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Academic Bullet Journal - All You Need to Know

Updated: Sep 27, 2019

Bullet journals, or 'bujo' for short are having a bit of a thing right now - but can it improve your productivity as an academic?

I'm definitely not ahead of the game here, bullet journals have been around for a few years now and have developed somewhat of a cult following. So what exactly is it? Well, a bullet journal is a planning method which contradicts the digital age - yes, you guessed it - it uses pen and paper (falling off my chair right now). You can find out all you need to know about bullet journaling concept here. If you are a fan of a notebook for your to-do lists and ideas, then this is like a slicker version where you set up dedicated pages ahead of time to make your plans.

What do I need?

While I appreciate a beautifully designed bullet journal as much as the next person - I prefer something that is clear and minimal to help me get and stay organised. So it's up to you how far your want to go down this route - you could spend a fortune on bullet journaling materials but remember it's about staying focused. Use your journal to help you be more productive and not as a way adding to your list of tasks. I previously used a planner and probably will go back to it at some point, but for now my notebook (bullet journal) with key pages is working nicely for me. Here are a couple of options:

Bullet Journal Notebook Official Version

My preferred version... a trusty Moleskine Classic Notebook

This sounds interesting...

You can YouTube, Instagram, Google a myriad of bullet journal information. As I said, this concept has quite a cult following. However, for us academics, there aren't too many examples of how to use one. But fear not, I done some research and found some good examples for you.

// Raul Pacheco's blog posts on The Everything Notebook gives a refreshing take on the concept without the label of a bullet journal and from an academic point of view.

// Ellie Mackin-Roberts offers up a helpful blog post along with Youtube videos on bullet-journaling for research-active academics. There's even an Instagram page dedicated to it which is great for getting started.


Spreads are simply sections of your bullet journal. In terms of my own academic bullet journal, I don't follow the method precisely - but hey, I'm not usually very good at doing what I'm told. But the great thing about this is that you tailor it to suit your own needs. In terms of spreads, here are some of the key sections I have started to use in my bullet journal and thoughts around using them.

Contents page - This is where you note the key spreads in a contents page so you can find them easily. This just wasn't for me. I tried it, and it just wasn't something I would remember to go back and fill out consistently. Also, the Moleskine doesn't come with page numbers (worth knowing), and I wasn't going to spend the time adding them. When my notebook is nearly full I simply get my silver sharpie and note on the spine and the front what key info the book contains.

Yearly goals - Just a page of what I want to achieve. I keep it simple with three or four bullet points with both personal and professional elements in there.

Calendar - you can add a calendar into your bullet journal, but I stick with the one on my outlook. It's there, I use it, everyone I know uses it so that's that.

Quarterly plan - usually a double page spread where I look at what is coming up over the next three months, set some goals and generally create a to-do list of what I need/want to do both personally and professionally. Some of this will eventually be transferred to my diary as I like to time block (there's a post on time-blocking here).

Monthly planning - a spread where I zone in on my goals for that specific month (think of it as mini-deadlines) I can add in any new activities and reflect on what is coming up. It's helpful to see how your diary is shaping up - you just feel a little more ahead of the game and it helps when planning not only work activities but also time with family and friends, so you're not over-stretching yourself.

Dailies - As I use the time-blocking method I don't have as big a need for a full on daily to do list. That said, I do find it helpful to just note down any incoming tasks that crop up during the day so that I don't become too distracted when I am in the middle of an important project or task. It's great for keeping a clear head and good for your productivity.

Training and Continuous Professional Development Log - here I record any training that I have completed so I can always refer to it, and I also identify any things I want to do on this area in the future. It just keeps it at the forefront of my mind.

Module Prep Tracker - now this is a new one for me, but I want to keep a track on the preparation for each of my teaching sessions next academic year. I usually have this all in my head, but this way I can keep track of when I refresh module slides, update handbooks to make sure I'm not rushing before the semester.

Stats - I tend to keep this quite light - I track my stats for my website as I have been working on this as my side-hustle for a little while now and I've recently started to track my citations for any research work albeit very lightly. This encourages me to keep going and it's nice to see when you have some traction from a new conference paper or blog post (thanks for reading!)

Supervision - Here I track those I'm supervising just so I have a master list - I just note the degree programme/ module code as I look after both postgraduate and undergraduate students.

Journal Reviewer Tracker - I like to keep a note on the papers I have reviewed for specific journals so I can pick these up again when they are published and see which journals are reaching out to me and for which topics.

Conferences - I list all of the conferences I am interested for the year ahead. This means next year I don't have to run off memory I simply know which are which and when they usually fall.

Research Project Tracker - for me I track my research projects on my research planning spreadsheet (you can view this here), but you may want to include this in your bullet journal to know which projects you are currently working on. (A note on trackers: you can track anything - so think about what you want to measure).

Job Spec - for me, I want to work towards the next step on the academic ladder so I have written down the specification for that next level within my role so I can start to gain the skills needed. By having the bullet journal you can plan ahead consciously.

Future Log - the future log is a standard bullet journal page where you can note activities coming up in the future, i.e. next year or so so that you can pencil them in. So this might be thinking when I need to get prepping for the new academic year or organise a large-scale event which I did recently.

If you don't like a spread score it out and try another one. That's why my bullet journal is not internet friendly but also why I like it. You don't need to force fit anything.

A note on combining digital and analogue methods

I find that a combination of the bullet journal along with digital tools works best for me. I am always conscious that you shouldn't try and reinvent the wheel (working smart here).

So there you go, a quick insight into academic bullet journaling. I hope it's useful. Are you using a bullet journal or planning to? Share your tips with me on Twitter @drsamlynch.

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