Brooklyn-based product designer Ryder Carroll finds regular planners too inflexible to track his endless to-do’s. That’s why he created the “bullet journal” — a note taking methodology that combines productivity with mindfulness.
Whether you’re on vacation or running between meetings, the bullet journal evolves alongside your needs, and helps you focus on what’s important, according to its creator.
“A big part of bullet journaling is taking a step back, figuring out how you’re investing your attention, your time and your energy, and making sure that it is actually valuable,” Carroll tells Better.
HOW IT WORKS
The bullet journal consists of four sections, or modules.
Getting started is easy — all you need is a pen and a blank notebook.
In your notebook, you will create four sections, or modules, that work together: The Index, the Future Log, the Monthly Log, and the Daily Log.
“A good way to think about the bullet journal is that it’s modular in that the entire methodology is based on these separate modules or collections and every collection does exactly what it sounds like — it collects related types of data,” explains Carroll.
Index: The Index is the first few pages of your journal, and includes your upcoming activities and events with their corresponding page numbers.
The Future Log: This module includes items that need to be scheduled months in advance.
The Monthly Log: This module consists of a calendar and task list that gives you a bird’s eye view of what you need to get done in a month.
The Daily Log: This module uses “rapid logging” to track your day-to-day activities.
Watch the video to learn more about how these sections work together.
When Carroll was a teenager, he was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder. He found it difficult to pay attention in class. To stay focused and take better notes, he developed a method known as “rapid logging.” He says the bullet journal slowly evolved from this method.
Rapid logging captures information in short, objective sentences in your daily log. Each sentence is marked by a different symbol delineating a task (represented by a bullet), event (represented by an ‘O’), or note (represented by a dash ‘—’).
o Thanksgiving day
- Pick up John and girlfriend from train station
— John’s girlfriend: vegetarian
When a task is complete, mark it with an ‘X.’ If it needs to be postponed, mark it with a > to indicate that it needs to be migrated (We’ll talk about this more in the next section.) Symbols can be added for additional context. For example, if something is important, it gets an asterisk.
Example: * — John’s girlfriend: vegetarian.
Rapid logging allows you to capture data quickly and visually delineate between different kinds of data, explains Carroll.
“And that’s what rapid logging is all about,” he says. “It’s about trying to capture pieces of data that function as anchors for you to be able to unpack later, essentially.”
“Migration” is the cornerstone of the bullet journal, according to Carroll. It’s a process where you decide which tasks are worth your time and which aren’t.
Here’s how it works: After you have completed one month of bullet journaling, take a look back through your entries, put an “x” next to what you’ve completed, and assess any unresolved tasks that are still relevant. If you decide a task is no longer relevant, strike it out. If it’s still important, migrate it to your new monthly log.
“It gives you an opportunity to stop and think and take a step back and really examine the things that are occupying both your time and energy and to see whether or not they’re worth your time at all.”
When going through your unresolved tasks, ask yourself: Is this critical? Will it add value to my life?
“For me, bullet journaling allows me to be significantly more mindful of my actions — to see if my actions align with my values,” Carroll says.
Keep an archive of your journals
Carroll never throws out his journals. He counts about 20 on his shelf.
“They’re kind of like a library of your life,” he explains. “They keep account of the choices you made, the hardships you overcame or didn’t, and it allows you to become a historian of your own experience.”
He says a big part of archiving your bullet journals is being able to reflect on lessons learned in the past. For example, maybe you are starting a new project similar to another one you did.
“You can take out that bullet journal from two years ago and see what worked and what didn’t,” Carroll says. “And you can definitely learn from your own experience.”
Start With the Basics
Bullet journaling may sound complex, but once you get the hang of it, it can be revolutionary, explains its creator. Carroll recommends keeping it simple.
“I would say a very large amount of people new to the bullet journaling get introduced to it through what they see on Instagram and Pinterest,” he says. Many of those bullet journals are colorful and filled with elaborate illustrations, he says, but don’t need to be.
“I think a lot of people want it to be perfect from day one and I feel like that’s doing themselves a disservice,” Carroll says. “Embrace the fact that you’re learning something new and have fun with it. Be patient with yourself.”