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Book Summary: The Bullet Journal Method – Track the Past, Order the Present, Design the Future

The Bullet Journal Method converts an old-fashioned notebook into a combination planner, notebook, and journal.

Book Summary: The Bullet Journal Method - Track the Past, Order the Present, Design the Future

“The Bullet Journal Method is for anyone struggling to find their place in the digital age. It will help you get organized by providing simple tools and techniques that can inject clarity, direction, and focus into your days.” – Ryder Carroll

Content Summary

Key Components of the Bullet Journal Method
About the author
Table of Contents
Video and Podcast
Read an Excerpt/PDF Preview

Key Components of the Bullet Journal Method


The Index is a four-page dynamic table of contents that lives at the front of your Bullet Journal and contains the location of the Future Log, Monthly Logs, special lists (reading list, food log, etc.), and projects.

“The Index provides an easy way to find your thoughts days, months, or years after entrusting them to your notebook.” – Ryder Carroll

Future Log

The Future Log is a four-page section (following the Index), where you store tasks and events you can’t complete in the current month (each page contains three months of the year).

“Think of the Future Log as a queue, each item eagerly waiting for its month to arrive. When you’re setting up a new Monthly Log (see below), be sure to scan your Future Log for any items in the queue that are ready now.” – Ryder Carroll

Monthly Logs

At the beginning of every month, create a new Monthly Log. Each Monthly Log is two pages long. The first page contains a quick calendar used to capture key milestones, event dates, and work deadlines. The second page contains a task list. If you plan to complete a task before the end of the month, but cannot complete that task today or tomorrow, put it in your current Monthly Log task list.

Daily Log

At the beginning of each day, create a new Daily Log. The Daily Log is where you capture all thoughts during the day (see ‘Rapid Logging’ section).

“The Daily Log is there to prevent us from having to waste time thinking about where to write things down. It’s a catchall, designed to hold our thoughts until we’re ready to sort them out.” – Ryder Carroll

Rapid Logging

The Bullet Journal maintains a clean and minimal look by leveraging a series of symbols and short-form notation to enter information.

Short-form notation example:

  • Rick: email re: XYZ Project Status


At the end of the day, you either delete unfinished items on your Daily Log by crossing them out, or you rewrite unfinished items in either tomorrow’s Daily Log (complete tomorrow), the current Monthly Log (complete later this month), or Future Log (complete later this year – include specific date).

“During Migration, we transfer content from one place in our Bullet Journal to another by rewriting it. This may seem like a lot of effort, but it serves a critical purpose: It weeds out distractions… It helps you identify and focus on what is meaningful by stripping away what is meaningless.” – Ryder Carroll


Renowned product designer Ryder Carroll offers a practical and meditative approach to organizing your life via an ancient artform: Handwriting.


Digital product designer Ryder Carroll suffers from attention deficit disorder. Frustrated by his disorganization, Carroll developed the “Bullet Journal” – or “BuJo” – method to keep track of all the moving parts in his life. His method can help you sort your goals, remember books you read or want to read, track your progress on achieving your resolutions, plan your vacation, and separate your crucial and mundane tasks.

In addition to explaining how his method works, Carroll – in this New York Times bestseller – includes reasons to turn the confusion in your head into orderly entries in your notebook. He offers his method to anyone ready to scrap productivity apps for the meditative peace of pen and paper.

Meaning can reveal itself in the most unremarkable, unpredictable and quiet of moments. If we’re not listening to the world around us, as well as the one within, we may miss it: the music in the mundane. – RYDER CARROLL

Concepcíon de Léon, writing in The New York Times, notes that the brain cannot recall or maintain more than a few thoughts at once. She admires that Carroll’s method has “more than three million related posts on Instagram alone and a dedicated following inspired to create blogs and innovations to the original system.” While being seduced by the beauty of Carroll’s method, de Léon admits to what might be a common – if seldom confessed – user problem: She “couldn’t keep up the momentum.”

