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.