Bullet Journaling: Helpful or Hype?

Our culture is currently obsessed with productivity and saving time. This makes sense: as a whole, we’re wealthier than we’ve ever been and we can buy almost everything we need… except time.

This explains the popularity of the bullet journal: a custom made planner that you design specifically for your needs. Some people use it as a calendar, some as a to-do list, some as a goal setting tool, and many people use it for multiple purposes. There’s serious power there in being able to plan things that are important to you so that you minimize the time it takes to deal with them.

And yet, the focus of bullet journaling seems to have shifted away from pure productivity and toward making the journal itself as Instagrammable as possible. Just look at Pinterest: there are so many photos of beautiful bullet journal layouts that must have taken hours. To me, this is kind of like the “pretty box and label” problem - the intention is great, but many people get caught up in the aesthetic details and waste more time than they save.

 Image via Pinterest

Image via Pinterest

This is why I initially rejected the bullet journal. Of course, it’s great to have a creative outlet, and if you personally derive a lot of intrinsic value from the process of beautifying your bullet journal, that’s great. However, there is a lot of hand wringing online by potential bullet journalers who don’t take it up because they feel that their artistic skills are inadequate. Talk about missing the point! A bullet journal is intended to help you be productive in whatever way works for you, and literally no other human ever has to see it.

I also can’t help but notice that beautiful bullet journals are pushed towards a female audience. All the gorgeous layouts you’ll see online have lovely looping handwriting, pretty patterns and colors, and other hallmarks of feminine stereotypes. And that just frustrates me, because the last thing we need in this world is one more image-based activity for women to worry about and waste time on!

Still, I have both work and personal goals that I always think about but never quite do. So, I gave the bullet journal strategy a shot.  Here’s how I do it.

 Notebook from Kate Spade New York

Notebook from Kate Spade New York

I use my bullet journal to to two things: track habits I want to acquire, and create mini to-do lists and time planning for each work day. I use a notebook a dear friend got me as a gift and one color of ink. I do no decorations and I use my normal handwriting. I simply lay out the habit chart for each week, and then write the next day’s activities each evening on the following page. it takes maybe two minutes.

 Yes, my hand is strategically placed, why do you ask?

Yes, my hand is strategically placed, why do you ask?

And you know what blows my mind? That grid of tiny little check marks adding up as the week progresses WORKS. I get so much innate satisfaction out of checking everything off that I think ahead throughout my day about when I’m going to fit in my desired activities. On the flip side, the things I habitually forget to do or avoid really bug me, so much so that I am motivated to change my schedule for the coming days.

The grid also helps me work towards a larger achievement of permanent habit change. I’ve decided that if I do something every day for two weeks straight, I can consider that habit acquired and move it off my checklist. So far, nothing has quite made the cut - but I’m getting closer, and that’s extremely motivating!

So, as with many things in the organizing and productivity space, I wholeheartedly agree with the strategy while remaining frustrated at the inordinate focus people place on the aesthetic.

Have you tried bullet journaling? How did it go?

LMW