Organized Notebook

BuJo is an organized notebook – an analog antidote to being overwhelmed. Your notebook, Carroll explains, gives you a quiet place to stop, reflect and focus with the goal of increasing your productivity. He offers his method as a tool to ground you in mindfulness about where you are now and how that relates to where you want to go. The author suggests starting with the daily habit of looking inward to discover what matters to you.

Bujo isn’t only for keeping lists. While smartphones erode your attention span, the Bullet Journal forces you to go offline and think. A notebook is as flexible as you need it to be, unlike a productivity app designed by someone else. Writing by hand helps your brain learn and remember far more effectively than any app ever could.

As soon as you put pen to paper, you establish a direct link to your mind and often your heart. This experience has yet to be properly replicated in the digital space. – RYDER CARROLL

The Bullet Journal system is modular. It combines a journal, a planner, to-do lists, a sketchbook and favorite quotes in one notebook. Embrace the modules you find useful and ditch the rest. Carroll breaks down his journal into the Daily Log– in which you capture your thoughts, responsibilities and experiences; the Monthly Log – a calendar on one page and your tasks on the facing page; the Future Log –tasks upcoming after the current month; and the Index – a list on the first few pages listing what the rest of your pages hold.

Seasons of Life

Carroll prioritizes starting a new journal at the beginning of each year. As you start your new journal, read through the index of your existing journal – if you have one – to see where you spent your time. Migrating tasks at the end of the month and the year to a new month and year makes you consider them anew. And if something isn’t worth the time it takes to rewrite, it’s not a priority.

The power of the Bullet Journal is that it becomes whatever you need it to be, no matter what season of life you’re in. – RYDER CARROLL

Gain insight by reflecting on what you’ve written. Look beyond what you are doing to understand why you do it. Reflection lets you recognize shifting priorities, new meanings and dead weight. This is the emotional – rather than functional – core of this system, and it aligns with Carroll’s endorsement of daily mindfulness. Consistently checking in to reflect for five minutes daily helps you break out of autopilot and deepen your understanding and self-knowledge.

Thousands of Thoughts

Each day, you have thousands of thoughts, which your mind constantly tries to prioritize. To avoid decision fatigue, reduce your daily decision-making load by writing down your choices. This helps you clarify your tasks and goals, declutter your mind and focus on what’s meaningful.

To make future improvements, analyze what isn’t working for you now. Balance self-criticism with gratitude. Examine irksome situations during your Daily Reflections. Analyze events and whatever has happened to you and formulate your response instead of merely reacting. Frame the tasks within your control. Make them less about outcome and more about process.

Take a hard look at your journal, because there you’ll see your story unfolding, written in your own hand. – RYDER CARROLL

Carroll asks you to consider whether a goal is still worth pursuing despite how long it will take to accomplish? If not, he says, scratch it off.

He also provides a basic budget structure: columns for activities, the amount to save monthly to pay for them, total costs, and a tracking column to check and adjust what you’ve set aside month to month. Use longer entries to sort your priorities and unearth new tasks.

Working with your Bullet Journal system, Carroll cautions, is an art form. He suggests using it for two or three months before customizing it to your best advantage. Then you can augment its format and value any way you like, but first become familiar with the system.

A Mindful System

Carroll acknowledges that the hardest part about writing lists is finding justification for the time it requires. Still, his method for slowing down and reverting to an analogue life-organization system may speak most loudly to two widely separated demographics: those who grew up with pen and paper as the default communication mode and those who have been digital since kindergarten. It may prove harder for those in the middle generations – who long since surrendered every task to digital modes – to adapt.

If you look forward to coming back to your journal and feel that it’s your ally, then you’re doing it right. – RYDER CARROLL

The beauty of Carroll’s system is that you don’t have to embrace every aspect of it to benefit. It functions well as a philosophy – slow down, fight digital dominance of your life, and be mindful of your choices and how you spend your day – as well as it does an organizational system. Carroll’s approach – as with any Zen master’s method – shows breathtaking simplicity. The time he spent perfecting it and his attention to detail means you can start utilizing his method well before you finish reading his remarkably practical, insightful and accessible guide.

