Bullet Journal 101: Can It Help You Take Better Notes, Even Faster?

Ridiculously Efficient readers know that we’re constantly experimenting with new systems, tactics and strategies that aim to facilitate productivity and effectiveness, and one we’ve heard a lot about in recent months is the Bullet Journal. Is it all it’s cracked up to be? Read on to find out from our newest contributor, Kathleen McCann. -Marissa

What is the Bullet Journal Method?

Created by New York-based designer Ryder Carroll, the Bullet Journal -- or BuJo, as users often call it on social media -- lets you capture all your notes, to-do lists, calendars and sketches and organize them into a single system.

It uses a practice that Carroll calls “Rapid Logging,” which involves quickly jotting down tasks, thoughts and ideas as they come to you, categorizing those items with bullets, and creating an Index to make each item easy to find.

In addition to providing you with a place to unload and organize all your thoughts, the Bullet Journal also encourages you to reflect on what you've accomplished, reevaluate what you're currently working on, and plan for the future.

Who is the Bullet Journal best for?

Because the Bullet Journal generally uses a “bring your own journal” approach, it’s quite flexible. Bloggers, artists, professionals, students and anyone else who is not as organized and productive as they would like to be can all benefit.

The analog format also enables creative note-taking interpretations. Some use magazine clippings, sketches and stickers to make their journals look more like art projects than a collection of to-do lists. (Some have even taken elements of the Bullet Journal and adapted them to Evernote and other digital tools.)

Bullet Journal devotees love it for its flexibility. They take the pieces that are useful to them, discard the rest and add in their own flavor, including Gratitude Journals, Goal Lists, Habit Trackers, Meal Planners and Emotion Logs.

Most admit that it takes some getting used to, but in the end they become more productive and organized. As musician and YouTuber Emma Blackery shared on Twitter, “I started a bullet journal yesterday and already I've been 900% more productive and drank my daily intake of water. START A BULLET JOURNAL.” Others claim keeping a BuJo can reduce anxiety, save you money and help plan your wedding. In fact, the event that inspired Carroll to share his journaling system with the world was when a panicked bride saw his notes and said, “You have to share this with people.”

A sample Bullet Journal, from the Bullet Journal website.

A sample Bullet Journal, from the Bullet Journal website.

How to Bullet Journal

Prefer video, or want to get started rightnow? Check this out. For our step-by-step, keep reading.

"How to Bullet Journal" video from BulletJournal.com

Step 1: Grab a Notebook and a Pen

For some, a $4 spiral-bound notebook will do, but others may need something more rugged. If you're planning on taking your journal everywhere you go, you'll need to invest in one that will last. Two of the most popular notebooks for the Bullet Journal are the Leuchtturm 1917 and Moleskine.

While Moleskine notebooks are beautiful and durable, they do not have numbered pages, which is a dealbreaker for some BuJoers. If you’re in that camp, consider the Leuchtturm 1917.

Ultimately, it's your call. Your notebook can be as simple and spartan as you want, or as fancy and pretty as you want. The most important thing is to find a notebook that you will enjoy using.

Step 2: Format Your Journal

This part may seem tedious, but it only takes a few minutes.

Turn to the first two-page spread in your notebook, and title it “Index.” Do the same on the second two-page spread.

Label each consecutive two-page spread as follows: “Future Log,” “Monthly Log” and “Daily Log.”

If your notebook does not have page numbers, add one to the bottom of each page.

Add the Future Log and the Monthly Log with their corresponding page numbers to the Index so it looks like this:

Future Log: 6-7
Monthly Log: 8-9

You'll want to get in the habit of adding every page you create to the Index. This makes your journal easily searchable by date or topic.

Step 3: Start Journaling

Photo by Katie

Photo by Katie

Flip to your Daily Log, and add the current date to the top of the page.

Throughout the course of the day, add short, bulleted items to the page as they occur to you. These could be tasks that you need to get done, things you want to remember or an insight that you had. Anything that you might ordinarily write on Post-Its, jot down in a planner or type into a notepad app can go here.

Keep your items as brief as possible. This is what makes the Bullet Journal a quick and efficient method. If you want to write in length about a particular item, do so on the next page.

Step 4: Add Bullets and Signifiers

Now that you have a day's worth of entries, it's time to organize them the Bullet Journal way.

Categorize each entry into one of three groups: Tasks, Events or Notes.

Tasks are actionable items, like “Do laundry” or “Drop off package.”

Events are dated-related entries, such as “Dentist Appointment” or “Jeff's Birthday.”

Notes are thoughts, facts, ideas and anything else that isn't necessarily actionable. This could include the name of a restaurant you want to try, your gym's hours or an inspiring quote.

To the left of each entry, mark it with the corresponding symbol:

• (a solid dot) for Tasks
o (an open bullet) for Events
- (a dash) for Notes

Your journal will look something like this:

• Do Laundry
o Dentist Appointment
- La Feria is closed on Sunday

You may also add “Signifiers” to give each task more context:

* signifies Priority
! signifies Inspiration (great ideas, personal mantras, insights)
An outline of an eye signifies Explore (requires further research, information or discovery)

Step 5: Log Future Events and Tasks

Turn to your Future Log and divide it into sections. The most common way to do this is to draw two horizontal lines across each page, dividing each one into thirds. You should end up with six boxes on each two-page spread.

Place the name of each month into each box. You may now use this log to schedule events, tasks or other items that you would like to address at a later date.

Step 6: Organize Your Month

Turn to your Monthly Log and add the name of the current month to the top of the left page. This will be your Calendar Page.

List all the dates of the month vertically along the left margin, with the letter of the corresponding day next to it. Leave room for signifiers.

Use this page to schedule events or tasks throughout the month.

Example:

September

*1. M – Jeff's Birthday

2. T

3. W

The right page will be your Task Page, where you may record any tasks that you intend to do in the current month.

Step 7: Migrate Unfinished Tasks

This is where you will reflect upon your first month of journaling and assess if any open tasks are still relevant.

  • Add an “X” to any completed tasks.

  • Cross out any irrelevant tasks.

  • If an incomplete task is still relevant, add a “>” to signify “migration” and add it to your next Monthly Log.

The purpose of migration is to abandon tasks that are no longer worth the effort, to help you identify what is important and to shed some light on your patterns.

Additional Tips:

  • Add a “Collections” page to organize entries on one specific topic.

  • For recurring tasks, add tags, such as “Y” for “Yoga.”

  • Use a new journal at the start of a new year.

Is the Bullet Journal Ridiculously Efficient?

Verdict: Undecided

We know that the Bullet Journal is a time-efficient way to capture notes, to-dos, scheduling items and otherwise transform noise into useful action. But is it Ridiculously Efficient?

We’ll soon find out: following this month’s theme of Continuous Improvement, we’ve embarked on our own internal Bullet Journal testing for September, and will follow up with an official report of our experience with the methodology.

Do you Bullet Journal? We’d love to hear more about your experience -- leave us a comment below.