Do you ever feel like your attention is being pulled in a hundred different directions? Thanks to our hyperconnected world, staying focused on what matters can be a daunting task.
Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a battle-tested method we could use as a guide to keep us on track?
Enter the Bullet Journal: A productivity system that can help keep you organized when everything else feels like it’s in disarray. But before we get into the specifics, let’s look at why journaling is effective in the first place.
A Book of Benefits
Typing notes on your laptop or phone is undoubtedly quicker than the retro system of tracking thoughts, tasks, and goals via pen and paper. But that expediency comes at a price because you’ll miss out on some great benefits:
- Writing something by hand makes the information more likely to stick in your memory.
- Journaling is a tangible way to track your personal development over time, which can be a powerful reminder over the years of how far you’ve come.
- Expressing yourself through writing promotes clarity of thought and introspection, while also lowering stress levels.
Tracking your life with pen and paper has clear-cut benefits, but what’s the best way to go about it? Randomly writing down every noteworthy thought or task that comes up can result in a cluttered mess… which is why we need a technique that’s both flexible and organized.
The Smoking Gun
Author and designer Ryder Carroll created the Bullet Journal. Carroll, who was suffering from learning disabilities, was on a mission to develop a system that would help him successfully navigate life.
After years of tinkering, the Bullet Journal was born—and it was robust enough to fit any lifestyle, not just Carroll’s.
Ready to see what all the fuss is about? Below are the core components that make up the Bullet Journal. It may seem overwhelming at first, but the process becomes quick and simple once you get the hang of it.
The index is the hub where everything is organized, allowing you to easily keep track of memories, tasks, goals, appointments, and stray thoughts.
Write the page number at the bottom of every sheet (unless you’re using a notebook that already has them numbered) and label the top of the first three to four pages as “Index.” Then, whenever you journal, go back to the index and write down the page number and general topic of the entry you just wrote.
For example, if you end up jotting down your New Year’s resolutions on pages 6 and 7, you’d flip back to the index and write “New Year’s resolutions: 6-7.” And if you end up writing down additional thoughts on your resolutions later in the year (say on page 62), just go back and update your index entry. In this case, you’d change it to “New Year’s resolutions: 6-7, 62.”
This system makes it easy for you to refer to and keep up with all your journal’s content throughout the year, eliminating the need to flip through dozens of pages at a time to find what you’re looking for.
A collection is any topic you want to explore (like the aforementioned New Year’s resolution example). And while these can cover anything you want, there are three core collections every traditional bullet journal has: future logs, monthly logs, and daily logs.
- Future logs are used for tracking long-term projects, goals, and commitments. These are typically set up in quarterly, biannual, or annual increments.
- Next are monthly logs. These are used to keep track of specific appointments and tasks you need to get done within the month.
- Finally, daily logs are used for tracking anything you want to accomplish in each 24-hour period. In addition to helping you organize everything you need to do for a given day, this is also a good place to declare your intent for activities like exercising or buying groceries.
These three logs can be set up and formatted any way you want. You can draw a square for each day of the month within your monthly log, like a normal calendar. Or you can just write the name of the month at the top of a fresh page (remembering to index the page number it falls on) then list one important date per line from there. The same flexibility applies to future logs and daily logs. Lay them out in a way that works for you.
Sometimes the content within these categories will overlap, and that’s okay. As long as you’re diligently keeping track of everything you need to do, your bullet journal can work as the organized one-stop shop your life needs.
You have your index and initial collections set up. Now what?
Rapid logging is the answer. This technique is what makes the Bullet Journal such a good fit for any lifestyle and schedule.
There are two categories of Rapid Logging: bullets, which track tasks, and signifiers, which categorize bullets.
Bullets come in three types: task, event, and note. Descriptions for each are listed below.
• Dots are used for tasks. Put a dot before any actionable item you need to complete. Every rapid-log entry starts as a dot and is then modified once it meets one of the criteria below.
X Once your bulleted task is complete, turn the dot into an X.
> If you don’t complete your task within the day or month you originally planned, use a forward arrow to indicate you’re moving it to a later date.
< If your task requires something to be scheduled in advance, use a back arrow to indicate the scheduling process is complete. You can then write down the specific date and time in the appropriate daily, monthly, or future log.
Here are four examples to show each task bullet in action:
• Finish painting room.
X Go to the gym.
> Bake cookies.
< Schedule dental appointment.
o Represented by an open circle, event bullets are used to indicate something you need to do at a specific date or time. For example, the aforementioned “Schedule dental appointment” task would be written with an open circle on the day the actual appointment takes place.
– Represented by a dash, note bullets are used to jot down any noteworthy ideas, observations, thoughts, or commentary that pops into your head during the day.
Signifiers are optional symbols used to include additional at-a-glance context to your bullets.
Here some examples of possible symbols and their tasks:
$ Indicates a task involving finances.
! Indicates a task that is urgent or high priority.
? Indicates a task requiring additional research or investigation.
At the end of each month, review your uncompleted tasks (which should be marked with the > symbol). Then rewrite them in one of your new time logs, and voila! The tasks are back on your radar, and you haven’t missed a beat.
If you’re having a hard time picturing how all of this fits together, watch this official video from the Bullet Journal creator to see just how easy it all actually is.
Color Outside the Lines
Though it may sound complicated at first, the Bullet Journal is a well-established system that has a sturdy structure and set of rules. But the system’s framework is also deliberately flexible.
The methodology outlined above can encompass the entirety of your bullet journaling, or it can simply be a starting point from which to branch out.
If you’re the creative type, you can let your imagination run wild within the pages of your journal. Thanks to indexing and collections, you can doodle or write poetry any time the mood strikes without worrying about ruining your journal’s flow.
If you’re more analytical, you can keep your journal tidy and by the numbers. Maybe you want to map out your budget or log your nutrition macros. Your journal can accommodate any type of numerical tracking you want.
Popular collection topics also include categories like personal fitness progress, thoughts on pop culture and entertainment, recipes, meal plans, grocery lists, things you’re thankful for, devotionals, memories, and the list goes on.
The possibilities are limitless, but don’t let the wealth of options paralyze you into inaction. Start by carving out a time each day to journal, and from there commit to the basics of indexing and task logging. Everything else can be added after you’re in a consistent routine.
Turn the Page
If you struggle with keeping yourself motivated and organized, the Bullet Journal may be just the solution you need. You have all the knowledge and tools to get started, so what are you waiting for? Go grab a notebook and pen, then start writing a brighter future for yourself… one bullet at a time.
Abrahamsen, Shelby. “The Ultimate Bullet Journal Cheat Sheet for Beginners and Beyond.” Little Coffee Fox, 14 November 2017.
Carroll, Ryder. “The Analog Method for the Digital Age.” Bullet Journal, 2018.
Cherry, Kendra. “Memory Tips That Will Boost Your Brain Power.” Very Well Mind, 11 October 2018.
Job, Kimberly. “Bullet Journal 101 – Everything You Need to Know to Get Started.” Sublime Reflection, 11 October 2016.
Nazish, Noma. “Five Reasons To Keep A Journal In 2018.” Forbes, 29 December 2017.
Skwarecki, Beth. “The Bullet Journal, Minus the Hype, Is Actually a Really Good Planner.” Lifehacker, 16 September 2016.
Kim. “Thorough Guide to the Bullet Journal System.” Tiny Ray of Sunshine, 21 January 2016.
Wilding, Melody. “Bullet Journaling for Beginners (and Impatient, Unartistic People Like Me).” Medium, 9 March 2018.