I have always had dreadful handwriting. Most of my elementary school memories are of teachers trying all kinds of techniques to improve it, from handwriting drills to those funny triangle holders on my pencils. Nothing worked, and I sought out digital writing and typing as soon as technology and school allowed.
But something wasn’t quite right with any of my setups. I tried all kinds of apps, from very structured programs like Wunderlist to loose and simple ones like Google Keep. Keep came the closest, but I still struggled to, well, keep up with it. Nothing really “stuck” with me.
But on a whim one morning, inspired by my written workout log, I grabbed a random Moleskine and started jotting notes as I went about my day at work. The next day, I carried over what hadn’t been done the prior day. Then it snowballed, and suddenly I had filled six pages with my ongoing daily notes, and people were commenting on my sudden burst of efficiency. That led me to Googling for more ideas to take advantage of this newfound love of paper, and I found Bullet Journaling.
It’s hard to explain clearly, so here’s a walkthrough from the guy who created it:
At first, I thought Bullet Journaling was insanely complicated. Also, everyone involved in it seemed to be awesome artists, and that was intimidating. But I gave it a shot, setting up a future log at the end of my notebook and writing an index in the front cover. Before I knew it, my future log started to fill up, my one page calendar spread was coming in handy, and I’d set up a second one for my home life (due to the confidential nature of my profession, I cannot mix home and personal in the same notebook).
What amazed me was that I had finally found a way to make a system that worked for me. Instead of trying to alter my workflow to the demands and interface of an app, or even a preprinted planner, I could make it work how I wanted it to; if I screwed up a page, I just moved on to another one. I told myself both these notebooks were just trial runs, and mistakes were ok, and that lifted the fear of perfectionism I had from reading too many Pinterest boards. Both notebooks follow the Bullet Journal philosophy, but in very different ways.
My work one has daily to-dos, lots of migrating notes, and pages with key information peppered in as well. My home one only has a task list for the week, and I spend more time filling the pages with either long-term lists (like house projects, or ingredients for a recipe that we don’t normally stock), notes on posts for Gear Diary, and useful quotes or concepts I find in books I’m reading. I have also been trying to start a meditation habit, so I also have a log going with notes on how I feel about various meditation styles I try.
There are two key reasons why the bullet journal style is working for me. One, it’s ridiculously flexible. I don’t have to allot a specific number of pages right from the start, but by using the index and the right symbols I can find information on anything I need quickly. Second, it doesn’t have to be pretty. This is a tough one, because if you Google around for bullet journal ideas you’ll find gorgeously designed pages with artwork and frames and little doodles all over. It doesn’t have to look like that. My journals are utilitarian, purely designed as tools to quickly process information and log it appropriately.
It seemed counterintuitive at first, but I’ve also found that being able to flip back through pages is faster than trying to find some information digitally. I had a meeting get moved due to the recent snowstorm in the Northeast, and my old “notes” system at work would likely have been a cryptic email draft with random thoughts in it. The odds of me being able to piece together what I had intended from that a week later were slim. But all I had to do was flip to the right page in my notebook and copy the clearer notes over to the newest page (my notes were clearer to me, not to anyone else, but being able to hand write them at least made them less cryptic).
I was showing off my journal to a friend recently, and she commented that she really wanted to try bullet journals but felt the artsy aspect was too much work. She was blown away by how stripped down mine was, and started her own once she realized she could also have a minimalist, lightweight journal that fit her precise needs.
It’s easy to get caught up in making things fancy, whether it’s an app interface or a homemade journal, but sometimes simple is better. My bullet journals won’t win any beauty contests, but for the first time in my life I’m not forgetting every third thing I need to do, and it’s the greatest feeling in the world.