About the author

Ryder Carroll is a digital product designer and inventor of the Bullet Journal. He’s had the privilege of working with companies like Adidas, American Express, Cisco, IBM, Macy’s, and HP. He’s been featured by the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Fast Company, Bloomberg, Lifehacker, and Mashable.

Ryder Carroll | Website
Ryder Carroll | Email
Ryder Carroll | Facebook @bulletjournal
Ryder Carroll | YouTube
Ryder Carroll | Pinterest @bulletjournal
Ryder Carroll | TikTok @bulletjournalmethod
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Ryder Carroll |

Ryder Carroll


Business Life, Organization and Time Management Skills, Stress and Anxiety Management, Self-Help, Success, Motivation, Self-Esteem, Productivity, Personal Development, Journaling, Psychology, Writing, How To, Guided Journals

Table of Contents

Part I – The Preparation
The Promise
The Guide
The Why
Decluttering Your Mind

Part II – The System
Rapid Logging
Topics and Pagination
Signifiers and Custom Bullets
The Daily Log
The Monthly Log
The Future
The Index
The Letter
Set up

Part III – The Practice
Small Steps

Part IV – The Art
Custom Collections

Part V – The End
The Correct Way to Bullet Journal
Parting Words
Frequently Asked Questions
Thank you


New York Times bestseller!

There’s a reason this system for time management, goal setting, and intentional living has been adopted by millions around the globe: it works. Not only will you get more done, but you’ll get the right things done. All you need is a pen, paper, and five spare minutes a day.

In The Bullet Journal Method, Ryder Carroll, the system’s founder, provides an essential guide to avoiding all-too-common beginner mistakes and building a core discipline from which you can personalize your practice. You’ll not only learn to organize your tasks, but to focus your time and energy in pursuit of what’s truly meaningful to you by following three simple steps:

  • Track the past. Create a clear and comprehensive record of your thoughts.
  • Order the present. Find daily calm and clarity by tackling your to-do list in a more mindful, systematic, and productive way.
  • Design the future. Transform your vague curiosities into meaningful goals, and then break those goals into manageable action steps that lead to big change.

Whether you’re a frustrated list maker, an overwhelmed multitasker, or a creative who needs some structure, The Bullet Journal Method will help you go from passenger to pilot of your own life.

* * * * *

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: Using nothing more than a pen and paper, create a clear and comprehensive record of your thoughts.
  • Order the present: Find daily calm by tackling your to-do list in a more mindful, systematic, and productive way.
  • Design the future: Transform your vague curiosities into meaningful goals, and then break those goals into manageable action steps that lead to big change.

Carroll wrote this book for frustrated list-makers, overwhelmed multitaskers, and creatives who need some structure. Whether you’ve used a Bullet Journal for years or have never seen one before, The Bullet Journal Method will help you go from passenger to pilot of your own life.


“Ryder has done an extraordinary job in sharing a comprehensive and hands-on methodology to implement the powerful practice of externalizing our thinking. This book is a great treatise and manual for freeing and directing our consciousness, with lots of tips about how to play in that big and wonderful game.” —David Allen, author of Getting Things Done

“Bullet journaling is one of the most elegant and effective productivity systems I’ve ever encountered. It will not only help you get more organized but will also help you become a better person. I highly recommend this book (and the method it details) for anyone looking to get more out of life.” —Cal Newport, author of Deep Work

“Whether you are an avid journaler or have always wanted to explore the benefits of journaling, The Bullet Journal Method simplifies the power of putting pen to paper and will undoubtedly transform your life, in more ways than you can imagine.” —Hal Elrod, author of The Miracle Morning

“Like to-do lists? Then you’ll love The Bullet Journal Method.” —Jeff Haden, author of The Motivation Myth

Video and Podcast

Read an Excerpt/PDF Preview

The Promise

Life had gotten too busy. It seemed as if my

existence had become just one long to-do list.

