The Bullet Journal Method

Last Updated: Reading Time: 8 min

What I read

Book Cover

The Bullet Journal Method: Track the Past, Order the Present, Design the Future

Buy it on Amazon

320 pages

Authors: Ryder Carroll

Rating: 4 / 5

Summary

The Bullet Journal Method is a simple but flexible journaling method to help us become mindful of how we spend our time and our energy.

It is based on the premise that writing things down lets us capture our thoughts. It can help us recover from decision fatigue by allowing us to distance ourselves and get some perspective by periodically reviewing those notes.

The constraint of using paper is a significant theme of the book and the system.

Key Quote

Life is messy and often wildly unpredictable. The Bullet Journal embraces the chaos by not trying to fight it.

Key Takeaways

What are Bullets?

Bullets are short objective sentences used to capture your thoughts.

Do your future self a kindness and don't sacrifice clarity for brevity

Crafting effective Bullets requires striking a balance between brevity and clarity. Writing down your thoughts becomes a chore if it's too long. If an entry is too short, you may not be able to decipher it later.

Types of Bullets

Bullets can be of different types, and each type is assigned a symbol to allow you to contextualize your thoughts in real time.

Tasks

The friction of an unfinished Task actively engages your mind

Tasks are the things that you need to do.

They can have multiple steps, aka subtasks, that need to be marked as completed before the master task can be marked as complete. Subtasks are indented below the master task.

Tasks can have 5 different states.

  1. Incomplete Tasks are entries that require you to take action. They are depicted by a filled O.
  2. Completed Tasks are entries that have been completed. They are depicted by x.
  3. Migrated Tasks have been moved into your next Monthly Log or a specific Collection. They are depicted by >.
  4. Scheduled Tasks are tasks moved into the Future Log because they are tied to a date that falls outside the current month. They are depicted by <.
  5. Irrelevant Tasks are tasks that don't matter anymore. You can strike out these tasks. They are depicted by 0.

Events

Good or bad, big or small, jot it down. Over the days, months, and years, they will form a pretty accurate roadmap of your life.

Events are experience-related entries that can either be scheduled preemptively or logged after they occur. They are depicted by open O.

Notes

The more content you try to capture during a lecture or a meeting, the less you're thinking about what's being said.

Notes are pieces of information that aren't actionable, but you don't want to forget. They are depicted by -

Instead of capturing everything in a meeting, give yourself a moment to process what you heard after it's over and capture whatever surfaces in a note.

Custom Bullets

Custom Bullets help you quickly capture entries that are unique to your situation.

Signifiers

Signifiers are symbols used to highlight specific entries to give them additional context.

Priority Signifier

Priority Signifiers are used to mark a bullet as important. They are depicted by *.

Inspiration Signifier

Inspiration signifiers can help quickly scan entries to find noteworthy things. They are depicted by !.

Collections

Collections are the modular building blocks of BuJo, used to store related content. Although there are a few core collections, you can create one for anything you want to keep track of.

Daily Log

The Daily Log Collection is a catchall to capture your thoughts throughout the day. It is based on the concept of Rapid Logging, a way to quickly capture your thoughts into Bullets.

Monthly Log

Understanding how we got to where we are today will allow us to make more informed decisions as we plot our course forward.

The Monthly Log provides an overview of time and tasks for the current month. It is designed for reference only. It has 2 components.

  1. The Calendar Page acts as a timeline by capturing events after they happen
  2. The Tasks Page is used to capture items that matter this month. It is filled as part of the monthly migration.

Future Log

The Future Log stores tasks and events that fall outside the current month.

Using the Bullet Journal Method for Goals

When not set with intention, goals can be knee-jerk reactions to something ugly or painful in our lives.

Write down all goals, regardless of whether they are big or small. You can have separate collections for personal and professional goals.

It can help to write a brief mission statement to define why we're doing something, what we hope to get out of the experience, and how we will do it.

I want to [what] so that I can [why] by [how].

5,4,3,2,1 exercise

You can use the 5,4,3,2,1 exercise to prioritize your goals.

