Chances are, you rely on your phone to help you get stuff done.
Whether it’s a calendar synced to your laptop, an app that keeps you from shopping on Amazon when you’re supposed to be working, or a running to-do list in your notes, your device is your central command center.
At least, it was. Believe it or not, plenty of productivity-minded folks are keeping track of their lives with something way more low-tech. In fact, it’s totally no-tech.
Meet the bullet journal (otherwise known as BuJo). On the outside, it looks like a pretty average notebook. But on the inside, it’s a living, breathing productivity system. And it just might change your life.
What is a bullet journal?
A bullet journal might sound intense. And if you were to take a quick peek on social media, you might be intimidated by the amazingly pretty (and detailed) notebooks of some artistically-inclined users.
But it’s nothing you can’t handle. And you don’t have to be a dedicated doodler to be a world-class bullet journaler. A bullet journal is really just a method of journaling and note-taking that’s based around making bulleted lists.
The bullet journal was introduced by Ryder Carroll in his best-selling book, “The Bullet Journal Method: Track the Past, Order the Present, Design the Future.” And just like Marie Kondo’s KonMari method soared in popularity, Carroll’s bullet journal system quickly became popular amongst organization enthusiasts.
BuJo is more than just a way to get organized, though, it’s considered to be a mindfulness practice. Creating a bullet journal is an effective way of putting all of your thoughts down on paper and organizing them in a way that makes sense to you. And while phone notes and reminders are effective at making task lists and keeping productivity up, studies have shown that the actual act of writing your thoughts down on paper can ease stress and anxiety.
If you’re used to using your phone for your day-to-day to-do list but are interested in bullet journaling, we recommend starting this practice at night by writing down all of the things you’ve accomplished that day, what your plan is for the next day, and any remaining thoughts or feelings you want to express.
Doing this helps you ease your way into the practice of bullet journaling and away from relying on your device to keep you on track. Plus, it’s a great way for those focused on their productivity to wind down and feel gratitude for everything they completed in a day’s time.
What makes a bullet journal different than a regular paper calendar or a to-do list? Because it’s both of those things combined—and more. A bullet journal consists of a bunch of different sections that help you keep track of what’s going on in your daily life, over the course of the month, and throughout the entire year—all at once.
Even if you are a “pen and paper” kind of person, you likely don’t have a notebook that encompasses everything you want to record. Instead, you might have a notepad you write your grocery lists on, or a sticky pad you where you write small reminders for yourself, and if you have a job or are in school, you probably have multiple notebooks for “real life” and “work life.” A bullet journal, on the other hand, lets you record all of these things in one place.
Why bullet journals beat your phone.
Let’s be honest. No one’s saying that a bullet journal will suddenly prompt you to stuff your device in a drawer and never look at it again. Your phone is great for all kinds of stuff (except when you’re trying to go to sleep, of course). But it might not the best tool for tracking your to-dos.
That’s because your brain reacts differently to stuff on your device versus stuff on real paper. Devices are distracting. We might read worse on screens than on printed pages, and using them drains our brainpower faster.
Sure, writing in a journal usually takes up more time than dashing off a note on your phone. (And bullet journaling, despite the name, is no exception.) But in a world where you can order a meal or a ride with the touch of a button, isn’t choosing to perform an activity slowly and deliberately sort of great?
Bullet journaling is also a popular way to stay on task if you’re not over-reliant on a cell phone. Say you’re somebody who doesn’t do “to-do lists” or struggles with goal setting, a bullet journal gives you a space to start.
Plus, bullet journaling lets you express yourself in a way that phones can’t. Even though technology has made great strides in the last decades, it doesn’t give you the freedom of pen and paper. If you’re more artistic, you’ll probably find better stress relief through journaling on pen and paper. Say you want to incorporate doodles, stickers, stencils, or other customizations on a page, a bullet journal lets you do that—it’s almost like a sketchbook and a notebook all in one.
How to build your bullet journal.
OK, so you’re ready to make your first bullet journal—but where do you get one?
Sorry, you can’t buy a bullet journal notebook. You’ve got to make one. So grab a new plain notebook, flip it open to a blank page, and let’s get to work.
Every bullet journal is divided up into a few different sections—each one is important and serves its own purpose. This lets you keep yourself organized with both short-term and long-term goals.
When you add an item to any of your logs, it should be short and sweet. Bullet journalists refer to this as “rapid logging,” where instead of writing full sentences and phrases, they jot quick blurbs like, “Mail package” or “Dentist @ 3:00 PM.” Remember, you’re making lists here, not composing a flawless email to your boss.
Next to each item, you’ll add a bullet point. Dedicated bullet journalists use different bullets or symbols to indicate different things, like a map key. (You can actually draw a key on the first page of your journal, so you don’t forget what they are!) This makes it fast and easy to know where you are with different tasks.
1. The index.
This is your table of contents. Instead of breaking your journal into certain sections ahead of time and eventually running out of space, every time you add a new page or log, you jot it down in the index along with the page number. This way you don’t have to rely on bookmarks or be stuck flipping through pages with no direction; when you need something, you can just check the index.
2. The daily log.
This is your daily to-do list. But it can—and should—also encompass other stuff, including all the small things you’d like to remember from the day. Like the book recommendation your friend gave you, or the funny quote you saw. Basically, the daily log is for logging anything relevant that happened—or has to happen—today. Every day, you make a new one.
3. The monthly log.
The monthly log, as you might expect, is your monthly calendar—giving you a bird’s eye view on what’s going on in the current month. This is the place to jot down deadlines for projects and upcoming events you don’t want to miss.
We recommend against trying to squeeze the monthly spread into a single page, instead, use one or two pages to create an organized calendar you can easily read and add extra notes to.
4. The future log.
The future log is a multi-page spread that acts as a year-at-glance calendar. This is the place where you dump all the far-out stuff that you want to remember, but don’t need to reference anytime soon. The future log is also a great place to jot down events happening a few months out, birthdays, holidays, travel plans, you name it.
Many bullet journalists use the future log as a way to track long-term goals, too. Say you’re working on a project that spans a few months, you can use your bullet journal to set smaller deadlines for yourself so that you’re on track to complete the project by your desired end date. You can then write the small details about what steps you took to advance in the current project in your daily logs, helping you feel productive in the short term, and organized for the long-term.
If it all sounds overwhelming now, don’t worry. All bullet journalists feel that way at first. But the confusion quickly melts into a deep, comfortable kind of love—like the kind you feel for those old, perfectly worn-in jeans. Sticking to this practice is not only a way to keep yourself organized during all months (and days) of the year, but it also acts as a great stress reliever.
Plus, staying organized is a way to prevent some stressors (such as the panic you feel when a deadline’s approaching and you realize you’re not nearly as far in a certain project as you should be, or the sadness you feel when you’re recommended a great place to find Chinese food and you’re in a rut because you can’t remember the name).
And if you need more help getting started? Just check out this video. Many bullet journalists say that seeing a journal in action helps make the whole thing click.
This article is for informational purposes and should not replace advice from your doctor or other medical professional.