Do you have a lot of to-do lists kicking around? ¶ Do you wish your life were more organized? ¶ Now’s the time to turn over a new leaf. ¶ The bullet journal – BuJo, in hipster shorthand – is common sense with a touch of whimsy. Simply speaking, it’s a free-form planner. ¶ Ryder Carroll, who came up with the concept over a period of many years,describes it on his website as a “customizable and forgiving organizational system.” ¶ He continues: “It can be your to-do list, sketchbook, notebook, and diary, but most likely, it will be all of the above. It will teach you to do more with less.” ¶ You start with a blank notebook or journal. You set aside a few pages for a table of contents. Then you take a deep breath, pick up a pen and begin.
Carroll suggests that the first thing in your journal be a “future spread,” with mini-calendars for all the months in the upcoming year. The journaler may begin with that spread to note big events such as vacations and birthdays.
Next comes the monthly spread. On the left-hand page, you number all the days of the month. The right-hand page is for tasks to be completed that month.
To simplify things, Carroll came up with a key. Tasks are marked with dots, or bullets. Thoughts are marked with a dash. Events are marked with little circles.
Most folks who keep bullet journals draw up monthly, weekly and daily spreads, at least somewhat resembling what Carroll suggested. In between, the bullet journaler may feel free to draw up lists. Whatever lists you need: groceries to buy, books to read, movies to watch, plants you want in your garden, birthdays, people you meet, anything you want to remember.
Most people also note down goals, broken down into doable steps. Inspirational quotes are also popular.
It sounds complicated – because there are few rules. Carroll’s examples, visible on a video on his site, are minimalist.
The sky’s the limit, though. And around the world, bullet journaling has become a spectator sport.
People snap pictures of their pages and post them on Facebook and Instagram. Drawing and doodling challenges have sprung up. Every day, thousands of people around the world draw a different picture.
The bullet journal also spawned a movement called #RockYourHandwriting. Why not use your journal to learn to write in beautiful cursive? Some challenges blend drawing and handwriting – you draw something one day, calligraph something the next. It could be that the bullet journal increases productivity because it relaxes and entertains you.
There is therapeutic value to writing things down, physically, onto a piece of paper, in a place where you can find it. You feel as if you have taken a step – and you have.
Plus, in this digital age, the bullet journal is resolutely unplugged. It is private. Using technology that was available to Mozart and Keats, you can write down, “Lose 10 pounds,” and not have insulting ads bouncing up at you hyping diets and drugs. You might also find it easier to remember it.
“They tell you when you’re studying, that you remember things better if you write them down,” said Michele D’Amico of West Seneca.
She finds it works for her. With a crowded house that currently includes her husband, their three children and two foster children, she has a lot to keep track of. Every Sunday, she said, she takes out her bullet journal and maps the next week’s agenda, and then can relax.
“I don’t worry about forgetting stuff,” D’Amico said. “All the lists are in one place. I won’t forget what’s coming up.”
The bullet journal strategy also works for her 12-year-old son.
“They always give the kid a planner, and he’s horrible about filling it out,” she said. “I told him, maybe it’s too much. Maybe we can simplify it.”
She made him a simple bullet journal out of a marble composition notebook – and it worked.
“I would sit and draw up the weekly spread,” she said. “He took over for me when I forgot.” That was when she knew the system had caught on with him. “I’m so glad we came up with it.”
‘I had to draw a pig’
With her children getting into bullet journaling, D’Amico has noticed one particular benefit to the pursuit: As she put it, it’s uncommercial.
Carroll, on his online introduction, demonstrates a journal designed specifically for bullet journaling.
“But you can get the same results with any notebook,” he shrugs.
Though many “bullet journal junkies” splurge for the elegant Leuchtturms, a German-made journal with grids of dots, others can find happiness for less.
D’Amico, whose 8-year-old daughter loves office supplies, has found worthy journals at Walmart.
“They open flat and they’re perfect,” she said.
Lisa Silvaroli, of Niagara Falls, bought her journal for a buck.
“I don’t have a fancy one,” she confessed. “I went to the dollar store and got a cheap one. It’s cute, though. I like it. I wasn’t looking to spend 20 or 30 bucks on a journal. I want to save money. So I went to the dollar store and got some pens and the journal.”
Gamely, she grabbed one of the bright, cheap pens, and went to work.
“I already keep track of everything on my phone,” she said. “I track what I eat, my workouts, my appointments. But I like the idea of going back and putting that on paper. It’s almost like relaxing, or therapeutic.”
“One of my favorite aspects of the bullet journal is the habit tracker,” she confided. “Did I do the laundry and the cat box? Did I go for a bike ride, or run? Did I do the 10,000 steps?
“I like the idea of being a little creative with it,” she said.
She and her husband are saving money for a vacation, so she designed a page to track how the fund was coming along. On a whim, she added a picture of a piggy bank.
“I had to draw a pig,” she laughed.
Humor can help a daunting task seem doable. D’Amico found herself adopting the idea of a “Brain Dump” page.
“You can just write down anything,” she said, “and get it out of your head.”
She also admires online pictures she has seen of how bullet journalers plot weight loss, with boxes and arrows.
“They’re so cool,” she said. “They look like Candy Land.”
The journal doesn’t judge
Danielle Fortier, 30, lives in the Elmwood Village and works as a web designer and graphic artist. She described herself as organized to start with. She said that’s why friends suggested the bullet journal to her.
She got a Moleskine and, in the proudest bullet journal tradition, is making it up as she goes along.
“This week, I just started a week-in-advance page,” she said. “I keep adding new ideas. This whole notebook is a process of growth. I guess I just keep improving it. I’m the maid of honor in my best friend’s wedding coming up. So I threw in a new page – shower!”
“It can be random. The pages don’t have to have an organization. I think that’s what deters people. They think you have to have it all planned out properly. You don’t have to have a specific layout. You can do whatever you want with the pages.”
In other words, your planner is there to serve you, not judge you.
D’Amico, asked what got her hooked on bullet journaling, hesitated only a moment before she mentioned designer Ryder Carroll’s idea of “migrating” tasks. If you hadn’t completed a task on your monthly or weekly list, you could simply move it to the next month or week.
She liked that quick, neutral solution.
“That was what fascinated me,” she said. “That’s a cool way to not give up on the list.”
The unique approach, simultaneously organized and freewheeling, fit in with her crowded life.
“It works awesome,” D’Amico said. “Fifty thousand lists going, and they’re all in one book. I think I’ve journaled more in this than in my entire life.
“I’ve bought a ton of planners. This is the only one that hasn’t left my side.”