Indisputably, Casey and I are fans of the bullet journal method. Its inventor, Ryder Carroll, used his own life as a blueprint to package to-do lists and goal planning in a revolutionary way. It’s above and beyond a basic journal, and certainly better than using sticky notes.
Despite its popularity though, bullet journaling isn’t for everyone. And that’s perfectly fine!
There are several bullet journal alternatives for productivity – both digital and analog. For instance, the Getting Things Done® (GTD) method can handle complex projects, stress-free. Plenty of apps exclusively support it. Other productive journaling options are The Happy Planner® and Passion Planner.
Why Is Bullet Journaling So Popular?
The bullet journal method is popular because it’s a flexible productivity tool that fully molds to your personality. In other words: functional, modular, and expressive. At its core is a system called rapid logging, which helps manage life through dynamic bulleted lists.
Unlike a dated planner, it starts completely naked. This equates to plenty of space and full control over the floor plan. Most people prefer a dotted journal notebook for their BuJo.
Naturally, this freestyle range of planning attracts lots of individuals. For instance, you could incorporate multiple habit trackers into all your monthly spreads. Or, merge a specialized daily task list into one particular weekly layout.
To fan the flames, along came AmandaRachLee. She renovated Carroll’s BuJo by adding a creative outlet to its functionality. Suddenly, those mundane weekly spreads, task lists, monthly goals, yearly calendars – what have you – became fresh canvases. Journaling evolved into artistry, and the movement took social media by storm.
Is It Worth Making a Bullet Journal?
Bullet journaling is like playing with LEGO blocks, except you’re also responsible for making your own blocks from scratch. Evidently, a sizeable online planner community welcomes this kind of total control. Others, however, find this planning style too daunting.
It’s a dilemma, for sure. Casey and I enjoy this grounds-up approach to productivity, but we totally get why not everyone is a bullet journal fan. What’s your stance?
To determine whether you should stay on the BuJo bandwagon or pledge planner allegiance elsewhere, think carefully about how you prefer to process information.
To help you meditate, here’s a list of contemplative pros and cons:
The Pros – Bullet Journaling Is Useful
It’s functional. Rapid logging works, especially for our era dominated by short attention spans.
It’s customizable. In this area, the bullet journal is unbeatable. I mean, what could rival a blank notebook? And, along with abundant real estate, you get to design your own logs, trackers, and spreads – however in the fashion you want.
It’s versatile. With nearly limitless customization comes great versatility. Anyone at any stage of life could tailor this practice to their own circumstances, be it a grade-schooler, a college undergrad, or a full-time professional.
It’s a creative outlet. Even if you’re not a creative person, you can appreciate the artistic planning that’s symbiotic with the BuJo system. Countless beautiful designs have been showcased online in a variety of colors and themes, all enmeshed proudly within paper planners. No other productivity journaling option offers such creative leeway.
It’s centralized. Ryder Carroll himself intended his machine to be a daily planner, a goal-tracker, and a diary all in one. So, if done right, your trusty A5 planner might be everything you need.
The Cons – It Gets Complicated
It’s time-consuming. Populating an artistic journal demands many hours, especially if you’re into flashy. Searching for that appropriate inspirational quote for your weekly log, or debating which planner stickers best fit your monthly spread aren’t too budget-friendly in terms of time.
It’s unstructured. Despite instructions galore, the BuJo is built off an undated planner. This leaves the potential for confusing hierarchies and organizational messes. What should’ve been an elegantly simple practice may end up unnecessarily complicated.
Ironically, a lack of structure also makes the bullet journal too “simple”. What do I mean? It’s basically less effective against complex projects that don’t require their own separate collection. So, if you had a small project with only 2-4 tasks but required weeks to complete, you could easily lose track of each.
There’s pressure to compare. The online planner community may inadvertently goad you to use fountain pens, question your cover designs, or incorporate unwanted color-coding into your monthly spreads. This could easily turn toxic!
There’s pressure to perfect. Funny enough, artsy people with Type A personalities will find this system to be a double-edged sword. In addition to being a straightforward productivity planner, the bullet journal could also be a potent OCD-inducer. The anxiety from avoiding those aesthetic mistakes – and the frustration that ensues when you inevitably fail – are real.
