7 Tips to Actually Stick to Bullet Journaling This Year, According to People Who Say It Changed Their Lives

published Jan 6, 2021
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Bullet journaling—the popular organizational method first debuted by Ryder Carroll in the 1990s—is still going strong. There are podcasts, blog posts, and fancy layouts dedicated to all things BuJo—not to mention all of the Instagrammers who post their bullet journal layouts, affirmation pages, and gratitude logs. Those who stick to the bullet journaling habit swear it keeps their life organized and on track. 

The process has definitely worked for me. I’ve been committed to using my BuJo for the last three years: I love color-coding each block and swear that it helps me maintain both my mediation practice and exercise routine, and encourages me to drink water. When I flip open my tracker and see several “x”s in a row, I am motivated to resume whatever habit I am neglecting. Don’t just take it from me: Here are seven tips to actually stick to bullet journaling this year, according to people who say it changed their lives. 

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Apartment Therapy

Keep your bullet journal next to your bed

Nina Badzin from Minneapolis, MN, is an avid bullet journal aficionado and has stayed with her BuJo for three years. “I keep my bullet journal next to my bed and use it every night before I go to sleep,” she tells Apartment Therapy. “It helps me reflect on the day and get ready for the next day.” 

She recommends finding a cadence that works for you—for her, that’s late at night, even though most people typically aren’t interested in thinking (and writing) in complete thoughts at that time. “I don’t write sentences. When reflecting, I’m filling out whatever lists and charts I’ve set out for the month or week,” Badzin notes. 

I also love to review my BuJo at night, and use the time to note at least one moment of gratitude during my day, write down one or two small tasks I finished on my to-do list, and list at least two tasks I want to complete for the next day. 

Reach for your journal every time you want to check your phone

“To stay consistent with bullet journaling, whenever you feel like checking your phone, pull out your journal instead,” Michael Kipness, the founder of Wizard Race and Sports Review, tells Apartment Therapy. “Review the pages and feel free to add content, even if the content is mindless drawings.”

To add extra incentive to this challenge, you can create a chart logging the amount of time you’ve spent on your phone, which can help you notice trends and work toward decreasing your screen time in the long run. 

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Try to ignore the pressure to make your BuJo look “Instagram-ready”

A bullet journal is a personal and private log of your life. There’s no need to put pressure on yourself to make it look “perfect.” 

“Your BuJo is for your eyes only,” said Ariel Lim, a marketing consultant and avid bullet journaler. “For the longest time, I hated my handwriting. And that’s okay. You don’t have to post Instagrammable photos of every page of your BuJo. It’s a tool to help you get more work done by having a system in place so you don’t have to keep reinventing the wheel. Take advantage of it.”

Credit: Emma Fiala

Break the rules—and make your own

Lim also believes you don’t have to be confined to an index, symbol key, or following a strict layout. “To stay consistent, you might want to use a certain coding system as a foundation for your notes, but you don’t have to limit yourself with just dashes and Xs. Do what works for you,” she says. She finds that incorporating other techniques like the Cornell Note Taking System for meetings or brainstorming sessions helps her personal BuJo practice, since it allows for taking notes, as well as adding keywords and summaries. Her bottom line: “Make the bullet journal yours.” 

Keep your BuJo system simple

Badzin urges those who want to stick to the BuJo habit to keep your pages simple in the beginning. “At first, I tried using different kinds of colors and other decorative elements, but I figured out quickly that would deter me from staying consistent,” she says. Now, she adopts a minimalist approach. “I use the one pen I keep nearby, and I don’t worry too much about straight lines,” she adds. 

Stop using multicolored pens

Lim urges people to stop using multicolored pens to keep track of different habits and lists —and to stop stressing about what the pages look like overall. “Over the years, I found that most people give up on their bullet journals because theirs aren’t as ‘pretty’ as the one they found on the internet,” Lim says.  She emphasizes that the BuJo is a productivity tool. “If lugging around 10 different colored pens and markers will help you be more productive, then go ahead. But chances are, it’s only a distraction. You’ll just delay not using your journal because you left the red-colored pen at home, or it doesn’t look nice, so you get discouraged.” 

I’ve designated three pens I use consistently with my bullet journal. It took me some time to adopt a method that works for me, but the lesson is to keep trying to find what works best for you. Remember the BuJo is a productivity tool and only you can determine how that is best achieved. 

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Make lists for each day

“Bullet journaling helps me focus on only the tasks that need to be done immediately, rather than cluttering my mind with overwhelming, but not urgent to-do lists,” Sunita Persaud Patel, a project manager based in Dallas who has been consistently using a bullet journal since 2016, told Apartment Therapy. “Seeing the list of items that need to be done that day helps me become more productive and gives me peace of mind that I am not forgetting something.”

I am an avid list-maker in my BuJo, and I make sure to list five moments of gratitude every single day. I also keep track of my time by writing a single sentence to memorialize each day, note my moods on a tracker, my water consumption, and other health details. I always keep a working to-do list and move the tasks I don’t accomplish on a particular day to the next day’s list, but do so without judgment. I also keep separate lists for personal and professional tasks, such as a running grocery list I update regularly instead of devising one right before I head to the store. 

For those who feel intimidated by lists, start small. Take five minutes before you go to bed and list two personal and professional tasks you’d like to complete the following day. Review this list in the morning and revisit at night to see what you accomplished.