Being busy has turned into a competition for many adults. Somehow, we have entered a place where squeezing in more things to do than we actually have time for is being confused with being productive, successful, and important. Not only are we constantly overscheduled, we are also regularly complaining about how disorganized we feel within the chaos.
I am one of those people who struggles with balance and organization.
Enter bullet journaling (or rapid logging), which is an analog organization system developed by Ryder Carroll. I like this guy. He totally gets the allure of pen and paper — two things I can never find in my house — but that doesn’t stop me from dropping change on leather-bound notebooks and fancy pens that just feel good to hold. How it works is pretty simple, as he explains in a quick start video on his site. Basically, you grab a pen and a blank notebook and chart your things to do, your goals, your notes, whatever it is, in a simple but methodical way.
Bullet journals have three essential parts to them. First there’s the index, which is like a table of contents that shows you at a quick glance what is inside your journal and where to find it. Then you have the future log, which tracks large chunks of time, like say, six months worth of productivity at a time.
Finally, there’s the monthly log, which is where you chart out all the shit you gotta get done. After you follow the instructions from the Bullet Journal website and get a handle on the shorthand language of the index, journaling becomes lightening fast. I know it sounds complicated, but I swear it is not, so don’t be deterred by the verbiage.
Here is a (gorgeous) example of what the index format looks like, by author and blogger, Melissa Mowry, of One Mother to Another:
No more writing notes on the palm of your hand, or scraps of paper from the bottom of your purse. Not that I know a lot about that or anything.
Bullet journaling is taking off like wildfire for a few reasons. First, it is easily customizable, as anyone can see based on the 483,000-plus #bulletjournal posts on Instagram. Journalers have turned their charted lists into works of art by adding color and texture to each page, making them feel like meditative Pinterest-inspired projects. And since there is no wrong way to pimp out your pages, there is no fear of becoming a Pinterest Fail.
Bullet journaling has also tapped into a universal compulsion to write things down. There is a reason the Post-it inventor ended up being insanely rich. We are a nation of jotters. We love our lists. If I were to open my handbag right now, I would find at least a dozen scraps of paper with lists for groceries, errands, story ideas, even notes of “don’t forget!!!” When we write things down, instead of tapping away on a keyboard, we are more likely to remember. And since the whole point of bullet journaling is to be more productive, it makes total sense that the designer had paper and pen in mind over a new whiz-bang app for a smartphone.
Don’t believe me? Science backs this up. Back in 2014, Scientific American reported on a fascinating study conducted by Pam Mueller of Princeton University and Daniel Oppenheimer of UCLA that looked at the study habits of students preparing for exams. They found that even though the kids who used laptops were able to produce more typed material thanks to the speed of typing, it was the students who relied on pen and paper who demonstrated a stronger comprehension of the exam material reviewed. “Mueller and Oppenheimer postulate that taking notes by hand requires different types of cognitive processing than taking notes on a laptop, and these different processes have consequences for learning.”
Between the science of remembering through handwriting, my adoration of list-making, and the insane amount of shit I have to do (what mom doesn’t have a mountain of things to do?), this seems like a great solution to the “very busy, but not very productive” conundrum. Plus it requires little time, little effort, and little money.
So grab a notebook — be it those 99 cent versions in the office section at the grocery store or some fancy expensive leather-bound beauty you find on Etsy — and start inking your way to a more beautifully productive life.
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