The Freeing Limitations of the Bullet Journal
There’s something great about a written calendar and journal. Writing it out commits it to memory in a special way, because it forces you to circumscribe your days, commitments, and to-dos to the page, even as it forces you to slow down and consider your thoughts and words (avoiding cursive intensifies this even more). There’s this weird effect that writing it down means you remember it later, without even consulting that written note. An electronic system does not have that result.
A piece of paper has natural limits, but an electronic calendar and to-do manager has no limits. You can add to it endlessly, leaving you overwhelmed and stressed. But a simple 2-page spread of your week indicates how busy the week is and its clear limitations. There’s only so much space to a day’s section, in the end. Every day has its blocks of time: morning, afternoon, and evening. What can you realistically do, and what can you really not do? What are you willing to kick to the future, and what are you willing to let go? These are great things to focus on, in comparison to a digital planner that unwieldy focuses on capturing and remembering everything. Digitally planning it all out means a hectic and unrealistic day, and a poor use of energy. A physical piece of paper, with its physical lines and boundaries, reminds you that when the paper is too full, you are perhaps too ambitious and busy.
The Bullet Journal system is ingeniously flexible and can scale in countless ways. It is a unique fusion of diary, commonplace for thoughts, calendar, and to-do lists. Instead of operating in different digital apps and spheres (Google Calendar, Reminders, DayOne, and so on), it’s all in one glorious and always dated place, and it’s physical and real. As the year draws to a close, so does the book; it has a physical ending and beginning that digital calendars do not.
The Bullet Journal is also ingenious in that it forces you to constantly review and revise, as each day is a snapshot of thoughts, commitments, and to-dos. They must be dealt with by re-writing, completing, or crossing out as dropped. Other systems encourage you to review your lists, but not so ruthlessly on this daily basis. It is both thrilling and cut-throat. Writing out your commitments and to-dos, and having to re-write them in the Bullet Journal system, forces you to potentially drop them in a way that an electronic system does not. And this is pretty powerful in terms of commitments and balance.
The Bullet Journal has its weak points: no shared calendar, no backup, and recurring tasks are much more tricky and prone to error. If you lose the book you lose your life. Skimming through the index for a certain page can be a tedious exercise (where did I write that list, and what is it called?). Digital calendars are always revisable while a written calendar requires marking out and erasing. Repeating events (such as “the first Thursday of the month”) are more complicated. But the Bullet Journal remains tangible and calming. It promotes a kind of mindfulness that digital systems simply lack, and mindfulness is priceless.