Why the bullet journal method is gaining popularity in Norfolk
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These days, more and more people are ditching the smartphone and turning to old-fashioned methods – from 35mm film cameras to good old paper and pen. The bullet journal method is one such trend, a productivity toolkit taking our region by storm.
The process is always the same: I get a new project, I buy a new notebook and I hope that this, alone, will keep me organised and focused. It very rarely does.
I have so many half-finished notebooks and abandoned diaries on my desk that they've created a leaning tower of paper – something that only increases in size as we teeter towards the new year and I vow that the next one will be different.
But in 2019, I've decided to pick up a pen and embrace the bullet journal – a system which relies on little more than a pen and a notebook and which you fill with the things you would usually write on a calendar, in a diary, or on a to-do list. It's all of these things rolled into one and its creator, US software programmer Ryder Carroll, promotes it as a system to help 'track your past, order your present and plan your future.' Despite being developed by someone with a background in tech, it's something of a back-to-basics approach.
For Liane Ward, school support team leader at Norwich Business School, adopting the process has been life-changing. 'It's been a very personal journey,' she says. 'I started keeping a bullet journal around two years ago – I was an avid diarist who was organised but not quite organised and it all felt a bit disparate, with things all over the place.'
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After finding out about bullet journaling at a training event at the UEA, Liane incorporated the method into her working life. 'There are two elements to keeping a bullet journal: system and practice,' she says. The system includes using numbered pages to create an index, and keeping daily, weekly and monthly logs with short notes and symbols to denote events, tasks and memories.
'Once you've cracked the system, you can fill the remaining pages with whatever you want – trackers, quotes, things you're interested in,' says Liane. 'Since starting a bullet journal, I feel more tuned into what's going on – when you put pen to paper, you not only engage your brain but also your heart. It helps you to curate your life, wheedle out distractions and focus on what you want to do.'
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The process is referred to as 'intentional living', and might consist of an exercise tracker, a weight-loss diagram or a plan to drink more water - all things we invariably try to do more of in the new year. But by simply writing things down, the bullet journal is said to help us visualise our goals and modify good behaviours into forming better habits.
Liane believes in the system so much that she has helped others to adopt it too, running hands-on workshops for students and staff at UEA. 'I show students and staff how it can actually help them to free up time,' she says, and as more people have become involved, a bullet journaling – or BuJo – community has emerged, holding regular meetings on the university campus.
'Topics come up that people wouldn't normally talk about – from immigration to stress over their workloads,' says Liane. 'It's quietly mushroomed into this trend, which has a big following online and a supportive community who are all working towards the same aims.'
Along with helping productivity, the bullet journal system has other advantages – from helping those with attention disorders to relieving stress. Dr Margaret Bunting, director of student support at Norwich Medical School, says one of her first encounters with a bullet journal occurred when she was researching how best to support a student with attention deficit disorder (ADD) – something that the system's creator, Ryder Carroll, was also diagnosed with.
After watching a video on YouTube, Dr Bunting realised that the approach could help others, too. 'Our students studying medicine are expected to juggle a lot of different deadlines and study some quite separate disciplines – so what may help someone with ADD may help a medical student with a really packed curriculum.'
To see if the system would be transferable to her students, Dr Bunting adopted the approach herself. 'Straight away my workload and day to day activity really benefited,' she says, and an additional benefit was its ability to restore confidence in her memory. 'Journaling gives me the ability to quickly look something up/remind myself/get back up to speed,' she says, a major advantage when dealing with important, and sometimes sensitive, information.
For others, it is the creative aspect of the bullet journal which is most attractive, offering the opportunity to express oneself on a blank page, free from the constraints of a traditional diary or journal. Social media sites such as Pinterest and Instagram also offer plenty of inspiration.
Ellie Dobbyne, a postgraduate researcher in law at UEA, says she finds the process of designing her regular logs therapeutic – despite not being an artistic person. 'Once a month, I clear some time to sit and design the pages for my month ahead, and then once a week I update it and make sure I have everything in there that's coming up. I'm not artistically talented at all, but it's really therapeutic to design the pages – I've found it to be a great way to de-stress and it's really helped me visualise and plan my time better.'
But for everyone I spoke to about keeping a bullet journal, practicality reigns over perfection. Laura Bowater, academic director for innovation at UEA, says bullet journals needn't be a work of art: 'It is a work of organisation – looks really don't matter, but usefulness does,' she says.
Dr Nick Yip, lecturer in marketing at Norwich Business School, is currently working with the University of Essex on a study about the effects of the system on wellbeing in the workplace. 'I think bullet journaling is the anti-digital smart phone that we need,' he says. 'It's quite therapeutic in many ways, as it involves the doing and creating of thoughts into different outputs to help your mind plan. Our research seems to suggest that bullet journaling has a positive impact, and the fact that it has multiple layers of interaction and engagement, including communities on the website – www.bulletjournal.com – makes it even more interesting.'
I didn't make any new year's resolutions this year – instead, I picked up a pen, opened up a notebook and joined a community of likeminded folk. It's a little too early to tell how successful it's been for me, but so far, I feel more productive and in control. Long may it continue.
For more information about bullet journaling, search Bullet Journaling East Anglia on Facebook, or email bulletjournalingEA@googlemail.com