The Bullet Journal Method by Ryder Carroll – Book Notes, Summary, Review

The Bullet Journal Method by Ryder Carroll – Book Notes, Summary, Review - Cover Image

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Each time I re-read The Bullet Journal Method, I come away with something new that resonates with me.

This book has inspired a pen and paper revolution among those of us that were previously slaves to our digital devices.

I now have a bullet journal that accompanies me everywhere and is part of my productivity/task management/mental health toolkits.

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Who Should Read This Book?

I think this book is suitable for a wide range of people. The main type of person I can think of is someone that is just overwhelmed by each day.

Someone who has a lot of tasks, reminders, events to keep track of and doesn’t have a single source of truth for that information.

I also don’t think it matters if you are a solely digital person either as there are some concepts in this book that would make you think twice about a simple pen and paper to take your notes.

Additionally, if you are suffering from anxiety or depression, the concept of bullet journaling is certainly something that can provide some assistance, even if it’s just tracking your thoughts.


How This Book Changed Me

  • This is my second time reading this book and I still managed to find new insight from reading it the second time through.
  • I have been motivated to re-examine my bullet journal process in order to weed out the unnecessary things that will allow me to focus on what matters to me.
  • I have also re-evaluated my daily log set up to allow for more long-form journaling each day. I’m hoping this will provide more insight into my thoughts and looking back at these logs in the future might provide a nice time for reflection.
  • I think this is a great book to read and re-read as and when you need it – almost like a reference book. With that in mind, I’d definitely like to purchase a hard copy of this book eventually.

My Top 3 Quotes That Resonated With Me

“This freedom of choice is a double-edged privilege. Every decision requires you to focus, and focus is an investment of your time and energy. Both are limited—and therefore exceptionally valuable—resources.”

The Bullet Journal Method – Page 37

“If we forfeit the opportunity to learn from our experiences, as the saying (sort of) goes, we condemn ourselves to repeat our mistakes.”

The Bullet Journal Method – Page 59

“The significance of what we’re doing, or how we’re doing it, pales in comparison to why we’re doing it in the first place.”

The Bullet Journal Method – Page 143


Book Notes

1 The Preparation

Bullet Journal Concept

By bullet journaling, you’ll be able to define what’s important, why it’s important, and how to work on those things.

We need to be able to understand our motivations behind why we’re doing what we’re doing in order to succeed.

Pay attention to what you enjoy, become self-aware in this regard and you’ll also find out what you don’t enjoy. Then you can remove that stuff and focus on the good stuff that provides value and meaning to your life.

By keeping track of your thoughts and actions, you’ll be able to develop the habit of learning from your experiences.

Our Brains Are Not Made For Holding Ideas

“If each thought were a word, that means our minds are generating enough content to produce a book, Every. Single. Day.”

Unfortunately our minds are crazy and can be full of unorganized thoughts which can be hard to process.

Over the course of the day, we become inundated by all of the choices and decisions we need to make. What clothes should I wear today? What should I work on first? Which task is more important? This can become draining and leads to Decision Fatigue.

This results in us becoming much less effective at making good decisions i.e. decisions that actually matter.

The simple way around decision fatigue is to reduce the amount of decisions we need to make in any given day. This allows us to focus on the important things.

Writing things down is the first step in reducing decision fatigue. If we can get our thoughts out of our head we can start to free up brain space which will make us noticeably happier and free from brain fog.

This concept of clearing our mind by writing down our thoughts is the key message in Getting Things Done.

David Allen says “Your mind is for having ideas, not holding them.”

This book certainly seems to be the cornerstone of all productivity books as a lot of other books draw from it.

Create A Mental Inventory To Remove Things From Your Brain

  • Create a mental inventory by dumping everything you need to do, work on, or events you need to remember. Write this all down onto a page.
  • Divide them into:
    • what you are currently working on
    • what you should be working on
    • what you want to be working on
  • For each item ask yourself: does this matter? is this vital? If I didn’t do this task would there be any real repercussions?
  • Any item that does not pass this test should be removed from the list so you are left with things you need to do and want to do.

Pen And Paper

Writing with pen and paper is more effective than digital note-taking as it allows you to slow down and think carefully about what you write.

It also activates multiple regions of your brain which allows you to learn more effectively.

Being able to write notes in your own words is a key way to understand something better.

Your bullet journal will evolve and change over time as you develop and learn new things.

“All tools, whether digital or analog, are only as valuable as their ability to help you accomplish the task at hand.”

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) uses scripts to treat people obsessing over intrusive thoughts. A distressing thought is detailed in a short paragraph. This script is then written over and over again until the thought begins to lose its death grip on the person’s mind, granting some much-needed perspective and distance—something we all struggle to find when dealing with challenging situations.

