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The Ultimate Guide to Bullet Journals

What are Bullet Journals?

A BUJO (an abbreviation for bullet journal), is an organisational system created by designer "Ryder Carroll". Carroll states the goal of a bullet journal is to help you to "keep track of the past, organise the present and plan for the future". A bullet journal can be used as a journal, a record of your goals, a sketchbook, a daily/weekly/monthly calendar, a notebook, a mental health diary, etc. The beauty of a bullet journal is they can be personalised to fit your needs.

Another reason for the growing popularity of bullet journals is the simplicity behind them. All you need to get your life back on track is a dotted notebook and a pen. Is there a simpler way of organising your thoughts? This sort of simplicity allows you to take notes in an efficient manner without having apps or adverts distracting you from utilising your organisational system. Furthermore, the fact that everything is kept in one place instead of having random piles of notes adds to the simplicity.

pink covered book in top view photography

Bullet journals are also an effective way to log your own habits and record your daily thoughts. They therefore allow you to learn about yourself, your habits and make adjustments to your daily actions if you want to better yourself. Similarly, a bullet journal can help your time management skills and trim some of the unneeded time wasting activities out of your day.

Bullet journals are usually broken down into sections which are then broken down into three segments:

  • The first segment is usually a future journal where you can note down your plans for the future. Examples include: long term goals, future activity dates and any aspirations you may have. The aim of this section is to give yourself an idea of where you want to be and what you want to be doing in the future; by mapping out your aspirations, you are much more likely to achieve them as you now have a clear goal to work towards. 
  • The next segment is the daily logbook. This is where you can track your daily activities, habits and appointments. The aim of this section is to learn more about how you operate on a daily basis. Then you can look at where you can improve when it comes to meeting your future goals from the first section. For example, you may be able to make a habit out of setting aside a few hours every day to work towards your goals. 
  • The last segment is the weekly or monthly calendar. This is where you can set out your short term goals, your list of tasks you want to accomplish and your upcoming deadlines for the week/month. The aim of this section is to set out the tasks you need to accomplish, whether it be work related, family related or goal related. By doing this you can set out a plan of what needs to be done and how you are going to get it done, therefore increasing the likelihood of getting it done.  

A bullet journal often begins with an index where you can log the contents of the journal and where the contents can be found. There are many different ways to create a detailed index. Examples include: a page numbering system, utilising symbols for different sections, a colour coding system and coloured tabs. The organisational system you use is completely dependent on your personal preferences and how you best operate, therefore it may take some trial and error to find the perfect index system for you. 

5 Benefits of using a Bullet Journal

Benefit #1: Time Management 

Regardless of how you utilise your bullet journal (whether it be as a personal planner, calendar, exercise log, etc), you're time management skills are bound to improve. Through consistently tracking what you're doing each day, you can identify gaps in the days/weeks/months and schedule activities that you want to do or get some work done that you've been meaning to get done. Furthermore, by setting aside a specific time to get these tasks done, you are more likely to accomplish the tasks. 

pen near black lined paper and eyeglasses

Furthermore, research from Minot State University has found that a sense of time management not only increases productivity but also provides a sense of well being and happiness. This is due to the control that proper time management can provide you with; this control can combat the stress you feel when your day is chaotic and unorganised. Another reason why good time management can increase happiness is due to the better work/life balance it provides through scheduling time for yourself and time to spend with your loved ones 

Benefit #2: Reduces Stress & Anxiety

The feeling of planning out goals and plans in your head can be very overwhelming due to external factors distracting you from these plans and deterring you from what you're trying to achieve. This can ultimately lead to you spinning your wheels and the fact that you're failing to achieve your goals can cause you to stress out further. Therefore, writing down all your plans and goals in detail can give you mental clarity.

Another way that bullet journaling can reduce stress is through methods such as gratitude logs or planning out activities that you like in your personal planner. Often we can feel like our lives do not compare to others' due to social media only showing a snapshot of their best moments, however noting down everything you're grateful for and can be a great reminder of how much you do have in your life. 

Benefit #3: The simplicity

In a digital world where we experience constant distractions, bullet journaling can provide you with some much needed clarity and simplicity; after all, all you need to start bullet journaling is a pen and the actual journal. Furthermore, you can design your bullet journal to be as complex or as simple as you want. The logs you create may only require simple, few-worded input or it may require complex, long-worded input. 

empty spiral notebook near keyboard and pen

Furthermore, through using methods such as habit tracking, personal planning or goal setting, you are indirectly making you're life more straightforward. The benefits of these systems is they give you clear and concise tasks to complete, instead of spending more time not really knowing what to do. 