I had forgotten about my dreams, my goals,

my what-ifs, my “what if I could’s.”

-Amy Haines

The Bullet Journal method’s mission is to help us become mindful about how we spend our two most valuable resources in life: our time and our energy. If you’re going to invest both reading this book, it’s only fair to start by highlighting what’s in it for you. To sum it up:

The Bullet Journal method will help you accomplish more by working on less. It helps

you identify and focus on what is meaningful

by stripping away what is meaningless.

How does it do this? By weaving together productivity, mindfulness, and intentionality into a framework that is flexible, forgiving, and, most importantly, practical. Let’s take a closer look at each.


Do you ever feel overwhelmed by all your responsibilities? Sometimes life feels like a hellish game of whack-a-mole, condemned to stomping out never-ending chores, meetings, emails, and texts. Your multitasking madness has you squeezing in workouts by pacing across your apartment while FaceTiming your sister-who is asking if you could breathe less heavily. Nothing is getting the attention it deserves, and it doesn’t feel good. You hate disappointing other people as much as you hate disappointing yourself. To get more done, you’ve even hacked your sleep, whittling it down to the bare minimum-except now you’re a zombie because . . . you’ve hacked your sleep down to the bare minimum.

Let’s step back. Every year between 1950 and 2000, Americans increased their productivity about 1 to 4 percent. Since 2005, however, this growth has slowed in advanced economies, with a productivity decrease recorded in the United States in 2016. Maybe our rapidly evolving technology that promises us near-limitless options to keep us busy is not, in fact, making us more productive?

One possible explanation for our productivity slowdown is that we’re paralyzed by information overload. As Daniel Levitin writes in The Organized Mind, information overload is worse for our focus than exhaustion or smoking marijuana.

It stands to reason, then, that to be more productive we need a way to stem the tide of digital distractions. Enter the Bullet Journal, an analog solution that provides the offline space needed to process, to think, and to focus. When you open your notebook, you automatically unplug. It momentarily pauses the influx of information so your mind can catch up. Things become less of a blur, and you can finally examine your life with greater clarity.

The Bullet Journal will help you declutter your packed mind so you can finally examine your thoughts from an objective distance.

We often cobble together ways to organize ourselves on the fly. A little of this app; a little of that calendar. Over time, this results in an unwieldy productivity Frankenstein of Post-its, various apps, and email. It kinda works, but it also feels like it’s coming apart at the seams. You waste time deliberating where information should go and trying to locate it later: Did you write something down in your notes app or on a Post-it? And where did that Post-it go, anyway?

Many a great idea, “keeper” thought, or important “note to self” has fallen victim to a misplaced scrap of paper or an outdated app. It’s a compounding inefficiency that drains your bandwidth, but it’s completely avoidable. The Bullet Journal is designed to be your “source of truth.” No, this is not some dubious invitation to worship this methodology. It means that you no longer have to wonder where your thoughts live.

Once you’ve learned how to keep your thoughts in one place, we’ll examine how to prioritize them effectively. Everyone calling, emailing, or texting you wants your answer right away. Rather than being proactive about setting priorities, a lot of us simply let the flood of external demands set them for us. Distracted and overextended, our opportunities go under. There goes your chance to increase your GPA, to get that promotion, to run that marathon, to read a book every two weeks.

BuJo puts you at the helm. You’ll learn how

to stop reacting and start responding.

You’ll learn how to tackle difficult challenges and turn your vague curiosities into meaningful goals, how to break your goals into smaller, more manageable Sprints, and then finally how to effectively take action. What’s the next step to improving your GPA this semester? Acing all your classes? No. Get more incremental. In which class are you falling behind? What’s the next assignment in that class? Writing a paper. Okay, what book do you need to read before writing that paper? Getting that book from the library-that’s the most important thing you have to do now. What about doing the extra-credit assignment for the class you’re already acing? Waste of time.