2 The System

Look at the bullet journal as a modular system that you can pick and choose from to create an effective toolkit.

Rapid Logging

  • It’s the language the Bullet Journal is written in.
  • Frame the content you’re about to write by giving it a clear Topic Name or Page Title.
  • By setting an agenda before you start writing, you’re giving your mind a chance to focus on the topic.

“Often all it takes to live intentionally is to pause before you proceed.”

Bullets

  • Task Bullets
    • Bullets are the syntax of the bullet journal
    • They allow you to capture your thoughts as concise sentences. Each bullet is paired with a symbol to categorize the entry
    • Bullets need to be short but still understandable in any context.
    • Tasks: Something that you need to take action on
    • Completed Tasks: When you have completed a task
    • Migrated Tasks: Tasks that have been moved, either to a collection or to the next monthly log.
    • Scheduled Tasks: A task that is tied to a date outside of the current month. This task moves back to the Future Log.
    • Irrelevant Tasks: Tasks that are no longer relevant.
    • If a master task has a lot of subtasks, this is an indication that it should become a project in its own collection.
    • Writing down your tasks allows you to remember them more effectively – this is known as the Zeigarnik Effect.
  • Event Bullets
    • These represent experiences that can be scheduled ahead of time or they can be logged after they occur.
    • These event bullets allow you to put a pin in an experience which can temporarily offload it from your mind.
    • The memory is safely stored in your journal for when you want to revisit it and unpack it further.
    • Because of a negativity bias that we all suffer from, we tend to have unreliable memories.
    • By noting down memories we can refer back to them and reflect on how they impacted us in an unbiased way.
  • Notes
    • These are facts, ideas, thoughts, and observations.
    • They allow you to log information that isn’t necessarily actionable.
    • Be sure to keep your future self in mind to ensure you write notes in a way that they can be understood days, weeks, months, or even years from now.
  • Custom Bullets
    • You can create your own custom bullets for certain instances but it’s important to keep these to a minimum.
    • This will add friction to your logging process and over time you may not bother writing things down if it takes too much time.

Collections

  • A collection is a template used to collect related information.
  • Your stack of collections is up to you.
  • Be sure to only have collections for things that provide you with some value. Is there any real value in tracking all of the TV shows you watched last year?
  • The 4 main collections are:
    1. The Daily Log
    2. The Monthly Log
    3. The Future Log
    4. The Index
  • Daily Log
    • allows you to capture your thoughts in real-time to unburden your mind
    • To setup add today’s date
    • Don’t set up daily logs ahead of time. You don’t know how long they will be and don’t want to box yourself in.
    • Create your daily log that morning or the night before.
  • Monthly Log
    • Setup on a spread of facing pages
    • Page Title: name of the month
    • Left: calendar
      • list the dates of the month along the left side of the page + first letter of the days of the week
      • Log important events after they happen so your monthly log can act like a timeline you can refer back to
      • Keep entries short
    • Right: Tasks
      • your mental inventory of things you need to do this month.
      • what are your priorities? what matters to you?
    • When setting up each monthly log, review the previous month’s and carry forward any relevant tasks. Also, review the Future log and schedule any relevant items.
  • Future Log
    • Entries that fall outside of the current month
    • Should be set up right after your index
    • Can be designed over 1-2 pages – 3 to 6 months per spread.
    • If you transfer from your daily log to the future log, mark the entry as scheduled “<” in your daily log so you know it’s been addressed.
  • Index
    • Be sure to number pages as you go as this allows you to find your stuff when you refer to the Index.
    • The index allows you to find collections easily
    • It holds the page title & page number for easy reference
    • Over time this will provide you with more context into the areas you are spending time in.
    • It acts as a map of everything you are saying yes to.

Threading

  • Used in the bullet journal to point you to the next or previous piece of related content.
  • i.e. if you’ve multiple “books to read” collections you can point to the next entry or the previous entry in your journal so you can easily find things.

Migration

  • migration involves moving content from one place to another by rewriting it.
  • It allows you to pause and consider if a task is actually worth doing because of the effort it takes to write it out.
  • If you are constantly re-writing the same task each day or month, consider if this task is actually worth your time and something you really need to do.
  • Monthly Migration
    • When setting up your next monthly log
    • Review any incomplete tasks from your daily log
    • ask yourself why you have not completed these tasks. Perhaps they are no longer relevant or perhaps there are other reasons why i.e. you’re doing too much or you’re waiting on something else.
    • If a task is still relevant and needs to be migrated mark the entry as “>” migrated in your daily log and move the entry into your monthly log
    • If a task falls outside of the current month, add it to the Future Log and mark it as “<” scheduled.
    • Check your future log and migrate any tasks relevant to the current month.
  • Yearly Or Notebook Migration
    • When you reach the end of a notebook, examine the collections and review which ones should continue on to the next notebook and which ones are no longer of any value to you. “A new notebook is not about starting over – it’s about leveling up.”

