way I use my journal has changed and evolved over the years, but I can honestly say I have never found a better organizational system than this.
So why is it called Bullet Journaling, anyway?
The technique was created by Ryder Carroll, who had trouble focusing and getting things done in conventional ways as a kid. As he grew older, he longed for an organizational system that mirrored the way his mind worked. After a lot of experimentation, he finally arrived at something that worked for him: a hybrid between “a planner, diary, notebook, to-do list and sketchbook”. He even created his own language to describe his one-of-a-kind process. One of the key practices is “rapid logging”, the act of jotting down daily task lists in shorthand sentences known as “bullets”. And that is where the Bullet Journal — or BuJo, as many people in the community call it — gets its name.
And what makes Bullet Journaling so special?
Now you may be asking what it is that I love so much about BuJo, and why I will extol its virtues to anyone who will listen. After almost three years of keeping Bullet Journals, I still geek out about it because:
1. It’s effective. Quite simply, it works. There’s a bit of a learning curve with starting your first journal, but once you get into the flow of using it, it’s very easy and intuitive. All of your to-do lists, plans, upcoming events, ideas, and notes go in one place, and it’s all organized by an index so you can easily and quickly find any information you need, which makes life feel a lot more manageable. I’ve been significantly more productive since I started Bullet Journaling regularly, and there are tons of other BuJo fans who I believe would say the same.
2. It’s incredibly flexible and versatile. A Bullet Journal allows you the freedom and the space to not just write down the items on your task list, but also make note of ideas, muse about long-term dreams or even journal about your day. It has the power to encompass more of your life than what a conventional planner or calendar can do, and that’s the beauty of it; you get to design the book in whatever way works for you and your life. There are as many ways to BuJo as there are people on the planet — the possibilities are endless.]
3. You can create cool trackers, lists, and other innovative ways to organize info. Sure, you can fill your BuJo with lists, if that’s your cup of tea. But if you are more of a visual thinker, you might try adding some trackers to your journal. You can use habit trackers like these to record how often you do habits like exercise, healthy eating, sleep, reading, meditation, and time with loved ones. Other types of trackers let you document how many books you’ve read, how much money you’ve saved for your next vacation, or even what mood you’re in from day to day. Regardless of how you choose to use them, though, trackers can be a great way to visualize your goals and priorities.
4. Bullet Journaling is all done by hand. Writing by hand, Ryder tells us, engages our minds in a different way than typing or using apps. When we hand write notes, for example, we activate more parts of the brain and store information more effectively than when we type our notes. Writing by hand takes more focus and intention than typing, but it also keeps our brains sharper by getting us to think more deeply about the information we’re taking in. It also means less time spent in front of a screen, which most of us could probably use.
5. You can make it as creative and colorful as you want. The artist in me loves this. A BuJo can be purely functional, of course, but there are all kinds of ways to add a little personality and zazz to your journal if you feel so inclined. Personally, I keep a stock of PaperMate flair pens on hand specifically for Bullet Journaling; they come in a whole rainbow of fun, bright colors, they write well and they won’t bleed through your paper. Aside from indulging my inner kid, writing in different colors allows me to color-code different sections of my journal, which makes it easy to scan through and see what those sections are about. Functional and fun!
6. You can see evidence of your progress. The Bullet Journal format makes it easy to thumb through your notebooks and see how you are doing in different areas of your life. Once you’ve been using your trackers for a while, they can show you your patterns over time — like which habits you’ve been most consistent at — and you can see a visual record of the progress you have made. I’ve personally found this to be very motivating.
Even simple daily to-do lists, when they’re written by hand, give you the opportunity to physically cross each item off of the list. Digital to-do lists can seem faster and more efficient, but I’ve found I get a greater sense of accomplishment from using paper lists because they show me what I’ve done. When I’ve kept digital lists in the past, the things I’ve done are simply deleted, while new items continue to pile on. At the end of the day it’s easy to look at a list like this and wonder if I really did anything at all. A paper list full of finished tasks is a record of how I spent my time and an affirmation that I am, in fact, a productive human being.
7. You’ll have old journals to look back on. One of my favorite parts of journaling — any kind of journaling — is reading through old journals. Cracking open a notebook from years ago takes me back to another time and place in my life. Suddenly I remember who I was then, what I thought and felt, and what was important to me. Journals from the past are a record of who you have been. And who you have been is what led you to who you are now. It’s an amazing thing, to be able to look back on years’ worth of stuff you’ve written and trace how you’ve evolved and grown as a person — and the rewards only become richer the more time you spend journaling.
8. It helps you live more mindfully. At its core, BuJo is a mindful practice. It’s all about discovering what is most important to you and learning to focus your time and energy on those things. It makes you look more closely at how you spend each day and helps you structure your time. BuJo is so much more than just scheduling and planning; it’s a journey of self-inquiry and exploration. I’ve found that it gives my days structure and helps me feel like I am spending my time in meaningful, purposeful ways. And to me, that is enormously valuable.
While I don’t think there is any “perfect” way to stay organized, I am a firm believer in the power of Bullet Journaling because it has worked so well for me. And I want you to know that if I could do this, you absolutely can, too. If more people could feel the peace and contentment that comes from something as simple as being organized, or the satisfaction of making progress towards long-held dreams, I believe we’d be living in a different world.
What about you? Are you a BuJo fan like me? Or are you thinking of trying it? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below.