In the middle of last month, September, I started a bullet journal. I’m over 35 pages in, and it’s been over a month, so I think it’s fair to say the practice is working for me. I like the structure of it, the mindfulness that comes with writing and rewriting tasks (which I was before, anyway, except I was rewriting things on sticky notes or envelopes or loose bits of scrap paper that always get lost, never feel organized, and that I can’t find in the moment I need them). This is not a post extolling the virtues of bullet journaling or saying you should try it. It’s also not a guide to bullet journaling, or even a record of how I bullet journal. There are plenty of those online, much better than I could make, though I strongly recommend starting at bulletjournal.com and with the official Bullet Journal YouTube channel. Ryder Carroll does a very good job of laying out the essential groundwork. Which makes sense, because he invented it.
In reading about the bullet journal method, and falling down a few too many YouTube rabbit-holes of people describing their approaches to or adaptations of it, I encounter many people struggling with how to integrate the analog notebook with their digital lives: alarm clocks, Google calendar, email, social media. These digital services are so fast, so convenient, and so easily accessible from one device that fits perfectly in your pocket, it’s hard to know why we should need (or want) anything beyond that one device.
For me, part of it is romantic. I still like old-book-smell, I like the way the pen feels on the paper, I like the ritual of sitting and writing by hand. I believe (perhaps naively) that the mechanism of hand-writing, the interface between brain and fingers and paper, accesses something cognitively which isn’t accessed by typing.
I’m on email constantly. I’m addicted to social media. I get lost on YouTube and Twitter. And I depend on Apple Calendar (which syncs to Dana’s Google Calendar) to keep track of what’s going on from week to week. I update and check my iPhone calendar at least three or four times a day. When someone asks me if I’m available the 28th, I check my phone, not my notebook. The bullet journal has not replaced my digital calendar. I don’t think it ever will. To me, that’s not the point.
I’ve found many people online describing ways to optimize their workflow between the two: when and how to update your digital calendar to reflect the notes you’ve been taking in your journal, or vice versa. But I don’t think I’ll ever find a workflow like that. I tend to work in the journal—it’s not really journaling, it’s just quick notes and to-do lists and reminders—in the evenings. I use the journal to unwind and remember what I need to do tomorrow, or this week. I don’t put all the events from my phone in the notebook, because I know I’ll be checking my phone all day tomorrow. I don’t try to synchronize these tools, because I see them as separate tools. I use them individually, separately, for what I need them for.
Of course, there is lots of overlap, because I’m using both to plan and understand my life, but I don’t feel pressure to make either one an accurate representation of everything. Between the two, I think, I get a pretty comprehensive look at what’s going on. I don’t need one, mythical, perfect, all-encompassing system. I need lots of imperfect systems with different strengths that I can use dynamically as and when they are helpful to me. They’re a team.