Why The Bullet Journal Works For Me

February 21, 2016

In my constant search for ways to be more productive and make my life easier, I discovered the Bullet Journal system, and now that I’ve spent some time with it, I’m loving it. I’m pretty sure I’m done looking for a digital solution for my day-to-day task management and event logging needs. Let me tell you why.

A Quick Introduction

If you haven’t heard of the Bullet Journal System, the website does a great job of explaining the whole system, but I will do my best to give a quick overview. At the core of the system is a paper notebook and a handful of bullet styles that help identify the type of item you are making note of. There are basically three types of items:

  1. Tasks
  2. Events
  3. Notes

Task bullets can be modified to mark items as complete, scheduled or migrated. You can also use symbols next to the bullets to indicate things like priority.

For related notes that don’t fit into a specific day, you can create “collections”. A collection can be put on the next available page or spread of pages (I use a full spread for mine). An example of a collection would be a list of books you want to read, recipes you want to try, or notes about a specific project. Collections are added to an index at the front of your notebook so you can easily find a collection and add to it. Once you’ve created your collection, you just go to the next empty page for your next daily page.

The system is very flexible. You aren’t locked into what a pre-printed planner gives you and you don’t have to split up a blank notebook as if you know ahead of time how many pages you’ll need in each section.

Why It Works For Me

I have tried a large assortment of digital tools to keep track of and complete tasks. I still use a few apps and websites to help me stay organized, but for daily tasks, meetings notes, random thoughts I have throughout the day, I am a huge fan of the analog approach.

Those Tasks I’d Rather Not Do

We all have tasks we have to do that we’d rather not. If it’s boring, tedious or otherwise painful, it’s a little too easy to record it in a digital tool, minimize it and focus on other things. Sure, you can do the same thing in a paper notebook, but two things happen with the paper notebook that don’t happen in the digital tool:

  1. I use the notebook for recording events, tasking notes and referencing notes I’ve already taken. So I am much more likely to be reminded of the task throughout the day.
  2. If I don’t complete the task, I need to write it again on the following day. So not only am I reminded again, now it has created more work for me. Since adopting the bullet journal, I have only put off a couple of tasks, and none of them have made it past the second time I had to write it.

Writing On Paper Just Feels Right

I am a huge fan of scanning documents and storing them digitally. I use my Doxie Go and Evernote all the time. I love that digital photography is the default now, and that I only need to print pictures that will actually be placed in a frame. I make a living through a keyboard, but when it comes to jotting down ideas or taking notes in a meeting, writing on paper just feels better. With a quality notebook and the right pen, the act of handwriting is downright therapeutic. When I get to mark a task complete with a pen, it is so much more satisfying than clicking on a checkbox, or hitting a keyboard shortcut. If it is a more enjoyable experience, you are more likely to stick with it, so the fact that I like writing my tasks down and using a pen to check completed items means I am more likely to continue using the system.

Digital Assets Are Easy to Ignore

Many of the files I store on a hard drive are there for safe keeping and future reference. I know to go to Evernote when I need to find a manual for a tool or appliance. I also know what tags and search terms to use to pull together scanned tax documents when it’s time to file my tax returns. When I don’t need one of these things, they are out of sight and out of mind… right where I want them.

When it comes to random notes and ideas, the digital format just doesn’t hold up for me. I am much more likely to flip through the pages of an old notebook, or previous pages in my current notebook than I am to just randomly peruse notes I’ve stored in Evernote. A while back, I thought the digital approach would work for me on this front, and even moved notes from some old notebooks into Evernote. After I had done this, I recycled the old notebooks… I really regret that decision. Anyway, certain things just vanish for me when they are stored digitally. Sometimes, analog is just better.

It’s Not For Everybody

Some people do better with task management apps. Some people just remember everything. I like a nice notebook (I recently switched to a Leuchtturm1917 but Moleskine is a nice choice as well.) and a good pen (currently loving the very affordable Pentel Energel Alloy). If you are like me and like using an analog system for notes and todos, but haven’t found a setup that works for you yet, I highly recommend checking out the Bullet Journal System.

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Andy Van Slaars

Personal site & blog of Andy Van Slaars. I build things with JavaScript, teach on egghead.io, and share stuff on Twitter. Find out more about me, what I'm currently into and the tools I use.