This is a comprehensive summary of the book The Bullet Journal Method by Ryder Carroll. Covering the key ideas and proposing practical ways for achieving what’s mentioned in the text. Written by book fanatic and online librarian Ivaylo Durmonski.
Worksheet: Download this summary to read offline.
The Book In Three Or More Sentences:
The Bullet Journal Method aims to help us become mindful about how we spend our two most valuable resources in life: our time and our energy. Basically, the method presented in this book wants to help you accomplish more by doing less. All of this by writing down what’s essential for you and executing on this short list. This book is a how-to guide for using this flexible framework (bullet journaling, or bujo in short) to organize your life.
The Core Idea:
Mainly, Ryder Carroll, the author, wants to help us organize our lives by tracking the essential things happening around us. The method presented in this book, called the Bullet Journal Method, is basically journaling on steroids. A profound way to sort your ideas and arrange your life. It’s more of a diary, it’s a system for tracking what’s happening in your life so you can find what’s essential for you and focus on doing it.
7 Key Lessons from The Bullet Journal Method:
Lesson #1: Decluttering Your Mind
Studies show that we have around 70,000 thoughts per day. And if we put the amount of thoughts on paper we’ll have enough information to produce a book every single day – that’s a lot of content.
However, unlike books, our thoughts are scattered around the perimeter. Sometimes dull. Other times not so unique. A lot of times struggling to find meaning. But there is a way to find clarity in this chaos of thoughts.
Writing things down, as the author explains, is a way to take control of your mind. Give him context. Stear the wheel into the desired direction.
It’s easy to drift away and think about vacations and beaches. It’s hard to think about what needs to be done. That’s why writing down your priorities, or in general, on a piece of paper will help in these two segments of your life:
- You can actually see what needs to be done;
- You can force your mind to think towards a specific direction and get into more details.
We think about way too many things all the time. Most of them don’t really need our attention. However, only when you write everything down you’ll understand what’s important and what you can put in the dumpster.
Lesson #2: Organization Can Be Distracting
In a lot of occasions, an organization can become a cleverly disguised form of distraction. You write stuff down in your 5-year planner and you think that you’re making a difference and working towards your goals but in reality, you’re just writing stuff on a piece of paper. You’re not actually working on achieving your dreams while you’re writing them down, you’re just writing them. Nothing more.
The whole Bullet Journal sequence is designed to waste you as little time as possible. The author of the method is well aware that planning, planners, and notebooks can waste a bunch of our time on this planet. His approach is minimal and focused on results, not mindlessly writing things down for the heck of it.
You can spend hours crafting the perfect plan, the ultimate to-do list. To discard draft after draft till you’ve got the lines perfectly aligned. But that’s not what’s important.
The essential thing is way different. It’s not planning, it’s doing.
Lesson #3: Perfection Is a Damaging Concept
Most people think that the opposite of perfection is failure. But that’s hardly the case. The difference between getting a 100% score on your math test and getting a 93% is insignificant, it’s something only in your mind. Actually, you’ll probably retain more information if you score poorly. After all, you’ll check what you got wrong and you’ll learn from your mistakes. In contrast, if you only get straight-A’s you’ll most probably quickly forget what you’ve learned.
The same principle applies when you’re starting a business, writing, painting a picture, taking notes… pretty much everything in life. Not only that you won’t learn much if you’re constantly perfect, but perfection often leads to anxiety. You’ll constantly push yourself to make everything flawless, which will lead to long hours of work and most probably creative burnout. Additionally, aiming towards perfection can be a curse. A lot of people don’t start anything new only because they’re afraid of imperfection, of judgments, of being publicly shamed.
But there is another path – practicing imperfection.
