How Bullet Journaling Made Me a Better Reader

Michael Wirth shares his experience with bullet journaling.

One of my biggest flaws is that I’m a major procrastinator. I rarely come across a task that I can’t put off for a week or two, all the while complaining that I just don’t have the time to get to it. I knew it was a terrible way to live and sought ways to break myself of that terrible habit. That’s when I discovered the concept of bullet journaling.

If you’re unfamiliar with the concept of bullet journaling, it was created by a man named Ryder Carroll as a method to maintain productivity. The idea behind it is to design a journal that works for the individual instead of relying on those standard journals and day planners from the stationary store. To start bullet journaling (or “bujo” for short) all you need is a blank notebook and a pen. You design your own layout, from a monthly calendar, weekly chores and daily to-do list, and decide which tasks are important and which can be ignored. It’s a fantastic way to maintain responsibilities without falling into a rut.

My first bookshelf from my 2019 journal

Though its name is derived from the use of the dotted notebooks it was created in, any type of notebook can be used as a bullet journal. Since its inception, many adherents have used their bujo to express their creativity by designing lavishly intricate monthly spreads and “trackers” to allow them to keep up with habits they want to form or break.

When I started bullet journaling, I had no idea what I was doing. I followed the steps laid out by Ryder Carroll but overall, I just found it to be another chore to keep track of. That’s when I found the immense bujo community on YouTube. I watched dozens of videos from different creators and learned how they set up their own bullet journals. These videos gave me different ideas to try for myself and one of them was a reading log spread.

While browsing through the bullet journaling videos, I stumbled upon one by Danielle Jenkins in which she created a bookshelf for all of the books she planned to read during the year. Being the avid reader that I am, I decided to use her idea in my own journal. I drew out the shelves and 40 book spines, challenging myself to read 40 books during 2019. (I ended up reading over 40 so I consider that an accomplishment.) I also drew in a few playful accoutrements to make the shelf more colorful.

I just started reading and keeping track of the books as I went, but then I realized how many self-help books I was reading that were loaded with good information. Flipping through the blank pages in my journal and seeing just how much there was to fill, I decided to take notes.

My notes from Eat That Frog

As I read through each of those books, I picked out the best information, or at least the information that was most relevant to my situation. One of those books, Eat That Frog, was particularly enlightening. I always claim that I never have enough time to do what I need to get done, and instead of planning my time better, I get overwhelmed and veg out on the couch in front of Netflix. But Eat That Frog showed me ways to tackle projects and be productive. Having this info at a quick glance in my journal as a fresh reminder is helpful when I feel the crushing weight of responsibility.

Eat That Frog isn’t the only book I tackled with my bullet journal. I’ve also read Bullies, Bastards, and Bitches: How to Write the Bad Guys of Fiction to help me create compelling antagonists for my novels. That book, also, is full of great information that I can now reference at a glance whenever I need to.

My reading retention is terrible. I could usually recall information that I read in a book for a few weeks after reading it, at which point the info just gets pushed out and replaced by the next thing I read. Which is why taking notes has been so great for my productivity. Granted, this has always been an option for me; it’s not like pens and notebooks were just invented a few years ago. But now that I use my bullet journal as the single location to store all of my important information, it makes recalling that info easier. The only hurdle I have to overcome is recalling which year I read a certain book in.

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