How ‘The Bullet Journal Method’ Helped Tackle My Fear of Imperfection (and Got Me Organized In the Process)

updated May 3, 2019
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(Image credit: Courtesy of Penguin Random House)

When bullet journaling blasted onto my radar a few years ago, it was because of all the Instagram-perfect Pinterest fodder from folks who were creating stunning works of art masquerading as calendars and trackers in their impeccable dot grid notebooks. As someone who loves pretty things but has zero patience for the time it takes to create an incredible autumnal landscape just to contain October’s various meetings and appointments, I quickly dismissed it as something that was “Cool But Not For Me.”

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I was wrong. In just a few short weeks, bullet journaling has become something I rely on to stay organized, prioritize, and, most importantly, clear my brain.

When a review copy of Ryder Carroll’s book, “The Bullet Journal Method” (out today) arrived in my mailbox, I knew I’d write about it—bullet journal stories generally do well—but I honestly didn’t expect to become an evangelist.

When it comes to getting my life organized, every few months, I have a spurt of motivation. I’ve downloaded apps and bought expensive custom planners with grocery list inserts and gratitude pages. I’ll start random lists in Moleskines, or those spiral bound mini-pads that old-school journalists carry, or fancy monogrammed notebooks—but eventually, they all get shoved to the back of my desk drawer, abandoned but never quite forgotten, the guilt and shame of failing to adult always lurking.

(Image credit: Taryn Williford)

As I was reading Carroll’s account of creating the bullet journal method—which stemmed from a lifetime of coping with ADD and became a way to focus his brain on achieving goals and documenting life experiences—I quickly noticed that there were no requirements that included drawing sugar pumpkins and fall leaves around your October calendar. All that stuff was extra.

The method itself is straightforward and includes just four basic “collections”—an index, a future log (to track events/dates beyond the current month), a monthly log, and a daily log. In the daily log, there are a series of notations (rapid logging) you use so you can quickly assess your to-do list, and move things to their proper place elsewhere. This happens in your AM/PM reflection, a few short moments used to plan and review the day.

Of course, you don’t need this book to learn how to bullet journal; Carroll has that all on his website, But as a frequent reader of self-improvement books, I recognized and benefited from the distilled methods included from other experts, like “time boxing” (scheduling chunks of time for specific tasks or work) and “sprints” (a short, one or two week timeframe where you work on a specific project to reinvigorate you). Carroll shows how these practices can fit into the goal-setting (and achieving!) part of your bullet journal.

The chapter on Imperfection is what got me, though. “Are you the type of person who strives to have a perfect notebook?” he writes. Way to call me out, Ryder.

“Maybe you don’t have great handwriting or lack the artistic ability to make your notebook pretty. Does that matter? Only if you want it to. You could look at your notebook as the evidence of your imperfections, or you could look at it as a testament to your courage. Those crooked lines and rough letters paint a picture of someones striving to make a positive change in their life. It may not be perfect, but it’s unquestionably beautiful.”

For me, bullet journaling as something that I could do quickly but consistently has been revelatory—it doesn’t need to be perfect and it doesn’t need to be pretty, it just needs to be. Sometimes my daily log is just a list of posts I need to edit or that I shouldn’t forget to pack a snack for the train; other days include notes like how I felt after seeing “A Star is Born” (“Gaga is Oscar-worthy”) or the day Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed (“The rage I feel is overwhelming.”). I’ve never been one to keep a diary, but taking a few quick notes about my day feels important, and prevents them all from running together like one giant to-do list.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go put an “x” next to “write BuJo post” in my daily log.