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Bullet Journalling and Productivity

I came across bullet journalling by accident. After watching many hours of set-ups and reading many articles about it, what I've found is that most people seek out the bullet journal method. They need a way to organise their life and using a traditional planner had never worked for them so they scoured the internet for a mode that would work and they found this. That's the way the story usually goes.

That's not how I found it. My story is much less interesting. I was watching a YouTube video and the person in the video mentioned bullet journalling, specifically talking about the YouTuber AmandaRachLee, who makes her living off showing her viewers how she sets up her journal spreads. Out of curiosity, I looked at her channel, specifically how to start a journal, and I was like "I have to do this."

That was in August 2019. I have officially been bullet journalling for over a year and I'm here to say...I love it.

I've used other planners and they definitely work for me. However. I always felt guilty because I would only really use the day-to-day planner section. I didn't need a section to count calories or plan out every expense. Or at least, I didn't ever feel compelled to use these sections so there were whole pages in these planners that went to waste. When I'd finished them, a whole quarter of the book would be empty. In my bullet journal, I can put in whatever sections I need. Like Lilah Raptopoulos states in her article for Financial Times, I found that the 'physicality' of the planner I was creating stopped me from 'getting distracted' when planning out my days. Having a 'single log' of my life made me 'more productive'. This type of journal makes you look over the tasks you haven't completed as of yet. The YouTube Channel Productivity Game  asserts that you can't ignore tasks here because the method encourages you to migrate them over to different days.

Anna Russell posits that this method is a trend where 'mindfulness-meets-productivity', often equating the act of creating and then using an organised journal to having 'an ordered interior life'.To be fair, I love planning out my life. I love knowing where I'm going, what I'm doing and who I'm doing it with. It lessens my anxiety massively. It gives me a sense of control. This is furthered by the fact that this method encourages you to set up your planner in a way that bests suits you, that fits your life. As Freya Sanders argues, the bullet journal method allows you to become '"proactive" rather than "reactive"'.

When I first started, my journal was purely for function. I just wanted pages where I could put appointments and job interviews dates.

A red notebook with the text 'Bullet Journal 2019'

Notebook pages. The text reads 'When I suddenly see myself in the depths of the mirror, I take fright. I can scarcely believe that I have limits, that I am outline and defined - Clare Lispector' 'August'.

A notebook page showing a weekly spread for a week in August.
My 2019 bullet journal

Some bullet journal purists argue that that's all this journal should be, that it needs to be effective and that how it looks is not as important. In fact, YouTube creator Plant Based Bride noticed that there was a rift between people who were doing the original method and those who were creating bullet journal content on YouTube with the express purpose of showing off their art skills. I would argue that making something that is equal parts creative and functional is absolutely fine. In fact, as I've evolved my journal, I have become more and more interested in incorporating collage into my spreads, reinvigorating my love for art that was sapped out of me by my GCSE Art classes. 

A notebook with flowers on the cover. The text on it reads 'for Amber'.

Notebook pages with collage art on it. The text reads 'But what am I supposed to do with all the parts of my heart that are only their to be given? - Jenny Slate' 'January'.

Notebook pages with a weekly spread for a week in January.
My 2021 bullet journal

If I'm being honest, I'd never looked at the official method of doing it until researching this post. I'd gotten all my information on how to do this from people online, willing to share the steps on how to make a journal work for your life. It's helped me keep appointments; it's helped me come up with gift ideas for my friends and family, keeping covert lists of things they said they needed; it helped me work systematically work through my film and book lists in a way that most apps (which I can just delete and ignore) never could allow me to do. There is a balance in the bullet journal community between function and artistic expression, that I think is very indicative of, what Oset Babur argues is, 'a craving for control' by young people, whose lives seem constantly in flux. Even if it isn't much, being able to literally draw the lines where you want to, choose how you are going to dedicate your time is very powerful.

From my research, I found out that the creator of this method, Ryder Carroll, has ADHD and created this method because he had trouble getting his life organised and found traditional planners very tricky to keep on top of. Because I don't have ADHD, I'm not going to talk personally about how this could help someone who is neurodivergent, but I did come across the channel, How To ADHD, who was able to speak about this from a personal place. Jessica McCabe, the host of this channel, talks of the struggles of ADHD, how often people who experience it need structure to stay organised but at the same time reject traditional structures of organisation because that's not how their brains naturally work. In terms of the bullet journal, she argues that this method is adaptable, that it gives the freedom of a regular notebook whilst providing the structure of a planner. Because you create it as you go along, if you become bored with how it looks and functions, you can change it. Pages can be created and abandoned without any guilt. Furthermore, she states that when you have to write a list over and over again, you can choose to prioritise whatever tasks you want, and re-evaluate whether certain tasks even need your attention.

