Debug Your Life With Bullet Journaling

Debug Your Life With Bullet Journaling

Coding is about telling stories and solving problems, and last fall, my life story was generally chaotic. I was trying to solve a lot of problems, but my internal systems were barely functioning. As a stressed out person, I needed a better information storage system for my personal life. It was critical that whatever organizing tool I tried next have features that would allow me to conveniently log critical data so that I could actually accomplish relevant tasks. My quest was to “get organized”, my stated need was a tool to do so, and what I was really hoping to achieve was freedom and peace of mind.

Collaborative by nature, I scheduled a pairing session to brainstorm with a dear friend. He introduced me to his preferred thought management system: bullet journaling. This system turned out to be an elegant, powerful solution for my problem. It's agile-methodology based, and once the system is installed, you as an operator are continuously running automated tests to improve and maintain functioning. Even better, a bullet journal can be customized to provide endless feedback options based upon the parameters you set for it.

I have been using my bullet journal to debug my personal life and I think it's a system anyone can benefit from implementing.

What Is Bullet Journaling?

Bullet Journaling is a personal organizational method created by digital product designer Ryder Carrol. The essentials of the method can be learned in about five minutes. Seriously! To set up the basic framework for a bullet journal, abbreviated bujo, you need a notebook and a writing utensil. The first page of your notebook becomes an index, and the remaining first few pages become a calendar, a future log, a monthly log, and a daily log. When you are ready, begin to record tasks, events, and notes in your daily log. Once a month, perform system maintenance by migrating information.

After mastering Ryder’s basic framework, you can customize your journal into whatever you need it to be. I have entries for budgeting, RPG sessions, celebrations, and bad mental health days. Your bullet journal should be an ally and writing in it should organically improve your life. About the only rule for writing in your bujo is this: If you are dreading using it, you are probably doing it wrong.

Practical Benefits of Using a Bullet Journal


I have found that bullet journaling works because it is innovative, combining a planner and a journal into one new supertool. As a task management tool, a bujo performs better than to-do lists and calendars because feedback loops and reflection are built in and unavoidable. Also, everything I am keeping track of is now in one centralized place.

As a journal, a bujo engages my creativity by giving me a space to think on paper; its the best tool I have ever come across for capturing “creative data”: thoughts, feelings, ideas, doodles, and observations. In a bujo, all of my creative data is visually accessible because of the rapid logging method, and it's easy to locate later because of the index. And since I am recording my creative insights right next to the narrative of my day to day life, my subjective data can be examined within the larger context of my life circumstances. This type of analysis has provided me with a plethora of useful feedback.

A note on accessibility: Many members of the bujo community online are artistically inclined, but you don’t have to be an artist to bujo. My notebook is a tomb full of chicken scratches with dirt on the cover, but it works for me.

Lasting Value

Bullet journaling has gained mainstream popularity, but the process is intentionally designed to be more than a trendy productivity tool. Ryder developed his concept with a solid foundation in the humanities, as demonstrated by the wisdom literature quoted throughout his published instruction manual, The Bullet Journal Method.

Because Ryder took human nature into account when creating his system, the end product is robust and durable. Many people fall in love with their journaling practice; I actually abandoned mine for a season, but picked it up again after realizing how much value even my mediocre attempt at keeping a bujo had been adding to my life.

The secret behind the bullet journal method is that, to quote Ryder, it's “a mindfulness practice disguised as a productivity tool”. Technology driven people may balk at the idea of journaling by hand, but putting a pen on a page in an essential part of the practice. The act of physically writing things down increases mindfulness by forcing you to pause and re-engage with the present and your body. A consistent bujo practice trains you to be introspective, and you begin to think differently as a result.

When practiced diligently, bullet journaling can be life-changing. Since I began using a bujo, my life has slowly transformed: I’m less anxious, and more aware of how I am spending my time. I’m no longer losing important information, and I feel like I generally have more control over my life. Bullet journaling exceeded my expectations, and I believe it's such a powerful practice that everyone should at least try it. Remember, all you need is a notebook, a writing utensil, and five minutes to get started!

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