The creator of the bullet journal shares how to be more productive, mindful, and finally check everything off of your to-do list.

By Ashley Paige
Updated February 04, 2020

How many times have you picked up your notebook, promising to log an entry daily, only to gradually lose practice as your life gets busy? Now it's collecting dust and the pages are left mostly blank. Keeping a journal or planner can feel like more of a chore than a resource when your day is already booked from morning to night. Enter the bullet journal, a rapid-fire journaling method developed by Ryder Carroll, a digital product designer living in Brooklyn, New York, and inspired by years of his own personal organizational challenges.

The concept is simple and yet effective for gathering your thoughts and unifying not only your hectic schedule, but also your mind. "Bullet journaling provides a framework that encourages users to stop and think," Carroll explains. "It's about cultivating a habit that will allow you to lead a more intentional life, pursuing things that actually matter." Overall, bullet journals are a welcome reminder to sit down and give yourself time to reflect and enjoy the process of creating.

Related: Here's How to Finally Get Control of Your To-Do List

A Mindful Method

You may be wondering what makes the bullet journal method stand out from a structured, store-bought planner. For one thing, bullet journaling allows for greater depth and creativity, and it's an exercise in personal reflection. "The bullet journal is mindfulness practice disguised as a flexible productivity system that uses a notebook to help declutter your mind," Carroll explains. "We are flooded with information. It's easy for the important things to simply get washed away. Bullet journaling allows you to quickly capture meaningful thoughts as tasks, events or notes." According to Carroll, the technique provides mental clarity and focus while assuaging the anxiety we feel from everyday events.

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How It Works

Basically, it's rapid logging. In other words, your notes will be quick and to the point rather than complex and lengthy (akin to traditional journaling). Bullet journals are divided into four components, consistent with the theme of rapid logging: topics, page numbers, short sentences and bullets. Topics and page numbers are just how they sound. At the top of the page, you'll write a short title to describe the subject and illuminate the upcoming entry. You'll jot down the proceeding entry in short-form notation. Each bullet should be written as a quick sentence, and there are three categories within the bullets themselves: tasks, events and notes. Tasks are represented by a dot. Once complete, they become an X. If the task is in a current state of migration, you'll use a greater than symbol, and if scheduled, less than. Use an "O" to mark an event, and a dash to take notes.

Another option is to employ extra signifiers to further define your entries. For example, an asterisk might give a task higher priority, and you may assign an inspiring thought an exclamation mark, so it's not lost on the page.

Best Practices

"It's a good idea to keep [the journal] with you throughout the day, as it's very effective as a catchall," he says. "Aside from this, bookend your day by reviewing your book. Briefly review it in the morning to prepare, and before you go to bed to clear your mind. This practice grants you an effective mental model of your time that will help you operate more clearly and intentionally."

When typing #bulletjournal or #bujo into the search bar on Instagram or Pinterest, you'll come across countless elaborately designed journals perfect for inspiration in creating your own. But, Carroll warns not to get bogged down in the design aspect, and to remember that the bullet journal is meant to be a positive resource in time management and mindfulness. "The more time you spend planning, the less energy you have to actually do things," Carroll says. "This is a tool to help you identify and progress towards the things that matter to you. If you're making progress, then you're doing it right. Have patience with the system... and with yourself."

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