About fifteen years ago I became part of the "Cult of Moleskine" - one of the many that started writing in little paper notebooks with rounded corners. While waiting for work meetings in coffee shops I would empty my head into the pages, and try to convince myself that hanging on to a hand-written journal was somehow worthy. I even bought a fountain pen.
I filled the pages with thoughts, ideas, and reflections on life as it happened - a back channel of sorts into the depths of "me". Gradually the Moleskine notebooks became fashionable among the glitterati of the social internet, and suddenly it wasn't enough to simply write words - the words had to be accompanied by doodles, diagrams, and drawings. In the meantime, Instagram had begun to happen, and an arms race began - to curate the most beautiful nonsense, to photograph it, and to wallpaper the internet with it.
I continued writing but decided to keep my rather mundane pages of words to myself. It always seemed a little strange that people would so willingly share pages from private notebooks - their inner-most thoughts - until I realised they were almost entirely fabricated, like so many of the social media personalities that were emerging - portraying pretend lives filled with yoga classes, clothes shopping hauls, and boutique restaurant visits.
After perhaps a decade, and the compilation of quite an impressive row of little black notebooks on the shelf in the junk room at home, I stopped writing. My life had changed - the house was now filled with children, washing up, and a pretty consistent level of chaos. The quiet moments when I might have sat down with the paper journal had grown scarce - with blog posts, tumblogs, and tweets almost entirely replacing them.
And then something unexpected happened.
A wave of paper journals began to flood social media again - fighting back as Don Quixote might have done against the mobile application windmills. While most people - myself included - were pretending to organise their lives with Things, Wunderlist, Todoist, Trello, Keep, Remember the Milk, and Dropbox, a small army were beginning to walk to their own beat. Pictures of notebook pages covered in a grid of fine dots began to appear across Pinterest and Instagram - filled with lists of tasks, schedules, and plans for world domination. It struck me that a lot of people seemed to be incredibly busy - until I took a closer look, and saw the familiar yoga classes, clothes hauls, and restaurant visits.
I held out for perhaps six months before finding out more.
They were called "Bullet Journals". You could buy them from just about anywhere - but there were "Bullet Journals", and there were "Bullet Journals". It appeared the most sought after, salivated over, and praised editions were made by a company called "Leuchtturm 1917", which nobody knew how to pronounce properly. I spent a good hour researching the name one night - I'm still not sure why, because I could have just asked a German friend that lives across the road.
Just as I had been seduced so many years previously, before long I found myself standing in a stationery shop with a Leuchtturm 1917 bullet journal in my hands. I handed it over at the counter, and the pretty girl at the checkout smiled. I wondered if I had just joined some sort of secret society.
It took me a long time to realise the important thing about bullet journals isn't the book - it's the process. It's a hack - a beautiful life hack that turns a paper notebook into a victory for pragmatism over technological progress. Through a simple process of writing down the things you need to get done each day, and migrating forwards the things you haven't got around to, you suddenly defeat every mobile app in existence - with a device whose battery never runs out, that never requires an update, and that doesn't auto-correct the words you write down.
Migration turned out to be the most beneficial aspect of the bullet journal story for me - the repetitive nature of migrating tasks forward - planning your day, your week, your month, or even your year. Or maybe that's the lyrics of the soundtrack from the TV show "Friends"? The repetition works on both your short term memory and your guilt. Writing something down that you've still not done pulls at a loose thread of your organised mind, until you finally cave and have an argument with yourself - "FINE! I'll do it! Will you leave me alone now?" (inside voice of course - otherwise you risk being ejected from earlier mentioned coffee shops).
For Christmas last year I received "The Bullet Journal Method" - the book by Ryder Carroll about how a friend convinced him to tell the world about the way he organised his paper notebooks. I read it throughout Boxing Day and annoyed the rest of my family with revelations of the things I could have been doing. They are still things I could be doing of course because I am the laziest bullet journaller in the known universe. This is a good thing - because otherwise Instagram and Pinterest might be filled with all the yoga, clothing hauls, and restaurant meals I have planned.
In the interests of transparency, honesty, and guilt (a continuing theme), I should perhaps volunteer that I have not been faithful to my bullet journal(s) at all. I have flirted with Filofaxes, and had flings with Microsoft To Do, Evernote, and Trello - but always returned with my tail between my legs. Nothing quite matches the flexibility and practicality of a task list surrounded by scribbled notes, asterisks, crossings out, and badly drawn diagrams of things I'll have no idea about in six months. That's not the point though.
The bullet journal is about what I need to get done today, and tomorrow, and it's pretty damn good at that.