Tharika Liyanage (she/her) is a PhD candidate in the Paleobiogeochemistry group at RSES. She’s super curious about the early evolution of life and searches for fossilised molecules in ancient sediments to learn about microbial life in the distant past. In her spare time, you’ll find her at Questacon working as a science communicator or in her kitchen trying to figure out the best chocolate chip cookie recipe. You can find her on Twitter @thaliyanage.


During my PhD, I had to write regular reports to keep track of project progress. I struggled to write the first couple because when I flicked back through my lab book and calendar, I felt like I had done so little each day and achieved nothing over several months! In reality, I had been doing lots of little incremental things but I didn’t have a record of it. So that’s when I came across the Bullet Journal method.

It is a system and practice designed to help us live a more intentional life by being mindful of our two most valuable resources, our time and energy. There is a whole book about it if you’re interested in learning about the inspiration but the summary of the method on the official Bullet Journal website is a good place to start.

The beauty of the Bullet Journal method is its customisability to suit YOUR needs. Try something, if it’s not working out for you, try something else. If you search #bujo on Instagram, you will see a huge variety of layouts and designs, though don’t be intimidated by how fancy some layouts are! Your Bullet Journal is for you and is whatever you make it.

I like ticking things off lists so I optimised my system to enable me to do that and feel good about it. I’d like to share my Bullet Journal practice in my PhD in case anyone is looking to try something new.

I associate different roles or tasks with different colours. PhD = green, casual work = purple, teaching = scarlet, blue = home, orange = social, red = deadlines, black = general notes. I have pens in all those colours which live with my bullet journal.

I have a key for different kinds of dot points to categorize my notes.

My Future Log is where I keep track of future deadlines, big events such as conferences or seminars as well as long-term goals I set for myself. This is a great way to record all the big things you must do in the year, but you don’t need to focus on them right now. This layout makes it easier to prioritise and schedule big tasks well before the deadline. For example, I know that I take forever to write things. So, if I see that I have a conference abstract deadline in March, I will put the task of writing in the abstract in February.

At the beginning of every month, I will draw up a ‘Month at a glance’. Some people like to do a Monthly Log but I found that layout didn’t work for me. I wanted to see, in a glance, what major things were happening each week in a month. I also recently started using the habit trackers to keep myself accountable for some goals I had set. I divide the pages into rows, each representing a week. I consult My Future Log and schedule the big tasks that I need to do into the ‘Month at a glance’. I also record any experiments I completed, events and other unscheduled tasks each week.

At the beginning of every week, draw out a week planner to map out any meetings or events and to plan out those small incremental steps in the big tasks. I also record anything I did in a day that wasn’t planned. This layout really helped me balance all my commitments, plan out all the small steps in longer experiments and to remind future me that I do a lot of tasks each day, even though it didn’t feel like it.

This layout comes and goes in my bullet journal and maybe it’ll be helpful to you – when I need to visually prioritise different tasks, I use a modified “urgency and importance matrix”. Instead of classifying things as important or urgent, I use a swimming metaphor to visualise the mental and time energy needed for the tasks. ‘Deep Diving’ tasks will take up a big chunk of time and will need all my focus to dive into. On the opposite end of the spectrum, ‘Floating’ tasks are easy – I don’t need to think too hard about them, I just need to do them. ‘Fast Freestyle’ tasks need intense concentration for short amounts of time and ‘Shallow Paddling’ tasks are time intensive but doesn’t need high concentration.

So have I inspired you? Here’s what you need:

  1. A notebook. Use any notebook that works for you. I like the Leuchtturm1917 dotted A5 journals, which you can buy from most bookshops or online. All the journals already have page numbers and an index. Leuchtturm1917 released special edition journals that are specifically for Bullet Journalling. I just got the Edition 2 BuJo in Blush pink, which includes a little booklet about the system, suggested layouts, stickers and some handy tools to help quickly divide your page!
  2. Pens. There are some very strong opinions about pens out there in the BuJo community. I tried a few different kinds and settled on gel rollerball pens because I like the thickness and contrast on the page.
  3. A ruler

That’s it! Happy bullet journalling! I’d love to see what layouts work for you! #OnCirculationBlog so we can see!