The Bullet Journal Method by Ryder Carroll

It feels weird to be finally reading this years after I’ve been “doing” the bullet journal method. My first bullet journal is dated from 2016, so I guess five years?! It’s been a very important part of my productivity/focus journey, but it means that I have a very strange lens with which to approach this book.

Firstly: this is a very handsome book. It’s a love letter to journaling and paper. Reads great in the hand and lovely on the shelf.

It’s typeset nicely, and it’s fun how it uses the physical medium of the book to reinforce how the system works. The page explaining the different Collections is itself a Collection!

illustrations from the bullet journal book

The contraints and delights of paper itself is a major theme of the book and the system. Ryder reminds the reader that the act of handwriting has recall and retention powers. The slowness of handwriting vs. typing forces the note-taker to employ advanced synthesization and summarization during capture. Notes taken by hand tend to be more concise and readable. This is an important part of my Creativity System, and I’m inspired to spend more time “thinking on paper.”

The physical restrictions of paper force you to adopt intentional practices of planning and review. You can’t copy/paste or search, so you have to be thoughtful about what you take with you and where you put it. I’m begin to think that The Bullet Journal Method is probably the best start for anyone who is struggling with the practices required to build a disciplined/organized life. I’m pretty sure that the intentional practice of Rapid Logging and Migration were the first things that let me defeat the Focus Boulder. As much as I love Obsidian and Things and other digital tools, it’s the rituals and practices that Migration taught me that keep the Evan-machine going.

Another huge benefit of the Bullet Journal practice is the question “what just happened?” By externalizing our thoughts into words, we are able to separate our identity from the thoughts and feelings we are experiencing. This helps us be more objective and take every thought captive. To externalize your experiences and impulses creates this space between input and reaction that Ryder beautifully illustrates here:

reflection

By journaling we become witnesses to our own story from the outside, an invaluable practice for learning impulse management and fostering gratefulness.

Section 3, “The Practice,” is a succinct (if overly zen/stoic) summary of basic healthy productivity practices. There is certainly some Self-Centered Self Help1 problems in there, but it’s manageable.

Action Items

While I like Matt Ragland’s split journal method, I think that I’m going to have all collections on the “organized” side, and only scrawl on the unorganized side. Before, I was only putting Daily/Weekly collections on the “organized” side of the journal, and everything else was on the “notes” side… but I have realized that I want everything with a title on the organization side. If I write something in the random side worth linking to, it’s worth restating in the appropriate Bullet Journal collection.

I’ll also take his advice to start a new journal every year instead of limping the journal along past the new year. I’m excited to get back into it.

I think that next year I want to recommit to living in the Bullet Journal first. Thanks to Things and fun Drafts automations, I find myself dictating to my phone more than writing in my notebook. I live at a keyboard, so digital is closer at hand. I am convinced that by Rapid Logging more in the notebook first, I’ll be practicing a little more reflection and presence that will help me be grateful and stay focused on what matters. Choosing to restate some of my tasks in my daily log will help me avoid over-committing to tasks by looking at the never-ending digital backlog, which Ryder says better:

Set intentions, not expectations.

Great read, even if you have no intention of using your journal as a Bullet Journal.


  1. Self-help books generally have a core of self centeredness. Mentally replacing the “you are worth it” and “pursue your dreams” narratives with “He is worthy” and “I am a steward of talents” redeems this for a believer.