Introducing The Bullet Journal – A Mindful Way To Organise Your Life

Photo: Via @feebujo.
If the rings and dings of mobile reminders have you dreaming of a better, more organised life, maybe it’s time to ditch the apps in favour of the Bullet Journal: a lo-fi way of keeping your schedule in check. The Bullet Journal is a DIY planner of sorts that­ supposedly turns any notebook into a master to do list and calendar. Blank pages are filled with daily, weekly and monthly tasks, schedules, journal entries and whatever else your particular life requires. It's like the planner equivalent of the KonMari cleaning method: both promise that anyone can organise their lives and both approach tasks with mindfulness. But rather than looking for a spark, the Bullet Journal is about getting the stuff that’s worth your time done. Brooklyn-based product designer Ryder Carroll started to create the Bullet Journal system when he was a struggling schoolboy in Vienna, Austria. Diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder at a young age, he ended up creating a way of note taking that helped him focus on multiple things during a shorter period of time. This became ‘rapid logging’ – a core technique and what Carroll calls the "language" of the Bullet Journal. He officially launched in 2013 and since then, the analogue system has gained massive popularity in the digital world. The appeal of the Bullet Journal is the opportunity to create a planner that reflects a person’s unique needs, life and ways of thinking and many users claim it’s the reason behind increased productivity. From habit trackers to Gratitude Logs and the seemingly complex Calendex (a calendar-index hybrid yo), Bullet Journal devotees have come up with different ways to record their lives. Many share photos of their pages, or ‘spreads’ as they’re called, with a community obsessed by the system on Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube and the like. At the time of writing, there are over 250,000 images tagged with #bulletjournal on Instagram alone. Time Out London and Buzzfeed have curated spreads that are from “people way more organised than you” that they promise will “soothe the soul.” List making is a way to act upon the pre-occupation with unfinished tasks (known as ‘Zeigarnik Effect’). As such, writing tasks down frees up mental real estate for “other, more immediate needs” according to a Science of Us interview with behavioural neuroscientist Daniel Levitin. Furthermore, a 2014 study published in the journal Psychological Science suggests that taking notes by hand – as opposed to typing on a laptop – boosts memory and aides in the ability to understand concepts. But with all the beautiful Bullet Journals and spreads out there, starting your own can be pretty intimidating. Much like planning a wedding after looking at Pinterest for fives minutes. To soothe your soul, we reached out to Carroll and two popular Bullet Journallers, Boho Berry blogger Kara Benz and Tiny Ray of Sunshine blogger Kim Alvarez, for tips on how to get started and how to keep going.


Is your #bulletjournal ready for #march ?

A photo posted by Ryder Carroll (@bulletjournal) on

Don’t Be Intimidated by “Perfect” and Beautiful Bullet Journals Despite what you may often see on Instagram, Bullet Journals are for everyone – even for those without an artistic bone in their body. “[Newcomers] think they have to be neat when really, life is super messy,” says Alvarez, “[and] for a lot of people, their Bullet Journals are really messy.” As tempting as it may be, there’s no need to rush out to buy special fountain pens, rolls of Washi tape or cool Japanese highlighters. And while there is an official Bullet Journal (which is made in collaboration with German notebook makers Leuchtturm) it’s currently sold out. Carroll hopes to have them in stock by October but you shouldn’t wait for then to start. “It’s really not about how the Bullet Journal looks, it’s about how effective it is and what kind of impact it has,” reminds Carroll. Just grab a notebook and a pen, and get started.

Visit and read it over and over again
A Bullet Journal can become whatever you need it to be, but it’s not always easy to figure out what that is or what it looks like. “I always recommend going to and going through their ‘Getting Started’ series because that will give you solid building blocks when creating your own system,” says Benz. Here, you’ll learn how to rapid log (a method of note taking that uses signifiers), the process of ‘migration’, and the four main modules: the Index (a Table of Contents), Future Log (items you’ll do further on into the future or some day), Monthly Log (items to get done this month), and Daily Log (your day-to-day tasks). Appropriately enough, there’s also a handy “Getting Started” printout available on the site. Designed by Alvarez, the printout has been translated into 14 other languages by fellow Bullet Journallers – cheers guys. Carroll suggests sticking with the system he’s laid out for two months as it’s meant to be so easy that it can be done with minimal amount of effort. Once you start to understand how the Bullet Journal will help you get more stuff done, then should you start playing with habit trackers, collections and other ideas.

