Bullet Journal system in action / ryder carrol (youtube)

My Week with Bullet Journal

Getting things done by getting them out of my head

I’m a journal addict. I've started dozens of them and most of them never go deeper than 30 pages. Office supply addictions aside, when I stumbled upon Ryder Carroll’s Bullet Journal system I realized there was an opportunity to reset my obsession with journals and turn it into a useful productivity tool.

An Abundance of Attempts

I'm no stranger to trying to remember everything, and Bullet Journal isn't the first thing I've tried to manage tasks.

When I was in middle school and high school, back before iPhones or Evernote and even predating the cult of GTD a bit, I used a daily note card system. It worked great. I hardly forgot anything and kept up with everything.

I wrote ideas, goals, and most importantly homework all on one card. Every day. Didn't finish something yesterday? Put it on today’s card. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. Except for weekends, which didn't have cards. I always considered weekends a time for execution on the week’s ideas and tasks that didn’t finish.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

I graduated high school in 2007. Two months later, the original iPhone launches and college bound I get my first Macbook Pro. I tossed my note card system away and invested in high-tech solutions.

I tried using different high-tech tools to stay productive, but I was always searching for a better system.

First, OS X’s Stickies, then iCal’s Reminders, then Cultured Code’s Things, Wunderlist, Evernote… I'm pretty sure I forgot a few, but ultimately I kept moving my task list from one service or app to another, and occasionally I just moved it back to my inefficient brain.

I also tried low-tech solutions, such as whiteboards and Post-it Notes, but even they seem to fail because of their different quirks. The whiteboard was impermanent and Post-Its had a habit of falling and getting lost.

But the biggest problem of all was that I was always using a mix of one or another. None of them ever had everything and I had long ditched one of my favorite parts of my note cards: recording ideas.

Back to Basics

What appealed to me the most about Bullet Journal is that it’s an analog system. Compared to the various high-tech solutions I tried, this one was definitely missing some common features. But because I am an analog being and my brain is an analog brain, logical fallacy aside I think that the reason Bullet Journal works so well for me is that it is also analog.

I am an analog being and my brain is an analog brain

Bullet Journal excels because it’s analog. It doesn't need to sync, it doesn't need Wi-Fi and it never needs charged. It also has 100% uptime and runs on dedicated architecture. What high-tech task management app/service can offer that?

Perhaps it’s the permanence of ink on paper, or the simple low-tech approachability of the whole thing, but my brain has taken to the system as easily as pen to paper.

My first spread.

Rapid Logging

The heart of the Bullet Journal system is “rapid logging.” Put another way, “Why struggle to remember later what you can write down now?” A simple philosophy that transcends the whole system, rapid logging aims to solve a myriad of my task managing problems.

The Bullet Journal system gives you three types of rapid logs to start with: notes, tasks and events. All are given their own lines with additional optional signifiers to give tasks importance or relevance.

• Bullets for notes/ideas

◦ Open bullets for events

☐ And checkboxes for tasks.

Bam. It’s that easy. For extra relevance, I give signifiers like stars for high priorities, dollar signs for things I need to buy, arrows for when a task moves to a new page, and if something is no longer relevant it gets crossed out.

The Experiment Continues

What I’ve found after using Bullet Journal for a week is that rapid logging all of my notes, ideas, tasks and events has had a freeing feeling on my brain. Even if I’m not more creative, I'm less stressed. I feel more empowered to accomplish my goals, and being able to look into my journal and see what I've accomplished next to what I’ve finished makes me feel like I’m not languishing. And now I don't have to remember my tasks, just where they are.

My setup:
Moleskine large graph lined notebook, double pen quiver and Sharpie pens.
I don't have to remember my tasks, just where they are.

For now, Bullet Journal is working. So for that reason, I’m going to keep going. Well, that and I dropped about $45 between a new graph paper Moleskine, a Pen Quiver and some Sharpie pens. I’m glad to spend it though because I've accomplished more things that were weighing on my mind in the last week than I did in the previous month.

I want to say a big thanks to Ryder Carroll for such a useful system. Thanks for sharing it and thanks for making it easy to use, understand and learn.