Why the Bullet Journal is a Waste of Time

closeup photo of graphing paper
Efficient time Management: only four hours and a degree in graphic design later, I made a thing.

When I first learned about the Bullet Journal I really wanted to love it. I’ve been known for keeping detailed daily planners since high school (let’s just say it was well before smartphones were a thing). I was never without one and by the end of the year it was well battered and bulging. I still have some of them in the as-yet unfulfilled future need to look back at them. But then I got a smartphone and started using digital planners and calendars.

I first heard about Bullet Journaling a few years ago from a friend who had started one. It was lovely, she bought a huge collection of calligraphy pens and markers, stickers, and glitter to decorate each page. She showed me her daily pages and her bullet lists, explaining what each symbol meant. Already the skepticism started to rear its head when I saw that she had “fill out Bullet Journal” as a thing-to-do.

But the fad has continued to build up steam and so I sought out more information on it. I thought that maybe I misunderstood the function of the Bullet Journal, maybe it wasn’t intended as a daily planner or a time management tool at all.

Except that it is.

background balance business commerce
So hipster that I spend hours handwriting the internet into this overpriced paper notebook that I will abandon in six weeks.

So I did a deep dive into the Bullet Journal fan cult. I read their blogs, followed their Instagrams, watched so many videos. I saw gorgeous artwork. Detailed calendars. Precise to-do lists. How-to books. Accessories. Stencils. Stickers, ohmigosh, the stickers. And the manicures. My goodness. Absolutely fabulous nails. I don’t know how they manage to keep the marker/ink/glitter schmutz off their lovely manicures.

I started to focus on the Bullet Journal proponents who also are known for their business acumen, folks who must efficiently manage their time and busy schedules (as opposed to the plethora of bored housewives with disposable income and no children). How were they using the Bullet Journal method?

girls on desk looking at notebook
“Check out my future log.”

They were using it as a hobby. A bit of arts and crafts. A memory keeper, like a scrapbook. The Bullet Journal was this extra thing on top of their digital calendars, made worthwhile by getting paid to talk about and show off their handiwork on Youtube. It reminds me of the busy-work exhausted elementary teachers gave us on rainy days. “What did you have for breakfast this morning? Write it down and then color a picture to share with the class.”

Here are a few reasons that I think Bullet Journaling is a waste of time:

  1. So much copying. Information already available is just getting regurgitated into the Bullet Journal as a means of passing/wasting the time. Either you’re copying information from your digital calendar into the Bullet Journal or you’re copying from the Bullet Journal into the digital calendar. The majority of the Bullet Journals I have seen, including my friend’s, copy information, like the weather, weight, meals, etc. from their phones into the Bullet Journal.
  2. To-Do lists, the foundation of the Bullet Journal, are less functional than calendar blocking. If you’re not familiar, calendar blocking moves the to-do list into your calendar, blocking off a designated time (based on how long the task will take) into your calendar to ensure you will get it done. If something comes up to prevent it from getting accomplished, you move it to another day with a couple of clicks.
  3. A Bullet Journal lacks the functionality of a digital calendar.
    1. There are no reminders.
    2. No automatic repeats.
    3. No autofill or sync. Digital calendars, when given access, can automatically populate your calendar years in advance with appointments, birthdays, anniversaries, and automatically update details of shipments, flights, and events.
    4. No goal setting. Google calendars can help you reach your goals by fitting activities into your schedule, like reading or exercise, around your other obligations.
    5. No communication. Bullet Journals cannot share the contents of your calendar with family, friends, coworkers, and vice-versa. And you cannot toggle between various calendars with a bullet journal, whereas a digital calendar may have multiple sub-calendars, such as your volunteer schedule, a menu calendar, etc. some or all of which you can share. For example, you create a menu calendar and share it with your whole family, and it’s linked to the grocery list (which could be linked to your fridge) so you (and the whole family) knows what’s needed. You may also have calendars shared with you, for example, your kid’s teacher may have a calendar of school events shared with the parents so your calendar is automatically populated with PTA meetings or games.
    6. You cannot see the contents of your Bullet Journal unless the book is in your hands, whereas a digital calendar is accessible on any internet and data enabled device in the world.
    7. No commute information or recommendations, for example reminding you to leave early to get to an appointment or take another route.
    8. No access to external files, photos, videos, websites needed for appointment or task.
    9. Cannot autodial or pull up email service to help with completing a task or interview.
    10. Collections are better organized in a digital spreadsheet, especially quantitative collections which can produce graphs or charts instantly– which are another thing I have seen copied into Bullet Journals.
    11. No search functionality. The Bullet Journal index is a lovely concept but it cannot take you to a single word or phrase instantly.

Yes, my old paper-based daily planners worked. They worked really well because they were what everyone else was using. The bar was set yea-high and I was meeting it, there were miscommunications, forgotten events, arriving late because I didn’t know there was a road-closing accident, and more. They were annoying but forgivable, even in a professional setting, because there was nothing the average person could do about it. With the smartphone and free digital calendars like the Google Calendar, the bar has been raised. If you are someone who wants to get organized and be more efficient with your time, a digital calendar is the way to go; an old-school paper daily planner is obsolete at best, and a Bullet Journal is a costly distraction in both time and money.

With all of this said (written, whatevs) I don’t think the Bullet Journal is without some merit. It is a great option for a self-reflective (slightly self-absorbed) hobby. If you find copying information onto paper and making it more aesthetically pleasing, by all means, go get those archival quality calligraphy markers! But if you have access to a smartphone, don’t rely on the Bullet Journal for time management, organization, or efficiency–you will be disappointed and disappointing.


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