Com­pil­ing lists, or­ga­niz­ing tasks and re­ward­ing your ac­com­plish­ments by cross­ing things out in note­books is the lat­est fad on so­cial me­dia


Kat Ak­er­feldt of­fered to host a work­shop on how to write in a blank note­book. It sold out so fast she had to plan a sec­ond one. Ak­er­feldt is the as­sis­tant cu­ra­tor of Toronto’s First Post Of­fice, a func­tion­ing bureau and mu­seum op­er­ated by the Town of York His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety. The of­fice still re­ceives and sorts pa­per mail, so it’s not sur­pris­ing Ak­er­feldt likes to deal with hard copies. But even she found it “amaz­ing” she filled a room with peo­ple who wanted to learn about some­thing called the Bul­let Jour­nal.

“The snow­ball has be­come enor­mous. There’s ob­vi­ously a lot of in­ter­est,” Ak­er­feldt said.

She used to have lists and note­books scat­tered all over: one for chores, 10K race times, weight goals, quilt­ing progress, bud­get­ing and day-to-day tasks. She tried dif­fer­ent re­minder apps. Lately, she’s com­bined ev­ery­thing into a sin­gle bul­let jour­nal.

“It’s easy to jot down all these lit­tle things and they add up to a big thing,” she said.

She de­scribed the bul­let jour­nal as a “rolling to-do list,” but it is, or can be, much more com­plex. Hence the work­shop. The planner, jour­nal and diary in one is a sys­tem of or­ga­ni­za­tion in­volv­ing metic­u­lous lists and bul­let points for tasks, goals and events.

And it’s now a move­ment: a jour­nal with a cult fol­low­ing, Pin­ter­est pages, Face­book groups and even on­line celebri­ties within the #bujo com­mu­nity. (Yes, there’s a hash­tag. There are many. Scroll #bul­letjour­naljunkies for or­ga­ni­za­tional porn.)

Cre­ated by New York-based dig­i­tal prod­uct de­signer Ry­der Car­roll in 2013, the method re­cently reached a crit­i­cal mass of fol­low­ers, in­spir­ing a se­ries of “what the hell is a Bul­let Jour­nal?”-type head­lines.

The thing it­self looks sus­pi­ciously fa­mil­iar. You can use any note­book, though you can, of course, buy an of­fi­cial, branded one. Blank pages are filled with bul­let points, dates and tasks, which are crossed out as they are ac­com­plished — all of which sounds as in­trigu­ing as a Post-it note stuck to a fridge door.

But the essence of the bul­let jour­nal sys­tem is a sys­tem of brief en­tries — “rapid log­ging” — of daily events and tasks. At the end of the day or month, you scan for a bul­let point that hasn’t been crossed out. This must ei­ther get “mi­grated” to the next month, your long-term “fu­ture log” or struck out if deemed un­wor­thy of your time.

If it wasn’t wor­thy of your time, Car­roll wants you to con­sider why.

“There re­ally is a prac­tice,” Car­roll, 36, said in an in­ter­view. “The idea is that you cre­ate a habit of be­ing mind­ful of your time and what you’re task­ing your­self with.”

Car­roll cred­its the sys­tem’s pop­u­lar­ity with that fac­tor.

“Be­cause of the way it’s set up, it en­cour­ages you to get in touch with your­self,” he said. “The In­ter­net is not a good place to go think.”

The last sev­eral years have brought an ana­log re­vival as mil­len­ni­als and their par­ents push back against an over­whelm­ing tech­no­log­i­cal cul­ture: vinyl record sales have surged, adults are us­ing colour­ing books and the now-ubiq­ui­tous Mole­sk­ine jour­nal out­lived the PalmPilot, which was re­leased the same year.

Part of the mas­sive value of that par­tic­u­lar note­book, au­thor David Sax wrote in his new book, The Re­venge of Ana­log: Real Things and Why They Mat­ter, is linked to its tan­gi­ble iden­tity: phys­i­cal things en­gage the senses, fos­ter­ing emo­tional con­nec­tions that dig­i­tal ephemera can’t pro­vide. And re­search has shown that hand­writ­ing is bet­ter than typ­ing for learn­ing and mem­ory, and that writ­ing can it­self be ther­a­peu­tic.

