Bullet Journaling May Change Your To-Do Lists Forever

And don’t worry—creating a personal bullet journal isn’t as overwhelming as it seems on Instagram.

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Photo by HEMARAT/Getty Images

Have you seen photos on Pinterest or Instagram of hyper-organized notebooks, with color-coded, bulleted lists? Did it overwhelm you? Take a deep breath. Then let us explain the concept of “bullet journaling,” which promises to be a more efficient way to keep track of your to-do lists, habits, routines, wishlists, thoughts, and more.

Envision this: Instead of a pile of half-finished notebooks and random Post-Its cluttering your desk, you would have one notebook. One single journal that acts as the ultimate to-do list. Founder Ryder Carroll, the man behind the bullet journal, says the concept was almost 20 years in the making.

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“The roots of the bullet journal came from me having a lot of problems learning in school, especially when it came to taking notes,” Carroll says. “I had to figure out a way to take notes that worked with the way that I thought. What you see today is the combination of multiple methods into a larger system.”

Bullet journaling has grown in popularity over the last year, with almost 200,000 hashtagged journal spreads on Instagram and hundreds of customized templates and helpful tutorials on Pinterest. Caroll thinks it’s because the system is so easy to personalize. Whether you want to keep track of birthdays, assignments, weather patterns, deadlines, favorite quotes, or other personal goals, you can transform a plain notebook into an organizational command center.

Before you get overwhelmed, take Carroll’s advice, and build your journal with a few simple components. Once you’ve mastered the basic system you can get creative.

“The point is to be mindful of your time,” says Carroll. “If you take all the language aside, it’s simply taking short form bullets and adding little symbols next to them so you know what they mean.” Rapid logging is the foundation of the journal—it consists of topics, page numbers, short sentences, and bullets.

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To get started with your journal, follow these steps, and watch Carroll’s video for a bit of extra guidance.

1. Identify and number your pages.
All of your pages should be numbered to make items easier to find. Number every page of your journal in the bottom left hand corner. Then title each page—the easiest thing to do is start with the first day of the month, and move on from there. One “cycle” of a bullet journal lasts two months. Note: Don’t start on the first page of the journal. Leave a few pages blank (more on that later).

2. Create your key.
When you create a list on the page, don’t write it as a to-do list. That’s where “rapid logging” comes in—every item will fall into Tasks, Events, or Notes. For example, if you were writing a list for what you needed to do tomorrow, you would write down everything in short, descriptive sentences—from “Finish PowerPoint presentation” to “Anna’s birthday dinner.” Then, label each with an icon so you can differentiate between tasks (finish presentation), events (birthday dinner), and notes (delivery arrives tomorrow).

3. Identify your “Task Key.”
Because tasks are actionable items, Carroll wants to make sure users are able to differentiate between a complete and incomplete task. This is where it gets a little tricky: In a bullet journal, tasks are complete, migrated, or scheduled. If it’s complete, you can cross it off your list! If it’s scheduled, you will have to complete it on the planned day. If it’s “migrated,” it may mean that you didn’t get to it. At the end of the month, when you review your previous journaling, the incomplete tasks are migrated to the following month, with the idea that you’ll complete them then. That’s why it takes two months to complete a bullet journal “cycle.”

4. Write your index.
Remember the blank pages at the beginning of the journal? Those become your index. As you number your bullet journal and fill things out, you may find that you have 31 pages for the month of August, then three pages of doodles, two pages of birthday plans, and then 30 more pages for September. In the index, you create a “table of contents” of sorts. Just write the “Topic Name,” and then its corresponding page numbers. Now you can easily access that information instead of thumbing through the entire journal.

Once you’ve mastered these steps, you can get more advanced. You can add collections to your journal that help you map out days, weeks, months, or even the year. But as a beginner, Carroll suggests simply rapid logging for a few months to master the cycle and the key, and to get into the habit of keeping a journal.

“I review the notebook in the morning and add anything that comes to mind,” says Carroll. “Then I sit down at my desk and review again.” Carroll says that “punctuating” his day with journaling helps establish the habit.

And remember: There’s no “right” way to journal, and no way to become a “bullet journal pro.” The founder of the notebook himself doesn’t think he’s an expert. “Even for me, the system isn’t finished,” he says.

Ready to take your journal to the next level? Get inspired by these creative layouts.

Next week's spread. Back to what works best for me. 😉

A photo posted by @thebulletjournaladdict on

For an in-depth tutorial from Carroll himself, visit bulletjournal.com.