Ryder Carroll explains it perfectly in the book:
“It’s not about making mistakes on purpose; it’s about reframing your response to them. In meditation, the goal, so far as there can be one is to be present. By disentangling ourselves from our thoughts, we can view them objectively. Easier said than done. Even the most experienced practitioners are consumed by their thoughts from time to time. The key is realizing that you’re stuck in a thought, and pulling yourself back out of it. More so, it’s to perceive the wanderings of your mind not as a mistake, but as an opportunity. Each time you came back into the present, you ever so slightly strengthen your ability to focus. In this way, you begin to embrace a flaw with curiosity instead of judgment.” Ryder Carroll
Lesson #4: Bullet Journaling Key Concepts
As we already discussed, the Bullet Journal method is different from the other diary mechanisms. In essence, the method presented in the book is a way to organize our lives and waste us as little time as
- Index: This is how your journal begins. The first few pages are used to locate your content in your Bullet Journal. By adding topics and page numbers inside the Index you can later find what you’re looking for faster;
- Future Log: A collection of your future tasks. Usually, it’s 4 pages and each page stores your brief tasks, future events, etc., for 3 months;
- Monthly log: Provides an overview of the tasks for the current month;
- Daily log: The diary-like section of the journal. The daily log is a short form description of your days;
- Rapid logging: It’s basically a way of writing. Instead of going overboard with your explanation about how your day went, you can just use short-form notation paired with symbols to quickly capture, categorize, and prioritize your thoughts into notes, events, and tasks. For instance, the book suggests using “dash” for notes; “circle” for events; “dot” for tasks;
- Migration: This process involves filtering out tasks that are obsolete or no longer relevant. Since you’re filling your future log in advance, there is surely going to be a task, or something else, that’s not worth doing after a few months. This simple action helps you to stay on track and not waste time on duties that don’t need to be attended.
Lesson #5: Organize The Mental Inventory
We take the needed time to organize our closets, right? Well, why not do it for your thoughts and ambitions also?
The Mental Inventory it’s a simple technique that will remove the mist from your desires and reveal on what type of tasks you’re wasting your time. After completing the exercise, there is a high chance that there will be a lot of useless responsibilities draining valuable mental and emotional energy from you.
So, here’s the task mentioned in the book:
You’ll need a sheet of paper. Orient it horizontally and divide it into three equal columns:
- In the first column, list all things you are currently working on;
- In the second, list all the things you should be working on;
- In the last column, list the things you want to be working on.
Dig deep and be honest with yourself. You want the real answers.
Your list might look like this:
- Searching for new people to follow on Instagram;
- Organizing a local event;
- Clearing my inbox and rearranging folders;
Should be working on:
- Family budget for the next month;
- Sending emails to possible prospects;
- Weekly priorities list;
Want to be working on:
- My own online business;
- Trip to Seychelles island;
- Learn to code;
Yours will surely be different. The main idea of the list you’ve just created is to give you a clear picture of how you’re currently investing your time and energy. Of course, also give you a direction.
Obviously, you should strive to do more of the things located in “want to be working on” category.
Lesson #6: Create Flow to Gain More Time
Unlike machines, we tend to procrastinate a lot. If a certain task can be completed within an hour, the average citizen of the modern world will need at least 3 – one extra hour for convincing himself to start working on the task and another hour for posting his progress on social media.
Yep, that’s what we do, we tend to get lost in the things we do by engaging with other things.
But there is a solution if you want to become more productive – create flow.
The term was coined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and it basically means to be fully engaged. To be into the present moment. When you’re 100% focused on what you do you unlock our productivity chakras and creative potential.
Unfortunately, flow cannot be forced. It should come naturally to you. The only thing you can do is to create conditions where flow is more likely to occur. Here’s how:
Time-boxing: You basically dedicate a chunk of time to a specific task and you block everything else. The main idea is to create a sense of urgency in you. After all, if you only have 30 minutes a day to write you will make sure to make those 30 minutes count.
Lesson #7: Put Hard Things First
If some tasks seem boring to you, or they are hard to be achieved, but they have to be done, put them first on your to-do list. This type of task-organization is crucial for reaching faster results.
Naturally, we get exhausted during our days. Our attention span drains throughout the hours we’re awake. Obviously, putting exercising as the last task to be performed before going to bed it’s a bad decision. You’ll be tired and you won’t put a lot of reps, that’s why it should be done sooner.
