Have you tried  Bullet Journaling yet? I have, beginning in late September all the way through to today. Here's what I learned, and why I plan to keep at it.

When I first heard about Bullet Journals, I was both intrigued and skeptical. Intrigued because people seemed to really like it, and I thought I might too--I'm one of those people who likes writing in a notebook. Skeptical because, when it comes to staying organized, I love the power of digital. It's handy to have my notes and my calendar in the cloud, where I can find them anytime anywhere, or share them with others if I choose. 

Also, I already had several practices that seemed to cover a lot of the same ground as a Bullet Journal. I used Google Keep to quickly record things I wanted to remember--parking spaces, flyers for interesting events, Wi-Fi passwords. I used Evernote to keep track of all the valuable information in my life, from project notes to bills due. I used the Pomodoro technique, recorded in Evernote, to plan and then track my work in the office, and to make sure I was spending time working toward aspirational goals and not just immediate deadlines. I'd also had a lifelong habit of keeping a handwritten journal, where I vented my emotions, wrote about my hopes and fears and ambitions. Did I really need to add a Bullet Journal to all that?

But then I watched the Bullet Journal inventor Ryder Carroll's simple introductory how-to video, and I had to admit I wanted to try it, so I picked out a small notebook and started my first Bullet Journal. Just over a month later, I've filled up that notebook and moved on to a second one. I think Bullet Journaling may be a lifelong habit for me now.

1. Bullet Journaling isn't any one thing.

If you want to just follow instructions and learn to Bullet Journal, you can do that. But you can pretty much turn it into anything that serves you. I watched a video by an artistically inclined woman who created a beautiful Bullet Journal full of drawings and fancy lettering and visual flourishes. That would never be me--my notebooks are scribbled-over and sometimes ink-stained, legible only to me. My Bullet Journal is the same. Because I love journal writing as a way to express my feelings and work out the kinks in my brain, I do that right in my Bullet Journal right after I review yesterday's tasks to see which got done and which still need to be on the list, and write down my events and tasks for the day. That's probably not how most people use their Bullet Journals, and that's fine. It works for me.

The technical innovation of a bullet journal is this: It gives you a way to write down information in any order into an ordinary notebook and be able to find it quickly and easily later on. (If you want to know how, watch the five-minute tutorial below--Carroll explains it a lot better than I can.)

The true value of the Bullet Journal is mental--it's been called a mindfulness practice disguised as a productivity tool. For one thing, it can help you eliminate unnecessary tasks that are taking up your time and mental bandwidth. For me, a good example was my plan to send a box of purchases back to an online retailer and ask for a refund. I'd long ago missed the deadline for doing that, but the products were defective and I thought they should give me a refund anyway. I was going to write an articulate letter explaining all that, send my box off in the mail, and hope for the best.

Only I didn't really want to. That became increasingly clear as I "migrated" that task again and again in my Bullet Journal from the day I promised I would take care of it to the following day, and the day after that, and then the following week. Which forced me to ask myself what would happen if I didn't do this? Nothing much, so I decided to skip it. Carroll says any task which is not essential and isn't important either to you or to someone you love is unneeded, and a Bullet Journal will help you identify those tasks.

The true purpose of a Bullet Journal is to de-clutter your mind by writing things down, and for me, anyhow, it serves that purpose really, really well. I remember one day I was writing in my Bullet Journal, rapidly scribbling down my emotional reaction to something or other when something I wanted to remember to do later on that day popped into my head. It took just a few seconds to flip to my task list, write down the item, and go right back to my heartfelt rant having scarcely missed a beat. I think I fell in love with Bullet Journaling at that moment.

2. A Bullet Journal can give you a holistic view of your life and work.

Carroll writes that he is often asked whether you should have two Bullet Journals, one for work matters and one for the rest of your life. As with everything, his answer is that it's up to the individual user, but that he himself prefers a single journal so he can have everything in one place.

I agree. For me, bringing together the different parts of my life is one way having a Bullet Journal is an improvement over making notes in Evernote (which I still do). I don't have to sit at my desk or open a mobile app to do it, and that makes it easy to write in the Bullet Journal when I'm not at work. My task list for this week includes items like sending out pitches and follow-up notes from a conference, but also making a vet appointment for my cat and doing some research for a trip to Asia this winter. It's everything I plan and hope and have to and aspire to do, all in one place.

3. A Bullet Journal can be a very useful record.

Could you remember where you were, what you were doing and what you were thinking on a random day three years ago? If I had to try, I would attempt to piece things together by looking at my calendar, my journal, and perhaps my blog. But that might not give me a very clear picture, as I learned when I set out to write a memoir about my first marriage many years ago and discovered that most of my journals from the time weren't all that useful. If only I'd kept a Bullet Journal back then.

Today, I can look back and see that on September 21 I met my husband's new band mate for the first time, we went to another friend's performance that evening, I was feeling sad about spending less time with an old friend who's been traveling a lot, and that the following day it was warm but too rainy to work in the yard as I'd hoped. Someday, if I want to remember this part of my life, my Bullet Journals will remind me not only of what I was doing, but the context, the sentiments, and what was on my mind at any given time. 

But that's a benefit for someday. For now, the Bullet Journal is a useful and pleasant way to clear my mind and help me focus on what's important. And that's a great reason to keep doing it.

Published on: Nov 8, 2018
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