Benefit #4: The Customisability

Instead of having to conform to templates and tables, you can create the exact table/grid/log to fit your needs. You can control exactly how detailed you want your bullet journal to be, how easy it is to fill in on a daily basis, how much thought is required, what variables are being tracked, etc. You can measure your progress in things that really matter to you. 

Furthermore, you can design your own bullet journal. By making your bullet journal more aesthetically pleasing to you, it's more likely to hold sentimental value to you and therefore you're more likely to keep it closer to you, take care of it and utilise it.

Benefit #5: You learn more about yourself

Through logging your daily habits, ideas, actions, thoughts and moods, you're creating a log you can look back on. Once you've used your bullet journal for a longer period of time, you're able to identify and analyse any changes in the variables you've been tracking. For example, you may find that over time your mood has significantly improved or that you're productivity has gotten a lot. This can then give you further motivation to keep working towards your goals and to keep using your bullet journal. 

Furthermore, this information can be used to look at how good you are at setting goals. If you're consistently hitting your goals, you can think about increasing the difficulty. Or on the flip side, if you're consistently missing your goals, you can think about making your goals more reachable.

5 Different Uses of Bullet Journals

Method #1: A Planner

The most common use of a bullet journal is to utilise it as a personal planner where you can organise different aspects of your life such as your: career, goals, activities, etc. The reason why so many people use a bullet journal as a personal planner is because of the simplicity it provides; by having one single notebook for all of your plans, you are less likely to forget anything important and can instead stay focused on what's important. Furthermore, often we find it stressful to try and remember every upcoming event which can stress us out even more; therefore, one of the strengths of using a bullet journal as a personal planner is the invaluable peace of mind it can give you. 

white spiral notebook on brown wooden table

Another reason why using a bullet journal as a planner is so common is due to their addictive nature. Through constantly checking off the contents of your to-do lists and consistently completing the activities you set for yourself, you're brain is releasing a great deal of dopamine. Dopamine is a type of neurotransmitter (often called a chemical messenger) that your body produces and sends messages between nerve cells, dopamine plays a big role in your motivation, memory and reward system. When dopamine is released in large quantities, you experience a feeling of pleasure, satisfaction and fulfilment; therefore through checking off activities in your personal planner you experience all of these feelings which motivates you to repeat this behaviour so you can consistently experience said feelings.

Additionally, using a bullet journal as a personal planner can help you to improve your time management skills. Firstly, through seeing exactly what you have planned on certain days, you can look at where you could fit in extra activities such as working towards your goals. Through using a bullet journal as a personal planner you can also prioritise the most important activities which will lead to the most personal fulfilment and success. Lastly, you can analyse how you are using your time, maybe there's too much discretionary time or you feel overwhelmed at the volume of work. From there you can then take action to find a solution.

The last reason why using a bullet journal as a personal planner is so popular is it helps us to retain the information we note down. When writing by hand, you are using various sensory information such as coordinating verbal and fine movement systems; by processing information in a more detailed manner, you're more likely to store that knowledge in your memory. This means that when you note some of your plans down in your bullet journal, even without checking your bullet journal, you are more likely to remember said plans and activities. 

Method #2: Habit Tracking

Another common use of a bullet journal is to track your habits. Habits are the behavioural routines you perform consistently, often they are performed subconsciously. Research from Duke University suggests that a person's daily habits constitutes for over 40% of their behaviour on a daily basis. The reason why so many people use their bullet journals as habit trackers is simple; habit tracking is the most effective way to track your consistency when employing new habits or trying to get rid of destructive habits. 

The most common way to utilise a bullet journal as a habit tracker is through creating a table with one axis with every day of the week and the other with the habits you are trying to build/destroy. Then you can consistently check off every day you complete the good habit you have set out for yourself or every day that you avoid the bad habit you are trying to destroy. 

Similar to checking off the to-do list from a personal planner, one reason why using bullet journals as habit trackers is so popular is the satisfaction when logging the habit you have completed or avoided. As previously discussed, the dopamine rush from this sense of achievement can be extremely addictive and motivating to continue with the process of building good habit. 

Another reason why so many people use a bullet journal as a habit tracker is for it to be a visual cue for said habit. One of the main reasons for people failing to implement the habits they want is distraction from all sorts of external factors. However by having a habit tracker that you keep near to you, you are building a visual cue which reminds you of the habits you are trying to build. This therefore leads to the habit always being on the forefront of your mind.

The last reason why using a bullet journal as a habit tracker is growing in popularity is for motivational purposes. Not only does the satisfaction of logging the habit you've completed keep you motivated but creating a streak of achievements is also a major motivational factor. By creating a streak out of your achievements you can see you're on the right track and making progress towards ingraining the habit. This combats the issue of failing to ingrain a habit due to not seeing immediate results from their efforts. 

