Productivity in Mind: How Ryder Carroll Designed Bullet Journal

Tips & Stories

Productivity in Mind: How Ryder Carroll Designed Bullet Journal

Posted by Taylor Pipes on 03 Aug 2015

Posted by Taylor Pipes on 03 Aug 2015

Track the past, organize the present, and prepare for the future.

Sound like a familiar challenge?

Ryder Carroll, a New York-based designer, set out to tackle this head on from his notebook. A little over three years ago, Ryder developed the Bullet Journal, an analog system designed to be a to-do list, diary, notebook, and sketchbook.

It’s flexible enough that you can use it in your Moleskine, or borrow elements to put into place in Evernote. We recently chatted with Ryder about the origins of the bullet journal and how he implements it in his daily life.

How did you build the bullet journal and what problems did it solve?

The bullet journal definitely was not much of a system until the last couple years. Before that, it was just bunch of iterations on ways for me to keep many different types of personal notes. I slowly developed the system over time to capture notes in a way that my mind worked. Something flexible enough to deal with different types of content.

I had a learning disability that did not allow me to focus very well. It’s something that I’ve been challenged with for most of my schooling. Notes started as either a blank page with no template or as a super rigid template which I didn’t understand or enjoy.

I had short bursts of very intense focus, so I had to figure out a way to capture things very quickly. I would later try to revisit what I captured, but couldn’t find anything. Solving this problem was an iterative process, and each step was intended to address my own problems.

My solutions came from solving my own challenges.

Can you explain how the system works?

Essentially, the bullet journal is a framework for capturing your ideas. It allows you to keep track of what’s happened to you and allows you to organize what is currently going on and plan for the future.

Here is a breakdown of the bullet journal framework:

1. Rapid logging – a system of taking notes very quickly using page numbers, titles, and different bullet icons to distinguish steps you have taken with tasks.

2. Modules – allow you to organize the notes you are taking in different ways. There is a page at the beginning where you add the titles for all your entries so you can very quickly refer to them later.

3. Monthly log – a calendar and monthly task list.

4. Migration – transferring over only the most relevant pieces from one week or month to the next.

Takeaway: You can reduce the amount of things you have to do by transferring things by hand. If a task isn’t worth the time to rewrite it, it’s probably not important. Spend time with things that are important and be mindful of how you spend your time.

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Does the system work for knowledge workers or for creative visual thinkers? How does it set somebody up for success?

Ideally, what I am trying to do with the bullet journal, is figure out just enough of a framework to allow people to build on it for whatever they need. It can be as useful for people in the creative field as it can be for knowledge workers.

The idea of the bullet journal is to provide you with some guidelines. People can take the modules I designed and evolve them, or design their own and plug them into an existing framework.

What success have you seen in using your system? Improvements and gains?

One massive thing was to actually formalize this into a system. Bullet journal was a series of methods I used to keep myself organized. When I started professionally working in the digital space and thinking about user experience on a very different level, I took this digital mindset and adapted it for an analog context.

I really enjoyed the tactile experience of writing in a notebook. Essentially, over the last two years, I formalized the system and realized it could provide value to others.

The big revelation was when I introduced the system to colleagues. Whether they are a designer or programmer, they always have a notebook. I showed them different methods that I was using and they thought it was helpful. That was the real inspiration for sharing it with everyone else. In that process of making it a formal system, I had to find ways to talk about it and share information and tactics that many people could understand.

I really loved to see what people did with the framework. It was eye-opening to see how adaptable it could be for other people with different experiences and life—mothers and doctors and seeing their unique ingenuity.

Did you incorporate concepts from GTD into this system?

Not really. I had been exposed to a lot of different types of methods that did not work for me, leaving me frustrated. After I launched the bullet journal, people have brought up other intricate systems for managing information that had similarities and were very complementary.

How do you use Evernote? Do you blend bullet journal into Evernote?

I spend the majority of my days working and doing side projects in the digital space. I am a big believer in the right tool for the right job. Evernote is the best tool that I have ever found for capturing digital media.

I used Evernote to go paperless a couple years ago. Living in New York, you move all the time, it was wonderful to have a place with all my files. Optical character recognition was incredibly useful for me.

