Co.Design

This Note-Taking System Turns You Into An Efficiency Expert

Bullet Journal is an all-new system for note-taking that's better than any schmancy designer notebook.

Note-taking is a skill not easily acquired. In the hands of an artist, designer, or Hollywood serial killer (à la Seven’s John Doe), an idea-crammed notebook can even become a rarified, and in the case of the latter, creepy, object all on its own. Too often, however, the ability to take comprehensive, ruminative, or even attractive notes and sketches is conflated with simply buying a stylish book of paper, say from Moleskine or Field Notes.

Wrong. The most important step to keeping a great notebook is organization. No one knows that better than web designer Ryder Carroll. After a decade of development, he has just released a system for note-taking that promises to change the way you work and play, or at least the way you record doing so.

The first thing you notice about the Bullet Journal notebook is...no physical notebook. Carroll’s project can be adapted to any and all blank paper formats. It uses bullets and several other graphic markers, like circles and dots, to differentiate kinds of notes. You begin with the name of the month. From there, you just add variables, such as an index and checklists, until you have a comprehensive, highly customized and organized notebook of your own.

Carroll outlines the simple how-to in the video above, and emphasizes that the ease of his system lies in its familiarity. "We intentionally used standard conventions, like bullets, checklists, page numbers, etc., so you already know a fair amount before you even begin," he tells Co.Design. "Then the user can can add and subtract features as they need to."

The Bullet Journal, Carroll says, was motivate by and has helped him overcome some personal hurdles, like childhood learning disabilities, that prevented him from properly organizing his life and work. Back in school, every time he tried to take notes "about, say, George Washington," he recalls, "they would rapidly turn into sketches of Washington…with machine gun hands…riding a giant cybernetic bull terrier." Conventional note-taking didn’t work for him or the way he took in information.

Eventually, he decided to devise his own strategy, which, he says, helped him shift from college kid to full-time adult and web designer. Carroll is confident that the system is more intuitive to use than apps. "Bullet Journaling," he says, forces the user to "manually transfer information forward," making the note-taker pause and consider each of the items and events to be logged. Now off the to-do list: Buy new notebook.

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61 Comments

  • Siju Philip Rajan

    Strikepad app which is scheduled to launch on March 16th does a better job than any of these. With strikepad you can take notes as well as privately share with people you choose. Your note is safe as the other person is only allowed to view and comment his views. It's more like a safe space for discussions and expressions. Useful for students, teachers, creators, innovators..well it's useful for anyone who does note taking and collaboration with view only access...Register with your Email id at www.strikepadapp.com..Start taking notes and tagging friends from the launching date..

  • Kent Sanders

    Very cool idea. Although I use Evernote every day, there is still something nice and tactile about using pen and paper. Kudos to the author.

  • Danielle Franzese

    What if you have to put in notes or events for the future and not for the day you are currently on, how do you know how much space to leave and whatnot? Seems like an organized idea but mainly only useful for day-to-day items

  • Josh Aronoff

    I've been using this system since September. That is the one flaw that is a problem, but you have your index, and can make a note on a calendar or something and reference the page numbers for that specific set of notes.

    It's not that big of a deal.

    That being said, it IS indeed used mainly for day-to-day notes. You do have to bake in a review once a week, see where you're at with stuff and at the end of the month incorporate anything that you havent done, see if it's still relevant, etc.

    Other than that, it's the only thing I've been able to keep with. I use this and Omnifocus for a series of lists, that I then transfer to daily list form when I sit down to do some work.

    So far so good.

  • Um. Very logical but very rigid - especially for designers and artistic types. Also much of what the author does on an analog level can easily be usurped by using Wunderlist and Evernote. The latter of which will let you capture your analog notes via a scan or photo taken via smartphone - after which, the built-in OCR software made available to pro users - will allow you to search, share, annotate and make derivatives/copies/terations of said note ad nauseum. Better yet, you won't have a heart attack when you lose your physical notebook.

  • Chris Travis

    You added "nauseum" when you started talking about other things you could do with other apps. This is a very simplistic way to organize for people who aren't good at organizing or taking notes. As an artistic type, the video showed me what to do.

  • Corey Prue

    I think this is wonderful. Anybody who is in a professional environment, will appreciate this.

    Busting out the smartphone or laptop during a meeting, seminar or presentation is still not received very well and I totally think I will be embracing this!

  • Seems like a good note taking strategy but it's a lot quicker to simply use an app like "WanterList" that syncs between phone and computer. I can though, see the appeal with hand writing notes.

  • animoller

    I'm really surprised by the naysayers here. If it's not for you that's fine, but this is actually a really awesome and systematic method of managing tasks and notes!

    There are those of us who have to take notes and organise projects and people for a living. I take my notes in a similar fashion, but I love the idea of the index at the front which I don't do, and just the simple improvement I can make to my daily note-taking which is changing my stars to mark actions to a square bullet to tick off. I like that. I'm going to use it.

    For me, apps just don't cut it. Most of the time I have a notebook in my hand as I'm walking through the office, and the effort to open to a page and jot down a task is much less than opening my phone or an iPad and typing it. Predictive text doesn't work for my own shorthand. And it's much more surreptitious, less distracting to others, and not rude in meetings to write in a notebook!

  • Jane

    I really like this idea. I can see the bullet journal working for on the job tasks, notes, conversations and events on a monthly basis. Also sometimes you need proof on the job when tasks were given and completed, which will definitely save your butt. However, my life is much to complicated for this to work outside my job. Thanks for sharing!