Get Organized, Reflective, and Focused Through Bullet-Journaling

By Colleen Boff

Every so often, a person has a life changing experience. For me, this has been bullet journaling. If I could afford to quit my job and travel around the country to teach people about this system, I would—in a heartbeat. Bullet journaling is a paper/pencil system developed by Ryder Carroll, an Art Director and Interaction Designer living in Brooklyn, New York. In his YouTube video (https://www.youtube.com/user/bulletjournal), he describes bullet journaling as “an analog system that tracks the past, organizes the present and plans for the future.” He combines to-do lists, a calendar system and journaling. I happened upon this via a friend’s Facebook post and was mildly optimistic since I had been test-driving various organizational systems for years. I was one of those people that had a bunch of to-do lists sprinkled around my work office and on my kitchen counter, multiple calendars, and many failed attempts to reflect on my life through journals. I have been with bullet journaling for a year and a half and I love it.

Setup of my first bullet journal was a little intimidating at first but it includes these basic elements: an index (this is more like a table of contents), a future log (a two-page spread of all known dates/events for the year), monthly log (a two-page spread of goals and to do lists for the month), followed by a daily log (two-page spread for each week of the month), and collections (these are determined by you). In addition to these basics, I have added an activity log at the beginning of each month with dates listed in a column on the left followed by columns to the right for habits that I want to establish and track. This varies for me slightly from month to month. As a standard, I track my sleep and steps from my Fitbit, my water in-take, whether or not I went to exercise class, miles biked, servings of fruit and veggies and my overall outlook on life for the day. At the beginning of each month I also have a two-page spread for my gratitude log in which I jot down three items from the previous day that made me joyful or grateful. This has been a real attitude booster.

Collections follow the monthly calendar spreads. This is my favorite part of the system and it is highly customizable. Collections can be two-page spreads or multiple page spreads. Here are some examples of collections I keep:

  • Reading Log (I include author, title, page count)
  • Places Travelled (I include travel for work and personal)
  • Day Trips I Want to Take
  • Habits of Mind (e.g. “listen more, talk less”
  • Quotes (these usually come from the books listed in my Reading Log)
  • Interesting “Things” to Check Out (these are references made in readings or interesting books, shows, movies, apps, websites, etc. that people tell me to check out)
  • Doctor’s appointments for me and my dogs
  • Membership renewals
  • Dream Log
  • House projects
  • Writing ideas
  • Professional Reading Log
  • Savings Log (I saved a few dollars each week and by the end of the year I was able to give my husband $500 towards a new bike)

To dig deeper into this system, go to Ryder’s web page at http://bullet journal.com. There is also an active online community with loads of ideas for collections and overall setup on Pinterest. When I first started, I bought a cheap notebook and tried it for three months to see if I would like the system. It took me several months to refine my journal and I still make small adjustments each month. Once I realized that I loved the system, I went all out and bought fun office supplies including my favorite pens and pencils in different colors, a little ruler and a snazzy pencil pouch. My favorite purchase though was a Leuchtturm1917 notebook with dots rather than lines and a secret pocket in the back ($20 or so).

This system centers me. I feel calmer, reflective, intentional and more organized in my personal and professional life with my trusty notebook.  Here’s just one way in which it has made a difference in my life. I kept losing my personal belongings such as my cell phone, my keys, even my purse one day! I grew so concerned about this that for a few months, I started to track this in my bullet journal through a collection labeled “Stuff I Lose”. I jotted down the item lost, along with the time and date. When I compared this list with my monthly activity log in which I track my sleep, I realized that I lost items in the middle of the week (when I was getting less sleep) and around 3:00 p.m. each time. Once I realized that, I set a goal the following month of getting an hour more of sleep each night and I made sure I took a walk, stretched or drank a cup of coffee mid-afternoon each day. Perhaps a coincidence, but I have not lost anything since establishing my new habits thanks to my bullet journal!

Dr. Colleen Boff is a Librarian at Bowling Green State University in Ohio.