Invented by Ryder Carrol in 2013, bullet journals aimed to help journalers better reflect and declutter their minds using a simplified system of symbols. Since conception, they’ve exploded both in popularity and creativity, evolving in a myriad of ways. I kept hearing the term “bullet journal” or “bujo” get thrown around in various circles, but I didn’t dive into what it is and means until late 2020.
I’ve had a wide variety of notebooks through the years, each creatively dubbed “A Book of Observations, Version x”. These journals started in high school when I realized trying to make a notebook for each project was… put simply, ill-advised. Still, these notebooks were… a disaster. I had no real organizational prowess – I hopped from topic to topic as my mind unraveled. If I wanted to find notes I’d made from an old notebook, I’d often have to spend a lot of time flipping through and hoping I had the right journal.
However, with the pandemic looming overhead and my own mental health crumbling around me, I was dying for a change. I took this term I kept hearing all around me and decided to do some research.
Obviously, something I wanted to prioritize with this new system was making it easier on myself to find specific notes – but that wasn’t all. I’d taken inspiration from the “bujo” community at large and their creative use of spreads. So, after hours scrolling Pinterest and YouTube and Instagram, I started making lists of the things I wanted my newest journal to include.
My first attempt, as most first attempts are wont to be, was messy. It was an easier-to-contain mess than previous journals, sure. However, I’d found myself struck with Shiny Object Syndrome and wanted to include everything I’d seen. This just wasn’t feasible. I needed a happy medium between the way my old journals were and bullet journaling.
With the second journal, I scrapped things that don’t suit me. Spreads I kept were designed in ways that made sense to me and are fun to maintain. The largest sore point in this second journal was the paper – black pages look cool as fuck, but they’re a pain in many ways to write on.
So came version three. I further refined the things I wanted to include and gave myself stricter guidelines. I considered what spreads could be redundant (why have a Year at a Glance page when I never use it and default to my phone calendar more?) and scrapped accordingly. With this notebook, I think I’m starting to get somewhere.
Instead of having a log of everything happening this year, I have a spread of me reflecting on events from last year. I have a kanban/project board I’ll periodically update as projects get finished or published or put into metaphorical drawers. And, most importantly, I start over each month. Hard stop, make a title page for the month, set up my goals and what I want to read, and move on. Coupled with a cohesive table of contents I’m diligent about updating, this notebook makes my brain feel unstoppable.
Can I call what I’ve produced a bullet journal? Not in the strictest of senses, but the general thought is there. I’ve become a massive fan of dotted paper – it has the structure of lines while still granting me freedom. Plus, this adapted method has been a great help when it comes to keeping track of writing achievements or the things I’ve gotten completed.
Each notebook setup has been meditative, in a way, as has my monthly setup. And, most importantly, it’s been fun! That’s the most vital part, I think, in keeping my writing journals.
I’ll end this with a picture of my latest notebook (see below). How do you keep track of what you’re writing? What do you use to keep track of it? How did you find a system that worked for you?