Creatively mastering the daily grind

Handwritten bullet journals are more effective than digital planners – and serve as an invitation to make your to-do list much more imaginative

When organizing their everyday life, an increasing number of people is turning to a tool that was invented in New York and which is taking the world’s desks by storm: the bullet journal. The term describes a handwritten planner that helps users navigate the sea of scheduling and tasks with a simple system of symbols and a personally designed structure. Thanks to its combination of functionality and individuality, bullet journaling even seems to be displacing its digital competitors: Ironically, this thoroughly analogue concept based on pen and paper is seen as the scheduling method of the future.

Getting to the (bullet) point

Annoyed with growing piles of paper on the one hand and chirping to-do apps on the other, in 2012 New York graphic designer Ryder Carroll picked up a pen and a blank notebook with the goal of developing an “efficient planning technique that is fully adaptable to personal needs.” He drew an annual calendar, added monthly calendars and then, as the central element, inserted one page for each individual day. He wrote down projects and also labelled them: Tasks were assigned bullets, notes got dashes and meetings and appointments were given circles. He updated the journal before work in the morning and at the end of every day by marking an “X” over the bullets of completed tasks and labelling uncompleted tasks with a “>” as an indication to move pending items to the next day.

Ryder Carroll

Ryder Carroll is a New York Times best-selling author, digital product designer, and inventor of the Bullet Journal method. He developed a methodology that went far beyond simple organization. Now he focuses on helping others learn what the Bullet Journal method is truly about: the art of intentional living. 

Handwritten notes are more memorable

The resulting principle, which was both simple and flexible, worked: The busy graphic designer forgot fewer tasks, focused more on his work and felt less stressed overall. Colleagues and friends heard about his new organisational system and bloggers, the press and industrial psychologists soon took note as well. The latter have confirmed his findings: For example, a study by Princeton University found that handwritten notes are easier to remember than ones that are quickly typed out. Moreover, we feel mentally more invested in tasks that we have made an effort to write down, we take them more seriously and have a strong interest in accomplishing them. It’s no wonder that these “amped-up planners”, as experts are calling bullet journals, are winning over a rapidly increasing number of fans who are now talking excitedly on blogs, apps and the photo platform Instagram.

Making creative statements

The pictures posted there immediately reveal the unique fascination with this scheduling method: A bullet journal is always a very personal, creative statement by the person who keeps it. The names of the months are written in artfully ornate lettering and the pages are adorned with icicles, dandelions and autumn foliage, depending on the season. “Completed” symbols vary from a thumbs-up to a Superwoman illustration; favourite recipes are noted down as elaborately as in a food blog; to-do lists lose their commanding tone thanks to their exquisite hand lettering.

Learn more about bullet journaling

Bullet Journaling
No more chaotic piles of memos,: The latest trend in scheduling is known as "Bullet Journaling".
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