Work/Life Balance

Everything You Need To Become One Of Those “Bullet Journal” People

By | Thursday, September 08, 2016



I’ve always loved the idea of being an organized person. At the beginning of every school year, I would insist on getting a new binder for every school subject complete with tab dividers (and typed-out labels) and brand new sets of colored pens and mechanical pencils. I’d start the year diligently filling out my standard-issue school planner, color-coding every subject and task. I spent more time on that planner than I did on my actual homework.

This would last about 3 weeks. The planner would then settle into its home in the bottom of my backpack with the unfilled pages folded back on one another thanks to my carelessly shoving in oversized textbooks and, yes, far too many binders. I’d (for the most part) always find a way to remember what I needed to get done, but this involved a lot more early morning last-minute paper-writing sessions than I’d care to remember. But then the next year, I’d start off the same way, aspirationally putting all my time and effort into perfecting that planner.

There’s something very chic about being the person that’s always on top of her shit, and for me, my planner was the only way to achieve that. When I gave up on keeping this planner going, I was giving up on the idea of being organized, period.

Needless to say, I find things like the Bullet Journal very intriguing. The idea is pretty simple; it’s keeping everything you need to write down in one place, so it’s a journal, to-do list, sketchbook, etc. all in one. There’s a specific (but customizable) system to help you stay organized. But looking at the endless Pinterest boards and Instagram accounts dedicated to bullet journaling, I can’t help but feel intimidated by the beautiful hand typography and perfect layouts (how is the handwriting always perfectly spaced??).

I’ve managed to somewhat organize my life — thanks, Google Calendar — but I know I would benefit from adopting a bullet journal, or at least something similar. I could even tack it onto the daily journaling I already have in place. I write one thing for every day of the year, and I’m pretty strict with how I approach it: I only document things that happened or activities that I did, and I only write about things that made me happy. Nothing is too small or insignificant to write about, and rarely do I delve into how I felt on those days. So sometimes my entries feel monumental — “David and I saw Fun Home on Broadway!” — and others much smaller — “Had a long day, so I drank some red wine and watched 30 Rock in bed.”

I go back often to look at the pages and pages I’ve written. It’s fun to re-live exciting moments that have happened this year, and on a more mundane level, it’s helpful to see what things have made me the happiest — and whether I spent money on those things. There are several entries where I wrote out the details of a meal I made, but not once did I write “treated myself to Panera!” That’s not because I didn’t buy any $11 salads this year, but they were never the highlight of my day. By writing out the things that brought me joy, it’s easier to cut out the things that just aren’t worth it.

My personal success with journaling (and by “success” I mean that I do it at all) comes from the fact that I’ve gotten used to it. It took some external motivation, too: I started journaling as a New Year’s resolution and have somehow made it nine months without giving up. My friend Laura, a PR professional in D.C. and all-around lady-with-her-shit-together, has become obsessed with bullet journaling, so I asked her a few questions in the hopes that she would convince me to get my own shit together.


Why does bullet journaling work for you?

I use bullet journaling because it allows me to keep all of my notes, lists, song lyrics, schedules, memories, and trackers in one place and it gives me a creative outlet, because I build every page from scratch. When I begin it, it’s a conscious, constructive way to channel my thoughts and allows me to be mindful about how I spend my time. When I flip through it later, it’s a scrapbook!

Do you think you could achieve the same sense of accomplishment and organization with an app rather than physical paper?

I am firmly a paper person. The best part of working my BuJo is that is a tactile thing. I use markers and washi tape and all kinds of fun craft things to make it mine. I’ve tried things to use things like Asana and Google Calendar to organize my time, but this is far and away the method I like best.

I just feel like I’ll never be happy with one when I compare it to all the pretty Pinterest-y ones online.

The community is great though! And very much say the point of this is to help you get organized and prioritize. Some of my pages are pretty. Some are v not.

Tell me more about this “community.”

There are a bunch of Instagram people, plus the original guy Ryder Carroll’s website. Everyone is all about making this a personal experience. They offer tips on how to get creative with it, but it’s clear that the actually bullet journaling is the point — the migration process, etc.


I’m so glad I asked Laura for some insight, and there are several resources online to help you get started. Buzzfeed put together a good tutorial on starting a bullet journal, or you can watch Ryder Carroll’s YouTube tutorial. If you’re not sold on carrying around a paper planner and/or are prone to losing your possessions, you can make a version on an online app like Evernote.

My problem with bullet journaling is that I worry I’d spend too much time trying to make it look pretty and not enough actually organizing. But it’s not okay for me to let my own insecurity over my inability to live up to idyllic standards of organization from social media get in the way of me actually becoming the completely organized person I know I can be.

So this weekend, I’m going to give myself the gift of re-creating that excitement I felt every autumn when I got cozy with my school planner. I’m going to invest in a good journal (though perhaps not the Bullet Journal-recommended Leuchtturm1917, which the Wall Street Journal notes is sold out through November). I’m sure bullet journaling isn’t for everyone — I’m not even sure that it’s for me — but I do think there is something to be said for coming up with your own organization system and sticking to it.

Holly is the Managing Editor of The Financial Diet. Follow her on Twitter here, or send her your ideas at!

Image via picjumbo

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