I’ve embraced the bullet journal system since August of last year in time for my senior year of college, and it has been life-changing. The Bullet Journal website calls it “the analog system for a digital age”. Ryder Carroll, its creator, is an art director based in Brooklyn. He developed the concept of a bullet journal, and turned it into a business with the help of Kickstarter and an intro tutorial video.
The basic system requires only an empty notebook and a writing tool. Each page is numbered on the bottom corner. Items (tasks, events, or notes) are written on a dated page, next to a symbol indicating its category or progress. Tasks are dots which are written over with an X (task completed), arrow pointing right (task migrated to the next day), or arrow pointing left (task scheduled for a future date) as tasks are completed or as time progresses. Events are small open circles. Notes are small dashes for anything: ideas, thoughts, or observations.
The best part of the bullet journal system is this is just the basic framework; it can go so much further as an organizational tool and creative outlet. There’s an entire bullet journal community taking advantage of the versatility of the system. My favorite bullet journal inspirations are Boho Berry and Tiny Ray of Sunshine. The Tumblr studyblr community loves bullet journals, too (studyign, nehrdist).
I was inspired to start my own bullet journal after discovering the studyblr community. It was a simple, 64-page large Moleskine Cahier gridded journal. I made monthly and weekly spreads. I had four colored pens, one for each of my classes (and black for non-academic items). I supplemented my journal with highlighters and post-its. With just my journal and those tools, I became more organized than ever. I could keep track of personal tasks (my turn to clean the apartment kitchen, leisurely reading schedule), extracurricular duties (sending emails, planning meetings), and academic responsibilities (studying for exams, completing assignments). I knew what to do each day and was kept accountable by faithfully migrating and scheduling items on a daily basis. On top of having an incredible organization system, I learned to have fun with it.
And I’m having more fun with my current journal. My first one lasted a semester, which doesn’t sound ideal but it allowed me enough time to experiment with different layouts and such, and the opportunity to start a new and improved journal: a soft, 192-page large Moleskine dotted notebook in underwater blue, with an elastic closure. With this journal I use more colors (four classes, personal tasks, campus extracurriculars, non-campus extracurriculars like The Prospect), but the same simple highlighters and post-its. I’ve added non-traditional pages: my personal mission statement, yearly calendar (which also serves as my period tracker), semester goals, life goals, and my blog post tracker. It’s fun enough, being able to keep track of different aspects of my life in an established system. It gets even more fun being creative with it. I experiment with different spreads, handwriting techniques, and header fonts. I add doodles and colorful embellishments wherever I feel my journal needs some visual interest. My journal has transformed from a way to keep track of projects, into a project in itself.
You can (and should) start this project of your own. Many bullet journal users have Moleskines, and Ryder Carroll developed a notebook specifically for bullet journaling, but don’t think you have to buy an expensive or specialized notebook in order to join the community; any empty notebook will do, especially when you’re first starting out. It can be lined, dotted, gridded, or even completely unmarked. You don’t need five pens like me (or over twenty like this journal user). You can start out with a single black pen and see how many more you actually need to improve your organization, or increase your creativity.
Gather inspiration for starting your own journal from Instagram and Tumblr (#bulletjournal, #bujo, #studyblr), the Bullet Journal Blog, or simply by Googling ‘bullet journal ideas’. If you ever feel stressed with the amount of items or visual distraction, take a break. Simplify your system with fewer colors or items. Creative bullet journaling is supposed to make life organized and organization fun.