It may become demotivating. Over time, the above complications may cause you to give up altogether. It’s deflating to fail a goal planning attempt at, well, goal planning!
Effective Bullet Journaling Alternatives
So you’ve concluded that bullet journaling isn’t for you. No worries! Pick an alternative option from the following digital and analog productivity systems:
Getting Things Done® (GTD)
The Getting Things Done®, or GTD for short, was invented by David Allen as a way to manage and organize life’s projects in as stress-free a manner as possible. The process is concrete, broken down into five distinct steps. It works in analog, digital, or hybrid form.
I’ve read Allen’s book and used his method several years ago. It’s a remarkable productivity system designed for highly driven people with a busier lifestyle.
Uhh, yeah, which is partly why I didn’t stick with it because, at the time, I was somewhat of a bum. Using GTD was like lighting a candle with a big torch.
Nonetheless! To this very day, I utilize valuable principles from the method, including the 2-minute rule and striving to keep the inboxes of all my email addresses at “zero”. My point is, GTD works.
Pros and Cons of GTD
It’s designed for the pure professional in mind, whether that’s a professional worker or professional soccer mom. Its genius lies in being able to handle multiple, complex projects – even if these are dependent on other people.
Since GTD boasts a well-established fanbase, there’s a range of phone apps and paper planners devoted to the concept. With plentiful support, you’ll be up and running with it in a day.
However, Allen by no means meant his brainchild to be an artistic planner. So, don’t expect to whip out your fountain pens, markers, or fun stickers. This type of planning is for the ambitious person, with a calculating drive to become the next supermom, supermodel, or superstore manager.
How Does It Work?
Without stealing David Allen’s thunder, here are the five steps in brief:
- Capture. Basically a massive brain dump. As the creator himself puts it, you’re indiscriminately emptying the “RAM” part of your mind, onto either a physical space for writing or electronically.
- Clarify. Process the information by determining which items are actionable, and if so, what the next action should be. If the action can be done within 2 minutes, do it now (the 2-minute rule). Otherwise, take it – and every other non-discarded item – to the next step:
- Organize. Filter all of your tasks into sensible categories. Appointments should be scheduled in the calendar. Single-action tasks are filed under ‘Next Actions’. Tasks requiring multiple actions go under ‘Projects’. The ‘Waiting For’ category is for delegated actions. And so on, and so forth.
- Reflect. Inspect your GTD cogwheels regularly, bettering it as you go.
- Engage. Using four factors – context, time available, energy available, and priority – commit to this system without burning out.
What Are the Best Apps For the GTD System?
GTD is tool neutral, meaning, as long as you understand its methodology, you can utilize any app combo to implement it (provided this combo includes a calendar app and a list manager).
Ironically though, the amount of apps devoted to GTD could be overwhelming. So, I’d suggest picking from this shortlist of tried-and-true apps. You won’t go wrong with any of them.
nTask (Mac, Windows, iOS, Android). A nearly flawless app built specifically for David Allen’s principles. For individuals, the free version is totally enough. Larger-scale project managers get access to a powerful suite of tools such as Kanban boards, Gantt charts, and time-tracking – for a reasonable monthly fee, that is.
Todoist (Mac, Windows, iOS, Android, Web). Todoist has established itself as an electronic staple for GTD’ers. It’s simple, user-friendly, yet incredibly robust. Unless you’re the lead on a professional team, stick to the free version because of the adequate features.
Trello (Mac, Windows, iOS, Android, Web). Not developed solely for GTD, but has the mechanics to smoothly implement it. Its visual structure, including the use of Kanban boards, makes it a favorite among many. To set up your Trello for GTD, check out this post on David Allen’s website.
If the apps above don’t cut it, there are two more choices below. You can customize either of them for GTD implementation, too. I especially like Notion.
The Happy Planner®
The Happy Planner® suite was designed for those who want to customize their planning experience without having to create layouts from scratch. You get the LEGO set without having to mold the pieces. That’s the way it should be, right?
What’s the cornerstone feature of a Happy Planner? Separate, interchangeable discs that let you seamlessly add and remove pages. It’s more of a fun alternative to three-ringed binders and spiral bindings.
