I Tried Bullet Journaling and Here's What Happened

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Ah, the holidays, the most wonderful, insane-with-a-capital-I time of the year. This past season, a Google calendar, a bunch of apps and hastily scrawled Post-It notes kept me organized in theory, but, in practice, these tools just added to the info overload.

As an editor, taking notes is second nature; as a working mom, my brain is a sieve. So I pinned my hopes for a more centered 2019 on a bullet journal.

Some of the ones I’ve seen on Instagram are intimidatingly gorgeous, with impeccable brush lettering and intricate margin doodles. Honestly, that gorgeousness is exactly what’s stopped me from trying bullet journaling in the past. But I decided to overlook aesthetic considerations in the hopes of achieving the greater good: simplicity.

So I found myself in Barnes and Noble, debating on whether to invest in a simple, pocket-friendly journal or something a little bigger and fancier. Ultimately I fell in love with the larger model because it did the prep work for me: an index up front, a how-to guide in back, numbered pages, ribbon bookmarks… basically a super #extra five-subject notebook for grownups.

I took it home, opened it up and started journaling. After bulleting my way through November and December, here’s what I discovered:

The Good

Less Really is More

The how-to guide that came with my journal says, “ Use the absolute minimum amount of effort and methods to stay productive .” Co-sign! The whole reason I turned to bullet journaling is that I'm tired of toggling between so many mediums. The journal approach mashes them all together, streamlining my stream of consciousness.

It Doesn’t Take Long

I worried that maintaining the journal would be a full-time job, but it doesn’t require slavish devotion. Jot stuff down, read it back, rinse and repeat. I spend ten minutes a day, tops.

It’s Refreshingly Low-Tech

My notebook is never not charged. If you’ve got a pen, it’s go time. I feel like I’m making better use of my time instead of ceaselessly scrolling newsfeed after newsfeed.

It’s Mindful Meditation Practice

Writing is more deliberate than pecking at my phone. If I’m taking time to log and code an entry, it’d better matter. Turns out journaling, even minimalist bullet journaling, is less about day-to-day efficiency, more about being intentional with your thoughts, taming the monkey mind.

The Not-So-Good

There’s a Learning Curve

At first, bullet journaling felt like learning HTML or stenography. Memorization was involved. Because I didn’t want to mess up the pages with half-baked lists, I hesitated to commit things to paper until I had fleshed them out. How could I map out December if I didn’t know where November was going to end?? The format definitely takes some experimenting and making a few mistakes in order to master it.

Life Moves Pretty Fast

The pull of digital is almost too strong to overcome. Because I still email myself urgent reminders, my monthly log became obsolete pretty much as soon as I wrote it. I haven’t gotten around to creating an index. And because I write a gratitude list in bed every night, I have to remember to bring the journal downstairs and repack it every morning for the next day, which doesn’t always happen. (That’s never true of my phone, which is always by my side.)

For Me, it Doesn’t Work for Work

Though work-life separation seems more and more difficult to achieve, I opted not to include professional appointments. Too much integration seemed confusing at best, inappropriate and overwhelming at worst. (But I totally get that this is just a me thing).

The Verdict

When all is said and done, I’m going to stick with the journal in 2019. Not only has it eased my phone’s grip over me, it’s helped me to rely on my memory rather than outsource it to self-addressed emails. Sometimes you've got to look away from a screen.

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I Tried Bullet Journaling and Here's What Happened