Bullet journaling: the essential tool to achieving peace of mind

Art & Lit Features

Image Credit: Kimberly Glassman

It is never too late to start over and re-organise yourself nearing the end of term. Though I originally believed (and maybe took for granted) that bullet journaling had been around for a while as an ongoing millennial note-taking and organisation method (I mean, it is all over YouTube and Instagram if you look), I was surprised to find out that the idea was only introduced to the world a few years ago, around 2013, by digital product designer Ryder Carroll.  He called it “an analogue system for the digital age that helps record the past, organise the present, and plan for the future” in his 2015 kickstarter video. Carroll explains on his website that he came up with the idea over years of trial and error in his attempt to find alternative methods to remain focussed and organised while dealing with his childhood attention deficit disorder. 

In 2017, Carroll gave a TEDx Talk titled “How to Declutter Your Mind – Keep a Journal”, where he spoke about the art of intentionality and warned about the dangers of decision fatigue which would lead to decision avoidance. He offers the bullet journal system as a way “to do more with less” and to maximise your time and energy. Its recent success as a productivity tool has led Carroll to publish a book on his methods in October 2018, and prompt a trailer release for the #BUJO film by Fischr Films (March, 2018). I wonder, is there any mental health benefits to using the system?

“Ideally, what I am trying to do with the bullet journal, is figure out just enough of a framework to allow people to build on it for whatever they need.”

What is truly amazing about the bullet journal is its ability to become personalised. In a 2015 interview with Taylor Pipes, writing for Evernote, Carroll explains, “Ideally, what I am trying to do with the bullet journal, is figure out just enough of a framework to allow people to build on it for whatever they need.” This enabled individuals suffering from anxiety and depression, like Mental Health Blogger, Nikita Crane, to “identify certain anxiety triggers, track [her] moods and […] feel better after writing [her] negative thoughts and emotions on paper” (Huffington Post, 2018). In addition to being an organisation tool, it is a way to de-stress, unwind, and identify patterns and triggers. In fact, neuroscientist and author Daniel Levitin “suggests that one of the system’s advantages is that it works like an external memory extension” (Inc., 2017). Some explain that it is through their use of habit trackers that “can allow us to see whether any patterns emerge”, explaining that “it could help us to identify some of our triggers” (Blurt, 2018). The ability to mix these wellness page spreads with productive organisation is the key, as “balancing deliberate activities with more mindless ones […] helps you to mentally refresh,” says Cari Romm (The Cut, 2016). Tracy Halliday is one of many who are currently documenting their mental health journeys on Instagram using the bullet journal system (@selfcarejournalist). She claims: “Using a bullet journal can help you to shift negativity into positivity. One type of Collection that I use is my “Affirmations” log. It’s simply a Collection of my favorite affirmations that I like to repeat to myself in times of self-doubt and insecurity. It’s an instant mood changer” (Bullet Journal Blog).  

As it’s highly customisable, it can be a bit intimidating to start a bullet journal. That’s where example spreads can be extremely useful. Carroll provides a number of them in his book, on his YouTube Channel, and on his website. But you can now also find websites like The Petite Planner that provide examples of spreads you can use, such as trigger tracking, self-care lists, daily gratitude logs, and more. Writer Erin explains that she created these spreads with the idea of incorporating more positivity into her life as well as a healthy outlet. “Think of the Law of Attraction,” she says: “The more positivity you incorporate into your life, the more positive you will become.”

I have recently taken up bullet journaling myself as a way of trying to cope with some anxiety I developed after starting my MSt here at Oxford. I realised that there were so many moving parts of my life I needed to keep track of simulatenously, and no diary or calendar seemed to be able to hold all of it. After some retail therapy at Paperchase in Week 4, I came home with my first bullet journal to-be. Like most, I was very intimidated with how to begin. I found a YouTube channel that worked for me, @AmandaRachLee, where I followed a lot of how-to videos. Now a few weeks in, I am finally getting the hang of it and it is paying off. I found my own combination of writing up daily and long-term to-do lists, creating a habit tracker to remember to be a grown up and feed myself, talk to friends and family back home, workout, clean my flat, etc. I also devote pages to commiting my thoughts to writing, which I find very cathartic, as well as pages brainstorming spreads to help me detangle ideas I have for my dissertation. All in all, bullet journaling has been proven to be a valid organisational system, but can also be an inspirational way of life. It enables you to create a little external piece of your mind to give you peace of mind when everything feels way too overwhelming.

On top of that, Jessica Stillman writing for Inc. assures us that based on their research, “if the bullet journal craze appeals to you, the word from science is that there’s good reasons to give it a try.”