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The Difference Between Journaling and Bullet Journaling

Journaling with some Tombow pens and toolsJournaling and Bullet Journaling are quite different things, but the definitions vary, depending on who you ask. Bullet Journaling, especially, has very different meanings to different people.


Journaling can be quite varied, but you’d probably expect that. To most people, it’s just writing about your day, like a traditional diary. A lot of people add a bit of structure around it, maybe with positive and negative things from each day, or always including three items they’ve been grateful for that day, for example.

And how much is included can vary a lot too - for some people, a therapeutic ‘brain dump’ at the end of each day is practically a necessity, filling multiple pages to clear their heads. Others keep it simple, with just a few lines to summarise the main points of what they’ve done. It’s only for you, so it only needs to do what you need.

LEUCHTTURM1917 Bullet Journal Edition 2 Blue by LEUCHTTURM1917 at Cult PensBullet Journaling

There can almost be seen to be two completely different meanings of ‘Bullet Journaling’. The original idea comes from Ryder Carroll’s book “The Bullet Journal Method”. It’s a fairly straightforward and practical way of tracking the things you need to do, and the information you need at hand. A bullet journal is a very utilitarian thing, with simple bullet points for items, quickly-drawn indexes to lists of information and notes about projects. It’s quick to use, quick to set up, and made to be a quick and easy way to get more organised.

But if you go and look on Instagram or other social media platforms for bullet journaling, you’ll see all sorts of fancy layouts - monthly planners that have clearly taken hours to draw; beautiful calligraphy on every page; fancy layouts with stamps and watercolour drawings; pretty pastel pages with photos and tickets pasted in. And it doesn’t look much like Ryder Carroll’s description.

Once you publish a book, the ideas are out there in the world, and some people will go a different direction with them. That seems to be what happened with bullet Journaling. But it was always intended to be something personal, something for each person to take and make their own. And while a lot of people keep it very utilitarian, they aren’t the ones posting their pages on social media. From the outside, it looks like the public idea of bullet journaling is very different to the original idea, but it’s probably more a case that it’s a whole spectrum of different things to different people, and it’s just the prettiest and highest-effort interpretations that we see shared.

The Bullet Journal Method by Ryder Carroll Paperback EditionIf you’ve ever thought bullet journaling could be for you, but been put off by the fancy layouts, we’d encourage you to read Ryder’s book - it covers the very practical aspects of it, and how it can help in your life. The fancy layouts do get mentioned, but they’re not the core of it, and not necessary at all. They’re just a nice little extra that some people enjoy, and it’s those people whose bullet journals we see the most of.