A year ago, I sat in the public library and opened my first Moleskine notebook, with so much excitement and nervousness. I had shelled out my birthday money to buy an A5 Moleskine notebook, a Staedtler fineliner pen, and a twelve-inch ruler – which at the time, with very little disposable income, felt like such an investment. It took me an hour in the library to set up my first Bullet Journal (BuJo) – the page with my intentions, the Index pages, the Future Log, the Monthly Log, and then finally, the Daily Log. It felt exciting, anticipatory, and a lot more emotions I could not even put to words. I was listening to the sounds from an app called Wild Journey to calm all my jittery energy.
Why do I have all the details of this moment? I BuJo’d it, that’s why! This is what is recorded in my first ever daily log; they are the rapid logging notes under [x Start my bullet journaling journey]. I can recall this day easily, with no distortion, as well as an accurate understanding of the person I was then, and who I have become after a year’s experience of bullet journaling.
Even this reflection I have just done is useful. It’s like looking at old photos and realizing how far along we’ve come, but done in rapid logging notes, we can access more details. After a year of using the Bullet Journal method, I’ve achieved a new level of focus in the pursuit of my goals. It has become a necessary way of life to keep myself in check, and organize my interior landscape with sharpness and clarity. I highly recommend this system for anyone to become more aware, conscious, organized, and deliberate in their lives. In this post, I’ll explore a few aspects of my bullet journal journey, and provide inspiration for those who are considering this method and approach to life.
How I discovered Bullet Journaling
It was June 2019 – my parents and I last visited together, here in London. I took them to visit the British library, and we explored on our own for a while. At the time, the featured exhibition was Writing: Making Your Mark and in the gift shop, the book, The Bullet Journal Method by Ryder Carroll, was on display.
My first impression was that it was much bigger of a book that I had imagined – I had thought it would teach you the system of organization and that was it, but instead, it was filled with a lot of content – the genesis story, descriptions on each system and what they are designed to do, the intentions behind each of its systems, and rich examples and stories of user experiences. Prior to that, I had only seen examples of bullet journals on Pinterest, incorrectly believing that bullet journaling was about making things pretty, and designing your own planner.
What I realized from flipping through those few pages that day was that this was a system and method to approach your life in a completely different way – it is a choice to live consciously and deliberately, and make no excuses for yourself. It would sort out your life in a way that would have you look at everything you are doing and everything you are up to, which I knew would change my life. I started researching all the information I could get (there is a lot of it), and started wondering how I might save up to get a nice bullet-paged notebook (thanks to my mom and dad for wire-transferring me some birthday money a month later!).
What the system has given me
At the time of discovering the bullet journal method, I was working as a waitress at a restaurant in Covent Garden. It was a hard life, but it didn’t have much continuity. Planning isn’t an aspect of the nature of that job – day to day, once I got home, I could drop whatever I was working on at work. However, that month, I finally had accumulated one months’ worth of expenses (without housing) in savings, and thus I was ready to consider what else I might go into, and begin applying to other opportunities.
This was why I felt so excited, nervous, and apprehensive about incorporating the method into my life – I knew that this would catapult me into a different way of relating to myself and my life, in a way that allowed for more planning and continuity. I knew that I’d be leaving the more day-to-day survival existence mode of being, into a way of life that would allow me to live more long-term, and create my life in that way. The journal would serve as my canvas for this endeavour.
If I were to go through everything about how the bullet journal changed my life, it would be a very long blogpost. Instead, I’ll highlight the number one most valuable feature to me, and how it has changed my life.
The most important feature of the bullet journal method that has transformed my life and continues to do so today, is the technique of rapid logging events. This is how I have the content with which I opened this post – I had recorded in rapid logging form a clear picture of the exact scene of starting my bullet journal journey.
This was actually the first page I opened to when I picked up Carroll’s book The Bullet Journal Method in the British Library, which really made me pay attention – a sample rapid logging entry of a first date with a girl this guy had asked out. With a few simple detached notes, when he and the girl stopped seeing each other months later, instead of holding a woe-is-me victim story or creating unnecessary fantasies around the situation (we were so good together though, what happened, such a pity it didn’t work out), he was able to go back to the rapid logging notes on his first date, and see what had really happened – they weren’t a great match, and in hindsight, there were signs from date one that this was the truth.
