Personal Organization and the Bullet Journal

The smartphone is an amazing tool for personal organization. In addition to scheduling, note-taking and to-do lists, there are thousands of apps promising to take your personal organization to the next level.

I truly love that my smartphone keeps me organized.

But part of me misses the Daytimer I used twenty years ago. Marking a task complete by tapping your phone just isn’t as satisfying as crossing it off in pen. Completed digital tasks vanish into the smartphone ether, somehow making accomplishments less satisfying.

That’s where a bullet journal comes in.

A bullet journal is an analog mashup of calendar, to-do list and diary. As part of my journey to become happier, healthier and more productive, I am starting a bullet journal tomorrow for the first of the month.

The core of a bullet journal is a daily list of bullets that can include appointments, tasks that need to get done, milestones, notes and thoughts. Bullet journalers create indexes as they go to keep track of categories. For me these categories will include events like my transplant and projects like My Instruction Manual. Other modules that can be included in a bullet journal include lists of books read, or charts for keeping track of daily resolutions. (More on tracking daily resolutions in tomorrow’s blog post.)

Since I’m not going to get into all the ins and outs of creating a bullet journal here, I refer you to the excellent Buzzfeed post WTF is a Bullet Journal and Why Should You Start One?

Many bullet journalers take great pride in making their journals beautiful. Check out the Instagram hashtags #bulletjournal or #bujo for inspiration. Unfortunately for me, my handwriting is terrible and I’ve always thought of visual design as a personal blind spot.

Still, I bought some colored pens and a grid-patterned Moleskin. Serious bullet journalers prefer dotted-grid journals, but I couldn’t find one so I settled for the lined-grid version.

I spent an hour last night setting up my bujo, even drawing little pictures of books and a movie projector on the pages where planned to keep track of books I’d read and films I’d watched.

I knew it wasn’t Insta-worthy, I was proud of it and wanted to share. When I showed it to my wife Laura, she chuckled.

“What?” I asked. “Is it awful?”

“No,” she said. “It’s just a bit like I’m looking at a kids’ journal because of your handwriting. Also, you spelled calendar wrong.”

And so I had, highlighting an obvious drawback with analog — no spell check.

No matter — I’m doing this to help myself get organized, not to win any spelling bees or design awards.

After using my bullet journal for a while, I’ll report back with my experiences.

Meantime, I’d love to hear from you in the comments. How do you keep organized? Have you tried a bullet journal? Is this something you would consider?


  1. Hmm well I’ve started one several times over the years, but somehow ended up abandoning it within a few days. Takes some discipline I guess and I am anything but these days. Oh well.

    • I can relate. I’ve started so many systems to keep myself organized in the past, but was never able to stick to one. So far the bullet journal is working for me. We’ll see how it goes.

  2. My to-do list is ALWAYS hand-written. I have one for work, and one for personal at home. I am a firm believer in having a beautiful notebook so I always buy lovely hardcover, spiral notebooks from a store called Paperchase. You’re right: checking something off the list is ever so satisfying 🙂

    I did start to try to keep a gratitude journal, which was nice. Though I realised after a few weeks that I am often thankful for food. One day, the only entry was: Shawarma.

  3. I’m a firm believer in your journal working for you rather than being a display piece. I don’t doodle (not that creative) but I use lots of colour (gives me a good excuse to go stationery shopping) and I have to use a ruler for all my lines (that’s the teacher in me!). Don’t worry if it’s not Instagram worthy!

    • I’ve been using my bullet journal for a couple months and still refining how to make it work right for me. I’ll write a followup post when I figure it out!

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