As we begin a new year, a look at why bullet journalling has gained interest among India’s students looking to stay organised through the disruption of the pandemic

The past year has turned our lives upside down, changing our priorities and how we look at the world. Most new year resolutions for 2021 include building a better grip on this new way of life. The bullet journal method might help.

Popularised over the last few years by creator Ryder Carroll, bullet journalling (or BuJo) is a method used for personal organisation, and comprises rapid logging of tasks, notes, schedules and reminders. As Ryder puts it on his website, it is “a mindfulness practice disguised as a productivity system”.

He details a blueprint of how you could start journalling to “track the past, organise the present, and plan for the future”. A regular journal would involve checklists that you cross out once you are done with the task. Rapid logging is a more immediate version of it, where you note down things you want to remember or tasks you wish to complete in shorthand.

In January 2020, YouTuber Elsa Rhae posted a video on her minimalist method of BuJo. Apart from daily logs, she also creates charts of her habits. She plots against the dates of a month, whether she had stimulants (caffeine, alcohol), dairy, probiotics, gluten, eggs and so on. A similar chart also tracks her sleep, exercise, and mood on a scale of one to 10.

Over the years it has developed a scheduling language (see box) of its own with additional habit, mood and consumption trackers.

The log language

The journal is broadly divided into these sections:

An index: page numbers for quick reference

A future log: the year at a glance along with long-term goals and important events

A monthly log: important tasks for the month, carried over from the last month

A daily log: with day-to-day reminders jotted down

Use these symbols:

Bullets for tasks

Circles for Upcoming events or past experiences you want to remember;

Dashes for regular notes

Exclamation points for ideas you want to remember later

Stars for particularly important task

Cross out bullets for completed tasks

A planner for final exams, made by Priyanka R  

Each task or event can also be subdivided into further notes and sub-tasks, in a process known as nesting. The tasks that are still open can be either migrated to the next monthly log, or simply crossed out if they are no longer relevant.

You can also create your own language and format, according to what works for you.

Why students love BuJo

BuJo saw an increased interest this year given how much our lives were disrupted. Ryder believes it is because a lot of our natural boundaries no longer exist.

“We are slightly different versions of ourselves in each (environment) — the office, gym, bar; we use different parts of our minds,” he says over email from New York. “Now all those lives overlap, causing a lot of confusion and anxiety. Are you mad at your husband, or did he just happen to be there when something at work went wrong? Journalling can help maintain mental and emotional boundaries between our different lives.”

For the past four years, Sumedha S from Bengaluru has been running an Instagram account that features creative spreads from BuJo enthusiasts across the world, building up a follower count of over 173K. “The scene in India has been growing since November last year, but it especially grew in 2020. I started getting lots of responses, queries from followers in India asking me how to go about the process and what kind of stationery items to use,” she says.

Students form a major chunk of India’s BuJo enthusiasts. “Anybody who goes to the study community on Instagram and YouTube (where students share how they form notes and study together), eventually ends up interested in BuJo,” she says. The need to adapt to online classes — a challenge for most — could also have sparked interest in getting more organised. Sumedha, now 22, got into it as an undergraduate student juggling academics and her blog. “Otherwise I would keep forgetting things,” she says.

Making it your own

As BuJo took off, the method evolved from being functional to artsy. “In the beginning it was just about functionality, but now it has become about the aesthetics, calligraphy and customisations,” says Sumedha.

This was one of the reasons Delhi-based Alma Ali gave up on BuJo the first time she tried, last year. “I saw people doing elaborate things online; most people who post their spreads are very artistic. I tried doing that too, but it got overwhelming. I wanted to feel calm when I came back to it. I did not want it to become a burden or a task that I have to keep up with,” she says.

Tips from experts, for those starting out

  • “Define your need. Articulate what you hope to get out of it before you start. That way you can pick the tools that map to that need.”- Ryder Carroll, New York (@bulletjournal)
  • “You don’t have to force yourself to journal every day.” – Alma Ali, Delhi (@_almas_matter_)
  • “Start in an old notebook for a month, and let the pages be messy. Once you decide it works for you, start in a fresh notebook.” – Sumedha S, Bengaluru (@bujobeauties)
  • “Start with simple supplies and focus first on finding layouts that you like and that motivate you to write your plans. You can branch out from there and add more decorations and stickers/calligraphy to your taste. During especially busy periods, go back to minimal layouts.” – Priyanka R, California (@priyanka.bujo)

The lockdown made the 21-year-old take BuJo up again and what helped was reminding herself of the core reason she started: “to be more productive, but now it is more about self care for me,” says Alma, who now tracks her moods using different colours, and practises gratitude journalling within her BuJo.

As 2020 drew to a close, Sumedha flipped through her journal and realised that for her too, this year was more about introspection than planning. “It was more about me, and how I am, rather than what I want to do,” she says.

“I designed BuJo to be as flexible as possible,” says Ryder. “It evolves along with its user. It’s a purpose-driven approach to life. It helps organise what you have to do, but it also helps keep you mindful of why you’re doing it.”

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