Why we love bullet journals, according to science

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Sarah Biddlecombe
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In our hectic lives of multiple to-do lists, towering email chains and constantly pinging WhatsApp groups, we can be forgiven for craving a bit of order every now and again.

There is one particular trend that has been billed as the ultimate solution for those who want to streamline all the threads of their lives into one artfully presented page: the bullet journal.

And there are reasons for our enduring love of the method.

Lovingly referred to as the #bujo by fans on social media, the journal is a hyper-organised way of sorting your to-do lists, meetings, appointments, shopping lists, dates and tasks, all into one colourful page.

You can see some examples below:

Originally created as a diary organisation method by digital product designer Ryder Carroll back in 2013, the bullet journal sparked a trend for multilayered note-taking – as well as the welcome return of the humble gel pen.

And they have been praised for doing a lot more than simply helping people to get organised.

According to fans, bullet journals can be a great mental health tool, with reduced anxiety, improved concentration and a self-reflective boost being some of the supposed benefits.

With no fewer than 623,000 posts – and rising – on Instagram so far, the bullet journal is clearly a popular tool. But what is the science behind our budding love for these brightly coloured and intricate pages?

Researchers have long recognised the benefits of writing down our thoughts, with the simple act of putting pen to paper being known to help make you happier, more resilient and clear your head. 

And that’s before you start to get creative with the doodles, drawings and sections that characterise a bullet journal.

While no scientific research has yet been done into bullet journals specifically, there are a few schools of thought about the benefits of creating one of your own.

The creator himself credits them with helping people to figure out what’s really important in their lives.

“It encourages people not only to write things down as they happen, but later on to reflect on these items they are working on,” Carroll told The Guardian earlier this year.

“What starts to happen is you surface the things that do have meaning, that are relevant to your life, which is really the whole purpose of bullet journalling – it is living a lot more intentionally, because of this practice of living with your thoughts, not just writing stuff down and walking away from it.”

Another possibility is that bullet journaling can help boost our mental capacity.

Speaking to NY Mag, neuroscientist and author Daniel Levitin suggested that bullet journaling can act as an extension of our external memory.

This is because our minds can only pay attention to three or four things at once, meaning that writing down all of the tasks on our various to-do lists can free us up for the rest of our needs.

“Don’t just try to keep track of things in your head,” he said. “Somehow get what’s in your head out there in the world, whether that means writing it down in a journal or on little three-by-five index cards, covering your desk and your fridge and your walls with Post-its, or making voice memos.”

Finally, keeping a bullet journal can help counteract a psychological phenomenon known as the Zeigarnik Effect, in which an unfinished task is easier to remember than a finished one.

The effect explains why we sometimes find it hard to shift a niggling worry about completing a task, such as having a difficult conversation or paying a bill, which is only dissipated once said task is completed.

And research suggests that the simple act of adding the task to our to-do list can help clear it from our minds, which explains why adding so many different threads of to-do lists to one page can be so effective.

So what are you waiting for?

Arm yourself with a blank notebook and some gel pens and get started – you can read our guide to creating your own bullet journal here.

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