The Book in Three Sentences
In this book summary of The Bullet Journal Method, you’ll learn a system to manage your time, set goals, and live intentionally. Through this method, you’ll get more done and you’ll get the right things done. To start, you just need a notebook, a pen, and a few minutes every day.
The Bullet Journal Method Summary
Part I: The Preparation
The author was diagnosed with ADD which prevented him from focusing and being present. On top of that, Carroll couldn’t find a resource that helped him, so he was constantly distracted from obligations and they started piling up. Since he valued order and discipline, he created a system that worked for him and the result was The Bullet Journal Method. This is a system that combines features from a planner, diary, notebook, to-do list, and sketchbook. Over time, the author felt less distracted and overwhelmed.
Bullet journaling is an alternative to digital journals. It’s a way to get organized with simple tools to give clarity, direction, and focus to your life. More importantly, The Bullet Journal Method gives you self-awareness and offers an analog shelter where you can identify what truly matters. There are two parts to the Bullet Journal: the system and the practice. The system is transforming a notebook into an organizational tool. The practice is how you use that tool to live an intentional life.
The Bullet Journal can help us be intentional with our time and energy. By using it, we can accomplish more by doing less. It can enable us to identify and focus on what matters and remove what’s unessential. The framework combines productivity, mindfulness, and intentionality.
Productivity: there has been a slowdown in productivity in the past few years. One of the causes might be the information overload of modern technologies. A solution to digital distractions can be an analog tool such as the Bullet Journal since it can help you declutter your mind and see certain thoughts objectively. Instead of having several apps for different functions, the Bullet Journal can be your main source to store important information.
Mindfulness: at its core, mindfulness is about being aware of the present. You can achieve this by avoiding distractions and being disconnected.
Intentionality: achieving what we want takes effort. Sometimes we ignore what’s best for us and take the path of least resistance, but this has serious consequences. The Bullet Journal is a way to capture your intentions in the form of manageable tasks so that you can be organized. You can learn what’s important, why it’s important, and how to achieve it.
The gear you need is a notebook, a pen, and a blank sheet of paper. The Bullet Journal will make you more grounded, confident, focused, calmer, and inspired.
The idea is to live intentionally and by following your beliefs. You should know why you’re doing what you’re doing. To prepare for self-awareness, you have to pay attention to your thoughts, values, and dreams and a good way of doing this is through Bullet Journaling.
Decluttering Your Mind
Usually, being busy means being overwhelmed and not productive. Technology has made this problem even worse because it gives us too much freedom. Evaluating your options is mentally taxing and this causes mental fatigue. To identify your choices, you should distance yourself from them by writing them down. This is called decluttering your mind. By writing down all the possible options, you can take back control of your own life. The author proposes the following exercise where you use the blank sheet of paper horizontally and divide it into three columns.
- In column one, write the things you’re working on
- In column two, write the things you should be working on
- In column three, write the things you want to work on
This list shows how you’re spending your time and energy. Now that you know your choices, you have to determine which ones are worth pursuing. For each task on your list, ask yourself the following questions:
- Does this matter?
- Is this important?
If the answer is no, then that task is a distraction and you remove it from the list. At the end of this exercise, you’ll have things you need to do (obligations) and things you want to do (goals).
There’s more to bullet journaling than writing lists. One of those reasons is offering an analog, distraction-free tool that lets you stop and think. Unlike phones, notebooks force us to stay offline. This is a personal space, an offline sanctuary of sorts where we can think, reflect, process, and focus. Also, notebooks are flexible and we can use them to take down class notes, organize projects, or track goals. The Bullet Journal enables you to start each day with an empty page. Finally, your journal evolves with you. It’ll suit your changing needs and you can make adjustments as you see fit.
By committing thoughts to paper, they become more tangible. The tactile and physical nature of handwriting is mentally stimulating and lets us retain information for longer. By writing things down by hand, we engage with information on a deeper level. Also, journaling can be therapeutic and it can help us externalize painful memories. Writing by hand forces us to slow down and think.
Part II: The System
The Bullet Journal has different pieces and each one of them serves a specific function. The best part is that those pieces are fully customizable. You can adapt the system as your needs change.
Here are some key concepts:
- Index: the index helps you locate your content using topics and page numbers.
- Future Log: this is used to store future tasks and events.
- Monthly Log: an overview for the current month.
