What is a bullet journal and why should you start one?

The popularity of Tshegofatso Senne's journaling idea on social media led to her starting Thembekile Stationery. Picture:  Sekoetlane Phamodi
The popularity of Tshegofatso Senne's journaling idea on social media led to her starting Thembekile Stationery. Picture: Sekoetlane Phamodi

Bullet journaling is a pen and paper-based productivity tool designed and popularised by Ryder Carroll. He markets it as a tool that helps users to track the past, organise the present and plan for the future.

I’ve used it for the past six months, I can say the sell is pretty legit. It combines the best features of a whole lot of organising tools, such as daily planners, personal journals and to-do lists, and brings them together into one flexible productivity super-tool that he calls a bullet journal (BuJo), also known as a notebook.

“I’ve always been a diary person,” Tshegofatso Senne tells me as I turn the cream pages of her simple and beautifully designed journal, “but I found conventional diaries too dull and not customisable enough on the inside to meet all my needs.”

Being a content creator and social-media manager, as well as a full-time MA student, it was important that the tools Senne used to stay on top of her work, studies, life and play were integrated into a single solution.

“I didn’t want to carry around two or more notebooks to know what I needed to be doing next. I wanted one system that was flexible and adaptable enough to be more than just a daily planner, but also a place to think about the possibilities, document my ideas and create.”

This sounded familiar because I was making the same considerations when I started my BuJo journey six months ago. I had been desperate to find a way to simplify the many tools I was relying on to keep up to date and effective in a high-pressure international job, and still steadily track progress towards achieving my personal goals, which included being more punctual, actively making space for self-care and doing what it took to start working for myself.


At first, the simplicity of the bullet journal makes it seem like an oversold diary. But, unlike the conventional diaries and many productivity apps and tools on the market today, the BuJo’s effectiveness lies in the relationship you form with it, because it’s designed to be a road map and companion to your better self.

All you need are a notebook and a pen. On a daily, weekly or monthly basis, you’re able to detail exactly what’s in your queue for the period, when it needs to be done by and the various steps you need to take to get there. In addition to that, you can literally throw anything else at the bullet journal and it will be able to absorb it as it comes.

Need to have the lift club duty roster on hand with you so you don’t have to worry about forgetting to pick up the children from extramurals again? You’re covered. Want to keep track of your gym routine, meal plan and weekly gains? Step right up.

The bullet journal works so well because it’s designed to easily slip into the life you’re already living, and encourages you to keep actively thinking about what you need to and can realistically do in the time you have to achieve your short-, mid- and long-term goals.


Senne’s BuJo journey was so popular on Twitter and Instagram that she recently opened an online stationery outlet, kitting out first-time users with fully customised bullet journals like hers.

“I called it Thembekile Stationery after my mother, who insisted on being my first customer when I told her about my plan,” she chuckles.

“We worked really closely to make it as useful for her as possible,” Senne says of the design and feedback process she went through with her mum, who works as an executive assistant. “It helped give us the product we have now. I really like it.”

Senne encourages BuJo first-timers to put function before form when starting out.

“Like any productivity tool, what it needs to work is for you to know what you want to get out of it, figure out how you want to use it, and to do so consistently.”

She explains that the sky is the limit in terms of all the things you can track, and the creative and expressive things you can do.

“But the main thing is to keep it simple. Develop a system that works for you, and have fun with it … remember that it doesn’t have to be perfect.”


Step 1: Get started

A simple notebook you like and a pen are enough. A ruler is practical, but not necessary, as are coloured pens and markers. As far as notebooks go, BuJo aficionados swear by Leuchtturm (it’s a mouthful), Rhodia or Moleskine because of their luxuriousness, high quality paper and the flexibility the dot-grids on the pages offer their users for combining the structured and task-driven aspects of bullet journaling with the more creative and self-expressive. Simple lined notebooks you can pick up at any stationery shop during the back-to-school buy are just as good. The important thing is that it’s practical for you, and inviting to use.

Step 2: Develop a system that works for you

Before you even start journaling, think about what you want to get from your BuJo journey.

The foundation you set yourself by taking a little time out to think about what you want to achieve and how you want to get there goes a long way to setting you up for success.

Some simple but useful questions to ask yourself include:

  • What do you want to organise with your bullet journal? Work? Your personal life? Both, or more?
  • What do you want to get out of and put into your bullet journal so you can simplify your life, stay productive and progress towards your goals?
  • Are there specific things you want to keep track of, like cutting back on smoking, staying at the gym or keeping up with your 2018 savings goal??

Once you’ve jotted these things down, look online for some ideas on useful and functional planner layouts, spreads and trackers. You could either set up your game plan for the week and stick to it, or keep it flexible by planning daily based on what you achieved, uploaded through the day or couldn’t get to.

Some people like to combine approaches so they can see, at a glance, what’s coming up and set in stone, while still benefiting from the flexibility of day-to-day planning as the week unfolds.

This is the magic of bullet journaling: its ability to be totally customised for your specific needs.

Step 3: Keep motivated

Use a consistent system for logging your tasks, events and notes. The success of the system depends on simplicity and consistency, so get into the habit of quickly identifying things you can or need to do now and things that need to be booked for a later date.

Mark off things you’ve completed – which are just as important to record as the things you need to do – so that you have a full picture of how much you’re achieving.

By doing this, you can see your progress, and are able to make the adaptations you need to in a structured way based on what you need to work towards today, this week and this month.

  • Order a BuJo planner online at tshegofatsosenne.com/thembekilestationery

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