The other benefit of doing-the-hard-thing-first mindset is that you’re working your way towards the things that interest you the most. This way, it’s much easier to maintain focus and motivation throughout the day when you have something to look forward to.
So, no matter what type of task awaits you, put the hardest, the most unpleasant task that needs to be done first on your to-do list. Call your boss, write that article, record that video, write that email, whatever it is, do it before doing anything else.
- Create a goals collection: Daydreaming about the future is something we regularly do. We can spend hours roaming through our thoughts and hoping for a brighter future. But let’s do something better, eh? Let’s capture our ideas on paper so we can make them a reality. Get a piece of paper and start writing. Big or small goals, it doesn’t matter. The idea here is to have them all clearly stated. This collection serves as a menu of sorts, listing your potential futures. The only thing you need to do next is to start making the most appealing goal a reality.
- Sprints and Tasks: A goal can be composed of a lot of things. To make things simple, and keep the momentum going, it’s best to break them down into smaller self-contained Sprints and Tasks. Losing weight can be a bold goal, especially if you’ve struggled with this for years. However, simply stating that you want to “lose weight” doesn’t mean anything in particular. There are other things, smaller things that need to be performed, daily, if you want to achieve your goal. For instance: What type of food you can stop eating? When you’re going to exercise? What type of thing you’ll stop doing in favor of working out?
- Daily reflections: It’s easy to lose sight of what’s important and waste an entire day doing unimportant tasks. Not if you reflect daily on your actions though. Take some time at the end of the day to write what you did. Spot things/tasks that don’t bring any real value in your life and do your best to remove them.
- The 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 Exercise: The 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 exercise is designed to give us context to our goals. To put them in a timeline. Use a sheet and give it a name: “5, 4, 3, 2, 1”. Divide the spread into five rows. The top cell will store the goals you want to accomplish in 5 years; The next will be for what needs to be achieved in 4 months; In the next cell add goals for the next 3 weeks; The following one is for the tasks that have to be done by 2 days; The last cells is for the goals you intend to accomplish in the next 1 hour. You can use this method for whatever tasks or projects you prefer.
- The Deming Cycle: Iteration sounds more complicated than it is. In general, it means “the process of doing something again and again, so you can improve from the previous experience.” This way of thinking is the foundation of the Deming Cycle, a four-stage framework for continual improvement: “Plan > Do > Check > Act.” Let’s break that down:
- Plan: Recognize an opportunity and plan a change;
- Do: Put the plan into play and test the change;
- Check: Analyze the results of your test and identify what you’ve learned;
- Act: Act on what you’ve learned. If the change didn’t work, go through the cycle again with a different plan. If you were successful, use what you’ve learned to plan new improvements. Rinse and repeat.
Commentary and My Personal Takeaway
I’ve tried journaling before. I promised myself that I’ll write stuff down. Keep a diary so one day I can read it and laugh out loud. Unfortunately, I rarely kept my promise for more than a couple of months. After a while, I simply forget doing it or I run out of ideas. To be honest, I didn’t find it valuable to write stuff like “I’m blessed that I woke up today and that I’m alive…”
The Bullet Journal method works for me because it has low expectations. The focus of the system is to give you more time doing what you want to be doing. Rather than spending time writing pointless things on a notebook costing $30.
Even though you can go wild and do write every day, describe every tiny detail of your boring day, the main idea is to keep it short, simple and aimed to help you track the past, order the present, and design the future.
The book and the system are definitely worth further investigating. The following video will give you all the essentials to start: LINK.
“Inevitably we find ourselves tackling too many things at the same time, spreading our focus so thin that nothing gets the attention it deserves. This is commonly referred to as “being busy.” Being busy, however, is not the same thing as being productive.” Ryder Carroll
“In the most connected time in history, we’re quickly losing touch with ourselves.” Ryder Carroll
“The more content you try to capture during a lecture or a meeting, the less you’re thinking about what’s being said. You burn through most of your attention parroting the source.” Ryder Carroll
Do yourself a favor:
Join Going Further: A 13-day email series on how to keep progressing in a world tirelessly pushing toward regression. Great for people who feel stuck in the endless loop of not doing.