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Many South Africans are now organising their lives with bullet journals. Here's how it works

Business Insider SA
Credit: Bohemian Nation
  • Bullet journaling has gained traction over the past five years in the US.
  • It involves logging diary items and priorities with a somewhat involved, but creative, system of markers and 'signifiers'. 
  • Sales of bullet journals started to gain traction earlier this year.

In a classic example of how a passion project can become a full-time job, New Yorker Ryder Carroll spent 20 years inventing the 'bullet journal' before the diary-keeping method went viral in the US five years ago. 

A bullet journal (aka 'BuJo') is a customisable notebook used to "track the past, organise the present and plan for the future” in a way that reduces complexity and provides clarity.

There are a few basic principles to bullet journaling: 

  • It starts with rapid logging, the ‘language’ of bullet journals, which consists of four key components: topics, page numbers, short sentences, and bullets. Rapid logging is based on short-form notation paired with bullets to organise diary entries into three categories: tasks, events, and notes.
  • Tasks are actionable items and are represented by a basic dot. Add to this to clarify the state of the action:  X for Task Complete, > for Task Migrated and < for Task Scheduled.
  • Events are date-related entries that can be scheduled, or recorded after they occur, and are represented by small circle. Event entries should be objective and brief, but once an event has been rapid logged, the author can write more on another page. 
  • Notes are represented with a dash and include facts, ideas, thoughts, and observations, and is used for meeting, lecture, or classroom notes.
  • Finally, 'signifiers' are used to provide bullets with more context. Examples include an asterisk for priority, an exclamation point for inspiration and an eye for exploration. Followers of this method are invited to create their own signifiers, and to get creative with colour and imagery. 
Credit: Sean Steele
Credit: McCombs Blogs

Carroll struggled with learning disabilities and developed this method as a way to manage his life better. He calls it a “a mindfulness practice that's disguised as a productivity system” and says he enjoys how bullet journaling allows him to pause, capture information quickly and de-clutter his mind.

In South Africa, sales of bullet journals started picking up in January this year, says Jamie Roller, category manager of trade Books at ‎Takealot. “That's normally the time when people start buying new diaries and journals for the new year. The sales have stabilised a bit after the first quarter but are still strong. Publishers were already telling me about this new craze in the middle of last year, so I think there was plenty of hype built up,” she said. 

On Takealot, over 80% of the customers that have shopped for ‘bullet journals’ are female. “From my understanding, this is more of a hobby or student tool as opposed to a rigorous productivity tool,” Roller said. “Mostly since there's a lot of coloured pens and doodling and so on, but I think people also use regular journals for bullet journals - like Moleskines and the like - and that is a big and growing brand for us.” 

With journals priced from as little as R29 for an A5 blank journal to as much as R395 for a professional bullet journal, this diary keeping method is accessible to anyone with a pen and a flair for doodling their to-do lists. 

We asked some members of a local Facebook BuJo group why they use this method. 

Ashley Knight, a business mentor, strategist and self-confessed planning addict, has been using this method for three years. She says her bullet journal keeps her information all in one place, with no overlap or duplication. She says she really enjoys the creative aspect of this method, it inspires her and has a positive affect on her work. Knight also makes use of online planning tools, such as Trello, traditionally used by computer programmers, but a pen and paper system appeals to her tactile senses and is more flexible. 

Eunice, a 28-year-old Montessori teacher, describes her bullet journal as her “life”.  “I struggled for years with a normal diary. It never worked for me. Like, never ever,” she says.

Using the more “forgiving” bullet journal system allows her to track to do lists, schedules and events. “I can decide if I need monthlies or dailies or weekly's whatever I feel like. Plus it's an awesome way to keep track of a number of things: in my current journal I have a habit tracker, a savings tracker, a debt tracker, a master grocery list, an order tracker, a wishlist, a pen pal tracker and all relevant birthdays.” 

Chandré, a manager at a media consultancy, uses her bullet journal to track big projects and things that need to be done. She says her journal is used as a space to keep and track her to-do list and to write down ideas. 

Bullet journaling has many critics too, of course, who believe it is just a pretty diversion for procrastinators. Its staying power will determine whether they have a point.

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