- Daily Log: a way to quickly capture your daily thoughts.
- Rapid Logging: a series of symbols that represent your thoughts
- Collections: the index, future log, monthly log, and daily log
- Migration: the process of removing useless content
These are the symbols you use:
- ‒ Note
- ⚪ Event
- ⏺ Task
- X Task Complete
- > Task Migrated
- ＜Task Scheduled
⏺ Task Irrelevant
Our experiences represent lessons. By writing them down, we can learn and grow from them and journaling facilitates this process. Rapid logging tries to fix the loose nature of traditional journaling and it’s about quickly capturing and organizing your thoughts.
Topics and Pagination
First, you give your page a topic that you write at the top of the page, as well as a number. This helps you:
- Identify and describe content
- Clarify your intentions
- Sets an agenda for said content
Bullets are short sentences you use to capture your thoughts and the idea is that they have to be as brief and clear as possible. Each bullet has a symbol. Lists often lack context and priority, but rapid logging solves this by categorizing entries in the form of:
The task bullet replaces the traditional checkbox. It’s fast, clean, and flexible and you can turn it into other shapes.
- ● Tasks
- ✖ Completed tasks
- > Migrated tasks
- < Scheduled Tasks
● Irrelevant tasks
You can also have Master Tasks (tasks that have a series of stops to complete them) and subtasks (smaller tasks under your master tasks).
Events are experience-based entries (such as birthdays). You represent them with the “●” symbol. The idea of events is to have a record, so they should be objective and brief. Based on these experiences, our bullet journal offers an accurate record of our lives. We’re essentially creating a roadmap for our lives. By seeing how we got here, we can plan where we’re going.
We represent notes with “-”. These can be facts, ideas, thoughts, and observations that we want to remember. Notes should be as short as possible, but make your future self a favor and be clear.
Signifiers and Custom Bullets
Signifiers are symbols that provide additional context to some entries. You can signal priority with an asterisk “*” to mark the important tasks. Similarly, you can signal ideas with an exclamation point “!”.
Custom bullets let you find entries that are unique to you. For example, you can use an “H” to signal football practice because the H looks like a field goal. Keep these to a minimum because they will slow down the process of capturing information and create friction.
Collections are modules that organize and collect the same kind of information. You can use it for trips, shopping lists, presentations, setting up parties, and so on. All of your collections combined are part of the Stack which you can customize however you want. There are four core collections: The Daily Log, The Monthly Log, the Future Log, and the Index.
The Daily Log
The Daily Log has the day’s date and the page number and you use it to organize your tasks, events, and notes for that day. You can use it to capture responsibilities and document experiences. Ideally, you should create day logs the day or night before depending on how much room you need. This section should be a record and a reminder to live intentionally rather than a traditional to-do list.
The Monthly Log
The Monthly Log takes two pages: the left page is the calendar page and the right page is the tasks page. The Calendar Page lists the dates of the month vertically with the first letter of the day next to it. There’s also space for signifiers. You can use the remaining space for tasks, events, or a brief account of something.
Tasks Page (or Mental Inventory)
These are the action items you’ve been thinking about or the ones that remain open from the previous month
The Future Log
The Future Log has all the entries that have dates that fall outside the current month. It’s at the beginning of the journal, after the Index.
The Index allows you to find anything in your journal.
Migration is the act of rewriting content from one place in your journal to another. Since rewriting takes time, you’ll be forced to reassess which of the tasks you’re migrating are worth doing at all.
This happens at the end of each month and you’re supposed to transfer the tasks you haven’t done yet that are still relevant. To migrate tasks, you can do one of three things:
- Transcribe the task in the tasks page of your Monthly Log and mark the old task as migrated (>)
- Transcribe the task into a Custom Collection and mark the old task as migrated (>)
- Migrate date-specific tasks to your Future Log and mark is as scheduled (<)
Setting up a new notebook (usually at the beginning of the year) gives us an excuse to reassess everything. Is something weighing you down or helping you on your new adventures?
Set Up Your Bullet Journal
These are the steps to set up a Bullet Journal:
- Set up the Index
- Set up the Future Log
- Set up the Monthly Log
- Set up your Daily Log
Using your mental inventory (optional)
- Review Mental inventory
- Migrate mental inventory
Part III: The Practice
Organization can be a form of distraction. Being busy isn’t the same as being productive. The why is more powerful than the what and the how.
