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The Bullet Journal: the analog to-do-list system for the digital age

Business · 4 min read

How A Bullet Journal Improves Productivity

Are you stuck in a rut of low productivity? Are online tools and apps failing to help you get things done more efficiently? Then taking things back to pen and paper could be the solution. Introducing the Bullet Journal.

What is a Bullet Journal?

The ‘Bullet Journal’ is a minimalist approach to the creation of ‘to-do’ lists. Tasks, events and notes are represented by three simple symbols – a bullet point, a circle and a dash – and are used to record and organize all categories of ‘to-dos’ and thoughts. It’s completely up to you to decide how to classify your lists, they could be split into various business-related milestones such as ‘customer reach’, ‘subscribers’ or ‘shipping time targets’, for instance.

When, who and why?

The method was created in 2013 by Ryder Carroll, a digital producer and inventor who saw it as an evolving, adaptable practice that helps you find out what works best for you. Making a note of a task by writing it down helps our brains distill the information we hear and, as a result, we remember it better than we would if we’d just heard or read it. The act of writing the list, and deciding how to prioritize tasks, will help you remember each of your individual tasks. Just ask yourself these two simple questions:

‘What’s the value in getting it done?’

‘What’s the risk if I don’t?’

Dozens of open internet tabs, smartphone alerts and constant streams of email can make periods of deep, concentrated attention difficult to sustain. Writing down tasks gives the brain permission to stop mentally rehearsing the to-do item and conserves the cognitive energy needed to focus attention on completing our priority task. A key way to conserve cognitive energy is for our brains to become familiar with to-do list systems that are simple, reliable and flexible – the Bullet Journal method ticks all three boxes. Combining the Bullet Journal method with these three personal productivity boosting tips will see you tackling your daily objectives efficiently.

10 top tips on how to Bullet Journal (with steers towards fictional consumer tech brand)

  • Decide on a set of tracker topics – short descriptive titles – that are relevant to your business [e.g. customer reach/targets, average shipping times (via distance and order etc.), social media strategy targets, etc, etc.]. These become the foundation for the first steps in your new Bullet Journaling technique – it’s called ‘Rapid Logging’.

  • Choose a blank notebook small enough to carry around. Make sure it’s made of quality materials, because you’ll need it to last. Lots of people use hardcover Moleskine notebooks with ruled pages, but many Bullet Journalers swear by Leuchtturm 1917 notebooks with grids, as these were created specifically for Bullet Journaling. 

  • Use a pen that you really enjoy writing with, and remember, you can use any color – or combination of colors – you like.

  • Ready to start your first page? Add a topic title to the top corner of the page and be sure to number it. Start listing your to-dos and add the bullet point symbol by each one. Every bulleted item should be written as a short sentence. If new tasks crop up that take priority over current ones, then you can draw an extra symbol to show the current ‘state’ of the task. 

open magazine with sticky notes

Top tip: as you continue to fill your Bullet Journal, get into the habit of titling and numbering your pages before you start adding content.

  • It’s great to have an overview of the next few months across a double page spread too. To create a six-month future log, first count the amount of lines on the page. Divide that number by three. With a ruler, draw a line across the spread. Add the months to each box, then add your page numbers.

  • And you can also create a simple monthly overview, or ‘monthly log’ across a double page spread. To set it up, add the name of the month to both pages. The left-hand side will be your monthly calendar. Write down each date of the month in a numbered list and add the first letter of the days – that’s the calendar. The right side of the page is your monthly task list, where you write down all your to-dos using the special Bullet Journal symbols.

  • Create a key to explain what each of your symbols mean. For example, a bullet could mean ‘task’, a box ‘note’, a circle ‘event’ and a star ‘important’.

Entries in your ‘monthly log’ should be as short as possible, as this is your reference overview. Over on the right-hand side, log the tasks that need your attention and also add unfinished tasks that have ‘migrated’ from the previous month.

  • The next double page spread should be set up slightly differently. For your ‘daily log’, this section is designed for day-to-day use. At the top of the page, record the date as your topic. Throughout the course of the day, jot down tasks, events and notes as they occur using the ‘rapid logging’ method. Remember to use your chosen signifiers to track the current state of the task – to show whether it’s been scheduled, completed or migrated. If you don’t fill a page, add the next date wherever you left off, and you’re ready to continue.

Top tip: don’t set up ‘daily logs’ too far ahead. Instead, create them the night before (or as you go) as you're unlikely to know how much space you might need for your daily log on any given day.

  • Join an online Bullet Journal group on social media, such as Bujo (Bullet Journal) Beginners and Minimalist Bullet Journals, to pick up some ideas. But don’t think too hard about it – just start!

  • Keep it simple to begin with. The more you add to your system, the less likely you are to maintain it. And don’t worry about messing up – it really doesn’t matter if your pages aren’t the most beautiful in the world.

open calendar with sticky notes on a table

Avoiding ‘first page fear’

Although lots of Bullet Journal visuals on the internet are often flawless and dazzling, remember that this system was invented for people with widely varied artistic capability. Avoid paralysis by bearing in mind that perfectionism can stop you from starting, especially when confronted with a clean white page. Aim to replace perfectionism with a lasting commitment to getting the task done. For more help on how to set up your journal, follow the official Bullet Journal tutorial.

Bullet Journal companion app

The Bullet Journal app (download here for iPhone or Android) was created as an addition to keeping a physical Bullet Journal notebook, rather than as a replacement for it. The app features extra tools such as a reflection tracker, which helps you keep track of why you need to do your tasks. The reflection tracker feature helps keep you focused on the ‘why’ behind each of your to-dos. Twice a day, it will send you reminders to reflect on the things that you have captured throughout the day. Of course, you can set the reminder time to whenever suits you.”


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