I’ve always been a list-maker, but when I read about the dangers of decision fatigue and how writing things down literally saves space in your brain, reducing stress and confusion, I caught To-Do Fever. Notebooks of all shapes and sizes, colors and rule patterns, were strewn about my apartment and office: reading log, running grocery list, budget, workout schedule, food diary…I soon needed a list to keep track of my lists! It became less exciting and rewarding for even me to stay on-task by crossing things off when I had no idea where it was written down or how many times I’d done so.
So when I read about Bullet Journals in the flurry of “New Year, New You” activity on the web, my ears perked up. Here was a virtually fool-proof way to keep track of everything in a personalized shorthand that is all about brevity and efficiency. These Journals are more than just a Pinterest-pinner’s dream: it’s a system developed by a digital product designer, Ryder Carroll, with its own website and community for inspiration, instructions, and official BuJo products. I’m always a little skeptical of lifestyle trends that require you to buy special things (Exhibit A: “minimalist” containers that become heaping piles of junk in your closet), but the reason behind this level of intensity isn’t as mercenary as it may sound. There’s a methodology and, why not just say it, philosophy behind this system of planning and organizing that seeks to get you to think deeper about your life while keeping up with the times. Plus, you don’t have to buy one of the official Bullet Journals to successfully create your own. The tag line says it all: “the analog system for the digital age”—slow and mindful but still completely in the now.
For people who are less interested in listing or even journaling, Bullet Journals may seem like a big, scary investment. The general guidelines are as follows:
- Get a notebook that’s going to be exclusively for journaling. Not scraps of paper (see below) or the back of your college Chem manual. Intention, people, intention.
- Divide up the calendar in a way that makes sense to you: year, month, week is generally easy to process one at a time. Within each category, you write out all your events, tasks, goals, and thoughts using specific coded symbols to help you quickly and visually sort them. You can follow the recommendations or make up your own, but if you do the latter include a “key” at the front or back of your journal.
- Each page has a purpose: you write a headline or “topic” in each top corner and number your pages to give clarity and shape to your journal.
- Using the Rapid Logging code, you write down your stuff. You can of course use any symbols you want, but the recommended • (a bullet, get it?) is most easily transformed when the task’s status changes. Here’s how it breaks down:
- X = Task Complete
- > = Task Migrated (i.e., moved onto the next day/week/month)
- < = Task Scheduled
Events are an open circle that are filled in when the event is complete. You use the same mark for big things (weddings) and small things (coffee date with Susan) so as to give equal emotional and visual weight to all things.
Random thoughts have a place, too! They’re marked by a -, since they’re not “actionable” but rather observations or facts you still want to log in some way.
Notice that nothing is crossed off here unless an item becomes irrelevant (sad, I know). That’s because the method isn’t about making things go away but rather letting them accumulate. When something you planned isn’t done yet, you can’t just scratch it out but have to choose to “migrate” it forward or actually take action. By then writing it in a new place in your future journal-life, you take the time to recognize its importance to you without lingering in its incompletion, or finding yourself fretting over what happened that made it not happen.
I admit that I didn’t go about my Bullet Journal with the greatest amount of intention. (Perhaps an indication of how much I need it!) I had just received for Christmas a set of Moleskine notebooks with a plain Kraft cover, and this seemed perfect for my intentions of starting fresh and clean in 2017. I bedazzled it in a minimalist way–some gold and silver washi tape on the outside and select pages–and after fretting over ink colors chose a simple palette of my favorite super-fine black pen and some gel pens, which I quickly discovered needed replacing. I had also recently repurposed a Moleskine from a course I was taking to use for a project-specific log. I figured this was okay since it wasn’t a whole Life BuJo.
I had previously flirted with the idea of a more inclusive to-do list, which got me from Stage 0 (left) to Stage 1, but still relying on a “notebook” I had made up by binding old scrap paper together and writing on the backs. I thought this was already a huge improvement!
So taking those scraps into real notebooks with all-new pages felt like a home-run. I got that great feeling of nervous-excited when I saw the whole year, then the month, then each day written before me neatly and succinctly. There was a relief that I wouldn’t find any more wadded-up grocery lists in my coat pocket, with half of the times rewritten over and over because I couldn’t keep track. There was promise and hope in what I could accomplish in a week, and also that it was okay if something didn’t get accomplished. It’d just move forward.
I was particularly excited to work up this page: a “be health-ful” log with a list of healthy habits I wanted to enforce more this year. After enduring an awful burnout at the end of last year, I made sleep number one on my list. Hopefully this will keep me honest!
Since I started my journal mid-month, I realized I needed to plan more carefully and organize my lists and pages. When I started browsing through Pinterest and the other BuJo communities, I realized just how many possibilities for pages there could be! My page embellishments are certainly sub-par compared to some of what I’ve seen, but that’s all inspiration for the months ahead.
How will you use a Bullet Journal to make 2017 your best year yet?
Also by Jennifer: Spend vs. Save: A New York City Book Editor’s Vegan Budget
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