Bullet Journals Decoded: How to Make the Method Work for You

Bullet Journals are everywhere. Just do an online search and you will find there are websites devoted to and inspired by them, and countless videos instructing how to create them. But what exactly is a Bullet Journal?

Created and developed by Ryder Carroll, a Brooklyn-based digital product designer, the Bullet Journal, aka “BuJo,” is billed as an “analog system for a digital age.” Think part planner, part to-do list, part notebook, especially notebook.

“Technology is really good at helping us connect outward,” Carroll says. “You know, we can connect with people around the world, we can connect with information.” But an analog space, such as a paper notebook, Carroll says, lets us connect inward. “It basically forces us to shut off and disconnect from the internet and technology and data. I feel that is really important in order to be able to surface your thoughts and focus.”

All it takes is a notebook and pen of your choice.

Basically, a Bullet Journal is made up of four core modules, or collections: the index, the future log, the monthly log and the daily log. Using a process of “rapid logging,” such as writing down tasks, events and notes, BuJo users follow a key to assign different “bullets” to each entry – a process that – you guessed it – gives the journal system its name.

The key uses different bullet marks for tasks, events and notes, along with arrows that direct the user. When tasks are moved or completed, these entries are “migrated” to different dates or collections. The individual designs of each bullet allow people to clearly understand the status of their tasks.

Because the BuJo system is all about the migration, the index and added page numbers are integral. Migration creates a flow across the pages, taking the user back and forth, making the journal an active process and not just a collection of random entries. The time spent working on the paper pages creates a routine that allows you to stop and to think.

Says Carroll: “A lot of us just write things down on Post-it notes and in apps, and we are so distracted by all the things that we should be doing that we don’t spend any time considering why we are doing those things. … If you don’t have the two seconds to migrate a task and rewrite it, chances are it really doesn’t make a big difference in your life.”

You can create collections to individualize the journal, such as a shopping lists, books you want to read or random notes. And those notes can be anything. “I have started introducing a gratitude log, which is much more a personal thing,” says Carroll.

The beauty of this system is, because there are no rigid templates, it can be adapted by anyone, for any lifestyle and with any notebook. Carroll designed the system specifically that way. “I take notes in many different ways. I think in many different ways all the time … so when I designed the system I came up with a way for it to be able to handle that.”

How to start? Carroll stresses keep it simple.

“Everyone should start simply. It is not to say you can’t draw in it. As a matter of fact, you should do whatever makes sense to you … whatever keeps you coming back to the process. That is what is critical. Not what it looks like.”