I’ve always been pretty terrible at keeping journals. I love the idea of it—a book to hold your thoughts, ideas, and reflections. Something you can leave behind as a record of experiences. I buy them constantly. I’m always drawn to the stationary aisle in every store, running my fingers over the spines of those pretty Moleskine journals and thumbing through the lined pages of glittery books with encouraging sayings emblazoned across the covers—hello, gorgeous! I buy journal after journal, use it for a week or so, following no real patterns or habits, and then grow bored and forget. Most writers will tell you that their journals are their best allies, and here I am, with notes and thoughts scrawled on the backs of old syllabi and the cardboard coffee sleeves that litter my car floor.

One of the first assignments I was given when I started my doctoral program, though, was for my intro to qualitative studies course, and it was simple enough—keep a field journal. This journal could track anything I wanted it to, although its primary purpose was to keep notes on the research I was doing, observations I was making during the course, and thoughts I had about new material I was learning. My professor insisted this journal was personal, and wouldn’t be shared with or read by others. She showed us a few examples of her own, which were packed with handwritten thoughts, cut and pasted magazine photos, train tickets, plane tickets, stickers, and drawings. I was enamored with these artifacts she had created of her own existence, and I was instantly excited to take part and create one of my own.

But, I knew my own bad habit of abandoning journals, and I knew I would have to come up with a new tactic for this one. I did a little Googling and found an article about bullet journaling, a concept I had seen before but hadn’t really pursued. It seemed complicated, and I knew the more complicated I made things, the less likely I would be to stick with them. But, this particular article insisted that this type of journaling could potentially have positive benefits for your mental health, and as a fiercely stressed out doctoral student, preserving my mental health is one of my most important priorities.


So, after using this style of journaling for a few weeks, I can safely say that it’s an awesome idea for those of us who struggle to keep up with journaling habits. Here’s a few reasons why you should try it out:

It allows for shorthand.
For some of us, longhand journaling is exactly what we have trouble maintaining. The idea of sitting down and writing paragraphs doesn’t seem appealing, especially when we’re crunched for time and feeling overwhelmed as it is. Bullet journaling is a way to track your thoughts, ideas, and day to day habits without taking up all of your time. Lists, for example, are embraced and especially useful in bullet journaling. Use shorthand, symbols, and small text boxes to keep from feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of writing a ton.

It’s fully customizable.
There’s no single way to bullet journal. Sure, there are plenty of templates and ideas for those who may not know where to start, but you can truly make this journal your own, and use it how you need to. I purchased a notebook that had three sections: one with lined paper, one with graph paper, and one with blank paper. I use each section for different things: the lined paper for tracking my highs and lows, writing book reviews/notes, and making lists; the graph paper is for creating tracking graphs for my habits, like how many hours I’m sleeping a night and how many servings of caffeine I have each day, and even how I’m feeling emotionally each day; the blank paper is for little boxes that I can fill with angry rants, reminders, lesson plans, observations while doing research, and those a-ha! moments when I learn something new.


It can help you better understand your own habits.

By tracking my day-to-day habits, feelings, and experiences, I can look back and get a clearer picture of what things I might need to adjust or work on about myself. For example, on my habits graph, I can see that on the days I hit Starbucks 3 times, I have trouble sleeping. So, I need to cut back on that. I can see that on the days I don’t sleep well, I end up with a headache, and a foul mood. I can see that on the days I practice self care, my mood is better and I sleep better. Using a bullet journal, you can see what factors are improving your academic success, mood, and physical health.

It can serve multiple purposes.
Bullet journaling doesn’t have to be just for tracking your feelings or writing down your thoughts. Use it for taking school or class notes. Develop a symbol system for note taking and allow yourself to take more efficient notes that you can read and understand better later when you’re studying. Create a section you use specifically for writing down articles you read, where you found them, and the key points from them so you can reference them in future essays and research papers. Use the bullet journal as a planner and use it to work on your time management. By using one journal for multiple purposes, you’ll probably be more likely to continue utilizing it rather than tossing it aside.

For some guidance and ideas on how to create your own bullet journal, check out the original bullet journal website. You can also head over to Pinterest and see what other people are doing with their bullet journals, and also get some ideas for how to organize your own from their examples. The #bulletjournal tag on social media is also a useful source to get a more visual idea of how others are creating and using their bullet journal.