As humans, we think we remember the events of our lives accurately, when we actually have terrible memories, and our present mood is constantly changing the story we tell ourselves about the past. Rapid logging creates a mental accountability system – we can no longer indulge in the false fantasies we create in our minds of how we wish things were. We are held to a higher standard of viewing events in our lives in more accurate truth, and required to acquiesce to the story that actually happened.
The practice of rapid logging events has changed my life significantly. It is such a bad habit to view the past with rose-colored glasses, or to make up stories about what happened then, to justify our current less-than-emotionally-mature state of being. I have used these logs to recalibrate myself regularly. There have been times where I mistakenly remember the difficulty of going through a certain period of life, and as a result permitted myself to hold excuses about why I am not pursuing my goals. Another time, I was unable to deal with the painful emotions of an experience, and told myself I must have had negative intentions for that situation, when really I just couldn’t face how much it hurt. Each time I look back on my rapid logging entries, they’ve helped me to see the truth and hold myself accountable to live in the truth, and act according to the truth.
How I use BuJo today
Today, I have two bullet journals in active use that are crucial to keeping myself accountable, responsible, and properly organized. One is for work, and the other for my personal life. My personal BuJo is less used during the week and more on the weekends, and my work BuJo is the other way around.
Because I work for a remote startup company, I’ve adapted the personal BuJo method into one that fits my specific work – less of a mental accountability system, my work BuJo has a structure to hold all my different hats and responsibilities, all the active tasks that are currently ongoing, and pages of meeting notes for any of the many calls we have as a remote team. I would not have a proper system to keep up with my responsibilities at work without this system. Also, it gives me a clear idea of all the items I could be working on, and the impact it would have on my various roles, allowing me to consciously and deliberately shape my position.
My personal life BuJo is the host to one of my most treasured practices – it is the canvas of my life, and the pages hold space to move me from where I am, to where I’d like to be. Inside there are goals, rapid logging of events, spirituality notes, study notes, channeling notes, angel card readings, and other useful references, like my archetypal wheel.
I just opened to a page in late November 2019, where I wrote the term for IoT in Chinese (物聯網). I don’t even remember this, but my bullet journal does. I enjoy regularly discovering these kinds of treasures, and remind myself how faulty my memory can be, so as to not take anyone’s memory too seriously, including my own.
What changes I’d make/limitations to the system
While solid, it is not a 100% perfect system. Here are a few limitations I’ve found from using the system.
- It’s physical. Yes, that’s the point, but I have to carry it everywhere and these notebooks are heavy. Sometimes my bags don’t fit them, and it really benefits most when you’re always able to log things as they happen.
- While there is a future log, there is no calendar, unless you create one yourself. I still buy a weekly planner that has calendars on it where I record my daily events in advance. The nice part is that the calendar can be pretty small compared to the ones I used to have, but still it’s an extra book I own.
- Using the method takes up a lot of time. It’s definitely an investment that is well-worth it, but depending on circumstances, I may not always get to it every single day, and that can limit its value potential. Some months are just missing completely, where I was too swallowed up in projects at work and only had a chance to do weekly and daily logs. Consistency and continuity becomes compromised. For it to be useful in the way it was intended, you have to review quite regularly as well.
- I don’t use it for everything, so it is not a “one thing holds all” solution. For instance, I study languages and I still have separate notebooks for this, so it still brings me the multiple notebook issue. I decided to put my language notes in other books because I want them all together in one place, rather than using the index and threading method to put it together. Saving space and pages may create blank pages, which can also bother me.
Apart from these points I mentioned above, the system has given me my life as I know it today. It is an integral system that organizes, tracks, and recalls information for me, with the promise that I may ameliorate my human limitations by creating a system of accountability that allows me to course-correct a little faster to achieve my goals.
Without the bullet journal method, my days job searching a year ago would have been an absolute mess. I probably would have to do three of the same interviews to find my issues and patch them out. Whereas with my goals clearly laid out, rapid logging, and daily reflections, I was able to find what to change in order to align to my goals. I intend and act, life brings the experience, I get the feedback, I return to my canvas to adjust my behaviour, and continue to intend and act.
I deeply thank Ryder Carroll for creating and sharing this incredible method that has completely transformed my life. Being out on my own in London, away from my family and support systems, I really needed a way to rely on myself and create from scratch the pages of my life. The Bullet Journal has been this system for me, and has given me a life I could not have had without it. It is my intention that my experience inspires others to be more conscious, deliberate creators of their own lives as well, by adopting this method in transforming their own lives.