Bullet journaling: the planning system I fell in love with

February 6, 2024 — by Jane Lee
Graphic by Amy Luo
Planning my day with colorful highlighters always brings me joy.
Bullet journaling — the art of adorning planner pages with doodles and calligraphy — has swiftly taken over the internet, as well as my brain.

Whenever I scroll through my phone, timelapses of multicolored markers and calligraphy pens fill my screen. Popular creators proudly display vibrant pages in their journals, rewarded with thousands of comments and likes.

These meticulously decorated to-do lists and calligraphy titles have taken over my life — my love for bullet journaling (and watching videos of other people bullet journaling) has evolved into a near obsession. 

The concept of bullet journaling, also known as bujo, was first created by Ryder Carroll in 2013. His website describes it as a “system that combines elements of mindfulness, productivity, and self-discovery.” 

Using a key of bullet points, users can organize their tasks in a more concise manner than writing everything in a calendar or traditional planner. For example, Carroll uses a dot to represent a task, an X for a completed task and an arrow for a task migrated to another day. Simple pages in his journal samples include daily, weekly and monthly logs.

This concept has since transformed from a minimalist task logger to a maximalist way for people to unleash their artistic creativity while planning their days. While many have kept the idea of using bullets to organize tasks, bujo influencers now opt to use popular markers and brush pens to decorate themed monthly pages, calendars, habit trackers, sleep trackers, weekly logs — just about everything under the sun.

I first started diving down this rabbit hole by watching AmandaRachLee, arguably the most popular bullet journaling YouTuber. Her videos, which are usually vlogs of her monthly journaling featuring themes ranging from K-pop group NewJeans to cacti, inspired me to start bullet journaling two years ago.

 Unfortunately, my first try at consistently journaling ended up failing because of my perfectionist attitude about the doodles and aesthetics. After this, I opted to focus less on the aesthetics and Instagrammable aspect of bujo and more on it being a place for me to track my life and tasks. I want my journal to be something I can look back on in the future and remember the experiences I had.

While I may not be up to par with AmandaRachLee’s skills, I take pride in my journal. Even those with zero artistic ability can make aesthetically pleasing spreads — in particular, using stickers has saved my journal multiple times in the past. Stickers are especially convenient for beginners because they effortlessly spruce up any blank page, don’t require any artistic skill and are easy to arrange. My favorite places to shop for cute stickers are Amazon and Etsy, especially when I use the keywords like “Korean,” “aesthetic” and “cute.” My recent favorites have been from StarKPOPShop on Etsy, and Mai Do in Santana Row always has great stickers.

However, the time commitment of bullet journaling, as well as journaling in general, is one of the most difficult aspects for me. Carving out an hour to set up the week’s journal is difficult for a high school student, especially on the Sundays I spend wishing I hadn’t procrastinated on my AP Euro homework. It’s simply unrealistic for a full-time student to have a spread as aesthetic as a content creator. Instead, busy students can opt to pick out a dated — or even undated — planner to organize tasks, adding decorative doodles or stickers if they want to keep the aesthetic portion of bujo.

Another option for a visually pleasing but less time consuming journal is pre-set up journals. AmandaRachLee has made these a part of her brand, with her popular Doodle Planners coming in both hardcover and digital editions. In each of her planners, there are hand-drawn monthly cover pages, calendars and even mood and habit trackers.

Personally, I find that light grid journals such as the Midori brand work the best because they have conveniently pre-designed organization (a lifesaver for someone like me who can’t draw straight lines), but the option is truly up to you and your style preferences.

While influencers make bullet journaling seem easy, the painstaking time and artistic abilities it requires to reach their level of expertise may be impractical for most students. Nevertheless, the joy in seeing an aesthetic weekly spread will always be superior to writing out my tasks in a boring Target planner.

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