Why bullet journaling is a genius idea

A page from Kara Benz's journal.
You can make your journal pretty or decorative, as Kara Benz details, or you can keep it minimalist and practical — whatever works for you. (Photo: Courtesy Kara Benz/Boho Berry)

Ryder Carroll’s Bullet Journal concept is a relatively simple technique to organize your life on paper. As he says in his explainer video below, “It’s an analog system I developed to track the past, organize the present, and plan for the future.” Of course, that’s what we all hope for in our journals, but somehow it doesn’t always come together.

I should know: I’m a dedicated paper-journaler. I appreciate apps for many things, but I absolutely need to write on paper to figure out my life. I use my journals for to-do lists, ideas, plans, notes, lists and personal reflection. I used to have two notebooks, one for reflective, diary-like journaling, and the other for “work only” — but I recently combined them a into one “everything in my life” journal, and it works better for me.

But I, like many others, have developed my own sort-of-lopsided, not-as-organized-as-I-would-like system when it comes to paper journaling and keeping track. Mostly it works, sometimes it doesn’t and it’s definitely pretty ugly. So I immediately fell for bullet journaling because it shared a couple of basic traits with what I was already doing, yet it’s much cleaner and, most importantly, more adaptable. Check out the basics below:

As you can see, bullet journaling isn’t complicated. As Carroll writes on the bullet journal site, it’s designed to be “… an evolving, adaptable platform meant to be shared and self curated as you determine what works best for you.” That is key for most of today’s workers who have multiple projects ongoing. While bullet journaling does require a bit of practice — it took me two days to get the hang of it — the basics as described above are pretty straightforward and cut across disciplines. Everyone from students to designers to lawyers and bloggers are fans.

Bullet journaling has four main parts: You start with a key, which includes symbols for when work is complete, moved forward, deleted and important. You can add to the key with your own symbols if you need them. Then you create your own index, on which you indicate the page numbers of your collections, which can be as many or as few as you like. Then there’s a six-month calendar, a monthly breakdown page and then your daily pages, which can be as complex or as simple as you like.

A spread in a Bullet Journal.
Bullet journaling is a simple technique to learn. (Photo: video)

Besides the useful key, my favorite aspect of bullet journaling is the collections. Those pages have allowed me to take all my lists and organize them — and I’m always be able to find them again later because they are in the index. (I don’t know why I didn’t think of this solution before. I’ve been struggling with lost-and-found list of books to read, story ideas, documentaries to watch, recipes to try, and favorite quotes and book excerpts for years now.)

Last night, in a fit of journal reorganization, I spent an hour remaking all my heretofore scattered lists (leaving an extra blank page for some that are ongoing and voluminous), and indexing them. If I have a new idea, all I have to do is flip to my index page, see where that list is and jot it down. Simple!

This is a fun, creative list of movies that the blogger Lala I'm Singing made in her bullet journal.
This is a fun, creative list of movies that this blogger made in her bullet journal. (Photo: Lala I’m Singing)

The collection pages don’t all have to be super-practical lists, either: They can include a health page or a habit tracker (which I have now instituted to track my exercise and meditation), a dream diary, your favorite yoga moves, new tattoo inspirations, or the wet food your cat prefers. (It can’t just be me who needs to keep track of this kind of thing!)

In fact, many fans of bullet journaling have turned to decorative and visual ways of organizing their lives and ideas, which makes the journal more interesting and fun (and motivating.) Doodling is encouraged, and why not? It’s your journal, so do what works for you. You could have an entirely visual collection indexed under “doodles” or “fun patterns” or “funny faces” if you like.

An illustrated
Why not illustrate your Books to Read group instead of simply making a list? You can label the books, then color them in when you’ve finished them. (Photo: Moxidori)

One of the things I’ve enjoyed most about watching bullet journalers’ YouTube videos (and reading some extensive blog posts) is how they will try something for a week or a month and if it doesn’t work, they stop doing it. Adaptation is encouraged in this type of organization system, and because you’re setting it up yourself, you can add or subtract from it. Nothing is printed, so no system is permanent.

Specific “collection” pages I’ll be adding include travel notes (I visit destinations to write about them, and I keep extensive notes on each locale), short impressions of books I’ve read, longer notes about books I’ve reviewed, and a list to keep track of calls with friends. The best part is that especially for the first three items, bullet journaling’s index per notebook (at the front) will allow me to easily look back into older journals and find an interview or notes about a destination. As it is now, I end up flipping through entire old notebooks to find a piece of information — and that happens a few times a month.

How pretty or interesting you make your journal look is up to you, but I couldn’t help but be inspired by Kara Benz of Boho Berry. Check out her take on the Bullet Journal at the top. It totally inspired me to bust out my colored pens and have some fun making my new bullet journal beautiful.

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