In this book, we will introduce scientifically proven techniques that turn any notebook into a powerful tool for surfacing opportunities and weeding out distractions, so that you can focus your time and energy on what actually matters.


Uh-oh, the “M” word. Don’t worry, no sitars required. When we talk about mindfulness, we’re typically talking about a heightened awareness of the present. Productivity is all fine and good, but BuJo isn’t designed to help you spin faster on the hamster wheel.

We live in an age where technology promises us near-limitless options to occupy ourselves, yet we’re left feeling more distracted and disconnected than ever before. Like when flying, we watch the world speed by at 600 miles an hour with no idea where we truly are. If we’re lucky, we may glimpse some ocean glinting below or lightning ripping through dark distant clouds. For the most part, though, we’re semiconscious passengers, killing time before the unnerving descent.

If the journey is the destination, then we must learn how to become better travelers. To become better travelers, we must first learn to orient ourselves. Where are you now? Do you want to be here? If not, why do you want to move on?

Knowing where you are begins

with knowing who you are.

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, who you are, and what you want. This is where BuJo comes into play. The act of writing by hand draws our mind into the present moment on a neurological level unlike any other capturing mechanism. It is in the present moment that we begin to know ourselves. Joan Didion, a famous proponent of writing things down, began doing so at age five. She believed that notebooks were one of the best antidotes for a distracted world: “We forget all too soon the things we thought we could never forget. We forget the loves and the betrayals alike, forget what we whispered and what we screamed, forget who we were. . . . It is a good idea, then, to keep in touch, and I suppose that keeping in touch is what notebooks are all about. And we are all on our own when it comes to keeping those lines open to ourselves: your notebook will never help me, nor mine you.”

For you digital natives out there, fear not. Banish the image of some hunched, squint-eyed Dickensian figure endlessly scrawling away in a garret by failing candlelight. No, here you’ll learn how to capture thoughts quickly and effectively. You’ll learn how to journal at the speed of life.

This is where BuJo comes into play. We’ll explore various techniques that help us form the habit of asking these kinds of questions, so we stop getting lost in the daily grind. In other words, the Bullet Journal method keeps us mindful of why we’re doing what we’re doing, so we make the most of our precious time and energy.


Think back to a book, a speech, or a quotation that deeply touched you or changed the way you thought about life. It was wisdom that inspired you, that held so much promise. All you had to do was act on this newfound knowledge and things would get easier, better, clearer, more empowering.

Now, how much of this knowledge is still in play-not just intellectually, but practically? Did you become a better person, friend, or mate? Did you keep the weight off? Are you happier? Chances are what you learned has withered, if it survived at all. It’s not that it wasn’t helpful. It just didn’t stick. Why is that?

The rush of our busy lives can quietly carve out a gulf separating our actions from our beliefs. We tend to follow the path of least resistance, even when it leads away from the things we care about. It can require a lot of ongoing effort to effect the change we seek. As any athlete will tell you, you need to tear muscle to build it, over and over again. Like building muscle, we need to train our intentions to make them resilient and strong.

Whereas it’s easy to “forget” to meditate or summon excuses to skip yoga, there are serious and immediate repercussions when we ignore our day-to-day obligations. To successfully introduce a new sustainable routine, it needs to fit into your packed schedule. What if you had a way that championed your intentions and kept you more organized throughout your day?

The Bullet Journal method acts as a bridge between your beliefs and your actions by integrating into the nitty-gritty of your life.

In addition to organizing her obligations, Amy Haines used her Bullet Journal to keep track of ideas for her business, people she wanted to learn from, apps to check out, even new teas to try. She customized her Collections-which you’ll read about later-to cut through the sinking feeling of endless to-do lists and to stay in touch with what she really wanted to do. She was able to reclaim the things that mattered and had gotten away.

