The Bullet Journal: How to Organize Your Entire Life in a Notebook

The bullet journal is quickly gaining popularity as an organizational method.

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 in the corner of your bookshelf, and the pages are mostly unwritten. You may try again someday.


We get it — keeping a journal or planner can feel like something of a chore 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, it’s sweeping the nation as the most efficient activity for gathering your thoughts and unifying not only your hectic schedule, but your entire existence, period. “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.” Over all, bullet journals are a welcome reminder to sit down and give yourself the few minutes you deserve by means of a process that makes you happy.

You may be wondering what makes the bullet journal method stand out from, say, a storebought planner in which the structure of your to-do list is already configured. 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. Furthermore, the benefits of bullet journaling are bountiful, ranging from improved memory to reduced stress levels. “Some studies have shown that we have as many as 50,000 thoughts a day,” Carroll says. “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 lowering the anxiety we feel from everyday occurrences.


So how, exactly, are bullet journals different from the regular kind? Let’s break it down.


[Related: Here’s How to Finally Get Control of Your To-Do List]

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 define your entries even further. 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.


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Carroll has advice for bullet journalists. His first tip? Carry your journal with you constantly.


“It’s a good idea to keep it 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 likely come across countless elaborately designed journals. Use these for inspiration rather than to incite intimidation, Carroll says. Keep your journal as straightforward as possible to start.


“It’s not about what your bullet journaling looks like — it’s about how effective it is in helping you accomplish your goals,” he says. “Once you understand the basics, you can make it whatever you need it to be.”


At its core, the bullet journal is a simplified strategy for consolidating the random aspects of your life. If frequently you feel as though you’re being pulled in thirty different directions, give this a solid go — and while you’re at it, practice perseverance. Over a span of so many weeks or months, bullet journaling may even become second nature. “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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