Bullet Journaling

I started noticing references to bullet journals from people in various writer-related communities and on Twitter about six months ago. I’m not one for journaling so I didn’t pay much attention. This fall I saw a serous discussion about bullet journaling and quality paper notebooks on one of the writing and stationary pr0n sites I keep an eye on. Intrigued, I thought I’d maybe take a closer look later.

Later arrived with a bang this month. I’m temporarily working remotely without reliable access to the ’net, and without a lot of anything else, either, since I’m at my mom’s place. No standing desk here; in fact, no desk. Just me and my laptop, iPad and iPhone (with a tiny data plan), and intermittent WiFi. Most of my time and project management tools tools are digital and cloud based; I use Wunderlist, Evernote, and email, a lot, for managing time and tasks. They’re great tools but they’re not really viable without reliable Internet.

I generally travel with a cheap spiral bound notebook, a mechanical pencil or two, a couple of gel pens, and a highlighter in my laptop bag. This time, planning on sending postcards, I also brought a Lamy fountain pen. My plan was to do what I used to do, back in the day, and use the notebook to make lists and track projects.

Then I remembered the bullet journal, and did a little reading.

The Bullet Journal® (sometimes shortened to BuJo® for short) was invented by Ryder Carroll. A video about bullet journaling he created and posted to YouTube is frequently identified as the way devotees first discovered bullet journaling. Carroll developed his system over time, and via use. He wanted an analog way to track time, to keep track of what needs to be done today, what was done yesterday, and planning for the future, that didn’t require a great deal of time to manage. He wanted it to be analog because of the way our brains work when we use pen and paper.

The online tutorial Carroll created claims “All you need is a notebook and a pen . . . ” 

I scrounged an old blank book that was a giveaway from a bookclub. I numbered the pages, created an Index, twelve months of month-at-a-glance calendars, a set of calendar spread pages for known scheduled events, a few lists (“Collections” in BuJo parlance”) of books I needed to read, and posts I needed to write, and my first daily page. 

The basic sections (“modules” in Carroll’s terminology) are:

  • Numbered pages with topic headers
  • An Index that tracks where various items are in terms of the numbered pages. 
  • Rapid logging: a method of quick memos using a basic set of codes that are customizable. Symbols indicate whether  a task was completed, migrated to a later date or scheduled, other symbols denote ideas, notes, and priority. 
  • A calendar for the year’s events; Carroll calls this the Future Log
  • Monthly calendars in a list form; Carroll call this the Monthly Log
  • Daily lists of what you plan to do on that day, created the night before or in the morning of the day in question. Carroll calls this the Daily Log.

These are very easy to set up in the minimalist style Carroll advocates; the calendars are essentially lists, with days identified by short codes: M 23 is Monday the 23rd. Set up doesn’t have to make than an hour, beginning with a blank book. 

An important technique inherent in Bullet Journals is migration. You migrate a task or event to another date if you don’t complete it. Eventually, if you keep migrating the same task, you either recognize the procrastination and complete the task, or you realize that it’s not really important.  As Carroll notes:

The purpose of migration is to distill the things that are truly worth the effort, to become aware of our own patterns and habits, and to separate the signal from the noise. 

The key concepts about why bullet journaling works for so many people are, according to Carroll:

Putting pen to paper helps retain things significantly better and there’s a lot of science to back that up. At the same time, technology allows you to share that information, parse the information, and compartmentalize it to work with it in new ways.

There’s a built-in time-management curb in Bullet Journaling in that

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.

In my case, the analog aspect means I can track my time offline with ease. I’ll post an update in February, after using a BuJo for a few weeks, but in the meantime, if you’re curious, here are some of the links that helped me:

WTF is a Bullet Journal and Why Should You Start One? An Explainer.

The Bullet Journal, Minus the Hype, is Actually a Really Good Planner

How To Bullet Journal: The Absolute Ultimate Guide