5 Things Die-Hard Bullet Journalers Want to Teach You

published Apr 14, 2018
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(Image credit: Photographed by Susie Lowe, Designed by The Pink House)

I hate to invoke the “two types of people” trope, but I think it rings especially true here. There are two types of people in the world: Bullet journalers, and bullet journalers who haven’t started yet.

I admittedly am in that second camp. I was even drinking the bujo haterade when the trend first came along. Technology offers so many advantages over pen-and-paper recordkeeping. And besides, isn’t bullet journaling just another “look at me” extension of the Instagram generation? It seemed like bullet journalers were more about making flawless, follow-worthy layouts and illustrations rather than actually taking any notes.

But I am here to tell you that I’ve seen the light. We at Apartment Therapy sat down with a bunch of bullet journalers. Real bullet journalers. People who have been using and adapting the bullet journal system to take notes, stay organized, and even reach their life goals. This isn’t about doodles anymore.

Sold? Watch the video above to learn all about the ins and outs of what makes a bullet journal a bullet journal. And if you need a little more convincing, here’s what the bullet journalers we talked to want you to know about their passion for their notebooks:

It’s so much more than just a journal.

Bullet journaling isn’t just a book of notes, like the legal pad your dad carried to work. It’s more of a custom hybrid planner — functioning as a diary, calendar, dream list, to-do-list and a place to doodle, all in one. “[It’s] an opportunity to make a tool that works specifically for your life, which is also an opportunity to learn about your life,” said Nicole Rodenburg.

Another bujo’er, Sue Landis, put it like this: “Having it written down takes it out of my mind, and allows me the freedom to live my life in a way that is not just drowning in details constantly.”

If you’re thinking that your iCal, Gmail and Trello handle the details, you might want to consider the benefits of condensing your whole life into a single paper journal. “This is so much more tangible, and I’m a lot more proud of this, in a weird way, then I would be of a computer calendar. Sometimes batteries die.” Macy Griffin told us. ” This never dies.”

It’s easy to get started.

Bullet journaling is a simple system that anyone can pick up in a minute. The entire concept is grounded in bulleted lists — with different small icons representing different actions or needs. When you write down something that needs to get done, that item gets a single bullet next to it. And depending on whether that thing gets completed, moved to the next day, or maybe cancelled entirely, you mark over the bullet into an “X” shape or a “>” shape that keeps your day-to-day details organized at a glance. “It’s really helped me get in touch with myself and I really — I love it. I think that it’s a great system that anyone can use,” said Camille (@bujo.by.caco).

The simple symbol foundation means that, unlike some of the other trendy planners on the block, you don’t need any fancy kits or stickers or a $70 binder to get started. As Sue Landis said: “Get yourself a notebook — and it doesn’t have to be anything special, just a simple notebook — and a pen.”

It can help you achieve your goals.

Bullet journaling is not just for to-do lists. Once you get the hang of the bullet system, you can start adapting your notebook to become a goal planner or habit tracker by layering your own layouts or other systems (like color-coding) on top of the bulleting. “Look at it in these pieces, of like what are you doing in a year? What are your goals for this month? What are your goals for the week?” explains Kitchn‘s Art Directior and bujo fan Sam Bolton. “All of those things can be tracked together and can really help you look forward for the next month to figure out how to better prioritize your life.”

And the to-do list nature of the bullet journal makes your goals — and all the steps you need to take to reach them — feel more tangible than a mood board. “Every time I fill in one of my action item boxes, I do a little dance in my head,” said Shannon Keller.

And updating your lists day-to-day and month-to-month keeps everything in fresh perspective, as Macy Griffin explains: “I normally do about five times I’m allowed to keep pushing something off. Cause, you know, there’s only so much room on a page, so I can’t really keep things there that aren’t actually, you know, going to get done.”

It’s not scary.

It’s normal to feel intimidated by the museum-worthy layouts of some of Instagram’s most popular bullet journalers, but everyday bujo’ers aren’t spending hours a day drawing perfect flowers on their spring layouts. “Some people do really cute doodles. I love that! I tried once, but then I got lazy,” Michaela Lunz said with a giggle. Lunz lets her bullet journal be more of a laid-back, live and learn situation. “I have [a habit tracker] for ‘make bed,’ but I only filled it in once. So then the next month, that would just be off the list.”

And remember: You control the bullet journal, the bullet journal doesn’t control you.”For folks that are scared because it may organize your life too much, or you like flexibility, this actually affords you that,” said Gayle Gachalian (@savantemeritus).

It may take some time to get used to.

“It took me a while to find a system that worked for me,” Sue Landis explained. So the best method is really just to jump in and get started.

“Keep it simple. Know what you’re going to use it for,” Landis continues. “There’s a lot of really great ideas out there, but if they don’t resonate for you, you’re not gonna use it.”