3 The Practice

Reflection

Constant reflection is an important step in becoming a better person.

It allows us to be intentional with how we are spending our time by helping us to clarify the things that are important to us.

  • AM Reflection – Each morning before you start your day, sit down, and offload any thoughts into your journal & plan out your day. This allows you to focus on the things you have to do that day.
  • PM Reflection – Before you go to bed, or before you shut down from work, review the tasks you’ve completed and tasks you haven’t completed. Carry forward any relevant tasks into tomorrow’s daily log or if it’s not important, draw a line through it to cross it out. Remember to focus on the good things from the day. Identify something you are grateful for and what you’ve achieved.

Goals

Goals can provide structure, direction, focus, and purpose.

Create a Goals collection – this serves as a menu, listing your potential futures.

It’s easy to collect goals and never act upon them. There is never a right time to get started

Try the 5,4,3,2,1 exercise to contextualize your goals:

  • Divide a 2 page spread into 5 rows. The left page will be for personal goals and the right page will be for professional goals.
    • The top cell is for goals you want to accomplish in 5 years.
    • Then ” in 4 months
    • Then ” in 3 weeks
    • Then ” in 2 days
    • Then ” in 1 hour
  • Prioritize your goals accordingly and limit it to one goal per cell.
  • Add your short term goals (hour and day) into your Daily log. Do these to build momentum.
  • The remaining goals all get their own separate collection.

Break your long-term goals into shorter sprints. This helps to prevent you from becoming overwhelmed by large projects.

A sprint should:

  • have no major barriers to entry
  • consist of clearly defined, actionable tasks
  • have a short fixed time frame (less than a month)

Break your sprint down into various tasks etc.

block them out on your calendar to dedicate time to working on these tasks.

Whether they were successful or not, sprints provide an opportunity for reflection:

  • what am I learning about my strengths and weaknesses?
  • what’s working and what’s not
  • how could I do better next time
  • (stop, start, continue)

Kaizen

Continual improvement

focusing on opportunities for incremental improvement.

what little thing can we change to improve things

what could be done better next time

when you run into issues take a step back and ask yourself:

  • what didn’t work
  • why did it not work
  • what can I improve on next time

Framework for improvement:

  1. Plan – plan a change
  2. Do – put the plan into action
  3. Check – analyze the results
  4. Act – act on what you’ve learned

Time

Relativity – our perception of time changes relative to what we’re doing

We can’t make time, we can only take time.

Time boxing – adds structure and urgency to tasks you’ve been putting off

If there’s something you’ve been putting off put it first on your list – eat the frog. Getting the worst tasks out of the way first make the rest of the day feel a lot easier.

Memento Mori – remember death – death reminds you of the value to rime

we remember death so we don’t forget to make the most of our time alive.

Gratitude

The next time you complete a task, reflect on the impact of your accomplishment

Appreciate your accomplishments and celebrate the small wins

Keep a gratitude log to help with this. Try not to repeat things. This will motivate you to think about the positives of your day.

Control

Knowing what we can change begins with defining what’s in our control.

We can control how we respond to what happens to us

Worry has a way of holding our attention, especially on things we can’t control

By identifying what’s out of our control, we can reclaim our attention and focus on things that are worth our attention.

Radiance

Be mindful of the people you surround yourself with – they will shape you

Try to keep company with those you find inspiring, motivating and constructively challenging.

Make deliberate learning an ongoing focus in your life

Being intentional with your pursuit of knowledge will help you to engage with the world

Endurance

The happiest people don’t necessarily have the best of everything, but they make the most of everything. A powerful way to begin this process is to re-frame the mundane in our minds.

Buying groceries will put a tasty meal on your table and allow you to spend quality time with your family.

Analyze your efforts to define their purpose.

This allows us to become more mindful of why we’re doing what we’re doing.

Connecting your tasks to the people you love can give them more meaning

Deconstruction

Use the five whys to uncover the root issue of something.

This breaks down a large problem into its individual components.

This works in lots of different contexts

4 The Art

Custom Collections

A custom collection is designed to serve a specific need

Ask yourself is this valuable to ensure you don’t hoard useless information.

Plan to do something constructive with the information

If there’s nothing to learn from a collection then it provides little value to you and isn’t worth having.

Your collections should be as useful in retrospect as they are in real time

Design

the only think that matters in a bullet journal is the content, not the presentation

Start with less and work on that. you can always add more later.

Maintaining collections takes time and energy so it’s important to make sure they are worth the effort.

5 The End

It’s not about how your journal looks; it’s about how it makes you feel and how effective it is.

Don’t be intimidated by what you see online.

The longer you use your bullet journal, the more helpful it should become.


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