By Laura Harrison |

If you have been anywhere near Pinterest, Buzzfeed, or had lunch with me in the past few months, you have probably seen/heard something about bullet journaling. It is a combination diary/to do list/journal, and it has become an essential part of my organisation. The following is an introduction to bullet journaling, for those of you whose #academicnewyear resolution is to be more organized.

*Disclaimer: I was already pretty reliant on a diary and to do lists, so this just brought them together in a useful and efficient way. If you don’t currently rely on either of these this may not work for you, but by all means try it!*

Bullet journaling was developed by Ryder Carroll, and his website has lots of information and examples. It was originally planned as an analog system to combine the various organizational methods he used into one place. This is still the basic premise, but the lovely Pinteresty humans of the world have popularized it by turning their journals into works of art. I fall somewhere in the middle in terms of creativity, which highlights what is by far the best bit about a bullet journal – it is completely customizable, since you are creating it from scratch. There is a fair amount of upfront setup, but then it is pretty minimal to maintain. Also, it is the sort of setup you can do while watching tv and still call it work, which is obviously the best kind.

Getting started…

Find a notebook: You can use any blank notebook you have lying around, though most people recommend a dotted or graph notebook so you have more freedom in terms of design. I had a handy giftcard lying around so I purchased this dotted Moleskine notebook for my purposes.


So plain on the outside, so much goodness inside

Decide on a vague system: This is by far the most difficult part. There are so many examples out there that it can be overwhelming. For this post I’m going to stick to just showing what I do, but I cut a lot of the additional pages people put in, like habit trackers and lists of books to read and movies to watch (reading outside the PhD? Ain’t nobody got time for that). To see a full spectrum of the options, try this buzzfeed post or just google ‘bullet journal’. One important thing to keep in mind is that your system can and will change. When I first started I just did one week at a time until I found a structure that suited me. My system is as follows…

Yearly pages: I put things like birthdays, events, and conferences for months that I haven’t done the monthly/weekly pages for yet so I don’t miss the dates. I actually don’t update these pages as much as I should (hence why it is so sparse), but I’m trying to be better.


This makes my summer look disturbingly slow…

Monthly pages: A look at the key events and deadlines, also my overall PhD and life goals for the month. This is also my attempt at using this as a journal as well. I am not good at keeping track of fun things that happen, but I try to put in some memories for each month.


Parks and Rec quotes make everything better

Weekly page: This is the crucial bit of the journal, where your daily to do list and diary are located. The bullet journal rests on the idea of categorizing tasks. I keep my symbols relatively simple (see below), but you could categorize thesis tasks from teaching ones, or PhD-related from life-related. The weekly page is also where you can really customize the journal. I have sections to keep track of a to do list, exercise, my spending, and emails that need sending. You could have absolutely any option here, or not have anything beyond the days of the week if you aren’t into tracking anything else.



First week back from holidays…*sigh*

Since you are starting with a blank slate you can really go wherever your heart desires with the bullet journal, which is what makes it a great tool. If you’re looking for more organization, I strongly recommend giving it a shot.


When Laura isn’t extolling the virtues of procrastination techniques, she is the Editor-in-Chief of Pubs and Publications and a third year PhD students in Scottish History at the University of Edinburgh. You can find her on Twitter @laurasharrison.

Image 1:; All other images: Laura Harrison