I picked up a Bullet Journal…

April 2, 2023

Last week, I was waiting for my flight to Bali in Singapore’s Changi airport. I was on a walk while listening to a podcast episode when I passed a WHSmith. A display of notebooks caught my eye, so I wandered over. The first notebook I saw? The official Bullet Journal.

Now, I recently wrapped up my four-week live course and at least one student was actively using a Bullet Journal, or “BuJo”. Another student is curious about using one. So I figured I’d buy my own BuJo and check it out. Part of my continuing education as a productivity teacher, as it were.

I started off skeptical because the Bullet Journal’s marketing is fantastic. Was it just fluff?

You can find scores of aesthetically pleasing YouTube videos about how people have set up their Bullet Journals. And the official Bullet Journal website makes big promises. You’ll be more creative. You’ll think better with paper. You’ll have a “purpose-powered” productivity system!

The cherry on top comes courtesy of none other than Cal Newport: with a BuJo, you won’t just become more organized—you’ll become a better person!

To be fair, this is not a silly claim. Many students of my own courses have told me that getting on top of their tasks, projects, and goals made a huge positive impact on their life. Still, when a notebook makes that promise, you’ll forgive me for being skeptical.

So I picked up that official Bullet Journal and, with a healthy dose of skepticism, I gave it a shot. I set up my index, my future log, my monthly log, daily logs, and so on. I read the included getting started guide and watched not just the official getting started videos, but videos by popular YouTubers too. I transferred some of my tasks and events to my brand-new BuJo. And what did I discover?

The Bullet Journal is to classic paper planners as Notion is to Things 3 and Fantastical.

Let me spell that out for you. You could use Notion as your task manager. In fact, I made a video about how to do just that—and it’s a great solution for some people. For most people, though, it’s way too much work. The vast majority of people are better off using an existing task management app (like Things or OmniFocus), rather than building one from scratch in a modular app like Notion.

Similarly, you definitely could use a Bullet Journal as your paper planner. Some will love the deliberate, mindful practice of creating a page for each day and of manually transferring to-dos from month to month. But for most people, that’s asking way too much.

Chances are, if you want to use a paper planner, you’ll be much better off with a classic paper planner. You know, the ones with a page or half a page for each day and a calendar built in.

Look, I find paper planners far too limited. It’s not that you can’t be productive using them, it’s just a lot harder than it needs to be. You probably have your phone with you all the time. Why not use an app that makes it easy to reschedule an event or write up the steps of a project or attach a note to a task? These things take a lot of time on paper!

But if you insist on using a paper planner, just buy a classic one first. You’ll find out much faster whether the reality of tracking your to-dos and events is as mindful as promised or whether it’s just annoyingly slow and tedious. Technological progress exists for a reason…

Anyway. Now I have a mostly-empty Bullet Journal sitting on my desk here in Canggu. It’ll get a new life as a regular old notebook.

Thanks for reading. And have a fabulous day!

P.S. For the curious, the episode I was listening to was The First Abolitionist on the podcast The Rest is History. Fabulous story.

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