Ask Yourself, “Is This Really Worth My Time?”
Migration is one of the cornerstones of the Bullet Journal system. This is where you take a look at all the tasks you have and haven’t completed at the end of a calendar month (or whatever length of time works for you) and decide whether you should copy incomplete tasks over to a new spread. “[The Bullet Journal] is very much designed to be a mindfulness practice. The idea is that you’re constantly holding yourself accountable for the ways that you’re spending your time,” says Carroll. As he puts it, if you don’t want to take the three seconds to copy a task again, maybe it’s not worth your time: “For me, personally, time is the most valuable thing in the world.” But as life would have it, there are just some things you can’t ignore. Alvarez suggests breaking down tasks that you find yourself copying over and over again." “So even if it’s something as simple as ‘make a doctor’s appointment,’ maybe try writing down the exact steps like, ‘find out the number, call at 2pm’,” explains Alvarez. “Make it really specific so that it’s so simple you don’t have to overthink it and it’s right there in front of you.”

My September setup! ???

A photo posted by Federica (@feebujo) on

Keep It Simple

“When [new users] see so much inspiration, they’re like, ‘okay, I want to do a sleep tracker, and I want to do a habit tracker, and I want to do this, and I want to do that,’” says Alvarez. “Pretty soon they overwhelm themselves with all these different ideas.” There are many different ways to bullet journal and while they’re not wrong, they also shouldn’t stop you from being productive. For Carroll, filling in your Bullet Journal should never feel like a chore: “It should always feel like, a) fun, and b) like it’s having an impact all the time. You should feel better for using it.” Since ‘simple’ means different things to different people, Benz suggests pre-planning how you want to set up your Bullet Journal in order to figure out exactly what you want to achieve with it.
Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff “There are some days where you can’t do all the things and maybe you just need a little break,” says Alvarez. “Having some time away helps you come back to it with some fresh new insight to what you really want to do with your Bullet Journal.” Creating a Bullet Journal is a highly personal and flexible system and will evolve with your own life and needs. You may need it more on certain days and not at all on others and that’s okay. “Sometimes having those blank pages lets you think back to those times [where you didn’t write something] and go, ‘okay, what changed here? Is there something I could fix or tweak to get back into it?’ ” explains Benz.

Be Part Of The Community

“Always feel free to reach out with questions,” advises Carroll. “One of the most beautiful parts of the Bullet Journal – and what keeps me motivated all the time – is the community. It’s really a rare kind of community that’s incredibly positive and incredibly supportive. I think that’s why it’s become so very popular because everyone wants others to succeed.” Carroll recently launched two series on the blog that look at how professionals and parents use Bullet Journals. Alvarez and Benz also both run their own blogs where they share their own methods, tips and fun challenges (they host the #RockYourHandwriting challenge with other Bullet Journallers). There’s also a Bullet Journal subreddit, a Google+ community, and many other spaces dedicated to the Bullet Journal system.

Last week ?#bulletjournal#bulletjournaling#bulletjournaljunkies#bulletjournallove#bulletjournalcommunity

A photo posted by Federica Santaroni (@feeneve) on

Make It Your Own At the end of the day, the Bullet Journal is all about you: it reflects your schedule, your list of tasks and, as Carroll puts it, how you find clarity and answers to questions you may not have answers to.
It’s fine to take inspiration from others but tweak it where you need to so that it works for you, advises Benz. So if drawing in your Bullet Journal helps you come back to it, then great. But if you like the look of jet black ink on paper, then that’s fine too. “It has to be yours,” explains Alvarez. “It’s not what anyone else is doing. It’s what works for you. It’s what you need in your life at the time, and what you need now may change in a couple of weeks or a couple of years. And your Bullet Journal will adapt along with you as your life changes.”
After all, a Bullet Journal stops being a Bullet Journal when it doesn’t work for you.

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