Why I Use a Bullet Journal

For all of the ongoing hype about bullet journals, there are still people out there who aren’t convinced. I get it. When people insist that I have to try something, I often resist for no other reason than to prove them wrong. These sorts of fads and trends frequently turn out to be sound and fury, signifying nothing. The fact that roughly 95% of the website and YouTube videos about bullet journaling are really about calligraphy, stickers, and art supplies can make you question why this is a tool touted for its simplicity and benefits to you productivity. So today I want to explain why I use a bullet journal.

Why I Use a Bullet Journal

As I get older, my memory gets worse. Add to this the executive function disorder I suffer, brought about by my anxiety disorder, and there are times when I don’t know up from down. My bullet journal is effectively “base” for me. I can sit down, open it up, and center myself. The dozen or so things trying to run though my head at once can be captured, prioritized, and assigned. The things that I need to be doing today, right now, are there in black and white. That alone makes bullet journaling worth the little bit of effort it takes to use.

Writing Helps with Memory

Researchers Pam Mueller of Princeton University and Daniel Oppenheimer of UCLA published a paper in the journal Psychological Science that concluded you’re better off writing things down than taking notes using electronics. The reason is that when we’re typing we tend to write things down verbatim. When we have to hand-write things we tend to be slower. We have to think about what we’re writing, summarize the key points, and focus on the important concepts.

Another paper in the Journal of Educational Psychology by Dung Bui, Joel Myerson, and Sandra Hale of Washington University found that we retain less information when we type, rather than write. Their conclusion, again, is that taking time to write it down requires us to process and digest the information at a deeper level. I’m sure having to decipher my own chicken scratch handwriting, as opposed to reading neatly types notes, contributes to that as well.

Karin James of Indiana University contributed a paper to the journal Trends in Neuroscience and Education that showed other benefits to writing things down. It activates areas of the brain that aren’t stimulated by typing notes into a device. This sort of activity makes lifelong learning easier, and could help to stave off cognitive disorders like Alzheimer’s.

It Isn’t Online

One of my great regrets in life is getting rid of my Alphasmart. It was a keyboard with a four-line digital screen that ran on AA batteries. The thing was made of nigh-indestructable plastic and weighed next no nothing. I shouldn’t have given mine away when I moved to Finland. The biggest benefit, to me, was that it was nothing but a word processor. No apps. Completely off the internet. Absolutely free from distractions when I wanted to write. I could become 100% engrossed in what I was doing.

My bullet journal hits that same sweet spot, albeit for different reasons. I don’t try to write anything long-form in longhand, but I have the joy of being disconnect. My attention can be directed to the page in front of my. Nothing is going to pop up, or ping, or entice me to do something unproductive in another part of the journal.

When possible, I try to review and update my bullet journal away from my desk. The Alphasmart was oddly soothing to use, because it was so simple and understated. The bullet journal is the same. It’s me and this simple tool. Minimalist. No added flourishes. The only thing I can do is dive into what’s important.

Bullet Journals Will Outlast Other Technology

The writer Warren Ellis has been blogging lately about re-acquiring movies and music on physical media. That promise that everything will eventually be streaming and accessible hasn’t panned out. There are shows that aren’t on any of the services. A lot of indie bands haven’t signed on with Spotify and the like. It feels like going backward, but physical media will always be there for you.

Hardware becomes obsolete. Software needs to be updated. Batteries need to be replaced or recharged. Paper will always be there for you. Okay, fine, don’t get it wet and try not yo set it on fire, but that applies to my laptop too. The worst I normally have to worry about is whether my pen will run out of ink. Being a writer, I have a minimum of 3 pens on my person at any given time just in case such a contingency arises. It’s no big deal.

Paper also means that I don’t have to worry about finding old information. Is that file still on the old computer, or did I copy it over to the new one? Is it backed up to floppies, or the external hard drive, or the cloud? Oh, wait, it’s in this book, sitting on this shelf. I don’t have to worry about whether I have a device or an app that can read a file in that format. It’s paper.

What Do You Think?

Do you use a bullet journal? What do you love about it? Have you tried it, and found it to not be your thing? What did you dislike? I’m interested in hearing your opinions. Leave a comment!

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