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Life is messy. Keeping track of deadlines, assignments, appointments, and ideas are almost impossible without the help of external devices, whether that be a google calendar, a planner, or a bunch of sticky notes. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have some sort of system in place, but the question is, how effective is it? I’ve been through so many planners; I even invested in one worth around $70! My rationale was “If it makes my life easier, it’s worth it.” And it did, for a while. I used my Emily Ley planner all of last semester, which I wrote about in a previous article. It’s great because it had a structure that worked for me at the time. However, coming into this school year, I thought it was too bulky and too inflexible. I wanted something that can be tailored specifically to my changing needs. My solution? A bullet journal.A bullet journal is basically a make-your-own planner/ journal/ external brain/ thought-vomit trash bag, all rolled into one. In my Productivity class my first year, Professor Mason stressed the importance of having an “external brain,” so your regular brain can use its power and energy on bigger, more important tasks, rather than expending it on recalling when you scheduled that doctor’s appointment or that brilliant idea you thought of in the shower. A personal journal or planner is basically a net that traps all the little thoughts that nag at you at the most inconvenient times. Writing these things down allows you to save them for later while simultaneously keeping you on track in the present moment.

Back to Basics

You will never see two identical bullet journals. They can be similar but never identical because, although there’s a general format that is followed to be considered a “bullet journal,” how it’s done can totally vary from person to person. Before I talk about the things that make bullet journals different, I’m going to focus on the aspects that are pretty universal.  

The Key

The list-like structure is what makes a bullet journal a bullet journal. You’re probably thinking “Then, what separates a bullet journal from a to-do list?” Well, essentially, they serve the same function: to easily keep track of things that should be done. However, bullet journals expand the breadth of what can be “bulleted” while giving each bullet a specific meaning as to give it more order.

Signifiers help give further context to each bullet. Each signifier can vary from person-to-person, depending on what makes the most organizational sense. Here’s my suggestion:

Future Log

This basically functions as a yearly calendar, without taking up the 12 pages needed for each month.

Monthly Event View

This functions as your monthly calendar. Many bullet journalers prefer to list out the days like this:

But if that doesn’t work for you, you can always take the more traditional route!

Daily-Task View

This is the heart of the bullet journal.

The Fun Stuff

The fun part about bullet journaling is the customization. You can literally incorporate anything into your journal, which can be super empowering. Here are some some unique things you can do with your bullet journals:

Memento Keeping

Joia, a Senior Psychology and MLL double major:  “I save receipts from special days and tape them in (like this one from a gluten free bakery over fall break). I also stuck in a cute leaf that I saw and it was just too perfect and fall-at-Kenyon not to include.”


Meal tracking

Lauren Michaels, a Senior Psychology major and Anthropology Minor: “I like keeping a chill meal tracker on each page where I jot down honest information (candy corn for breakfast), just so I can be mindful of how I make decisions.”


Habit tracking

Jess Ferrer, a Senior Art major: “I like my habit tracker because it forces me to check in with myself once a day and see how I'm spending my time. Plus it's visually satisfying to see rows and rows of squares.“


Weekly viewing

Ashley Martens, a Junior Film major and Chinese minor:  “I love the weekly layout because it helps me plan ahead, with volleyball practice or rehearsals, but it's particularly useful to plan out my assignments and reading. It's also just soothing to draw it out every Sunday”


I asked Joia, Lauren, Jess, and Ashley why they love their bullet journals and their answers all pointed to a similar idea: It’s a simple way to manage life the way you want to. That type of control is hard to come by in a world that is messy, demanding and complicated. Luckily, bullet journaling doesn’t have to be.


Image Credit: Juviand Rivera

I'm a first-year at Kenyon College. I was raised in Staten Island, New York. I'm a Scorpio. I'm a delicate balance between introvert and extrovert. I'm into Environmental Science and Politics. I'm super excited to be part of Kenyon's Her Campus team. Go Ladies!
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