October 3, 2023

On July sixth of this yr, I formally ended my three-year-long experiment with attempting to prepare my life utilizing a bodily bullet journal. I do know the precise date as a result of I’m taking a look at my discontinued pocket book as I write this. Apparently, 5 months in the past, I wanted to take pictures of the Corsair K70 keyboard for a then-forthcoming assessment and observe up with a quote I’d acquired to insulate my roof. I took the pictures. I didn’t find yourself insulating my roof. 

Since then, I’ve used the pocket book for jotting down issues to recollect right here and there, however in terms of conserving monitor of every day duties and chores, I’ve switched again to the identical hodgepodge of various note-taking and to-do record apps that I used three years in the past. These embrace Notion for longform notes and lists, Apple Notes after I want one thing immediately, and Todoist for to-do lists and reminders. However though I’ve ditched the bodily pocket book for apps, I don’t suppose bullet journals are a waste of time. In actual fact, I believe my experiment taught me an essential lesson about how one can keep organized digitally.

Bullet journals will be both bodily or digital (resembling with this Notion template), however they’re finest often called a way to organize a blank notebook into a personal planner. There are web page codecs on your yearly, month-to-month, and every day duties, a technique for weaving your to-do record between them, and a collection of frequent symbols and notation to make sense of all of it. Finally, it’s all in service of providing you with a format to design your personal planner and versatile guidelines for how one can use it.

There’s a variety of potential complexity, and folks like to put them out in several methods, however my fundamental strategy every day was to put in writing out my record of duties, manually copy over something incomplete from earlier days (aka “migrate” them), and tick every activity off because the day progressed. Some folks like to repeat over duties on a weekly or monthly foundation, however every day was what labored for me.

The bullet journal’s core is sensible, however I used to be additionally drawn in by the aesthetics. YouTube is filled with videos of individuals painstakingly laying them out, filling them with delicate illustrations and little visible parts they slowly replenish over the course of the yr. I dreamed of getting a small pocket book crammed with neat handwriting and perhaps a sketch or two, like those Naughty Dog has its protagonists carry in its video games. I imagined my bullet journal as being as a lot of a scrapbook of my every day life because it was an organizer.  

The fact of my actually horrible handwriting meant this by no means actually got here to go, however that didn’t cease my pocket book from turning into a half-decent planner. Necessary emails bought jotted down reasonably than being marked as unread, upcoming articles bought categorized with deadlines and precedence ranges, and I assigned condo chores to myself on a daily schedule reasonably than a chaotic advert hoc foundation.

However most essential was that each one of this was being finished manually, reasonably than having an app’s inside logic whisk duties back and forth. Each morning, I’d be compelled to spend a few minutes writing out and prioritizing the day’s duties — and reckoning with what I’d did not do yesterday. You’d be amazed at how shortly you get round to doing a nonurgent activity after forcing your self to put in writing it out daily for every week. Different instances, I spotted one thing that appeared tremendous pressing after I first wrote it down wasn’t price going via with after I seemed again at it the next day. 

Having to put in writing every activity out manually turned a to-do from one thing I might simply file away in an app and neglect about into one thing that I needed to handle each day. I needed to actively prune and prioritize and take into consideration these chores that previous Jon had lumbered current Jon with. Did I actually want to purchase a substitute pair of swimsuit trousers with no formal occasions on the instant horizon? And isn’t it time I let that horrible weblog submit concept go? In every case, forcing myself to simply take into consideration what was on my record inevitably saved it extra manageable.

Having to hold round a bodily pocket book sucks

It wasn’t that I grew uninterested in the writing, however ultimately, I bought sick of getting to hold round a bodily pocket book. A pal would remind me a couple of movie I wished to look at whereas we have been within the pub, and I’d have to notice it down in a notes app earlier than transcribing it into my bodily pocket book later. Or I’d be passing a grocery retailer on the way in which dwelling and never have my bodily purchasing record with me. Ultimately, the attract of conserving issues digital on my cellphone and with me always grew too robust. 

What I’ve since realized, nonetheless, is that it’s completely attainable to maintain plenty of the issues I appreciated about conserving a bullet journal with out sacrificing the comfort of apps. Finally, what I appreciated concerning the pocket book was much less about its physicality and extra about the truth that it compelled me to spend actual time actively excited about and organizing my life each day. And that’s one thing that’s simply as attainable to do with an app as it’s with a pocket book. You simply should keep away from pondering the expertise can manage it for you.

Sceenshots of Todoist’s desktop and mobile interfaces.

Todoist is my present app of alternative.
Picture: Todoist

Now, as a substitute of spending time writing out duties every day, I as a substitute take a spin via Todoist, pruning out previous duties, altering due dates on others, and customarily attempting to maintain issues neat. I don’t should battle in opposition to my horrible handwriting, and I all the time have my cellphone on me after I must jot one thing down for later. I can nonetheless profit from the streamlined interface, however reasonably than submitting and forgetting a activity, I pressure myself to maintain monitor of it. 

And though I don’t suppose I’ll ever discover an app as aesthetically pleasing as a YouTuber’s bullet journal, that doesn’t imply I’ve to surrender on good designs completely. I just like the choices Notion has right here, permitting you to customise pages with parts like cowl pictures and emoji. It’s sufficient to encourage me to begin pondering of it as an ever-evolving scrapbook reasonably than a utilitarian assortment of paperwork.

It’s simple to suppose that an app or to-do record service will take you by the hand and manage your life for you, however should you’re not cautious, it might probably simply change into an infinite digital locker with a messy assortment of notes filed underneath “forget.”

I’m nonetheless tempted to offer bodily journaling one other go sooner or later, particularly after scanning via a few lovely bullet journal illustrations within the strategy of scripting this piece. However for now, I’m joyful sufficient to be again on the apps. They’re removed from the proper resolution, however I’ve discovered that you just get as a lot out of them as you’re ready to place in.