There are whole communities dedicated to stationary and studying and time-keeping. Creating a bullet journal can help you sort out your life if you find yourself struggling to get things done, especially if you can't seem to get things done on time. However, it can make you feel compelled to set goals for yourself just so you have a goal to complete. Because crossing something off your to-do list is better than having an empty one. And when you have hundreds of thousands of followers watching how you create these journals, you are in a sense performing your productivity to your audience, regardless of whether it is an effective way to journal or not. As Russell puts it: 'You get the sense, in some of the more beautiful posts, that it took more time to make the to-do list than it would have to complete the to-dos'. Carroll himself observes that there are a growing number of people using this method who are 'struggling to develop their practice in the quicksand of social validation'. He states that they 'design increasingly elaborate or complex Collections, investing ever more time, for "likes"' which he finds unhelpful because it reduces the method down to how it is perceived by others than what it is doing for the individual. 'It shifts the Bullet Journal method from a personal practice into a performance', he says.

Sanders offers a critique of the culture around this, observing that it has an 'underlying ideology of "intentional living"', where 'if you're conscious of the ways you spend your time and if you’re constantly proactive, you can create the life you want for yourself'. If you haven't been able to achieve this, because you find the method too tricky or unhelpful, then it must be because 'you haven’t yet optimised your routine, your mindset, your week-per-view spread'.

Under a system where you are constantly expected to be working on something, to be working towards something, meticulously planning out your days seems like a good idea. As Babur explains, this method 'embodies self-knowledge through self-tracking'. Making plans and crossing them off genuinely feels good. However, with the introduction of more methods to track our lives, Silvia Bellezza and Anat Keinan indicate that there is a 'growing pressure to spend our free time improving ourselves' and that our culture's 'obsession with productivity and efficient use of time has spilled over from our professional lives to our leisure'. In plain words, if you're free time isn't spent on making money or improving yourself in some way, it is seen as a waste. There is an industry out there created for the purpose of making its consumer feel bad for not making good use of their time and selling them apps and notebooks and stationary to assist with this. Nicola Davies in her article for The Guardian states the act of 'putting pen to paper to record one’s daily thoughts and reflections' has now been 'commercialised and disrupted'.

I'm generally conflicted by this. On the one hand, I've been helped a lot by my bullet journal. I've been able to channel my creativity. I've been able to set and stick to goals. I've been able to support small businesses by buying their dotted journals. I feel more in control than before. And I want to recommend this method to other people. But from what I've read, the compulsion to even have a planner in the first place can feel like more of a burden than a blessing. What I don't want is for you, the reader, to go through this and feel the pressure to overhaul your life, to become the most productive person in the world, to have 30 tasks to complete a week and tick them all off.

What I want, if you also want it, is for you to decide if you benefit from the tools you currently have in your possession. I can vouch for the bullet journal method because it allows my weird brain to do what it wants. If you want a place for your weird brain to live, then this is for you. But productivity isn't the end game here. Structure is. The bullet journal has given me a sense of structure to my life, and though many of the above people have argued that this need for control is pointless, I think I've only really seen the benefits.


Thank you for reading this post! I have created a playlist of videos that helped me with my research and I will link it here if you fancy hearing more about this topic. If you enjoy my work and want to support me further, please consider donating to my Ko-fi. It's a one time donation of £1 and it would really help me out x


Anna Russell, ‘Can Bullet Journaling Save You?’, New Yorker <> [accessed 20/01/2021]

Freya Sanders, ‘Why didn’t bullet journaling work for me?’, Medium <[accessed 20/01/2021]

Lilah Raptopoulos, ‘Why I started a bullet journal — and so should you’, Financial Times <[accessed 20/01/2021]

Nicola Davies, ‘Can you write your way to happiness?’, The Guardian <[accessed 20/01/2021]

Oset Babur, ‘Why do millennials love bullet journals? Control.’, Vox <[accessed 20/01/2021]

Ryder Carroll, ‘Back to the Basics’, Bullet Journal <[accessed 20/01/2021]

Silvia Bellezza and Anat Keinan, ‘Use this simple psychological trick if productivity culture has made it impossible for you to relax’, Fast Company <[accessed 20/01/2021]

'THE BULLET JOURNAL METHOD by Ryder Carroll | Core Message', Productivity Game <[accessed 20/01/2021]

'What I HATE about the Bullet Journal Community | BuJo Babble Episode 5', Plant Based Bride <[accessed 20/01/2021]

'Why the Bullet Journal is the Best Planner for ADHD Brains', How to ADHD <[accessed 20/01/2021]