The University 411: Bullet Journaling

As promised, today we’ll be taking a crash course in Bullet Journaling. Bullet Journaling is a system of organization developed by Ryder Carroll, but if you take a casual scroll of the #BUJO hashtags on pinterest and instragram, you’ll quickly see how people have taken the basic premise and made it their own. A word of caution: do NOT look at these examples and think you need to recreate a beautiful, artistic masterpiece. Ryder Carroll’s basic premise is very, VERY minimalist. Start there. Don’t go overboard and get overwhelmed with any of it. It’s suppose to be a tool to help you and to have fun with, not an extra workload that you need to make picture perfect.

The name “bullet journal” comes from a specific type of notebook that uses a dot matrix, but you can use anything really. My first journal was in an art book for watercolours. At the time, I enjoyed doodling with watercolours to form as the background for each page. I also used a lot of washi tape and coloured pens. But I’ve had little time for that recently, so a simple black pen is my preferred weapon of choice now.

Primarily I use a bullet journal for my note-taking. This means that I have one notebook that I carry with me everywhere. I do not have subject specific notebooks or notebooks for different purposes. At the moment, I am independent researcher applying for lecturships and fellowships, co-head-editor of Fantastika Journal, and am employed as a Quality Assurance Manager at a manufacturing company. Despite these different hats, I use the same journal to record meeting notes for my manufacturing job that I would use to record meeting notes for Fantastika or for my fellowship application. It’s also a place where I jot down ideas. For instance, my journal includes: ideas for activities that I think my 2-year-old will enjoy; concept mapping for chapter drafts for my next research book; topic-specific list of books I want to read. (Yes, I have a loooong TBR list on Goodreads. But my Bullet Journal have more specific lists. For example, I’m organizing a digital symposium for Fantastika Journal which focuses on LGBTQIA+ graphics, so I have a list of Fantastika (science fiction, fantasy, gothic horror, etc) graphic novels, animations, and video games all which have strong LGBTQIA+ representations.) Number your pages so you can refer back to them easily. Ryder Carroll recommends having an index or table of contents on the front page of your notebook, which you can add to as needed when you want to find things. Personally, I tend to just flip through the book, or occasionally flag with stickies or washi tape. As this is my 3rd University 411 post, you probably won’t be surprised when I say ‘do what works for you.’ The important point is that you don’t need to write your notes in subject-specific sections. You simply make a note “continued on page 34” or “notes started on pg 6”. Or you can use a short form (<- 6 or -> 34). But the point is you write your notes on your next blank page without worrying about keeping your notes all grouped together in a sectioned off part of your notebook.

When all the pages are filled in your journal, or if you want to start a new one at the beginning of the school year, go through your existing bullet journal and copy out any items that you want to keep in your new one. If you find yourself copying out the same information every year, you might want to consider moving it to your subject specific notes. As I said in my previous post, The University 411: Note-taking Part 1, or the Jasnah Kholin Method, I use bullet journaling to take quick notes during lectures, etc, but I then rewrite the notes out in a different medium for studying. In some cases, I might have notes that I need every year, even after the module is over. Keep these in a *permanent notebook* and use bullet journal for your everyday/ on-the-go. These can be any number of things that you might want to transfer to a permanent notebook, depending on your field of study. Maybe you need a quick definition for the difference between socialism and communism when you argue with idiots online. Or maybe you really need to know Plank’s constant to save the world and you just don’t have time to sing a duet with your girlfriend to get the info. For me, I have a set of notes – a cheat sheet – identifying major theorists in my field with a few sentences explaining their main ideas. After 15+ years in university, I still sometimes need to pull out my cheat sheet so I can quickly confirm what the heck Adorno was going on about, and if I’m not mixing him up with that other guy.

From Stranger Things, season 3. When you have a monster on the lose and don’t have time to serenade your girlfriend so she will give you valuable information, BUJO might very well save your life.

While I use bullet journal for note-taking, the heart of bullet journaling is with rapid logging; a way to keep your to-dos and important dates organized. Carroll uses 3 simple icons for this. (If you add more, then make sure you include a key chart in your table of contents, so you know what the symbols mean if you look back at them later.) The 3 icons are:

• a simple dot for “tasks”

o an open circle for “events”

– a dash for “notes”

An example from Chuckie’s Bullet Journal

As you can see, mine isn’t pretty or perfect. It’s serviceable. The example shows my schedule for the week. If I have a lot of meetings, appointments, classes, etc then it’s a simple matter to switch to a daily format whenever I need to do so. If I have less going on (e.g. during holidays), then I use a monthly format. I use a combo of all 3 depending if I need more focus and organization during a particularly stressful time. I also keep a long-term schedule at the front of my journal (what BUJO experts call a “future log”). This includes things you might need to think about months in advance like final exams or deadlines for an essay. But it could also be something that occurs more regularly that you need to remember; things like birthdays and anniversaries, but also practical things like “renew car insurance every March” or “go see dentist in June.” At the start of every day (or week, or month, depending on which format you’re going with), take a quick look at your future log to make sure that you’ve included relevant items in your rapid logging.

Bullet Journaling is also a good place for “brain dumps”, where you have SOOOO many tasks or ideas and have no idea where to start. Write it all down. From the big to the little. Write it all down, and get it on the page. You can then pick the most important ones to include in your rapid logging or your notes.

At the start of each day (or week, or month, or year) take a look at your log. I like to do this before bed every night, or on Sundays at the start of a work week. It gives me an idea of what I’m expecting my day/week to look like. I then pick 1-3 top tasks and label them A, B, and C. It’s okay to change your mind (like I did in my example). But here’s the important part: these 3 tasks are NOT something you’re picking in order to feel productive or successful. They’re not do-or-die goals. Instead, they’re things I hope to get done. I focus on task A first, before I move on to B. I don’t move onto task C until A and B are both done. If I had time to finish A, B, and C, then I pick more. If I manage to do them all, then wonderful! If not, I copy out the tasks again in my next rapid log. DON’T leave unfinished items in a rapid log that you plan to look back on later. First, you will kick yourself if (*when*) you end up forgetting about the task. Second, rewriting out the to-do list over and over again should hopefully help motivate you; if you’re putting off a task for weeks, you might decide to get it done with so you can stop writing it down every day. Third, by re-writing the task, you’re continually gauging its importance. Can you drop the task completely? If you can’t, take some time to examine why you’re putting it off.

In cases like that, use your Bullet Journal as a “dear diary” reflection when you need to. Really, use your Bullet Journal however you want, for whatever purpose. Use it as a tracker for spending habits, sleep, exercise, and healthy eating. Use it to store ideas for recipes, date night, or that story you plan to write ‘maybe one day’. You can use it to plan your next vacation, or as a daily diary during vacation. BUJO users call these different uses “collections,” and I can assure you that if you go google or hit up pinterest/instagram with the BUJO hashtag, you’ll see hundreds of collection ideas as well as innovative formats and layouts. If you’re in back-to-school mode, this is the perfect time to break out a fresh set of coloured pens to start your new journal. There’s really no age limit on enjoying a new box of crayons, so go nuts and have fun.

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