Problems with Online Bullet Journaling Content

The original Bullet Journal method as developed by Ryder Carroll was meant to help him, as a person with ADHD, to keep track of his life in a way that worked for him. It is, by design, meant to be simple and modular, which is in direct response to typical calendars and planners that are often structured in ways that don’t work for people with ADHD.

Normal planners are usually pre-printed with at minimum monthly calendars, sometimes weekly and daily pages, and are often bound in a specific order. Lots of popular planners also have pages for notes, goals, meal planning, water trackers, or daily gratitude logs. Having all these pre-defined areas can make you feel like you need to fill them out, and having pre-printed dates on pages necessitates them being filled out in that order. This often doesn’t work for people with ADHD who might find consistently filling out all these sections to be too much effort, and can often create a sense of waste when dated pages or irrelevant sections don’t get filled out. This is why the bullet journal method uses a blank notebook, so you only fill things out as you need them, and no pages go to waste.

Therefore, it really boggles my mind when I see people describing their bullet journal setups as “minimalist” or even “lazy.” Bullet journals by design are meant to be minimalist. The minimalist structure is a big part of what can make it easier to maintain than traditional planners and journals for someone with ADHD. “Lazy” implies a lower-than-normal (often lower-than-acceptable) amount of effort, but again, the system was designed to be low-effort. The simple design makes it as easy as possible to take notes and keep track of to-dos, which is the whole point.

Bullet Journaling has exploded in popularity in online studying/planning communities, but the popular interpretation that is widely known because of these communities has been twisted from the original intent. Most “bujo content” involves creating beautiful, illustrated, highly aesthetic themes and spreads. Many people end up being drawn to the system not so much because the philosophy resonates with them, but because they are attracted to the beautiful layouts and want to create something just as beautiful and customized. To be fair, part of the system’s philosophy encourages customization and adding/removing elements to make it work for the specific user, but I think conflating the Bullet Journal method with creative layouts and ambitious trackers is counter-productive.

Many people are intimidated by bullet journaling because they see all this content put out by “BuJo influencers” and think that the form (beautiful layouts) is what defines the system, rather than the function (collections and rapid logging). Bullet Journaling is, at its core, concerned with rapid logging and laying things out in such a way that notes are easy to find again later. If decorating pages is something you enjoy, it can certainly be a part of your process, but if it gets in the way of actually using your journal for its intended purpose (in a way that will be of benefit to you), then perhaps it should be discarded.

In The Bullet Journal Method, the book Carroll wrote about how to bullet journal, he specifically states that “[its] mission is to help us become mindful about how we spend our two most valuable resources: our time and our energy. …The Bullet Journal method will help you accomplish more by working on less. It helps you identify and focus on what is meaningful by stripping away what is meaningless.” Part of the defining philosophy of the Bullet Journal method is that in order to get more things done that we find important, we must identify what isn’t important so we know to stop doing it. For many people, trying to make their journals beautiful while filling them with lots of logs and trackers ends up being overwhelming and time consuming, and that is precisely why it is antithetical to bullet journaling’s core philosophy. There is nothing wrong with wanting to make your journal aesthetically pleasing, but if you are spending more time setting up the “perfect” spreads than actually using them, you probably aren’t getting the intended benefit from using the system (if you can be said to be using the system at all). I think there is a place for self-illustrated journals, but I wish they weren’t so intrinsically linked with the concept of bullet journaling these days, because for a lot of people they are an entrypoint to the method and they create an inaccurate depiction of what it’s all about.

In my mind, there’s no such thing as a “minimalist” or “lazy” bullet journal, because the practice should be streamlined and low effort in order to be as functional and easy-to-use as possible. Something else to keep in mind is that another important aspect of the Bullet Journal method is regular reflection. If you are getting bogged down by aesthetics to the point that it is interfering with other aspects of the process, this is something that should come up in your reflections. If part of your journaling practice isn’t serving you or is making it more difficult, then get rid of it, because the whole point of bullet journaling is to make it easier to focus on what matters.

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