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Book of the Month

The Bullet Journal Method by Ryder Carrol

From The Sleeve

New York Times bestseller! The long-awaited book by the founder of the enormously popular Bullet Journal® planner, journal, calendar, and all-around organizational system.

For years Ryder Carroll tried countless organizing systems, online and off, but none of them fit the way his mind worked. Out of sheer necessity, he developed a method called the Bullet Journal that helped him become consistently focused and effective. When he started sharing his system with friends who faced similar challenges, it went viral. Just a few years later, to his astonishment, Bullet Journaling is a global movement.

The Bullet Journal Method is about much more than organizing your notes and to-do lists. It’s about what Carroll calls “intentional living”: weeding out distractions and focusing your time and energy in pursuit of what’s truly meaningful, in both your work and your personal life. It’s about spending more time with what you care about, by working on fewer things. His new book shows you how to track the past, order the present and design the future.

About the Author & Context

Ryder Carroll is a Brooklyn-based digital product designer who’s worked with companies like Adidas, IBM, and Macy’s. He’s been featured in major magazines such as The New York Times and Bloomberg. As a child, he had Attention Deficit Disorder and couldn’t find reliable methods to help alleviate this. So he designed his own solution by writing down a mental inventory on paper and asking himself questions like “is it vital?” and “does it matter?” This helped him see how he was managing his time and focus and clarify his tasks, values, and concerns.  You can also watch his recent TEDx talk about how to live a life of intention here.

Key Themes

The following are the main takeaways we’ve extracted from the Book of the Month. Click on the theme to read more.

Theme 1: Growth Mindset Approach to Life

Throughout the book, Carroll occasionally encourages the reader to consider the Bullet Journal (bujo) as a process of growth, that it takes time to adapt a bujo into your own life. This is not just because the book is designed for first-time bujo users; rather, it is because the bujo is gradually shaped to fit an individual’s needs. Over time, you can experiment with how the bujo plays a role in your life. Sometimes this experimentation results in large gaps of missing records due to a loss of motivation or any other reason. However, it is important to recognize when you start feeling discouraged early on — when you are maintaining your bujo on a daily basis. Whether you are a first-time or veteran bujo user, one suggestion would be to reach out to a community of bujo users for advice. Trust that you are among people who want to improve their lives, just like you.

Notable Quotables:

  • “We can study our mistakes and learn from them. It’s equally instructive to note our successes, our breakthroughs.” (44)
  • “Capture whatever surfaces. Often you’ll gain new insight when you can better contextualize the information as a whole. Take a step back, review your notes, see what else bubbles up, and write it down.” (72)
  • “We must take it upon ourselves to grow. We grow by learning, and we learn by daring to take action.” (113)
  • “What is avoidable, however, is being perpetually haunted by all the things that could have been if you had only dared. Begin by giving yourself permission to believe you’re worth the risk.” (113)
  • “Finally, take a moment to appreciate your progress. Acknowledge the simple ways in which you’ve won the day.” (119)
Theme 2: Living Intentionally

One of the core principles of the Bullet Journal Method is that goals are achieved when you establish what you intend to accomplish. A bullet journal, Carroll explains, is a tool used to visualize short and long-term goals on the physical page. When using a bujo, you will begin to be more mindful about what you want to track and how you want to spend your time.

Notable Quotables:

  • “Mindfulness is the process of waking up to see what’s right in front of us. It helps you become more aware of where you are, and what you want.” (26)
  • “Leading an intentional life is about keeping your actions aligned with your beliefs. It’s about penning a story that you believe in and that you can be proud of.” (34)
  • “We get so caught up in the doing of things that we forget to ask why we’re doing them in the first place. Asking why is the first small but deliberate step we can take in the search for meaning.” (115)
  • “Reflection is the nursery of intentionality. It grants us the protected mental environment we need to reclaim some much-needed perspective and begin to ask why.” (116)
  • “There is always opportunity and freedom to be found in how we choose to act. It’s our obligation, then, to make the most of this freedom.” (160)
Theme 3: The “Why” Behind the “How-To”

At first glance, The Bullet Journal Method appears to be solely a step-by-step instructional book for setting up a bullet journal. It may appear as a reasonable assumption if purchased in a set with a brand new Bullet Journal. However, this assumption is incorrect. The book can be best described as half step-by-step instructions for setting up a bujo, half anecdotal / testimonial material to illustrate bujo principles. Although the procedural content may feel redundant for bujo veterans, the guiding principles can serve as a boost of motivation for sticking with the bullet journal habit and teach bujo novices about the benefits of using a BuJo.

For some readers, the “why” behind the bujo may be misinterpreted as almost miraculous based on the customer anecdotes. It is thus important to know that the bujo is not the “cure-all” solution to a disorganized life. The organizational system Carroll used may not necessarily reap the same benefits for the average person. If your life is disorganized at the moment and you are hoping the bujo will be a “quick fix” to turn your life all the way around, you must shake off this delusion, because authentic change starts with you. You must take the first small steps to map out what you want to improve in your life because the bujo cannot do the thinking for you.

Notable Quotables:

  • “Sitting down with your notebook grants you that precious luxury. It provides a personal space, free from distraction, where you can get to know yourself better. This is one of the main reasons we use a notebook to Bullet Journal: It forces us to go offline.” (43)
  • “The goal of this book is to introduce you to a new tool kit for your workshop—one that has proven effective at helping countless others tackle the often ungainly project called life.” (44)
  • “We honor the lessons we’ve learned by applying them to the next phase of our life. Big or small, migrate only the content and techniques that have proven themselves to be valuable, nothing else. A new notebook is not about starting over—it’s about leveling up.” (100)
  • “Write it down. Keep it with you. Be prepared to commit the ultimate BuJo sin and rip it out in an emergency situation. You could save a life—your own, your child’s, your sister’s, your father’s . . . Being organized could be the difference between life and death.” (103)
  • “Not all things we’re into are meant to be our occupation. That in itself is a valuable lesson to learn, especially when you’re young. It’s important to figure out what role the things that interest you play in your life. Not every hobby or curiosity is a calling, but some are.” (134)

Community Quotes

Highlights from our community discussion on Discord!

I had previously watched his intro videos and tried my hand at it a few years ago, but never really found it helpful. In reading the book though, I was really impressed with his emphasis on rapid logging as a mindfulness tool, rather than just a to do list with fancy symbols. Considering almost all of the spreads and pages that I’ve seen online have been basically scrapbook-style decorated to do lists…. the different perspective on it intrigued me.

I am SO GRATEFUL this book was chosen for the BOTM! I just finished it this morning (I devoured it yesterday), and it makes so much sense. All those how-to articles and guides on the internet don’t do Ryder Carroll’s actual method a speck of justice. The whole reason I’ve been avoiding BuJoing for years is because I didn’t have the time or the energy to make artistic spreads and I felt that the bullet systems were too complex to remember. After reading this book, I realize all I truly need is a notebook, a pen/pencil, and the will to actually sit down twice a day and write. My mind is sincerely blown at the simplicity and I am restarting my own BuJo immediately.

For me, the biggest takeaway from the BOTM was the constant reminder to incorporate mindfulness and intentionality into how you plan and subsequently lead your life. I have a productivity system that largely works for me (still refining it!), and I don’t have issues with wayward notes, lost scraps of paper or ideas scattered about that I think the BuJo system helps to consolidate. I found elements of his future log/weekly log/daily log in my own system already! But I really liked the reminder to reflect regularly not just on what you do, but why you do it, and use your time and effort to live a personally important and meaningful life.