Bullet Journal: Redefining Personal Productivity Methods

bullet journal method

There are lots of productivity methods and techniques for organizing your activities and getting more done, but finding the best method for you can be a serious challenge. Some productivity methods stem from complex, comprehensive programs such as Getting Things Done; others are simple ideas, such as The Pomodoro Technique; and others have their own quirky approach to managing tasks, based on steps, actions, time periods, and more.

Each of these unique productivity methods has their own structure and their own requirements, and they can get very overwhelming very quickly. It’s easy to get so caught up in learning all these different methods that we ultimately fail to achieve the original goal of increasing productivity.

If you’ve already committed to your own personal productivity method, it’s likely you’ve either successfully made improvements in your overall productivity at work, and maybe even in your personal life as well – or you’ve discovered the specific productivity methods you’ve chosen isn’t having the desired effect. Either way, it’s important to know there is such a thing as a simply and effective productivity method, without strict rules and tons of freedom.

Introducing the Bullet Journal method

The Bullet Journal Method takes a classic approach to increasing productivity in a modern age. In fact, the author even calls it, “The analog method for the digital age.”

Created by Ryder Carroll “to track the past, organize the present, and plan for the future,” the bullet journal method straddles the line between a productivity tool to help you get more done and a self-improvement tool to help you live a more fulfilling life. It combines a multi-faceted, yet easy-to-use method of organizing tasks with a journalling approach so you can look back at what you’ve done.

The Bullet Journal method strives on flexibility

Some personal productivity methods and techniques require that you follow all of their rules, very carefully. If you use Getting Things Done, there are complex processes to ensure that you accomplish all your tasks, in a specific way, and this can be stressful. One of the compelling elements of the bullet journal is the fact that you do not need to do this.

The bullet journal is flexible, and is designed so you can use the parts of the method that you like, and ignore the rest. You may want to keep a daily log and a monthly log, but don’t care about using an index; that’s fine. You may want to use a bullet journal just to manage your tasks, but not as a reference work to look back on; that’s fine too.

What is the Bullet Journal method?

In essence, the bullet journal is a custom method of organizing your to-do list – and more – in a journal or notebook. One of the advantages of this method is that you don’t need any special equipment: all you need is a notebook and a pen or pencil. There is no software involved in the bullet journal; this is one of the ways that this personal productivity method is different from many others.

The purely analog aspect of the bullet journal not only changes the way you interact with this system, but keeps it simple. (There is a Bullet Journal companion app, designed for taking notes on your iOS or Android device, to later add to your bullet journal, but it is not a tool for managing your tasks.)

At its core, the bullet journal method is about logging, adding “bullets” to your action items, whether they are tasks or events, adding notes when necessary, and working with these items. A bullet journal page looks like this:

bullet journal method

There’s more to the bullet journal method than just a to-do list, in what’s called the daily log. The method includes a monthly log, which is a sort of calendar view of your big-picture items; a future log, to plan medium- and long-term goals; collections, to organize information; and an index, to find information in your journals. But it is as simple as just writing in a journal and adding some bullets and signifiers, or small graphics to highlight certain tasks, to indicate what each line or paragraph represents.

Obviously, there’s more to it than just making lists. The goal of bullet journaling is to allow you to write down everything you need to do, see it at a glance, and focus on what matters.

The real beauty of the bullet journal method is how it finds the perfect balance between simplicity, flexibility and productivity. In fact, it’s so simple, you can watch a short 4 minute tutorial on how to set up your bullet journal and you’ll be ready to start adding entries immediately!

The Bullet Journal method is modular

The bullet journal is practical because you don’t have to use every element of the method. With some personal productivity methods, each element is part of a broader system, and cannot exist independently. But the bullet journal is designed to be flexible, allowing you to adopt which elements work for you and eschew the rest.

Building a Bullet Journal template

If you delve into the bullet journal a bit – for example, check out the #BulletJournal hashtag on Instagram and Twitter, with more than 3 million posts – you’ll see tons of customized layouts to help inspire your own bullet journal template. You might notice that many people who use this method are artistic, and their bullet journal templates are lovely. Don’t worry if yours isn’t; what counts is that you use it.

You can work with any kind of notebook – though there is an “official” Bullet Journal notebook available – and use any pen and pencil. The Bullet Journal website has more than enough information for you to learn how to use this method and build your own Bullet Journal template that works for your specific needs. If you want to go further, Ryder Carroll’s book, The Bullet Journal Method, goes into great detail, and is an excellent reference work.

The Bullet Journal excels where other productivity methods fail

It’s too easy to spend time fiddling, organizing, fitting your work and life into a system that may not be a perfect fit. Carroll says, “you can spend hours crafting to-do lists without ever crossing off a single thing.” What’s most useful about the bullet journal is that it is designed to let you do things and not focus on the system itself. The learning curve isn’t too steep, and once you get going, it’s easy to use the bullet journal without thinking too much about the system itself. And as you become familiar with the system, you can add features or drop ones that aren’t useful.

Why you should try the Bullet Journal method

If you want to better organize your work and personal life, have a look at the bullet journal. If you’re the type of person who likes using analog tools, and wants a simple productivity method that you can learn quickly and operate with no software, you may find that the bullet journal will help you stay on track and actually get things done.


Enjoyed this story? Subscribe to our free email newsletter to get our top insights delivered to your inbox (twice a month).