Method #3: Mood Tracking

A newly emerging use of a bullet journal is to track your mood. Through tracking your mood, feelings and emotions over a longer period of time, you can start to identify patterns, spot trends and you can see whether you are progressing. If you are looking to better your moods but don't track it, it's more than likely you're not going to make any progress at all because its difficult to tell if you're making any real progress without any statistics or proof. 

Tracking your mood with a bullet journal can be done in a number of ways. For example you could jot down your mood freely with no structure. Tracking your mood in a qualitative way such as this lets you dive into more detail and is great for those who want to reminisce in the future. Another common way of tracking your mood is with a colour code. You could create a key where certain colours are a symbol for different moods. The benefits of recording this data in a quantitative manner is you can analyse it. It's easier to statistically analyse data through this method as you can find averages and see what your most common mood is. 

person writing on white paper

Furthermore, through mood tracking with a bullet journal you can make the process as detailed or as simplistic as you want. If you want to gain a deeper understanding of your mood, you can even log various factors alongside your mood. By logging variables such as your exercise, hours slept, alcohol consumption and social interaction, you can go onto identify patterns and start to understand why you feel the way you do. For example, you may identify a pattern of feeling depressed on days where you don't exercise; through being aware of patterns like these you can make real improvements to your overall wellbeing. 

The last reason why you should consider utilising your bullet journal as a mood tracker is the endless options to personalise your tracker. As there is no set template, you have complete autonomy over how you express your moods, feelings and experiences. This individualisation can help you to perfectly express what you are feeling and why.

Method #4: Exercise Tracker

A less common use of a bullet journal is utilising it as an exercise tracker. Consistent exercise can provide you with a range of benefits such as: controlling weight, combatting health issues, improving mood, boosting energy, promoting better sleep and helping your brain's health. If you struggle to stay committed and consistent to a workout schedule, an exercise tracker can help keep you accountable and stick to the schedule. 

Tracking your exercise activity can be done in a number of ways. The most common way to use a bullet journal as an exercise tracker is through creating a personalised table where you can set out what you aim to achieve and how often you aim to achieve these goals. From there you can consistently check off the days where you have completed your goal. Additionally, you can make your exercise tracker as detailed as you like. For example, you could track variables such as the length of the workout, your heart rate and how much you were able to get done. This allows you to see if you're workout performance is improving over time and can serve as motivation to keep going. 

One reason why utilising a bullet journal as an exercise tracker is growing in popularity is because of how it helps you to keep improving and progressing towards your goals. If you aren't logging your progress, it's incredibly difficult to know whether you're progressing, maintaining or declining in performance; through logging as many details as you can, you can be sure that you are going in the right direction or if you are not going in the right direction you are aware of it and can adjust your approach. 

shallow focus photography of person walking on road between grass

Furthermore, tracking your exercise activity through a bullet journal can often serve as an excellent motivation source to keep progressing towards your goals. The ability to look at where you begun your journey and the progress you have made to get to where you are now is priceless. It fills you with a great feeling of accomplishment and confidence that you can make further progression towards your goals. 

The last reason why you should consider using your bullet journal as an exercise tracker is (as previously mentioned in the personal planner column) writing down your plans makes it easier to remember. Therefore, you are less likely to forget your plans to exercise and are more likely to stay committed to your fitness regime. 

When writing by hand, you are using various sensory information such as coordinating verbal and fine movement systems; by processing information in a more detailed manner, you're more likely to store that knowledge in your memory. This means that when you note some of your plans down in your bullet journal, even without checking your bullet journal, you are more likely to remember said plans and activities. 

Method #5: Goal Planner

Another popular way of utilising a bullet journal is as a goal planner. Research from the Dominican University in California found that those who write down their goals were 42% more likely to achieve them. Through using your bullet journal to plan out your short term and long term goals, you are taking a major step to achieving them.

It's recommended that you plan your goals in as much detail as you can. It really is essential that you think and write about every aspect of your goal. For example, if one of your goals is to run a marathon, you should be thinking about when you want to run the marathon, how you're going to train for it, the progress you need to make every week to be in peak shape, etc. 

A major reason why you should consider using your bullet journal as a goal planner is it can relieve you of the overwhelming feeling we often experience when we start to think about our goals. Once you've wrote down your goal and made a systematic approach to achieving it, you can start to see a clear path to your goal. If you keep your goals in your head, it's harder to follow a clear path due to all the distractions you process every; without following a clear path, it's hard to make real progress towards your goal in an efficient manner. 

Another reason why you should utilise your bullet journal as a goal planner is it can improve productivity. By setting deadlines and planning out everything you need to do to reach your goal, you constantly have tasks to carry out. Bear in mind you do have to make your goal challenging, often our goals can be too achievable and can lead to us not applying ourselves. Additionally, it's important to ensure your goals are measurable so you can make sure you are making progress towards goal. 





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