Bullet Journals

Is your planning system working? Or is it just another item on the to-do list?

Bullet Journals

Is your planning system working? Or is it just another item on the to-do list?

Nowadays, there are many things that people need to keep track of. Many people turn to productivity systems and smartphone apps to help them get things in order, but unless those systems are exactly designed to work for you, they often become yet another thing to keep track of.

That’s why interaction designer Ryder Carroll invented the Bullet Journal.

A Bullet Journal is a cross between a calendar, a notebook, a diary, and a to-do list. But it can be as much or as little of each of those things, depending on how you want to use it. Some people like to plan their lives months in advance, so they have full-page calendars to keep track of events. Some people prefer a simple list of things they want to do right now. Others use it more like a diary, to record and remember the goings-on of their day. Or they use it to take notes, grabbing bits of information that will come in useful later, or jotting down new ideas before they forget them. Most use a combination of all the above, inventing systems and adding modifications as and when they need them.

The thing about a Bullet Journal is that it’s flexible. You can adapt it in a way that works for you, instead of changing yourself to make you work for it. Did you miss a few days, or weeks, while you went on a holiday? No problem — you can get back right where you left off. Are you spending too much effort trying to make your system work? It’s all right — just switch to a simple layout. Some people like to spend hours making their journals look perfect, while others prefer a minimal layout that “just works”.

So what exactly is a Bullet Journal, and how does it work? Well, it originally started as Ryder Carroll’s personal system for taking notes. A lot of people were interested in how he managed to organise himself so effectively, so Ryder eventually decided to fine-tune his system and publish it for others to use. So he created the website bulletjournal.com — and it became an instant hit.

The original version is pretty simple: you write your tasks and notes with bullet points (now you know where the name came from!). But the shapes of the points are different for notes, events, and completed and uncompleted tasks, so you can quickly find the one you want. There are special pages to view your whole month at a glance, as well as the ordinary daily-use pages, and an Index in front to keep track of everything. You ca also add your own “modules”: special sets of pages for focusing on one topic like “Shopping List” or “Books I want to read”.

But the real power of the Bullet Journal came when people started adding their own modifications and “hacks”. The daily trackers, which let you visually watch your progress on something. The Calendex, which not only shows events, but also tells you where to find more details about them. The numerous small tweaks and adjustments that people make, to turn their journals into something just right for them.

What does Ryder Carroll think of all these changes? “I think it’s great,” he said in an interview with the New York Times. “That’s the whole idea. The Bullet Journal is essentially a series of systems I developed because they’re the things that worked best for me. I would never presume that ti would be the beginning and end for everyone else.” The name ‘Bullet Journal’ is now a registered trademark, but people are encouraged to use it for non-commercial purposes. Now, a quick web search will give you hundreds of ideas and tips from bullet journal enthusiasts around the world. Not all of them will work for you, but if you begin with the basics, you’ll soon figure out what does.

For all its features, starting a Bullet Journal is very easy. All you need is a pen or a pencil, and an empty notebook. Unlike ordinary diaries and planners, which tend to accumulate a lot of blank pages, or apps which need a smartphone and restrict you to a certain format, the Bullet Journal is simple, yet powerful, making it truly what its tag-line says: an analog system for the digital age.


This article was originally published in Sirius #244 30 Apr — 13 May 2017 “The Purple Sky”.

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