What Is a Bullet Journal?

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A bullet journal, also known as a BuJo, is 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.

Example of a bullet journal
Illustration by Cindy Chung, Verywell 

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.

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.

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 your specific needs, keeping it as simple or as complex as you desire.

Bullet journals may be particularly helpful for adults with ADHD. Organizational tools that track projects and break things down into manageable steps can be helpful for staying on task.

Advantages of Bullet Journals

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.

It Can Improve Time-Management

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.

It's a Quick Organizational Tool.

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.

It Helps You Visualize Your Goals

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.

It Can Help you Feel More Accomplished

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.

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 Fosters 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.


This approach takes time to master, but it may end up saving you time in the long run. Bullet journaling can often be faster and easier than other organizational tools. It is also highly visual, which can help keep you on track. Keeping track of your progress and achievements can provide a sense of accomplishment.

How to Start a Bullet Journal

All you really need to get started is a blank notebook or journal and a pen. Many people like to use dot grid notebook paper for their bullet journals.

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.

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.
  • Symbols: Learning the BuJo symbols used to denote different types of information can also help organize the content of your journal.

BuJo Symbols

Tasks: •

Events: O

Notes: —

Priority: *

Inspiration: !

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.

Press Play for Advice On Journaling

Hosted by Editor-in-Chief and therapist Amy Morin, LCSW, this episode of The Verywell Mind Podcast shares how to journal to build mental strength. Click below to listen now.

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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.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the point of bullet journaling?

    Bullet journals are designed to be a visual, personalized way to keep track of information, explore creativity, brainstorm ideas, and keep track of inspiration. They can be easily personalized for different purposes and goals based on each person's needs.

  • How do I organize a bullet journal?

    There are a few different ways to organize your bullet journal. You might opt to simply intermix pages and create new pages as you need them. You might also start by sectioning off certain pages in your journal for specific purposes. Another method is to use the first half of your journal for planning and the last half of the journal for collecting.

  • Can I start a bullet journal in the middle of the year?

    Bullet journals do not have a specific start or end date. This means you can start at any time, whether it's the beginning of the month or the beginning of the week.

4 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Carroll R. The Bullet Journal Method: Track the Past, Order the Present, Design the Future. New York, NY: Penguin; 2018.

  2. Wammes JD, Meade ME, Fernandes MA. The drawing effect: Evidence for reliable and robust memory benefits in free recall. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology. 2016;69(9):1752-1776. doi:10.1080/17470218.2015.1094494

  3. Mueller PA, Oppenheimer DM. The pen is mightier than the keyboard: Advantages of longhand over laptop note taking. Psychol Sci. 2014;25(6):1159-1168. doi:10.1177/0956797614524581

  4. Masicampo EJ, Baumeister RF. Consider it done! Plan making can eliminate the cognitive effects of unfulfilled goals. J Pers Soc Psychol. 2011;101(4):667-83. doi:10.1037/a0024192

By Kendra Cherry, MSEd
Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."