Car­roll’s YouTube in­struc­tional videos have been viewed more than four mil­lion times. Orig­i­nally in­tended as an ef­fi­cient, min­i­mal­ist sys­tem, the bul­let jour­nal has swept across so­cial me­dia and en­cour­aged fans to cre­ate and share cus­tom­ized, elab­o­rate pages or “spreads,” many of which in­volve col­lages, line art, cal­lig­ra­phy, even wa­ter­colours, to or­ga­nize all kinds of life­styles.

At first Car­roll re­jected this idea, in case new­bies found it over­whelm­ing, but it’s how users found each other on­line. The Face­book group Bul­let Jour­nal Junkies has more than 68,000 mem­bers.

There’s now a group for every per­son­al­ity and pas­time: bul­let jour­nal­ing for men­tal health; for sewing and cro­chet­ing; pro­fes­sion­als, ve­g­ans, LGBT peo­ple, Chris­tians, par­ents who home-school their kids; even those who are ac­tu­ally ad­dicted to their bul­let jour­nal and seek­ing help.

For many, the jour­nal has evolved into a habit tracker — did I drink enough water? Take 10,000 steps? What is my mood? — with the re­sults shared on­line, as well as elab­o­rate works of pen­man­ship, sea­son-ap­pro­pri­ate doo­dles and end­less spreads of food diaries, sched­ules, in­spi­ra­tional quotes and per­sonal dis­clo­sures.

That’s how Cassie Owoc fills her pages. The 28-year-old col­lege stu­dent, free­lance writer and restau­rant server dis­cov­ered the bul­let jour­nal on Pin­ter­est last year and swears it’s helped or­ga­nize the many facets of her life.

“When I cross off a task, I feel much more pro­duc­tive and it makes me want to con­tinue do­ing more tasks and cross­ing them off the list,” Owoc said. “It’s like a re­ward sys­tem, al­most.”

Bul­let jour­nal­ists may get hooked when they see progress, which might ex­plain its un­likely fol­low­ing.

“The pop­u­lar­ity of the bul­let sys­tem is some­what sur­pris­ing be­cause it is quite com­plex,” said Daniel Levitin, psy­chol­ogy pro­fes­sor at McGill Univer­sity and au­thor of The Or­ga­nized Mind: Think­ing Straight in the Age of In­for­ma­tion Over­load.

A ma­jor draw might be “ex­ter­nal­iz­ing” a to-do list to al­low the mind to work or to wan­der, he said.

“The flex­i­bil­ity of a blank note­book can help get your juices flow­ing more than would tap­ping ev­ery­thing out on a screen.”

Or it may be that bul­let jour­nal­ists have in­ad­ver­tently adopted some key prin­ci­ples of cog­ni­tive and be­havioural psy­chol­ogy and com­bined those with goal set­ting the­ory, said Do­minique Morisano, clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist and as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor of pub­lic health at the Univer­sity of Toronto.

Morisano of­ten asks her own clients to start a jour­nal to log their thoughts, be­hav­iour and ac­tiv­ity, not­ing in­tense emo­tional events and grat­i­tude.

And though the bul­let jour­nal has been likened to Marie Kondo’s cel­e­brated method of de­clut­ter­ing — the one that in­volves throw­ing out ev­ery­thing that fails to “spark joy” — but for the mind, Morisano said the fact goals can be “mi­grated” and not just dis­carded re­duces the feel­ing of fail­ure and en­cour­ages car­ry­ing on de­spite set­backs.

But as for whether dress­ing up a note­book just to share it on­line be­comes an end it­self, rather than a means, tech­nol­ogy an­a­lyst Carmi Levy said bal­ance is im­por­tant whether us­ing a bul­let jour­nal or some­thing with a screen.

“If we spend so much time build­ing the per­fect bul­let jour­nal, tweak­ing it with ex­cru­ci­at­ing at­ten­tion and de­tail and flog­ging it re­lent­lessly on so­cial me­dia, we risk di­vert­ing our at­ten­tion from the very im­por­tant life ac­tiv­i­ties we had orig­i­nally hoped to im­prove,” he said.



Kat Ak­er­feldt, as­sis­tant cu­ra­tor of Toronto’s First Post Of­fice, has held work­shops on Bul­let Jour­nals.


Kat Ak­er­feldt de­scribed the bul­let jour­nal as a “rolling to-do list,” but it is, or can be, much more com­plex.

Many peo­ple share their Bul­let Jour­nals on so­cial me­dia plat­forms such as In­sta­gram. The jour­nals can be filled with elab­o­rate pages or “spreads.”

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