I ended my three-year experiment with trying to organize my life using a bullet journal on July 6th. I know the exact date because I look at my discontinued notebook while writing this. Five months ago, I had to take photos of the Corsair K70 keyboard for a review and then get a quote to insulate my roof. The photographer took the pictures. I did not insulate my house.
When it comes to keeping track of daily tasks and chores, I use the same variety of different note-taking and to-do list apps that I used three years ago. Notion, Apple Notes, and Todoist are included for longform notes and lists. I don't think bullet journals are a waste of time even though I have stopped using the physical notebook for apps. I think my experiment taught me a lot about staying organized.
Bullet journals can be physical or virtual, but they are best known for their ability to organize a blank notebook into a personalplanner. A page format for your yearly, monthly, and daily tasks, a methodology for weaving your to-do list between them, and a series of common symbols and notation make sense of it all. It's all about giving you a format to design your own planners and flexible rules for how to use them.
A lot of potential complexity, and people like to lay them out in different ways, but my basic approach each day was to write out my list of tasks, manually copy over anything incomplete from previous days, and tick each task off as the day progresses. Daily was what worked for me and I like to copy over tasks on a weekly or monthly basis.
I was drawn in by the aesthetic of the bullet journal. Over the course of a year, videos of people painstakingly laying them out are filled with illustrations and little visual elements. I wanted to have a small notebook filled with neat handwriting and a sketch or two, like the ones the characters carry in their games. I thought of my bullet journal as a diary of my day to day life.
The reality of my terrible handwriting meant that this never really came to pass, but that didn't stop my notebook from becoming a half-decentplanner. Important emails got jotted down instead of being marked as unread, upcoming articles got categorized with deadlines and priority levels, and I assigned apartment chores to myself on a regular schedule.
The most important thing was that all of this was being done manually. I had to write out and prioritize the day's tasks every morning to make up for what I didn't do the day before. You would be amazed at how quickly you can complete a non urgent task after you have to write it down every day. I realized something that seemed urgent when I looked at it the next day.
I had to manage things on a daily basis because I had to write each task out manually. I had to think about the chores that Jon had left behind. I don't know if I need to buy a new pair of suit trousers just yet. Isn't it time for me to stop writing that terrible post on the internet? It was easier to think about what was on my list if I forced myself to think about it.
It's terrible to have to carry around a notebook.
It wasn't that I was tired of writing, but that I was tired of carrying around a notebook. A friend would remind me about a film I wanted to watch while we were in the pub, and I would have to note it down in a notes app before I could write it down. I wouldn't have my physical shopping list with me when I passed the grocery store. The desire to keep things on my phone and with me at all times became too strong.
It is possible to keep many of the things I liked about keeping a bullet journal without sacrificing the convenience of apps. The notebook forced me to think about and organize my life on a daily basis, which was more important than the notebook's physical appearance. That is the same thing as it is with a notebook. Don't think the technology can organize it for you.
Instead of writing out tasks each day, I take a break through Todoist and try to keep things neat. I don't have to worry about my bad handwriting, and I always have my phone on me when I need to write something down. I can still benefit from the streamlined interface, but I prefer to keep track of my tasks.
I don't think I'll ever find an app as aesthetically pleasing as a YouTuber's bullet journal, but that doesn't mean I have to give up on nice designs completely. The options Notion has allow you to change the look of the page with elements like cover photos and emoji. It encourages me to think of it as an ever-evolving scrapbook, instead of a collection of documents.
It is easy to think that an app or to-do list service will help you organize your life, but if you are not careful, it can become an infinite digital locker with a messy collection of notes.
After looking through a couple of bullet journal illustrations in the process of writing this piece, I am tempted to give physical journaling another try. I am happy to be back on the app. I have learned that you can get as much out of them as you want.