I also use Evernote to take pictures of notes I want to share with someone. With analog, you can’t share the information. That is super critical. Sometimes I will have an idea, snap it, and share that note.

It’s been wonderful to see a company like Evernote really embrace the analog space. I own the ScanSnap Evernote Edition Scanner. The fact that you partner with companies that allow you to take analog notes and have them in a digital world is incredibly exciting. I am excited to see the future of that space.

Have you seen people blend Evernote and bullet journal?

I have seen different ways people have used Evernote as their bullet journal. They take the tool and use their creativity to make it serve them. That’s exactly what I am hoping people use the bullet journal for.

They set up an Evernote notebook and create dates and times based on notes. Every note in that notebook is set up like a bullet journal. They create a stack and then each notebook is one they use for a month. There are multiple ways people have figured it out. They have been super creative with the options available to them.

What’s it like living in the digital world and embracing the analog one?

I live directly between those spaces and champion them both. For me, it’s about the tool. It’s not about creating excess task lists, it’s about finding the tool that will actually help you be most productive.

Putting pen to paper helps retain things significantly better and there’s a lot of science to back that up. At the same time, technology allows you to share that information, parse the information, and compartmentalize it to work with it in new ways.

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31 Comments RSS

  • Cory BlackEagle

    Is there a how-to guide on the bullet journal? I, too, have a disability that I think this would serve well, but I can’t tell from the small bit of information presented in this article exactly what it is and how to use it.

    • Jeremy Brand Yuan

      Cory, the video above is pretty comprehensive, have a look and see if it’s able to answer your questions

    • Randy

      If you dislike video (like myself), and prefer reading, a quick google search turned up http://bulletjournal.com/get-started/

    • Philippe Randour

      Cory, look at the official website http://bulletjournal.com/ for more detailed information on the framework.

    • Joao

      Cory, access his video and/or website (bulletjournal.com). There is a guide there. And if you want, search for facebook and google+ group about it, you’ll learn a lot with how other people use it

    • Evon Robinson

      Hi there Cory BlackEagle,

      In answer to your request, I have a supportive closed FB group (Barefoot Journaling Chronicles) you might be interested in. I post all kinds of creative inspiration related to journaling of all kinds, but especially the bullet journal. There is so much to be said about Ryder Carroll’s system in it’s many evolving forms.

      Feel free to join us if you’d like…I’d be happy to welcome you on your bullet journaling journey with us. And anyone else reading this is welcome to join us as well. 🙂

      Blessings!

      ~Evon Robinson
      Barefoot Journaling Chronicles

  • Jorge Silvestrini

    Great article about the integration of both, digital and analog domains… Thanks for the share!

  • Tracey

    I’m a big fan of the bullet journal, and have been using one for a few months now. Also a big fan of Evernote, which I’ve been using for years. However I keep the two systems separate, though do some cross-referencing.

  • Marc Keil

    I thought about using Evernote with Bullet Journal, too. The biggest drawback of the system in my opinion is the bad planning part. It is really good in capturing tasks and really shines in that regard. However, I’ve paired it with a digital calender to plan my tasks. This works very well so far.

    • Andrew

      Marc Keil, – that sounds like exactly what I’m looking for!
      I’m looking for a way to put notes and reminders into my online diary.
      Can explain how you do that?
      many thanks

  • R

    I use both, but hadn’t thought of combining them – that would be great. Are there examples/demos out there that we could see?

  • Barb

    This is brilliant. Thank you for sharing. I use notebooks as a way to order information but haven’t been able to think of a system that made sense. I am starting this right now.

