The Art of Journaling

In 2012, Brooklyn product designer Ryder Carroll invented the Bullet Journal: an organizational system which utilizes “rapid logging” to combine planners, diaries, and budget books into one. Rapid logging uses symbols and arrows to denote different types of entries that only need a few words to elaborate them. Although Carroll partnered with the notebook company Leuchtturm1917 to market a specifically branded Bullet Journal, it is a system that can be transferred into any notebook at all. Carroll’s system has now garnered over 250,000 posts on Instagram and countless more on Pinterest and Tumblrthe two main sites used by Bullet Journalers. On YouTube, Bullet Journal videos usually depict suburban millennial women with pages of intricate artwork and calligraphy. But the magic of Bullet Journals, or BuJos for short, is that they are for anyone and everyone. Because every element is handwritten or drawn, it is entirely customizable. As college students juggling creative projects along with classes, we rarely have time for art or gorgeous hand-drawn fonts. Instead, students need an outlet for keeping track of assignments, ideas, and the almost overwhelming amount of events that take place on campuses and in the fervently cultural city of Boston. Shrewd students should definitely have enough time to upkeep a BuJoand they will be glad for it—because there is so much to be said for holding your ‘whole life’ condensed into one notebook. A few hours on the weekend to draw out templates for the upcoming month will make you feel composed and streamlined. Here are the facets of my first BuJo that worked and didn’t work for me as I tried to get a handle on my busy schedule.


Getting started: I use a basic Leuchtturm1917 notebook in black, the most common brand used for BuJos. The faint dot grid inside provides lines for writing but also doesn’t show up behind artwork or doodles. Another common staple: Staedtler Triplus Fineliner pens.

img_0316The first few pages are blank and perfect to customize with your return information and key. You can use the symbols outlined by Ryder Carroll (dot bullets for tasks, circle bullets for events, and dash bullets for notes) or create your own. I use different colored pens for each class so that when I write something like “Textbook reading” as homework, I will automatically know which class it is for. Different colored washi tape applied to the edges of important pages make them easier to flip to.


A year at a glance. The focus of most BuJos is a week by week view of events; so all twelve months sketched out at the front of the book will help you remember items that won’t occur for several months. I developed my own kind of color key. Pink is for events, black is for Emerson calendar dates like the end of a semester, and red X’s mean no classes.


I made a separate spread for birthdays and holidays so that my calendars didn’t get too cluttered. Every now and then I flip here to remind myself of upcoming events. I looked at Facebook and chose the birthdays that were most important to me, so now I don’t have to rely on receiving phone notifications the same day of the event or be barraged by birthdays of acquaintances I probably won’t send well wishes to.


Bullet Journal has “journal” in the title for a reason: Don’t be afraid to set aside pages for your favorite quotes, goals, and ramblings. BuJos are as much about fostering your creativity as they are about keeping you organized.


Make a fun art page to mark the start of each month and incorporate themes you think encapsulate each one. I drew the Boston skyline because I moved to Boston in September. The little calendar is also a quick reference point for when I need to remember if September 20th is a Tuesday or a Saturday. On the top of this image, you can see 30 lines numbered with each day of the month. In BuJos, it’s common to lay out far-off deadlines within the month, because most people don’t lay out their weekly spreads until the week is actually upon them. For college students, there are too many assignments due next week or in two weeks to plan by the seat of your pants like this if you’re a control freak like me. I write out the bare bones of all four weekly spreads before the month begins so I don’t need a month overview page like this.


Another page that just didn’t work for me: The commonly seen “habit tracker.” I never found time each day to update the habit tracker. I would accomplish the daily tasks at all different times of the day, and there was no way I could whip out my journal as they happened. Similarly, the September Goals was a fine page to have but they were general and I would rather journal reflectively about some of my goals that had actually been accomplished at the end of the month than use this template popularized by prolific Bullet Journalers on YouTube such as “Boho Berry.”


The most important spread for me besides my weekly planner was my spending log. I kept receipts until I had a few minutes to spare, when I wrote in their values and other information to help me remember where my money was going and what I could improve on (for example, if way too many entries were going into the “want” category.) Although the header is want/need, I ended up adding other terms like transport (for Ubers, Lyfts, refilling my CharlieCard), charity, and grooming or health (eyebrow appointment, haircut, cough syrup). At the end of each month it’s important you reconcile your spending with your bank account to make sure nothing is amiss and the numbers add up.


It all comes down to the weekly spread: at the top of each day I write my classes, and use the space to write assignments I will be completing that night as well as events. The two best resources for events in my life are the Next Week @ Emerson email from Emerson College (which students are automatically subscribed to) and Facebook events. I find Facebook events aren’t comprehensive because often you won’t see something is going on unless a friend has already shared the event page. I write everything and anything that interests me and then I am not afraid to place an X next to things I just can’t make it to. I cross out things I did accomplish or attend. Things I can postpone until later get a right pointing arrow, meaning I’ll copy it over onto the next week.


The weekends get more space because I generally save a lot of homework for these two days. I highly recommend a daily gratitude log, which I will fill in with a minimum of two things I was grateful for during my day (or often after the day has passed and I find the time to go back.) In a way it has been serving as a scrapbook of memories because my gratitudes are in narrative form. For example, on September 12th I wrote “I’m thankful for bravery and reciting poetry…” because I read at a poetry slam, and “for honesty conversations about fears and desires” because I had a good talk with my boyfriend. Being grateful will make you happier, guaranteed.


My favorite part of my journal is my monthly memory page. I made doodle representations of my very favorite moments as a visual time capsule I can cherish throughout the year. These pages may seem like a lot of work to some people, but the first rule of BuJos is that they can be whatever you want them to be. If this stresses you out, keep it simple and quick. If you want to focus on making time for your artistic skills, this is a great way to do so. Find your own inspiration and be forgiving: if you miss a day of something, there is no law that says you can’t go backwards and fill things in. You can change your set ups every month if something doesn’t work or you want to try something new. However you BuJo, I hope it makes you a happier, more productive, and more creative person or, at the very least, you might find yourself a snazzy new notebook to write your homework in.

Photos courtesy of Alicia Topolnycky.

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