Thorsten Zöller

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Why I Bullet Journal

2019-10-14

Note in advance: This is not intended as an introduction to the Bullet Journal method[1]; it is about my personal, subjective experiences using it.

Many times in the past I had halfheartedly tried to journal, but I never stuck with it for long. Most of the times, I journaled on my computer by just opening a text editor and starting to type.

It was only about two years ago that I finally implemented a habit of journaling when I stumbled across a method called Bullet Journal which works really well for me. In the following, I would like to try to explain why this is so.

Let’s get started by mentioning a few noteworthy things about Bullet Journaling which set it apart from more traditional methods of journaling:

While these things are certainly a bit unusual (well, except for the hand-writing, which for a few thousand years and until a few decades ago was the only way to journal), they don’t really explain any of its benefits over other methods. So what exactly is it that makes it work so well for me? Here are some reasons I am aware of:

Of course, nothing is perfect, and so there are also certain drawbacks with Bullet Journaling. Maybe the most important one for me is that, being purely analog, it is not easily searchable (or to be more precise: it is easily searchable, since you just need to start somewhere and read until you found what you were looking for, but searching can become time-consuming and tedious if you don’t have a good idea where to start looking in the first place). This in particular concerns notes, which I usually take for later reference. But I am totally willing to accept this drawback, as well as a few other minor ones, since in my opinion the benefits far outweight the drawbacks.

Also, I don’t particularly like the hype about the Bullet Journal (which, of course, is not a fault of the method). If searching for “Bullet Journal” on the internet, one is presented with an abundance of sites showing pictures of Bullet Journals with beautiful, artistic drawings in it. You could even get the impression that Bullet Journaling is all about beautiful drawings and in fact more of an art form than a form of journaling. Often, articles about Bullet Journaling contain statements like “I wish my Bullet Journal would look as nice as…​”, or “I wish I would have the talent to draw so beautifully…​”. Honestly, while I appreciate the (often emphasized) fact that the Bullet Journal method is very flexible and can accustom to very different needs, I really don’t understand this trend of apparently spending more time drawing fancy pictures than journaling. I like the very opposite — plain, minimalistic text with a little bit of markup, very much in the style of the Bullet Journal’s inventor Ryder Carroll, with a focus on rapid logging. This is the form of journaling I feel myself drawn towards, and this is pretty much how my Bullet Journals look like as well. Let my quickly add, however, that it is certainly not my intention here to imply that there is a right and a wrong way to Bullet Journal; everyone is of course free to use the method in whatever way he wishes and works for him.

Let me state a few more details about how I use my Bullet Journal:

Finally, I would like to mention one very subjective experience with my Bullet Journal: It feels very organic in a way that is hard to describe; it is a little bit as if it more and more becomes a part of myself. In the end, though, I think it is much more important to journal at all than which method is employed.


1. If you are completely new to the Bullet Journal method, go to https://bulletjournal.com/, the official website of the Bullet Journal method, and watch the tutorial. Plenty of introductions can also be found on the internet (who might have guessed that?).
3. I find it important to use a high-quality notebook with good paper and binding, and a good pen. If I use lower quality material, my way of journaling seems to somehow suffer from it.
4. I mostly try to avoid online services these days.
5. Or alternatively in the book The Bullet Journal Method by its inventor Ryder Carroll.
6. A “Waiting For” list is also a very important component in the Getting Things Done methodology, for instance.
7. I once tried to combine the Bullet Journal with Ryan Holiday’s Notecard System for precisely this reason, where the Notecard System acted as the “mass storage” part for storing more static data, but it did not work out too well for me. I think the two main reasons were that you can easily assign only a single category to notecards, while I prefer to be able to assign different categories (or labels, or tags) to reference information; and that with reference information, I miss the ability to search for specific information even more than with my Bullet Journal (for more on that see below). I should mention, however, that at least one other person (and possibly many more I’m unaware of) had the idea of combining Bullet Journal and Notecard System as well and has apparently implemented it successfully for her purposes.
8. Why 90 years? The number is somewhat arbitrary; it is something like a guessed upper bound. It is rather unlikely that I will reach this age, but also not utterly unrealistic according to current average lifetimes. Also, of course I am very well aware that I might die anytime before. In the end, it is just some number to define a gauge against which to measure the passage of lifetime.