  • Roy

    I have studied task management systems all my life. For years, I used paper and pencil. For the last eight or so, I’ve used an electronic system that syncs with my Mac, iPad & iPhone. Here are the things that I look for in a system:
    Is it portable?
    Can I dictate a quick note, thought, reminder into it quickly while walking (or maybe driving safely) by pushing one button?
    Can I tag the tasks/projects by who, where, what and when (priority)?
    Can I change priorities often effortlessly? This is essential since priorities change daily.
    Can I search by tag and pull everything up that is tagged for a certain priority, day, place, person or activity?
    Can I setup the task so that it automatically repeats every 30 days (for example) AFTER completion of the last tag?
    Can I “live” link the tag to one or more emails and/or Evernote Notes so that my tasks and my files are all in one place when I meet or call someone?
    Can I back it up so that in case of theft, fire, loss or other bad situation, I can retrieve weeks and years of work?
    Does it log completions?
    Can all tasks be sorted by projects and be changed daily, if necessary?
    Can I schedule tasks or projects so that they popup on a specific date or interval like monthly?
    Can I sort all 450 of my tasks into such areas as Today, Next, Schedules and Someday?
    Can I easily move items between all categories and change tasks without typing or writing?
    Can I set up quiet or sound reminders within this tool to alert me ahead of necessary completion?
    Can I use bright symbols or emoticons to get attention? Can they be changed quickly as the tasks status changes?
    Can I move tasks enmasse from, say, tomorrow to next week because of something unforeseen?
    Can I effortlessly move tasks between tags, categories, projects and due dates without retyping or writing?
    Can I add lengthy notes that inlcude website live links?
    Can I log task or completed project quickly
    Are all tasks immediately searchable by key word, tag, project, due date, etc.?
    Does the system allow the essential Weekly Review of ALL TASKS so some don’t get lost? What is the Weekly Review system and how long does it take?

    I want a system that, when set up, takes very little time or effort and helps me be more efficient and not feel tied to it to continually make time wasting changes and updates. It should dance for me, not be a drudge or tine-taking chore. I want a partner in my success, not something whose limitations stand in the way of efficiency.

    • byron

      Did you find anything out there that met all your criterias?

      • Ilpo

        Check out Doit.im. It does most of those things.

    • Richard

      Here here!

    • Don

      You’re describing Todoist

    • Andrew

      There’s a book called Essentialism that you might want to check out.

  • Tom Jackson

    I discovered the bullet journal this week. I’m combining a Livescribe WiFi pen, a Moleskine journal and Evernote. My idea is to use the bullet journal to physically index my analog and digital events, tasks and content. This means that I have to physically log my Evernotes, which I must be more disciplined about naming, of course. If I am successful, my Livescribe entries will automatically upload to Evernote and I’ll have an analog and searchable digital copy of my bullet journal. The act of physically migrating journal entries plus indexing my Evernotes will act as a filter on memory.

    • April Craren

      How is the Livescribe WiFi pen? I would love it if it is working well.

  • szpinner

    Feel badly as Carroll has undoubtedly put in a great deal of thought into bullet journalling but I think it is more work than it is worth. I would bogged down in remembering where to put what and then retrieving it would be a nightmare. Sorry…my philosophy is still K.I.S.S. (Keep It Super Simple) and Evernote lets me do it…just set up the correct notebooks…KISS !!!

    • Angelina Degelder

      Except if the system crashes…then pen and paper is much more simple 🙂

    • April Craren

      Physically writing it down makes a HUGE difference for me. It would be like learning any new habit, it takes about weeks to take. But everyone is different, what works for me, does not mean it works for others. I love evernote, and combining it works weel for me.

      • April Craren

        I ment 4 weeks

  • Greg Podolec

    I got Evernote to try to rid myself of “pen and paper” like this bullet journal. I must be missing something, because I don’t see the connection between this bullet journal and Evernote? It seems like using the bullet journal is contrary to using Evernote? How can I transfer the above bullet journal to my Evernote? And why do I want to keep a paper bullet journal AND Evernote? Isn’t Evernote supposed to eliminate paper tasks like the above bullet journals.

    • Inge

      Evernote and Moleskine have launched an Evernote edition Molekine notebook you can use for your bullet journal. It comes with stickers that will automatically tag and file your snaps based on your settings. Evernote on its own doesn’t really work as a planner for me, so I use the bullet journal for that. Whenever I need to capture something, I just snap a picture and Evernote files it in the right place for me.

      • Inge

        To clarify: for me it is very much ‘out of sight, out of mind’, so I need my appointments and planner to be physically there to avoid forgetting. Whenever I need to archive something, I use Evernote pictures for that.

        • April Craren

          yes

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  • April Craren

    Thank you so much, this is a game changer for me. It is just what I wanted, but did not know how to frame it!

  • Lana Wong

    I have a busy work and home life. Do you think it’s better to keep 2 journals and separate what I do during my work day vs what I do when I’m not at work?