Creativity and organization collide beautifully in a daily journal routine. In our detached and digitized world, the feel of a beloved book brings a stir of sensations. The cover feels warm. The pages sound soft. The dust smells like new markers. As most people relentlessly busy-brag about how out-of-control their lives have become, we can break the cycle with little, leather-bound books.
Behold- the bullet journal.
What is a bullet journal?
Bullet journals bring together the best parts of tracking your life and recording thoughts with none of the restrictions. Typically, the pages are completely blank, although some have light grids to help with designing the pages. Most people use them for daily organization on the bulk of the pages and save special pages for large goals or thoughts. What started as a big idea (from the actual Bullet Journal brand) has turned into a nostalgic revolution for intentional living.
The idea of keeping a journal is not new. However, many people struggle to keep up with a daily journal because of the commitment to logging everything in longhand, paragraph form. By contrast, bullet journals mix daily reflection with lists. Think of it as a to-do list on which you can reflect over time. Everything is shorthand and simple. The typical page includes:
- Page Numbers
- Short Sentences
The best part? You don’t have to be artsy or creative to enjoy this process. The official Bullet Journal team has created a template to help people get started. However, this post reflects on my personal journey in productivity and note-keeping.
My Journal Process
As a young person, people would always gift me empty journals. They knew I liked to write and sketch (…holding books in my hands so that I could smell them). However, these journals would pile up in my bedroom as I really could never fill them out. I would try to start a traditional diary and flame out. Then, in high school, I had an epiphany. I often collected paper snippings that inspired me. They weren’t something for a scrapbook. Instead they were usually quotes, blocks of text or images cut from magazines, calendars or homework assignments. They would wear and tear as I moved them from my bulletin board to a desk drawer then a file box. At the same time, I was dedicated to my daily planner to keep me productive and organized. By college, I started meshing the two, using the gifted journals. Each page contained:
- The date
- A to-do list for the day
- Dates and times for events
- Hand written copies of quotes or facts that I found during that day
The result? I developed a daily routine for planning my day at the outset and reviewing my progress in the evening. I quickly used up those empty journals, going through several each year. With time, special pages were added with long term goals or collections on a similar topic. For example, I usually put a list of new years resolutions at the very back and check my progress monthly. Also, the back fills up with brainstorms for blog posts, craft projects or big ideas.
When bullet journals surged into popularity, I had no idea what they were. However, people kept asking me where I got my bullet journal. Most of my friends, coworkers and family members link me to these little, analog list-filled books, knowing that they have been a core part of my life for about 15 years. I can see why they are becoming a popular way to inspire productivity – they’re a natural fit and add a welcome contrast our busy, digital world.
Logging for Productivity
There are several ways that keeping a daily journal inspires productivity. First, it helps you identify your tasks and goals. Each morning, as you review your list, starts with a plan. Each evening, you enjoy the satisfaction of noting your progress. Second, it reminds you to prioritize. Sometimes, our expectations can get out of alignment with reality. There are some tasks that never seem to get done because they aren’t really important. This exercise encourages you to question each item and consider whether it is worth your time. If you find yourself copying a task from day to day for several weeks, it probably don’t belong on your list at all. Third, the process allows you to appreciate your progress. As you track, you will see slow growth. Tracking both challenges you to improve while celebrating your success. Over the months and years, you’ll find that your productivity spikes simply by setting aside time to focus on intentional living.
Popular Page Ideas
The freedom of a blank page can be adapted for both short and long term goals. If you’re looking for ideas to get started, Pinterest offers hundreds of ideas to style your pages. I’ve found that many people enjoy tracking similar themes, including:
- Daily, Weekly or Monthly Spreads
- Bucket Lists
- Places to Travel
- Mood Trackers
- Books to Read
- Birthdays and Anniversaries
- Spending logs
- Collected quotes
- Things that make you happy
- Meal or snack lists
- Sleep logs
You can log anything that is important to you. So, everyone’s journal is different and personal. This is the key to their overwhelming popularity.
Bullet Journal Tips
Everyone should keep a journal in the way that works best for them. However, I have collected a few tips over time as I’ve explored this process.
- If you like prettier pages, you can create design elements in pencil first. Then, trace them with a fine tip pen to make them permanent.
- If your pages don’t have a grid, cut a piece of graph paper to the page size. Use a paperclip to secure the graph paper behind your page. This can be used as a guide when you work on the page. Then, just move it to the next page when you’re done.
- Test your writing tools on a back page before you begin. You’ll want to make sure nothing will bleed through. Some pages are thick enough for paint. Others will bleed with a felt-tip pen.
Bite the Bullet Journal
The beauty of a bullet journal rests in customizing. If you are just starting, a short daily log can form the habit. As you make this a regular part of your routine, it will be come a loving, self-care moment as you reflect on the meaningful moments of your life. No matter how simple or complex your journal, you’ll find daily inspiration to be productive.
If you have any tips or ideas, I’d love to read them. Let me know in the comments.
*Note: I don’t use an “official” bullet journal or endorse a particular product.