Welcome to TechCrunch’s 2018 Holiday Gift Guide! Need more gift ideas? Check out our Gift Guide Hub.
Since digital product designer Ryder Carroll’s list-based method for organizing his life first went viral five years ago, bullet journaling has become a movement of its own, helping people take charge of their time with a notebook and pen.
The system’s flexibility means it can be used for many things: time management, academic note taking, mental health tracking, meal planning, project management, scrapbooking, and more. While Carroll’s own approach is minimalistic — a simple system of lists and symbols — others have turned their bullet journals (or “bujos”) into elaborate works of art, with hand-lettering, embellishments, and illustrated “trackers” for to-do lists and goals.
In his new book, The Bullet Journal Method, Carroll explains that he began developing his “cross between a planner, diary, notebook, to-do list, and sketchbook” that eventually evolved into the bullet journal to cope with attention deficit disorder. Much of bullet journaling’s effectiveness comes from writing tasks out by hand: researchers have found that handwriting activates parts of the brain that typing doesn’t, helps people retain information, and, as Carroll puts it, “allows us to form new connections that can yield unconventional solutions and insights.”
If you know someone who’d be into bullet journaling, the end of the year is a great time to help them get the ball rolling. Veteran bullet journalers, meanwhile, probably won’t mind some new pens or stationery. This list also has suggestions for people who prefer digital journaling, too.
The definitive guide to bullet journaling
Sure, there are already a lot of bullet journaling guides online, including the original tutorial on Carroll’s site, but even seasoned bullet journaling fans can still get a lot out of his new book “The Bullet Journal Method: Track the Past, Order the Present, Design the Future.”
It includes the basics, but also motivation for people who are turning to bullet journals to help overcome hardships or achieve major life goals. Carroll is a thoughtful writer and his chapters on how bullet journaling can guide people to live more intentional, meaningful lives is a big step above the standard productivity book. The print edition ($17 on Amazon) is a beautifully produced hardback that makes a great gift.
The best notebooks
Many bullet journalers prefer to use notebooks with dotted grid paper that helps them keep things neat but also gives them more flexibility than lined or graph paper. Notebooks by Scribbles That Matter (shown above, about $23), a new U.K. brand, are gaining popularity among bullet journalers because their 100gsm paper allows them to be used with a wide variety of pens, markers, and even watercolors. Hardcover Moleskine ($12 on Amazon) and Leuchtturm1917 notebooks ($20 on Amazon) are often used for bullet journals because of their durability and paper quality. In fact, Leuchtturm1917 offers a bullet journal edition ($25) with a guide, three page markers, and stickers for labeling entries.
Bullet journals include “collections,” or individual sections dedicated to specific projects or goals. Since collections can become lengthy, some bullet journalers prefer to use traveler’s notebooks, which are several slim notebook inserts gathered in a flexible cover. The inserts can be swapped in and out, making the journal even more customizable. Japanese stationery company Midori makes the original and best-known version with leather covers (starter kits begin at $58 from Baum-kuchen). For non-leather ones, check out Cadeneta (starting from about $31) on Etsy.
A lot of bullet journalers prefer fountain pens because they perform especially well on the high-quality paper used in notebooks like Moleskines and Leuchtturm1917s. The Lamy Safari (starting from $30 at Goulet Pens, one of the most comprehensive fountain pen stores online) is a popular “starter pen” because of its ergonomic grip and wide variety of colors and finishes, while the Pilot Vanishing Point (starting from $148) has a retractable nib, making it ideal for people who like the feel of a fountain pen, but prefer the convenience of a click pen.
Pre-filled ink cartridges are available for Pilot and Lamy pens (and many other fountain pen brands), but if you really want to get fancy, give your recipient a set of three mini Pilot Iroshizuku ink bottles ($32 for a box of three), known for their unique colors, smooth ink flow, and quick drying times.
If your recipient does a lot of sketching, they will appreciate a set of eight Sakura Pigma Micron pens in different sizes ($14.50). For marathon journalers, gel pens are a good option because the ink, pigment suspended in a water-based gel, glides onto the page and can help alleviate writer’s cramp. The Uni-ball Signo UM-151 is one of the most popular versions and comes in many colors. JetPens currently has a set of 12 new colors for $34.
Highlighters help keep bullet journals organized, but if your recipient isn’t into blinding neon colors, try a set of Zebra Mildliners ($18 for a set of 15). As their name suggests, Mildliners are highlighters that come in subtle colors.
One of the biggest draws of bullet journals is how customizable the system is. If your recipient is a stationery fan, consider giving them a subscription to ZenPop’s Japanese stationery pack, starting from $30 for one month. For artists, Artsnacks is packed with four to five full-sized art supply products each month (subscriptions start from $24 each month for U.S. plans and there are international options available, too).
Many people turn their bullet journals into a personal scrapbook or use it for project planning. Fuji Instax is a simple way to add photos and its Mini 70 model (starting from $60 on Amazon) weighs just 10 ounces. For diehard smartphone photographers who still want the look of instant film, the Instax SP-3 photo printer ($150) lets them print photos on Fuji Instax mini film ($44 for a pack of three).
Other options include the HP Sprocket ($100 on HP.com), which prints photos onto HP ZINK sticker paper ($10 for a pack of 20 sheets), and the Canon Selphy CP1300, one of the most popular compact photo printers ($168 on Amazon).
Pen and paper not your recipient’s thing? Consider gifting GoodNotes ($8 on the App Store), a popular app for digital bullet journalers because it does a great job of replicating the experience of writing on paper (its handwriting search function is also very useful). The app has a marketplace of downloadable bullet journaling spreads and templates created by other users. Digital bullet journals are also a good excuse to gift a stylus: an Apple Pencil for iOS users ($99 on Apple’s site) or Adonit Droid ($25 on Adonit’s site) for Android fans.
Your bullet recipient will probably need a way to keep their notebook, pens, and other supplies together. Vitra’s Toolbox ($70 on Vitra) is a desk caddy that comes in 11 colors and is an attractive and portable alternative to clunky desk organizers. The Lihit Lab Teffa Bag in Bag ($11.25 on JetPens) fits an A5 size notebook and keeps stationery, coins, and other small things from getting lost in the bottom of their bag. Japanese stationery company Raymay’s Topliner ($16) is like a lightweight, grownup version of the pencil cases kids use in elementary school.