Last year my life was transformed by a bullet journal.

My friend Meliors Simms is usually far more up with what’s current than I am. About this time last year she emailed me and said, “I think you should know about this. Come over and I’ll show you.”

And I entered the fascinating world of bullet journaling.

I’m not an early adopter of trends. And planning and organising isn’t my zone of genius. Like many people, I carry a lot of stuff around in my head. And I take a lot of notes. The piles of papers under my desk were getting bigger every day. I could see that keeping everything in one notebook was likely to be a game-changer for me.

Bullet journalling as a metaskill

I believe that taking charge of my organisational systems is a practical act of personal power. I want to create new things in the world and I usually have a lot of projects on the go simultaneously. Using a bullet journal to co-ordinate my time and energy greatly enhances my effectiveness – and also reduces stress and anxiety.

I find existing apps and print diaries make me fit into categories that don’t reflect a lot of what I’m doing. A bullet journal is partly about time management, but it’s potentially a lot more than this.

Soon after we started our bullet journals, Meliors asked me to contribute to a zine about bullet journalling – a low-tech, analogue celebration of this low-tech, analogue metaskill for the 21st century. The following paragraphs come from that publication. (If you’d like a copy of the zine, email me – we still have a few left.)

bullet journals

My year of bullet journals – I use approximately one per month.

What is a bullet journal?

Put simply, bullet journalling is a system for customising a blank notebook into a combination diary, planner and journal. Its remarkable strength is that it can be easily adapted to suit the changing requirements of the user.

Bullet journalling in its original form was developed by New York-based digital designer Ryder Carroll. He wanted an analogue planning system to complement his online work. Ryder released his creation for general use, with the proviso that the bullet journal name can’t be used for profit. Hence Meliors and I can’t sell our bullet journal zine.

Bullet Journal zine

The BuJo zine: it’s a low-tech, analogue celebration of a low-tech, analogue metaskill.

Buddhist Journalling

The common abbreviation for bullet journal is BuJo, and Meliors soon started calling it “Buddhist Journalling”, which alludes to the way a BuJo can integrate the “must do” lists and the more creative, meditative aspects of life.

The following two sections were my main contribution to the BuJo zine. It wasn’t just beginner’s enthusiasm: twelve months later I wouldn’t change much.

Magic bullet? Why I BuJo

BuJo isn’t just for organisational and systems junkies. It’s a metaskill that’s a huge asset to anyone who wants to be creative and playful without abdicating or outsourcing the practicalities of everyday life. We badly need this to help us navigate the complexity, chaos and challenges of our current world. And it also helps us get free of multitasking, which is a major energy drain.

BuJo encourages us to work out our own priorities and classification systems, rather than fitting our lives into a predetermined grid. This feels incredibly empowering. BuJo helps us get off the hamster wheel and into a place where we can make new things happen.

Integrating the Dreamtime

BuJo helps me integrate the Dreamtime and the “everyday” world. Because I am operating in both. I’m a dreamer. Tracking and organising my life doesn’t seem like fun to me. But I finally admitted that my life was getting too complicated. I could no longer carry everything in my head.

After twelve months of time management bootcamp, started with Meliors’s coaching, I had a tidy and effective calendar/diary – and thirteen files bulging with notes on the floor under my desk. There were huge sectors of my life that mostly didn’t appear in the weekly appointments diary or on the “Urgent/Important” grid. They were the ideas, the dreams, things that were still in the process of becoming. They didn’t exist as specific projects or tasks. They were written on scruffy bits of paper, dated and filed. Usually, I could find them if I went looking. But often it was “out of sight, out of mind”.

It was time to try something new. BuJo!

I now have one notebook, with all my notes, plans, dreams and schemes.

My BuJo contains more of me than has ever existed in one place previously. It makes me feel much more integrated and visible than ever before. Not completely comfortable, but undoubtedly ore effective. And it’s in physical form, so it can’t be deleted with one keystroke or mucked up by a computer virus.

BuJo: where to start

All you need is a blank notebook and a ballpoint pen. But there are many BuJo accessories, including felt pens, washi tape, stickers etc.

Because I was making such a huge change to my previous way of doing things, I found a couple of initial coaching sessions from Meliors very helpful. (She’s a great coach, by the way. Her website address is at the end of this post.)

Most of the BuJos on Pinterest and Instagram are beautiful and arty. But mine isn’t. Design and appearance aren’t my strong suits. My BuJo is full of messy notes and pages of scribble. I index and colour code topics and categories. This is made easy and fun for me by washi tape. If you haven’t yet encountered washi tape, you’re in for a treat. It’s like decorative masking tape. It’s usually near the scrapbooking section of a stationery store.

The most important feature for me is to have everything indexed and all the pages numbered, so I can find things easily, and also look for patterns and connections.

A5 bound notebooks are a good size for writing, while being small enough to carry in a bag. Spiral binding isn’t robust enough – the pages fall out. As the photo above shows, I use all kinds of notebooks. They usually cost less than $10 per book, but sometimes I run out of space and have to buy something more expensive. The “gold standard” notebook for BuJo is Leuchtturm, which is lovely, but too costly at my current rate of consumption. I get through approximately one BuJo per month. Most people probably don’t write as much as I do.

BuJo index page

A couple of the index pages from one of my BuJos: it’s not pretty, but the washi tape means I can find entries easily.

What’s in my BuJo

  • lists – for many people, this is a major part of their BuJo, but not so much for me.
  • “to do” lists
  • notes
  • ideas for projects
  • lesson plans for ukulele classes
  • ideas and drafts for articles
  • regular tracking, eg gardening, dates of haircuts, etc
  • contact details, if they don’t fit elsewhere
  • goals and intentions – I’ve found that writing these down helps me get there
  • personal process notes
  • random other stuff

More about bullet journaling

Ryder Carrol

Email Meliors or me (see the contact page on this website) if you’d like a copy of our BuJo zine – we may ask you for a small donation towards production and postage costs.