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Photo: Stocksy/Jovo-Jovanovic

Everybody’s got their primary stress point, and for me, it’s feeling overwhelmed. I’m a student and I work, so I tend to pack my days to the brim—but the minute I feel like I’m behind schedule, I start to lose my cool. (Sound familiar?)

When one of my best friends suggested I try bullet journaling, I thought she’d totally misunderstood my frustration. I barely had five minutes to stretch after a run—how the heck was I going to carve out time for journaling? What good would it do?

I was missing the point. A bullet journal isn’t a “dear diary” kind of thing. It’s more of a filing cabinet for your brain with its own customizable charts and symbols that help you track your calendar, to-do list, and goals. And my friend was right: My BuJo (yup, I’m so on board that I’ve picked up the shorthand) is worth its weight in gold.

Here are the 5 biggest—and seriously life-changing—benefits I got from bullet journaling.

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Photos: Jenna Cantagallo

1. I stopped having that nagging feeling that I was always forgetting something.

The beauty of the bullet journal is that while you stick to certain overarching principles—like jotting down quick notes and symbols instead of super long sentences—it’s totally personalized. If you want it to be an outlet for creative brainstorming, great! But if you’d prefer for it to function as more of a daily planner, that’s cool, too.

My main goal was finding schedule-related serenity, so I definitely leaned heavily on mine as a planning resource. I wrote down everything that I needed and wanted to happen in a given day, as well as longer-term goals and big events. Simply having one space where I tracked all of that—on paper—really kept me from feeling like I was always forgetting, say, a meeting, a coffee date with a friend, or a deadline. Old school, but effective!

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2. I focused more on self-care.

I’ve got the morning workout down, but meditation—another type of self-care I aspire to do on the reg—tends to fall by the wayside. So I dedicated a page in my bullet journal to the healthy habits I’m trying to get better at incorporating into my daily routine. Something about coloring in a box every time I stretched, managed to go to bed before midnight, or took my vitamins and supplements made completing an easy-to-neglect task so much more fun. Not to mention, I felt significantly more rested, hydrated, and present.

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3. I discovered a new creative outlet.

I consider myself a fairly creative individual—I’ve always loved writing and can make something tasty out of the most barren of refrigerators—but have never been much of a visual artiste. That said, I’m a sucker for color and a good print, so I really loved decorating my own BuJo. (Scrolling through #bulletjournal provided countless ideas, and I definitely spent a few hours mulling my design plan before I set up my own Moleskin.) I’ve since borrowed (um, permanently) my roommate’s colorful pens, taught myself basic calligraphy, and ended up with pieces of peacock-printed washi tape in my hair. I discovered that spending 15 minutes setting up a new spread (which in bullet journal speak means a page layout) is my favorite way to unwind at the end of the day. I’m no Warhol, but I love it.

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4. I tapped into my sense of gratitude.

Day to day, I know I’m doing plenty of things that make me happy. So why do I have such a hard time remembering them? That all changed when I added a gratitude page to my journal where I jotted down the tiny things that can get lost over the course of a day, like a perfect cup of tea or running into a dear friend on the street. Cheesy as it may sound, focusing on those little moments of joy affected my overall outlook. I felt significantly more optimistic, to the point where I realized I was often just smiling to myself as I went through my day. A big deal, considering I’m the queen of the resting bitch face.

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5. I felt less pressure to be perfect.

I’ve always been the type to color code notes or redo an entire project if it doesn’t look quite right, and when I first started bullet journaling, I was a bit worried that the process would just be an added source of pressure. But one of the most genius aspects of bullet journaling is that you don’t have to plan it all out in advance. Instead, you make it up as you go, adding pages here and there when you’re so inclined. That’s why the index is so key—it keeps everything organized. That take-it-as-you-go mentality inspired me to try new designs, knowing that if it didn’t turn out quite how I wanted, I’d have another opportunity to try something different next month, next week, or tomorrow. And yes, that feeling did start to seep into other parts of my life.

I’m only a couple months into my BuJo, but I think it’s fair to say, I’ve drunk the Kool-Aid—and have a cool-looking little black book that brings me joy to show for it.

Originally published on October 28, 2016; updated on August 4, 2018.

If you’ve never tried journaling, you might be surprised by all the ways it can improve your life. Or check out these tried-and-true tricks, from intention setting to sleep habits, that successful women do every day. 

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