Get creative to maximise your organisational skills
In an age of digital diaries and online assistants, bullet journaling is a refreshingly techfree way to organise your business and personal life
Bullet journaling is a notebook organising system originally devised by an Austrian teenager that has swept across the world in recent times, spawning an entire industry (and boosting stationery sales no end in the process). Ryder Carroll came up with the bullet journal system as a way to organise his thoughts while at school, using meticulous lists and an index to record and track to-do tasks, goals and notes. Today, this anti-digital format has garnered a cult-like following.
Carroll, the spider at the web of the bullet journaling movement (now a digital product designer living in New York), is humble about what he’s started: “I’ve always found being able to focus a challenge, so I designed the system accordingly,” he says. “It’s allowed me to successfully run teams of people over long stretches and start multiple companies. I shared the system because it helped me.”
Small business online magazine Inc. recommends bullet journaling for every entrepreneur worth their salt. Journalists from Vogue and The New York Times have waxed lyrical about it, and some parents tout it as being beneficial for home-schooling. Its uses are nearly as varied as the journals themselves.
Key to its success is the flexibility of the system. People can adapt the central method to fit their lives, and the basic formula is the same whether you’re writing a shopping list or launching a start-up. Jotting down tasks in a structured way and moving them on or ticking them off, gives keen journal keepers a sense of achievement and helps people stay on track.
The bullet journaling method has inspired hundreds of blogs (such as tinyrayofsunshine. com) comparing notebooks, stationery and time management ideas – although, spend too long decorating your “spreads” (the pages used for bullet journaling) and you might not actually tick off anything on your list. There are now “how-to” books devoted to bullet journaling (Carroll is in the process of writing his own, but also check out The 365 Bullet Book: How to Organize Your Life Creatively, One Day at a Time by Zennor Compton).
The hashtag “#bulletjournal” appears nearly 1.5 million times on Instagram, a medium that lends itself to showcasing spreads. And there are thousands of pins on Pinterest dedicated to the acronym “BuJo” – from ideas for keeping track of things to watch on Netflix to how to make monthly goal maps. It’s not just about the lists, but inspiring you to reach goals, tick off to-dos and feel happier about what’s going on in your life. Users have embraced their creative side and report that logging their tasks in this format is calming, meditative and even life-altering.
At the heart of its appeal is that it can be gloriously low-maintenance – all you need is paper and a pen. In a world of screens and online clamouring for our attention, taking half an hour to organise thoughts on paper makes many people feel lighter and more in control. The process of writing down tasks frees up space in our brains, enabling us to take on more information and cope better. The fact that we remember incomplete tasks more readily than completed ones is called the Zeigarnik effect. And memory decluttering works better with a pen than with a touchscreen.
“Because it’s practised in a paper notebook, it allows users to unplug, to process their thoughts and declutter their mind,” explains Caroll. “We underestimate the power of introspection.”
Mindfulness certainly has a role to play in the success of the bullet journal phenomenon. It’s not often nowadays we have everything we’re juggling written down in one trackable place.
Tempted to pick up a pen and give it a go? Carroll has some tips for new starters who want to find themselves in control of their time. “Start simple and be patient with yourself,” he advises. “There are a lot of intimidatingly elaborate interpretations out there. At its core, the system is very lean. It’s designed to not get in your way and be flexible. It’s designed to become whatever you need it to be. Figuring out what use the Bullet Journal can serve in your life is part of the practice. The key is to remember to make it work for you. It’s not about how it looks, it’s about the impact it has on your life.”
And for people who have tried it once, he urges them to try again and stick with it: “Start with the free tutorials on bulletjournal.com. Stick with the basics for at least two months, and then start to customise it. Start small (don’t try and bullet journal everything in your life at once) and see if it keeps you on track to make positive changes for a couple of months.”