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In Focus: Why Bullet Journaling Is The New "App" To Rule Them All

In Focus: Why Bullet Journaling Is The New

Arthur Alicer is no stranger to the digital world. As an Information and Communications Technology lawyer, it is inevitable that technology would be an integral part of his daily routine. Yet, this digital native still maps out his planning processes on paper. “The very process of jotting things down with pen and paper somehow instigates my brain to retain crucial details, essential for my line of work. I find that I am much more effective in remembering things when I write it down manually. Thus, I use my bullet journal for task and idea mapping. It is a way to sharpen my mental pencil, so to speak.”  


Science, it seems, supports this return to the rudimentary.

A study published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science shows the potent power of the pen as longhand note-takers outperform their digital counterparts. Jotting down notes triggers better understanding because students had to listen carefully for key points to be written down rather than typing the lecture verbatim. 

[related: In Focus: Old Notes To Survive Your New Life]

Additionally, there are obvious benefits that traditional methods deliver. A notebook will not run out of power or hang midway through a task. You can’t inadvertently lose data unless you rip out its pages or misplace the entire sheaf. It also allows you the flexibility of curating its content. Ultimately, you are master of your notebook, choosing what goes into it and what doesn’t.

It is precisely this kind of flexibility that New York-based digital product designer Ryder Carroll had in mind when he developed the Bullet Journal, an analog system for the digital age. Essentially, bullet journaling, or BuJo, streamlines notes and lists into an organized system which one can tailor for specific needs. While each journal is unique, they all work with the same framework.

Each BuJo starts with a key section that designates a set of bullet point symbols to mark different types of entries. For instance, a black dot • indicates a task, a circle O means an event, while a star * denotes a note to one’s self.

Bullet Journal Key

The Index section lists the page numbers of your different collections of task lists, notes, dates, or doodles.


The Future log itemizes events, milestones, or deadlines for the upcoming year.


The monthly log is an overview of tasks, events, and deadlines for a specific month.


The daily log details the things you need to accomplish per day.


Since its inception, the Bullet Journaled system has snowballed into a culture of its own. It has taken the internet by storm, with a growing tribe of technophiles adopting it as a way to organize their busy lives. It has inspired numerous iterations of the system, with several netizens religiously posting their BuJo handiworks. The creative possibilities seem endless: From the quiet sophistication of minimalist sketches to the explosion of color of washi tape.

Take for instance, the beautiful monochromatic spreads of Cristina Casuga, a private duty nurse who started bullet journaling in early 2016. With their meticulous designs and minimalist elegance, Cristina has managed to elevate list making into an art form. Her beautifully crafted pages have earned her a growing number of followers in her Instagram feed.




Certainly, manually writing down notes and lists isn’t a revolutionary concept. It is how we’ve done things in the pre-digital age. One has to appreciate the irony of having an old-fashioned method such as the notebook inspiring such online devotion. The physical presence of the bullet journal makes lists palpable and immediate, something difficult to ignore. It fosters accountability by being a glaring reminder of items that need your attention. Also, there is the tactile satisfaction of ticking off a finished task, no matter the importance, an adult reward system, so to speak. Moreover, a bullet journal offers a hybrid system that allows seamless integration into our digital lives, giving us the best of both worlds.

[related: In Focus: The Must-Have 2017 Planners That Will Help You Make This Your Most Organized Year Yet]

Its popularity also seems to illustrate a fundamental drive: A modern coping mechanism to inject order in our daily lives. Planning out a bullet journal requires a certain degree of self-knowledge, compelling you to ponder on what works for you and what doesn’t. It is a tolerant system, one that adapts well to evolution. You can alter its composition to best fit your needs, inserting components that add value, and discarding those that you deem useless. Further, it offers an opportunity for cathartic release, serving both as a dumping ground for mental clutter and a meditative opportunity through the creative process of executing such flawlessly neat and perfectly planned spreads.

Perhaps, bullet journals reflect our aspirations for clarity, an oasis amidst the digital clamor of our daily lives, each page whispering a fervent wish, that with the right pen and notebook, our own lives would somehow follow suit and mimic its organized pages. 


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