The author points out some guiding philosophies to put your Bullet Journal into practice.
- To be happy, you have to find what’s meaningful
- Set goals and divide them into smaller steps to achieve them
- Reflect on the contents of your notebook to establish priorities
- You’ll always fail if you never start
- Always focus on what you can control, not on what you can’t
- Appreciate the good things in life
Doing something involves the possibility of failing. Don’t avoid risks because you fear failure. Try new things, and give the world the chance of contributing something new. Use failure as a teacher and as a chance to learn. You can’t avoid risk, but you can avoid a life of regret. If you don’t know how to start, begin by capturing your thoughts on paper.
We have to make the act of thinking about our decisions a habit. Before doing something, think about why you’re doing it in the first place. Reflecting gives us self-awareness, it gives us perspective, we see our progress, responsibilities, and circumstances, and it makes us question our experience. You can reflect in the mornings or at night. You can look at your tasks and ask yourself questions, such as “is this important?”, “why?”, “is this a priority?”. The process will relieve you of stress and anxiety and you can use it to appreciate life more. The idea of reflecting is to ask yourself why. In turn, this will help you refine values and remove distractions. This will bring awareness.
What we often consider success can be empty. Being in a constant state of self-development won’t make your life better, since we always crave something more. People spend more money than ever before, but depression rates have never been higher. More important than working hard is knowing why you’re doing it.
The base of our economy isn’t “good enough” but “better”. Companies make us believe that we can buy happiness, but no matter what we buy, the pleasure we get in return is short-lived. So your ultimate goal shouldn’t be happiness (a momentary emotion). Your goal should be fulness, something discussed in the book Ikigai by Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles. So what’s meaningful? This means something different to everyone and it changes over time.
One way to find meaning is by doing something. When we see potential, our curiosity will shine with excitement. To do this, you have to give yourself moments where you can define what those things are.
Curiosity is a powerful force, but how can we use curiosity and reduce the risk of failure at the same time? The answer is by setting goals. Goals give structure, direction, focus, and purpose. Never set reactionary goals (goals without intention and goals that are a reaction to something bad in our lives) because they offer high risk and low reward. Don’t use other people’s goals as your own either. Goals should have meaning and purpose, so find the why behind the want. By doing that, your goals are yours, and yours alone. When your goals (regardless of how ambitious) are authentic, you’ll be more driven to fulfill them.
Avoid multitasking. Focus on your main priorities and use them to block distractions.
Not every hobby is supposed to become an occupation, so every once in a while, work on a short-term project to see if your curiosity about that activity is truly your calling. The important thing is to start small and focus on self-contained projects. Never underestimate the potential of a small project. The author calls these small and manageable projects, sprints. The idea is to choose possible sprints to avoid long-term goals.
- No barrier to entry
- Clearly defined tasks
- A fixed and short timeframe
Brainstorm both the what and the why
By changing things gradually, you learn one thing at a time (and in time, you can accomplish something big). Radical changes can backfire, so aim for incremental improvement instead. Over time, you’ll encounter challenges and you’ll need to solve them. See these opportunities as a chance to grow and learn.
The Deming Cycle is a four-stage cycle for improvement:
- Plan: plan a change
- Do: put the plan into action
- Check: analyze the results
- Act: act based on what you learn
It’s easy to forget that time is a finite resource. So while you can’t produce time, you can improve the quality of the time you already have. Try to be in the here and now by being in a state of flow. This is what happens when someone’s mind is so consumed with the task that you forget about the passage of time. You’re so invested in the present moment that you’re creative and productive. To create flow, there has to be a balance between the challenge of the task and your skill level.
Mindfulness isn’t about getting rid of thoughts, it’s about distancing yourself from them. Whenever you’re writing down a task, reflect on the consequences of your achievements. What are you working towards? Do they add value to your life? Practice gratitude to neutralize the negativity in your life. Pay attention to the positive things.
Don’t waste time and energy thinking about the things you can’t change. We can’t control most things, but we can control how we react to them.
Don’t spread the negativity of a bad experience to others. This has a ripple effect the author calls “radiance”. Radiance is a reflection of what’s happening inside you. By being self-aware, you can prevent negativity to start in the first place. You can be the best version of yourself or you can be someone destructive. The people you surround yourself with will shape you because they have an influence on you. Be deliberate about the relationships you cultivate by recording your interactions. This can help you objectively evaluate your relationships one by one. You get to choose the people you surround yourself with, so try to be with people who challenge, respect, appreciate, and care about you.
