In praise of the bullet journal

By Emily Michie Birch           

Call me weird, but I find it incredibly satisfying to make to-do lists and then to cross off items as I complete them. In fact, I’m one of those weirdos who will make up a list of tasks to do, find myself completing a chore that isn’t on it, and add it to the list, just to have the satisfaction of crossing it off the list. A completed to-do list practically makes me giddy.

Ever since I could pick up a pad and pencil and write out lists, I’ve played around with different list-making systems. I’ve used blank pads of paper. I’ve used pads specifically designed for list making. I’ve designed and printed out my own pages for list-making. I’ve skipped over paper versions and kept lists solely on my computer. I’ve tried various list-making apps.

In short, I’ve sought out the purest list-making system the way another kind of addict might seek out the purest version of a drug.

Then somewhere, at some point, last year I began hearing and reading about “bullet journals”. I did a quick online search to find out what it was and found the tutorial video that had me turning virtual flips. Look at that beautiful tool! Not only is it all about organizing your entire life (well, practically. I mean, it might as well be) into bulleted points to be X-ed out when completed, but it also looks like one can’t do it without purchasing a nice, new journal and some fabulous pens. Forget computers and apps. This is a tactile-ly pleasing, analog system for creating lists. Technically, you could use any notebook and any pencil or pen, but two of the things I find more satisfying in life than creating to-do lists are writing with a fancy new pen and writing in a high-quality notebook or journal. I saw the Moleskine in the video and immediately decided I needed a new one (I love Moleskine products) and some nice new pens to go with it.

Getting Started

I actually started my first bullet-journal as an experiment in one of those “paperback” Moleskines that come shrink-wrapped together in 3s. This is because I’m never really sure about committing myself to anything. The bullet journal looked like a good idea, but so do lots of things (like making your own soap or fixing your own bicycle) until you actually try to do them. I didn’t want to waste a standard hardcover Moleskine on something I’d abandon after 3 weeks. Within a month, I’d bought a new, green, hardcover Moleskine.

I immediately loved (and still love so much, I’m now committed to it) this new system for keeping track of and organizing my life. I am so happy to have everything in one place, one place that slips nicely into the bag I carry. No longer do I have a list or two on my phone, one on my desk, one in the kitchen, one on my computer, etc., etc. I’ve adapted the original components from the video to suit my needs as I’ve experimented and discovered how and what I actually use. And I’ve added all sorts of components of my own (for instance, each month, I keep lists of books read and movies seen). I like to have generic lists of things I do every day, every week, and every month and have made up my own system for tracking those, as well as keeping specific lists for specific days the way the video lays out. It’s such a flexible system, which is what makes it so brilliant. Anyone can take the basics, which will surely get him or her more organized, and can then be creative with them, individualizing the journal.

Some people, I’ve seen, get very creative. They draw and color. I don’t do that, although I do like to use different color ink for different days of the week, and I do “reward” myself with things like smiley faces and stickers (bringing out the inner child in me who always loved getting gold stars and stickers on her school work).

I’ve discovered an added bonus to keeping lists this way. It’s a new sense of peace and calm. I used to find myself getting stressed out and overwhelmed, doing things like misplacing lists, or forgetting to check specific lists and discovering too late I’d forgotten to do something, or not having anything handy to write down something I needed to remember. This no longer happens. I create all my lists in one place, and by coordinating them and prioritizing items, I’ve discovered I have the time and space to get done what needs to get done. I rarely forget anything anymore.

I highly, highly recommend checking out the video. Get your own journal. Find some nice pens. Map out your days, weeks, months, and enjoy whatever pleasant feelings it all conjures up for you.

No, Emily Michie Birch, you’re not weird. At least, you’re no weirder than me…

Congratulations on finding your perfect planner!   I send all guest-posters a little thank-you gift, if I have their addresses.  To most people I would send a brand-new Moleskine notebook, but it sounds as if you don’t need any more of those.  So please look for a low-lighter in your mail soon.

2 thoughts on “In praise of the bullet journal”

    1. Me, too! Not only is Emily’s post witty, it’s reassuring to see that she’s as choosy as I am about how her planner looks and feels.

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