Through Bullet Journaling, you’ll automatically form a regular habit of introspection, where you’ll begin to define what’s important, why it’s important, and then figure out how to best pursue those things. You’re gently reminded of these insights every day, which makes it easier to put them into action wherever you happen to be, be it a boardroom, classroom, or even emergency room.

Bullet Journalists have been hired for dream jobs, started businesses, ended toxic relationships, relocated, or, in some cases, simply become more content with who they are by making BuJo part of their routine. This methodology is powered by wisdom from traditions around the world. Like a reverse prism, Bullet Journal absorbs these traditions and focuses them into one bright beam that will help you clearly see where you are and illuminate the way forward. It will empower you to go from passenger to pilot through the art of intentional living.

the Guide

Bullet Journaling is not a fair-weather friend. It has dutifully suffered and celebrated alongside me through all the different seasons of my life. It has served the many masters of my former selves: the student, the intern, the heartbroken, the designer, and more. It always welcomes me without judgment or expectation. When setting out to write this book, I wanted to create something that could serve you the same way. This book is designed as your Bullet Journal base camp. It’s here to prepare you for your first ascent and to welcome you back when you need to rest, restock, and recalibrate.

For Those Just Getting Started

If this is your first experience with the Bullet Journal, welcome! Thank you kindly for spending your time here. To get the most from this book, I encourage you to follow the linear path, beginning to end. This path is designed to be participatory. We’ll leverage the power of transcription (page 49) to help you imprint the system faster into your mind. All you’ll need is a blank sheet of paper, an empty notebook, and something to write with.

The Bullet Journal method is comprised of two main components: the system and the practice. Part II of this book will focus on the system. You’ll learn the names of the ingredients and how they’re used. Like in a kitchen, Parts I and II will help you become a skilled line cook. Parts III and IV are where we delve into the practice. There you’ll learn how to become a chef. We’ll explore the sources and science behind these ingredients so that you can customize the Bullet Journal to suit your needs.

For Seasoned Bullet Journalists-

and Anyone in Between

The chapters are designed as independent Collections (page 87), mimicking the structure of the Bullet Journal system. As long as you’re comfortable with the BuJo vocabulary, you should be able to open the book to any chapter that grabs your attention. If you’re not, then check out Part II!

Part II delves into the system that you know and love in great detail. We take a closer look at each core Collection and technique, revealing both the reasoning and history behind their design. Then, in Part IV, we apply all of these concepts to a mock project. Here you’ll learn how to extend and further customize the system.

The system, however, is only one part of what makes up the Bullet Journal method.

The first parts of this book are about how

to Bullet Journal. The latter parts are

about why to Bullet Journal.

If you’ve been Bullet Journaling for a while, you may have felt there’s more to it than just keeping your lists organized. You may feel that it’s made you more grounded, confident, focused, calmer, even inspired. That’s because the Bullet Journal is powered by various sciences and philosophies to help us live with more intention. In this book, I’ll pull back the curtain to reveal why the Bullet Journal has the effect that it does. This deeper context will not only validate what you’re already doing, but can take your BuJo practice to a whole new level.

Whatever level you’re at, from BuJo newbie to pro, this book is a look into the heart of Bullet Journaling, where mindfulness meets productivity to help you design a life you want to live.

The Why

Intentional living is the art of making our own choices before others’ choices make us.

-Richie Norton

My first start-up, Paintapic, was born in a closet filled with thousands of thimble-size pots of paint. The service allowed you to turn your photos into a custom paint-by-number kit, complete with a canvas, paints, and brushes. At the time, I also had a demanding full-time day job, so Paintapic was built entirely on nights and weekends.

Leadership had changed at my nine-to-five, and the new direction had pulled the plug on the creative projects that allowed me to enjoy my job. Over time, this new vision became so limiting that I no longer felt I was adding real value to the company. My potential impact on Paintapic, however, was limited only by the amount of time I was willing to invest. I poured it on. So I Old Yellered my social life for Paintapic’s sake and got to work.