Pros and Cons of The Happy Planner
It’s well-supported with lots of options. You can find these refillable planners in a variety of sizes, in a range of planning templates. In fact, the parent company, me & my BIG ideas® (MAMBI), makes a version of their planner for everyone, along with compatible accessories and add-ons.
Of course, as a commercial product, you should expect to fork out more cash for this setup than you would for a regular journal notebook. Keep tabs on how much you spend, though! Resist the urge to get those latest stickers or refills that you likely won’t end up using.
Is It For You?
Think of The Happy Planner as a good-looking bullet journal, except you’ve commissioned the artistic planning to someone else. So, if you care about notebook aesthetics but not the work involved, then this tool may be for you.
The Passion Planner
The Passion Planner was forged from the depths of Angelia Trinidad’s quarter-life crisis. Starting with a barebones planner and leveraged by her entrepreneurial spirit, Angelia popularized a process of achieving your long-term dreams.
Pros and Cons
The Passion Planner is a brainstorming aid and vision board cleverly integrated into a productivity planner. It takes advantage of self-discovery to make goal-setting motivating and fun. Students who feel bullet journaling is a waste of time should give this option a go.
Let’s be realistic, though. For maximum impact, you’ll need laser-focused discipline to stay on top of all five sections, especially the monthly reflection. The purpose of this tool is tied with your zeal.
How Does It Work?
At first glance, a Passion Planner looks like a simple weekly or monthly log with space for extra notes. In reality, its five integral sections help you to realize your biggest goals.
I’d like to think of it as a highly sophisticated brain dump solution. Only the best of the best thoughts are captured, then turned into actionable steps over a long period of time.
- The Passion Roadmap. This section helps you brainstorm what your grandest ambitions are, which of them are most beneficial, and the timeframe you’ll need to make them happen.
- The GameChanger. This step guides you in breaking down your most important ambitions into actionable tasks. It turns the abstract into the tangible.
- Monthly Layouts. Like a more detailed future log, this section is designed to make you focus on milestones related to your goals derived from the prior sections.
- Weekly Layout. Like a more detailed weekly log, this is where you stay the course by tackling all of your localized responsibilities. Although many of the items won’t relate to your aspirations, the key is to include a few focused tasks that do.
- Reflection Pages. Lastly, through 10 prompts that review the past month, you’re able to gauge whether you’re on track or not to ultimate success.
Ditch the Paper Journal
Sometimes, bullet journaling itself isn’t the culprit. Instead, the sole barrier for people is the idea of using paper planners. Maybe you can’t stand the sight of your hideous handwriting. Or, you just prefer the glory of tech.
Fortunately, there are two fantastic mobile apps and a phenomenal desktop app to crush analog planning styles. They’re all robust enough for bullet journaling. OneNote and Notion are also more than capable of implementing other productivity solutions.
Mobile Apps That Really Work
OneNote. This cross-platform digital notebook from Microsoft does nearly everything. I’m a fan of its no-nonsense organization. Each “notebook” can have nested sections and pages.
Each page gives you the ability to add pictures, audio, video, and searchable tags. Other advanced features include dictation, image-to-text, and web clipping. Best of all? It’s totally free!
Goodnotes. Sort of a cult-favorite, you can own this Mac app for life with a one-time payment. Casey enjoys using it because it “feels” like a physical notebook.
While not as feature-rich as other productivity tanks, Goodnotes has PDF annotation, drag-and-drop, synchronization, templates, stickers, and much more. Combined with Procreate, it makes for an excellent digital BuJo (or any other journal)!
Notion – The Desktop App To Replace Them All
Have you heard of Notion? It is the ultimate life consolidator. Where do I even begin? I think the best way to describe it is WYSIWYG web design. Think of customizable pages with block elements, linkable to whatever other pages you want, in however the hierarchy you want.
Notion works for notetaking, brainstorming, habit tracking, archiving, databasing, managing teams, managing to-do lists – EVERYTHING! Also, the fact that Notion’s major components are fully tweakable is the cherry on top.
Did I mention it’s free for personal use? Even the paid plans offer a free trial. Really, no matter what your organizational aspirations are, I’d suggest you download the app and at least give it a test drive.
Even though this post is all about alternatives to the BuJo, you might enjoy using a bullet journal setup within Notion. Here’s a post describing how I set up my Notion bullet journal – template included.