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 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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  • I think I could have combined "Bring pug to vet" with "Plan birthday dinner" to create an ultra efficient solution to both...

  • Tian-Yuan Zhao

    Hey Sammy, I have another easier system that's all digital but isn't cluttered, cumbersome, and messy. Can I get your email so that we can discuss the potential of having it featured in an article?

    My email's Hope to hear back soon!

  • Tian-Yuan Zhao

    Also, it doesn't REQUIRE you to have Evernote, since my primary app is actually Microsoft Word.

  • Utomo Prawiro

    I hope there is Good Apps on all OS : Android and Windows so we can use it easier and using our Computer/ Tablet

  • paul.feria

    I still think that apps are the 'present,' not the future. I have lists that I look at yearly on Evernote: Christmas gifts, Xmas cards, travel checklists for the yearly trip to visit my wife's family overseas. Daily and weekly lists are kept on Google Tasks, which sync to my phone's desktop using Jorte app/widget: grocery, house to-do, daily to-do, and a few more. Put a due date on a Google Task item and it will appear in the calendar. Events are kept in my Google calendar, which also syncs to my phone desktop on Jorte.

    Using Jorte and Google, I can add to any list using the phone or any laptop that I can sign into.

    The Bullet Journal has the advantage of muscle memory (sorta), in which writing it helps you remember it. With my 'system,' you should read/review it often so as not to forget to-dos that you deem important (yet are likely to neglect). So, the only problem, with any system, is having the will to use it with discipline.

  • Pete Burrows

    Ok... Nothing new here.

    WOW here's a new idea! - write down your todos in a numbered list in a note book!

    This has been around since humanity learnt to write....

    Personally ive used this system for neatly 40yrs, at the end of the day write your to do lost the way that works for you, if an app works use an app, if a roll of toilet paper works use that, if a note book works use that.

    Personally, I use visual to dos as I'm a creative person. I do a quick sketch of what I need to do.

    What amazes me in the molten age is people are coming up with thing that ARE NOT NEW. It's just regurgitating old ideas that have been done a million times before.

    You wanna change the world? Then solve a problem that NEEDS solving - not something that doesn't.

  • I don't think that he's saying it's a new idea, I think he's simply creating a new way at organising the old idea of having to-do lists.

    Every person is different, your creative so list-making will not appeal to you, but there are others like myself that ARE list makers and this type of organisation does benefit me.

  • smjo222

    Finally - a hand-written solution to organizing my life. There are more than enough apps that claim they do the job, but none of them give me the same freedom as using a pen and paper. I prefer to write things down by hand, but am not a fan of the inefficiency and lack of organization associated with manual note-taking. I am very eager to try this method, and hopefully get rid of the pointless apps I've tried in the past.

  • 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 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.

  • I love Evernote too and super glad they have these new notebooks so I can write/add to Evernote in a functional way. I'm on my 2nd Evernote notebook and it is the BEST combo of blending pen & paper with technology. Order online from Evernote or I've seen at Barnes and Noble too.