For stationery enthusiasts who find joy in the world of pen and paper, journaling isn't an activity immediately associated with technology or the digital sphere.
But these two areas may be more compatible than we may initially assume. Emily, a front-end web developer who goes by @codejournals on Instagram, has merged journaling and her tech-centric lifestyle to get the best of both worlds.
We interviewed Emily to learn more about her passion for both journaling and tech, and how she strikes a balance between the two:
You’re a developer and a journal creator. Which of these passions would you say you discovered first, and how?
I started coding before bullet journaling. I went to uni for a double bachelor's in commerce and IT, which was the time when I first learnt how to code.
I discovered the bullet journal method in 2016 but didn’t officially start my bujo until 2021. There were some pretty pathetic attempts at spreads in 2017 when I was drawn by the aesthetic and scrapbook-style bujos I saw online, however, I quickly realised that it wasn’t sustainable nor functional for my life and concluded bullet journalling wasn’t for me.
I decided to try again when I needed a flexible option for planning, but went in with a different mindset.
You use Ryder Carroll’s original Bullet Journal method. For someone unfamiliar with this method, can you give us a quick overview of how you apply it?
I don’t entirely conform to the original Ryder Carroll method, but some things I do apply in my bujo are:
Yearly and monthly spreads for event overviews (but digital calendars are still my source of truth)
Bulleted to-do lists for my monthly and weekly tasks, and the Alastair Method for my year (grouped by quarters)
I also do a lot of logging and activity tracking as a diagnostic tool. Long-form journalling is hard for me, so writing down points of what I did and how it made me feel (good or bad) serves as a mini gratitude journal.
As someone who works in tech, why did you adopt a traditional pen and paper approach to journaling, as opposed to using a platform like Notion or another digital tool?
I wanted the freedom that pen and paper gave me. Digital tools can be powerful, but they are cluttered with features I don’t need and limits my possibilities with their existing framework.
When using digital tools, the temptation of being able to edit and format what I’ve typed adds pressure of making it perfect. Handwriting makes me more intentional about my words, allows me to embrace my errors, and the process of making spreads forces me to take essential breaks from the digital world.
There is no forced structure and I can write wherever I want, how I want.
It’s also easier to access my bullet journal — I don’t need to wait for a computer to turn on, battle with reading content on a small screen, or fixate on typos.
A physical notebook feels easier to navigate to me and I saw no need to overcomplicate it when I needed it to be convenient.
That being said, I still use online tools to help organise certain areas of my life (e.g. finance and time management) and there will always be some things that the bujo cannot replace.
What are the main benefits you’ve experienced in using a journal?
Bullet journaling benefits my mental clarity by bringing awareness to what happens in my life and helps identify trends and patterns.
It’s also reassuring to know that if I feel mentally overwhelmed, I have a space to journal which I’m learning can be cathartic.
To minimise waste, I use whitespace from past spreads for doodling which has been a nice creative outlet. The idea that I am creating an archive of my life (and also the desire to finish a notebook) encourages me to continue.
You’ve adopted a stunning minimalist approach to journaling. Is this more reflective of the utilitarian function of your journal, or your personal taste and lifestyle, or both?
Definitely both. I knew that if I wanted to give bullet journalling a proper chance to become a habit, I had to start with the fundamentals.
I initially gave myself strict rules — still written at the front of my journal — to follow (e.g. only allowing myself to use a black pen and grey highlighter, to freehand where possible, only journal when I wanted, and avoid leaving placeholder pages etc.).
Bullet journals should complement your life, and I had streamlined the spread creation process to avoid being overwhelmed.
Here, my tech world started to bleed into my journal — I created a simple design system of headers and layouts that could be used and did mini “retrospectives” to review what worked well, what needed to be tweaked, and brainstormed what new spreads I think would benefit my life.
By restricting myself to do the bare minimum, it allowed me to focus on creating sustainable systems and set realistic expectations on what I could manage when creating and filling spreads.
Only when I was comfortable with my process would I then start to add other spreads and expand the function of my journal (e.g. I only started adding colour 1.5 years into my journey). My bujo feels efficient and consistent, which are traits I really value.
What advice would you share with someone else who works in tech, who might want to take a break from the digital world, perhaps by taking up journaling to stay organized?
Working in tech can be so chaotic and there is persistent pressure to keep up with project deadlines, new releases, technologies, trends etc.
When your full-time job involves staring at a screen all day consumed by apps, it’s even more important to set boundaries of how much of the digital world you should be exposed to.
Keeping a bujo has been a nice reminder that things do not always need to be instantaneous and automated; life doesn’t move as fast as the online world, and there is beauty in taking things slow and being introspective.
I believe the key attraction of a bujo is that you can customise it to suit your current state. Have the patience to learn what you need from a bujo and what works for you, but be realistic about your ability to maintain it.
Start come and don’t be too critical of it, your bullet journal shouldn’t be a measure of success, just a reflection of how things are going.
Thank you to Viv for answering our questions. Be sure to follow her on Instagram.