It's easy to forget that just because something could be done does not mean that it should be done

Steps

  1. Divide the page into 5 rows
  2. Top Cell will store goals you want to accomplish in 5 years
  3. Next cell, goals you want to achieve in 4 months
  4. Next cell, goals you want to achieve in 3 weeks
  5. Next cell, goals you want to achieve in 2 days
  6. Next cell, goals you want to achieve in 1 hour
  7. Add your four short-term goals (those in the hour and day cells) to your Daily Log and set them as priorities with a * Signifier.
  8. The remaining goals get their own collection.

Each decision, until it's been made and acted on, is simply a thought

Sprints

Though goals provide direction, they focus on outcomes that are ultimately out of our control. Sprints are independent, self-contained projects that can be used to break goals into actionable steps.

They should have nothing preventing you from starting and take less than a month to complete.

The longer a goal takes to accomplish, the more it taxes your motivation.

Break Sprints into clearly defined, actionable Tasks. Once you've listed out your Tasks, start figuring out how much time each Sprint would take. Take the time estimate and triple it.

Lock in a dedicated time to work through your Tasks by blocking them on your calendar.

Now you know when the project begins, how long it will take and when it ends.

Using the Bullet Journal Method to Track Habits

Progress is more important than speed.

On the right margin of the page, create columns for each thing you want to track. These columns should align with the days of the month. Add Task bullets in the cells to mark them when you take action.

Remember to add a key so that your future self will know what you were keeping track of when looking back through this note.

Daily Reflection

In the morning, review all pages of the current month to remind yourself of any open tasks.

In the night

  • Mark completed tasks with an x.
  • Transfer any bullets with a future date from your Daily Log into your Future Log. Mark the entry as scheduled <.
  • If a task is missing, write it down
  • Strike out tasks that are not important
  • Write down more than 1 thing that you are grateful for

Monthly Migration

At the end of the month, scan all of the pages of the past month, and review the state of your Tasks.

  • Strike out incomplete tasks that have become irrelevant

  • If a Task remains relevant, then migrate it. You can migrate it in 3 ways

    1. Transcribe the open Task to the Tasks page of your new Monthly Log. Then mark the old entry as migrated
    2. Transcribe the Task into a Custom Collection. Then mark the old entry as migrated
    3. If the Task is date-specific and falls outside the current month, migrate it into your Future Log. Then mark it as scheduled.
  • Go through the future Log for any items that are ready now. If so, migrate those items into your Monthly Log. Mark them as migrated.

Yearly Migration

If an entry isn't worth the few seconds of effort required to rewrite it, then it's probably not that important.

The yearly migration is designed to add the friction you need to slow down, step back, and consider the things you task yourself with.

Review all the collections you have created when you get to the end of the year. Decide if these Collections (and their open Tasks) get to accompany you into your next Bullet Journal.

Other Quotes

In a cut-and-paste world that celebrates speed, we often mistake convenience for efficiency

The more you invent, the more complex it is, and the slower you will become.

It's not about how many goals you have. It's about working on what matters.

Don't worry about getting everything right or perfect. Every master starts by picking up a tool for the first time.

Convenience, however, often comes at the expense of understanding

Happiness is like an orgasm: If you think about it too much, it will go away

Tim Minchin

What can be bought can be owned. There is no happiness store. It's not because it can't be bought; it's because happiness can't be owned.

Even the greatest menu is useless if you don't order

There are naïve questions, tedious questions, ill-phrased questions, questions put after inadequate self-criticism. But every question is a cry to understand the world. There is no such thing as a dumb question

Carl Sagan

Just because you're driving at full speed does not mean you're going in the right direction.

You're either the person who creates energy. Or you're the one who destroys it

Seth Godin

The big misconception is that the alternative to perfection is failure

Start with less, but do it better. You can always add more later.

Dieter Rams

In order to make any true progress, you need to understand the effects of your efforts. You need to understand not only what is or is not working, but also why

Recommendation

I like the ideas presented in the book. However, the book suggests using an analogue system which I prefer to avoid. A lot of it needs to be adapted to today's digital world. Although, that should be easy to do.

It can be helpful if you are struggling with procrastination or feeling overwhelmed with everything you have to do.