What Is a Bullet Journal?

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A bullet journal is something of a mix of a daily planner, to-do list, and diary. The bullet journal is an analog journaling system created by New York-based designer Ryder Carroll. He describes this planner/journaling approach as a method to "help you track the past, organize the present, and plan for the future."

So what makes bullet journals so appealing? This type of personal journal allows people to record achievements, goals, thoughts, inspiration, and reflections in an organized and creative way. Users can make entries of daily, weekly, and monthly progress toward their goals. This can be an effective system when trying to change a habit, reach a goal, or make some sort of life change.

What Is a Bullet Journal?

The bullet journal system is fairly complex. Each component of the journal is broken down into a series of modules:

  • A future log where you record your plans and aspirations for the future
  • A monthly calendar that helps you track shorter-term goals, to-dos, and deadlines
  • A daily log for keeping track of daily tasks, appointments, and immediate deadlines

Plus, the beginning of the journal contains a detailed index that allows you to quickly keep track of what’s in your journal and where to find it. This index is usually fairly complicated and utilizes symbols and notes to help keep everything organized.

The system also relies on different bullet symbols that help you quickly see what you have on your plate each day. A note (any type of fact or observation), would get a dash. A task (i.e. “get milk from the grocery store”) would be noted with a dot. An event (i.e., “Birthday party tonight”) is marked by an open circle.

Is a Bullet Journal Right for You?

Such a system can be appealing to those who enjoy such structure and organization. However, such complexity can be daunting and make it less likely that people actually stuck with the system.

The great thing about the bullet journal approach is that it is highly adaptable—you can personalize your bullet journal to meet you specific needs, keeping it as simple or as complex as you desire.

You might opt to focus on specific health and fitness goals such as losing weight or working out. Or you might track your daily moods in order to look for patterns that influence your behaviors. You might even focus on academic, athletic, career, or personal development goals.

Reasons to Try This Approach

So why would you want to use a bullet journal approach when there are so many other planning and journaling tools out there, many of which tend to be a bit more high-tech?

The reality is that no single approach is going to work for everyone, but the bullet journal does present a few key psychological advantages that are worth considering.

This approach takes time to master, but it may end up saving you time in the long-run.

The first thing to consider is that any type of reminder tool is going to be helpful in some way. Attention is a limited resource. If you are using up valuable mental real-estate keeping track of mundane daily tasks, you're less likely to be able to apply those resources to other tasks.

Getting things out of your head and tracking them somewhere in a systematic way can help you stay on track while freeing you up to focus on more important things.

Bullet journaling can often be faster and easier than other organizational tools.

While the system can appear quite complex to the novice, experienced bullet journal users suggest it becomes much simpler once you get the hang of it. And if you are currently relying on many different tools, calendars, and planners to stay organized, a bullet journal may actually be much simpler.

The bullet journal system also helps combine multiple different organizational tools into one easy-to-use resource. Rather than covering your desk with colorful sticky notes, keeping track of appointments in your online calendar, and setting daily reminders on your mobile device, all of these things are combined into one organized tour.

Every time you look in your bullet journal to see something like your daily reminders or grocery shopping list, it is also likely that you will look at other things in your journal such as reminders about your long-term goals.

Visual Advantages

The bullet journal format allows you to easily track things in a highly visual and organized format. These journals also allow you to explore your creative side. Doodling, sketching, color-coded notes, mind maps, and other brainstorming activities can all be incorporated into your personalized journal.

Doodling can be more than just a way to illustrate your journal—it may also improve your memory. In one study, researchers found that drawing items on a list enhanced memory of those items better than just writing them down.

Writing Things Down Has Many Benefits

The simple act of writing things down can often make it seem more manageable. One major benefit they offer is getting your plans out of your head and committing them to paper. This process of externalizing and expressing your thoughts on paper can make your goals more concrete and doable. It can also make tackling your to-do list less intimidating.

Keeping a list of projects running through your mind can be stressful, but listing it all out on paper can give you a step-by-step process that immediately seems much easier to tackle.

Tracking things visually can make it easier to make connections between emotions and behaviors. This is particularly helpful if you are trying to achieve a health-related goal such as losing weight or quitting smoking. When you can see the certain emotions, situations, or settings are more likely to lead to problematic actions, you can make more of an effort to avoid these triggers in the future.

The act of writing things down has been shown to have a number of psychological benefits too, including improving memory, boosting learning, and decreasing distractibility.

Keeping track of your progress and achievements can provide a sense of accomplishment

Some people find standard to-do lists highly motivating. Having a clearly defined set of goals that you can check off as you complete each one can be a source of inspiration for some. Yet others may find such lists daunting. Rather than focusing on what they did get done, some people fixate on what remains unfinished. Or they might feel so overwhelmed by the number of items on their list that just getting started seems impossible.

Because of the highly personalized nature of a bullet journal, you can rely on a tracking method that works for you. If you find to-do lists effective motivators, then you should, by all means, incorporate them into your journal. If such lists are demotivating, consider using a "done" list to note what you have accomplished. Such lists can be less daunting and provide a sense of achievement.

Journaling can help with self-expression

Writing down things that are troubling you can be a great way to get things out of your system. However, it is important to draw a line between venting and excessive rumination. Setting aside a section of your bullet journal for "rants and raves" can be a good way to get things off your chest without delving into obsessing about the things that irritate you.

How to Start a Bullet Journal

All you really need to get started is a blank notebook or journal and a pen.

You can make any customization you choose beyond that. Any blank journal, sketchbook, or notepad will work. You might choose to use just a simple notebook filled with lined paper or invest in a higher-quality journal with heavyweight pages that are perfect for writing, sketching, doodling, or whatever else you choose to include in your journal.

You might also choose to invest in high-quality pens, decorative stamps, washi tape, markers, and stickers that you can use to decorate, organize, categorize, and individualize your journal pages. Don't spend too much money before you're sure this journaling method works for you, though!

What to Include

The contents of your journal are really up to you. Some of the modules you might want to incorporate include:

  • An index: This page acts as a table of contents and should include a listing of page titles with associated page numbers for any specific page you might want to find later.
  • A future log: To list your long-term goals, from smaller goals to even the loftiest of dreams.
  • A monthly log: A monthly calendar where you can list important deadlines, events, and other reminders.
  • A daily log: A day to day list of to-dos and reminders.
  • Lists and Collections: Individual pages devoted to lists of things that are important to you. For example, you might want to track items that you are collecting, bills that you owe, gifts you need to purchase for holidays, books that you want to read, or any other type of list that you might want to create.

If you need more ideas about what to include in your bullet journal, try a quick search online to find lots of inspirational examples. You might want to make a quick list of the type of things you would like to keep track of so you can have an idea of what pages you will create as you get started.

A Word From Verywell

Bullet journals have become popular for good reason—they can be a fun, useful, and effective way to organize, plan, and track your goals, projects, and to-dos. Perhaps the greatest advantage of a bullet journal is that there is no need to invest in expensive resources. With a cheap notebook, a pen, and some creativity, you can develop a rewarding planner that can help you track your progress and work toward your goals.

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