Megan Portorreal is an avid journaler. A copywriter and former editor who lives in New York City, Portorreal, 28, says journaling helps her manage her busy life, keep track of her to-dos and document her thoughts.
"I like the idea of opening a journal to a blank page and just writing your thoughts down," Portorreal tells NBC News BETTER.
Regular planners were too structured for the writer, so she turned to a new trend: bullet journaling.
"I originally was looking into bullet journaling because I really wanted to fix myself and fix my life and make everything a little bit easier to manage," Portorreal says.
The minimalist journaling method, invented by digital product designer and author Ryder Carroll, seemed like a great way to make journaling fun. Plus, it was simple: All she had to do was buy a journal; create an index, a future log, a monthly log and a daily log; and keep on top of it (watch the video to see how it's done).
Bullet journaling was originally intended to be a minimalist endeavor. But on social media, the bullet journal has become a canvas of sorts. On Instagram, the hashtag #bulletjournal conjures over 5 million posts of artistic journal spreads interspersed with calligraphy and colorful illustrations. Portorreal says she felt pressured to make her journal a similar work of art, inscribing pictures of sunflowers (easy for a nonartist like her to draw), for example, within the margins.
"It was very visual, and I felt very pressured to update it and make it unique every single week," she says. "But it did help me manage my tasks all in one spot, and after using it for a few months, I said, OK, some of this stuff isn't working for me, and I need to figure out a better way of doing this."
She ditched the "weekly spread"
When Portorreal first started bullet journaling, she would lay out her weekly spread in advance every Sunday, which she says she saw a lot of people doing on Instagram. The spread consisted of two pages, which she would section off into three columns for each day of the week. Then she would write out her tasks for each day.
"I would get to, like, Tuesday or Wednesday, and I would need more space for that day, and I would feel pressured to turn the page and start another extra spot," she says.
The weekly spread did save her some time, she says, because she wouldn't have to worry about planning out the rest of her week. But for someone who writes a lot, she says, it was also limiting, and that frustrated her.
"I wanted to go with the flow like I used to do with my regular journal," she says.
She switched to a "rolling daily" format
While Portorreal wanted to go with the flow, she still needed some structure. Plus, she wanted to merge her planner with her personal journal, all in one spot. So she switched to what she calls a "rolling daily format."
"When you're ready to write," she says, "you just go off on the last spot where you left off."
Her journal is still structured, she says, but less so than before, and it feels more like a diary merged with a planner.
"Depending on the day, I can write a couple lines if I just have a couple tasks, or I can write two pages if I have a lot I want to say," she says, "and it's very freeing."
She brought bullet journaling back to the basics
Like a lot of people, Portorreal used to spend a lot of time drawing in her bullet journal. She decided to stop using her bullet journal as a canvas and took it back to its roots: minimalism.
"I feel like, with Instagram, people have evolved it into something more artistic, and to me, at least, it takes away from the original intentions, which was something that was minimal, simple, easy for you to use," she says.
Now, she says, her journal includes only the basics, like a key for notes, task bullets, completed bullets, important notes and daily reflections. She says she also stopped planning monthly themes for her journal.
"I really went back to the roots and tried to step back from the extra, the glamour of it, the pretty paintings and everything," she says.
She realized it doesn't have to be perfect
If you're interested in starting a bullet journal, Portorreal says, it's important to step back and think about why you want to do it.
"I think it's most important to just think about what are you doing this for, what do you need to get done and what's most important to you," she says. "For me, writing was most important to me. Documenting my everyday things was most important to me."
She adds that bullet journaling is a matter of trial and error — what works best for someone else might work against you. And while many artists may find that illustrating their journals works for them, she says, don't feel pressured to do the same because of what you see on Instagram.
"If you can't draw or you don't have cute handwriting, it's OK. You can still fully appreciate the value and reap the benefits of a bullet journal," Portorreal says. "It doesn't have to be this perfect thing in your head, and it doesn't have to be perfect for Instagram, and I think a lot of people forget that."
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