Bullet Journaling: An Analog System to Aid Digital Creativity

April 8, 2020 Katy Crawford


Throw out the phrase “bullet journal” in conversation, and you’ll likely get a variety of responses: everything from “Oh, I’m not ‘arsty’ enough for that,” to “This is the single greatest tool I’ve found for organizing my life,” and a lot of reactions in between. While some take a more elaborate approach to bullet journaling, others use their notebook or journal to simplify.

A few different factors drew me to explore bullet journaling (the recommendation of a close friend, a flexibility not commonly found in pre-printed planners, a love of handwritten things), but what endeared it to me all the more is how it gives me a clear picture and record of life as a whole. Rather than separating areas of life, using a bullet journal became a way for me to see how my different vocations intersect with and impact one another.

How is Bullet Journaling Technological?

You might be wondering what such a low-tech tool is doing on a blog about technology. Interestingly, bullet journaling holds a certain appeal for those entrenched in technology. One author talks about how this analog tool prompts reflection and gives him greater bandwidth for creativity in the constant stream of his otherwise tech-heavy world.

Backing up a bit, the concept of bullet journaling originated with Ryder Carroll with a focus on intentionality and productivity. Using a system of rapid logging, symbols and collections, this “method” as he refers to it, helps to facilitate “the art of intentional living.”

A driving purpose of bullet journaling is to give the flurry of thoughts inside your head a landing place. Organizing thoughts is a great thing, but the first step is collecting them. A bullet journal is just the place for such collecting. When thoughts are down in one place, then you know what you’re working with when it comes to prioritizing time, action, and energy.

Though the heart of this method is simplicity, Pinterest and other social media channels have become a showcase for intricate and beautiful layouts, hand lettering, spreads, and logs. While this appeals to some, they can also make the thought of setting up and keeping a bullet journal seem overwhelming or unattainable (I’m in this camp, as much as I admire more intricate layouts). As we discussed just a few paragraphs earlier, the idea is that a bullet journal would aid and serve you in your vocations rather than being a burden. If bringing a certain aesthetic to your journal does this for you, by all means, go for it!

The beauty of using a bullet journal as a tool for living and working more intentionally is that you make the rules for how you want yours to function and flow.

Creating a Bullet Journal

Here are the tools needed:

  • A notebook (as simple or fancy as you’d like)
  • A pen (same qualifiers as above)

These resources are helpful starting places for setting up a journal, each with a slightly different flavor:

As you explore the world of bullet journals, you’ll likely encounter terms like:

  • Future log: a place to note events happening beyond the current month and to consult when setting up a monthly log
  • Monthly log: a collection of dates or events and things to be accomplished or anticipated in the current month
  • Weekly log: similar to the monthly log, but limited to the span of a week
  • Daily log: a place for notes, tasks and other items to be remembered in a given day; the content here is often drawn from the previously listed logs and set up the night before, rather than planned in advance
  • Habit trackers: lists, graphs or numerous other ways of organizing information to track daily or regular habits, providing accountability in establishing healthy rhythms or working toward larger goals

Other helpful and fun areas to track include:

  • Financial goals
  • Inventory of regularly purchased household and pantry items
  • Spiritual disciplines
  • Travel plans
  • Books to read

Bullet Journaling Apps

Bullet journaling falls more in the analog realm, but digital alternatives and
complementary tools can be part of the mix. The official Bullet Journal company offers their Bullet Journal Companion app ($4.99) with cataloging, note taking, reflection, and tutorial features. Many other apps for both iPhone and Android users allow you to record and organize content in a way similar to bullet journaling. 

Apps native to your phone also play well with bullet journaling. I personally don’t use my bullet journal as a calendar; I find that keeping appointments and events on my calendar app works better. In different seasons and circumstances, I keep track of my daily water intake on an app rather than recording it as part of my daily log or in a habit tracker. I also use the note app on my phone for quick notes, thoughts, and reminders when I’m out and about, then transferring them to my bullet journal when I’m home.

Starting Your Bullet Journal Journey

So you want to give bullet journaling a try, or maybe try again with renewed perspective? In her book Dot Journaling: A Practical Guide, Rachel Wilkerson Miller gives three tips for getting started:

  • Simplicity is your friend, especially when beginning.
  • Make a rough sketch or outline of what you’d like included in your journal on some scratch paper before putting pen to the fresh, clean paper of your new notebook.
  • Be flexible and don’t overthink too much. You’ll have plenty of opportunity to evaluate and adapt as you go along!

A few more thoughts and ideas when entering the bullet journaling waters:

  • If the concept or method intrigues you, try it as an experiment! Set a length of time (a month or two) and see if this tool or a certain way of using it serves your purposes or surprises you in some way.
  • Let your use of a bullet journal evolve. As much as I wanted to begin with organized and aesthetically pleasing layouts, I quickly found the driving appeal for me was having everything in one notebook (instead of the five or six notebooks scattered throughout my life). So, my first journal looked like a hot mess, but it was all in one place. Each successive iteration has taken a slightly different form, even transforming mid-journal, as seasons of life change and new ideas come to light.
  • Set a timer (to keep you from getting too far down the rabbit hole!) and do some research or inspiration hunting. Make note of layouts, trackers, and logs that you might find helpful.

Through the practice of monthly, weekly, and daily reflection and setup times, a bullet journal prompts planning, remembering, dreaming, goal setting, and brainstorming. It provides space for accountability and catalogs all the “small” things that add up to the bigger story of life. As I keep a chronological log of life—home, work, church, habits, and so on—I see a more holistic picture and am reminded daily of the various vocations to which God has called me.

Do you use a bullet journal or something similar? Tell us what you’ve found helpful in the comments!

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