I recently began the practice of bullet journaling. It’s been something that I’ve been aware of for a while, but never looked into properly. I’m a list person: at times, I have a poor memory, or I need to write down my thoughts to get them more organised. Sometimes I feel I need the satisfaction of ticking off an achievement, a task accomplished. But I often get frustrated at losing lists, or having too many separate places to record information. I felt I needed to have things all in one place. And although there are lots of great apps out there, I’m also aware of how much time I spend on my phone each day, and felt that there was something more mindful and organic about using pen and paper.
My friend, Kate, uses a bullet journal and, on buying a new journal and pen for her birthday, I decided it was time to see what all the fuss was about!
Kate pointed me in the direction of the website created by the man behind the idea: Ryder Carroll.
Bullet journaling, in simple terms, is a way of using a notebook to create calendars, to-do lists, plans and reflections. It can be as simple and functional or as creative as you want it to be. For me, the attraction was having everything in one place, but using a system that works for me (I have always struggled to find a diary, planner or journal that met my needs - often pages would be left unused, and I’d get frustrated at the waste of space). So now I can have my work tasks and home tasks neatly organised, as well as keeping a track on my habits (encouraging me to taking better care of my self!), and having space for being creative: blog ideas, ideas for resources, articles to read, etc.
I asked Kate to tell me a little about why she started using a bullet journal, and how it helps:
“I started bullet journaling originally to try and get back into art. The original Ryder Carroll version of bullet journaling is all about minimalism, but I’m sure you’ve seen all the incredible arty versions on Instagram and Pinterest. I thought it would be a nice way to get back into doodling – I haven’t done any drawing or painting since I was about 18. Plus I’ve always loved the idea of keeping a diary but I’m rubbish at actually sticking to it – I do a few weeks then there’s an 8 month gap! So I bought a dotted journal and did a bit of an arty first page, and very quickly realised that this was just what I needed. I had somewhere to write down all the kids’ appointments and school activities, I could write down a to do list every day, I could keep track of work stuff… When someone recommended a TV show or a book to read, I could keep a list of them too. When we were going on holiday I could plan things to do, restaurants to try, etc… And it was all in one place! I started waking up early every day just so that I could do my journal and feel prepared for the day.
It made me feel more in control and it literally felt like my brain breathed a big sigh of relief
I didn’t have to try and remember everything any more… it was all in the journal. It also made me realise how frazzled I was. You get used to feeling permanently tense when you’re working and running around after two kids, trying to keep on top of housework, keeping in touch with family and friends, and trying to squeeze in some ‘me’ time. It’s a permanent juggling act and it was only once I’d got it all out of my head and onto the pages of my journal, that I realised “wow, I think I was a bit stressed out!” Then, because I was enjoying feeling calm and in control, I also started meditating every morning. Nothing fancy, just 10 minutes using the ‘Breathe’ app on my phone. But now I swear by that routine – up at 6am, make a coffee, do my journal, then mediate for ten minutes. Then I’m ready to take on the day!”
So what goes into a bullet journal?
This is what Kate’s looks like:
“Future log – literally a list of diary appointments for the year
Monthly spread – a list of appointments for the month
Daily – the day’s appointments and to do list
Gratitude log – jot down something each day to feel grateful for
Memory log – I like to doodle things I want to remember like something the kids have said, a place we visited, etc.
Collections – these are lists of things: I have books to read, podcasts to listen to, places to visit, a seasonal bucket list (e.g. things I want to do with the kids at Christmas)
Planning spreads – home decorating plans, holiday planning, event planning, etc.
Braindump – every so often when the stress starts to build up again, I just write down everything going on in my head. It’s like Dumbledore’s Pensieve – I get it all out of my head and once it’s in the journal, I don’t have to worry any more!”
Kate also told me that her daughter (age 10) has also started bullet journaling. “She does lists of things she’s good at and lists of achievements at school and in her hobbies – I’m hoping it will help to boost her confidence.
It’s been great, because she now asks to turn the TV or iPad off and do some journaling with me and we sit and doodle or paint and share ideas for our next pages”
Zoe and Roy, two of my fellow Relax Kids coaches, also use bullet journals. Zoe says she came across the idea at a course about being organised: “It really helps me to stay focussed. I have one for work and one for home, I use it for everything! All those things that pop in to your mind, I just create a list! So I have lists for books I want to read, places I want to visit, indoor activities with the kids, outdoor activities with the kids. Then I have goals, yearly, monthly, weekly, just achievable goals that give me something to focus on”
I looked into it more, chatted to a few more people, read some blogs and articles and decided it sounded pretty amazing. As I bought my first notebook and pens, though, I became a little worried about the “arty” aspect of it all: although I like to doddle and sketch, I was concerned about it not looking quite right. I soon learned that it’s about YOU. Like with most things in life, once you start comparing yourself to others, you start to lose what it’s all about: in this case, organising YOUR thoughts; tracking YOUR mood; creating YOUR journal! And it’s not about how pretty it looks, how artistic it is: it can be clean and crisp with just black pen, using a ruler, or bright and colourful, using freehand; you can use stickers or stencils if you prefer. I’m now one month in, and can honestly say it has had a profound impact. I am more organised, I take more time to reflect, I am more creative. I have space to write my affirmations, intentions, goals and achievements.
But the beauty of it, for me, is that there is no right or wrong way to do it. As Roy says,
“Ultimately, it's YOUR journal so you do what you want with it. No way is the right way, unless it's your way.”
You can discover more about the Bullet Journal method here.
Beautiful photos by Estée Janssens