You can find meaning everywhere if you’re willing to look hard enough. Try to find out the most mundane tasks that can add value to your life. Avoid living on autopilot. For example, going grocery shopping enables you to make dinner for your family and spend quality time with them. By analyzing why you’re doing what you’re doing, you can become more mindful.
To that effect, you can keep a “Clarity Log” in your Bullet Journal. To do so, you scan your Daily Logs, find chores you don’t like, and see the why behind the what. This is to find purpose in your actions. You can easily spot the things that don’t add value to your life, label them as distractions and find alternatives.
Don’t make a problem bigger than it already is. Although you feel powerless, that’s rarely the case. The first action you should take is deconstructing the problem. One way to do that is through an exercise called the Five Whys: to identify the root cause of a problem, ask yourself why five times (this is similar to the “Why Ladder” in Jay Shetty’s Think Like a Monk). Once you found the true reason, you can evaluate your options.
Inertia can feel frustrating. When that’s the case, try to explain the problem to someone else. This is called “Rubber Ducking” and forces us to distance ourselves from something and think about it more objectively. Be thorough and patient. Another exercise to break inertia involves break-sprints, a series of microprojects that should be short, unrelated to the problem you’re stuck on, and have a clear goal.
Perfection is unnatural, damaging, and unattainable. Remember that there’s beauty in imperfections and there’s room for that in your Bullet Journal. Your aim should be mastery, not perfection
Part IV: The Art
There are many moving parts in the Bullet Journal and when those parts come together, it all makes sense. The Bullet Journal can be life-changing, but remember that it’s just a tool. A way to make your Bullet Journal your own is by making your own Collections because they adapt to your specific needs.
There are four Core Collections to the Bullet Journal: Index, Future Log, Monthly Log, and Daily Log. Custom Collections serve special needs not covered in the Bullet Journal. They let you solve your own problems however you prefer. Keeping what you do is useful as long as you do something constructive with it. So Collections should provide insight to have value.
Three sources to Custom Collection:
Think carefully about the motivation behind each Collection.
Bullet Journaling is about content, not presentation, so value function over form. Focus on your priorities right now. This means not tracking several habits at the same time, but focusing on the ones that matter at the moment. Make your Collection useful to your future self, and iterate over time according to what worked and what didn’t. Your Collections should be simple, focused, and relevant.
- Legibility: Feel free to experiment with different kinds of lettering and writing tools. Writing is about what’s there, but also about what you intentionally left off.
- Sustainability: every Collection is a solution to a problem. Maintaining them shouldn’t be homework, but a simple endeavor that you enjoy.
Planning is a requirement for success. It’s about maximizing time and resources. The planning stage requires research. To avoid feeling decision paralysis, you can use timeboxing. Planning is all about action.
Lists are a fitting way to organize everything. To curate your lists, you should prioritize, taking into account the context.
This is an integral part of any project.
Trackers are a tool for keeping a record of a goal. By using a tracker, you’re deconstructing a goal into small, manageable steps. This is also useful so that you can be honest about how much progress you’ve really made. Sometimes you can detail the circumstances that led to an activity not happening. Knowing what you’re doing is important, but never lose track of why you’re doing it in the first place.
You can customize your Daily Log for long-form journaling. To do this turn a note (symbolized with a “-”) into a thought (symbolized with a “+”). You can add habit tracking to your daily log too by using a capital letter that refers to the activity (C for Cooking, R for Reading, and so on). As long as it’s helpful, you can add whatever you want to it.
The Bullet Journal Community has come up with clever solutions to pretty much everything. The author recommends visiting his website, as well as looking for Bullet Journal on some popular social networks, such as Twitter, Reddit, or Pinterest.
Part V: The End
The Correct Way to Bullet Journal
No two Bullet Journals are the same and there’s no right way to do it. But there is a wrong way, so start simple and remember that the goal is to be productive and enjoy it. It’s never about how the journal looks, but how effective it is.
In conclusion, we are our own responsibility. If you’re looking for a missing piece that is going to make you whole again, you won’t find it, and it isn’t the bullet journal. Ultimately, the journal is a tool to see ourselves more clearly.