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How to achieve greater productivity by using the bullet journal

Kaleigh Moore 9 min read
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When it comes to boosting productivity, you probably know there are a wide range of great productivity systems to choose from. One of the more increasingly popular methods these days, however, is the Bullet Journal.

Known as BuJo®, the Bullet Journal is an analog organization system for people who still love using pen-and-paper planners. But don’t think of the Bullet Journal as a glorified to-do list, because it’s so much more than that.

Writer and executive assistant Ashley Gibson explained that her job involves a lot of planning and time management, which is why Bullet Journals make sense for her. “I love the flexibility bullet journals offer. Day planners are great, but I’ve always struggled to find one with the ‘perfect for me’ layout. With these, it’s nice to have something creative to do/set up each month, and I like that you can choose the best layout/system/ approach for you.”

It’s more like a comprehensive organization system that helps you keep track of your projects, goals, tasks–and pretty much anything else that you want to stay on top of.

So how can you use the Bullet Journal to help you achieve better productivity? Let’s find out.

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What is the Bullet Journal?

First: Um…what is a bullet journal?

The Bullet Journal is the brainchild of author and digital product designer Ryder Carroll. Growing up, Carroll struggled with ADD and other learning disabilities that made it difficult for him to plan and complete tasks. As such, he needed an organizational system that helped him maximize his focus and productivity, and the popular methods at the time weren’t working for him. After years of testing and tweaking, he perfected the Bullet Journal.

On Carroll’s website, he explains the Bullet Journal like this: “It’s designed to help you organize your what while you remain mindful of your why. The goal is to help its practitioners (Bullet Journalists) live intentional lives, ones that are both productive and meaningful.”

Here’s how it works: All you need to have on hand to set up a Bullet Journal is a pen and a notebook that you’ll use as your journal. The Bullet Journal consists of five major components:

  1. The index: The table of contents that lists your plans, thoughts, and ideas. It’s best to use the first couple of pages in the journal as the index, as you’ll be constantly updating it with entries
  2. The key: A glossary at the front or back of your journal that defines your various bullet symbols. We’ll talk more about that later
  3. Future log: Where you record priorities, events, and tasks you intend on completing in the future months to come
  4. Monthly log: A record of all your priorities, events, and tasks you have assigned for the current month
  5. Daily log: All of the things you want to accomplish today

You can learn more about the Bullet Journal and how you can create one of your own by reading this tutorial on the official website.

Using the Bullet Journal

One of the reasons the Bullet Journal is so effective is because of the “Rapid Logging” feature, which is a simplified “language” that allows you to take brief notes without losing any of the important context. You’re probably thinking that learning a language for note taking is too much work, but don’t worry. It’s really simple.

Carroll lists three types of bullets in this index:

  1. Tasks (Represented by a standard bullet point “•”)
  2. Events (Represented by an open circle “o”)
  3. Notes you don’t want to forget (Represented by a dash ­­“-“)

You then add brief bulleted sentences into your daily log using the symbols above. A daily log might look something like this:

• Finish marketing presentation

• Call Tony

○ Department meeting at 3:00

– Raining this afternoon

There are also a few other symbols used, like “*” for high-priority tasks and “!” for anything that’s inspirational.

The basics of the Bullet Journal are pretty straightforward from there. You record your daily, weekly, and monthly tasks then put those tasks on your index page based on their respective categories. You mark off the tasks you’ve completed over the course of your day, and the tasks you don’t complete get rescheduled or canceled if you decide the task isn’t important or worthwhile anymore.

OnRamp Data Founder and marketing consultant for creative entrepreneurs Emmett Armstrong said, “I like that I can just flip to a new page and write whatever I want with no need to work around what I’ve done already, or what the pre-defined template has for that day. I’ve only done bullet journaling for a few weeks, but I already love it.” Armstrong has found these are a great way to keep his to-do list and multiple responsibilities in check.

Want to see a Bullet Journal in action? Take a look at the video below.

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Why would I want to use the Bullet Journal?

As you probably already guessed, people use the Bullet Journal as a way to boost productivity and keep track of important information like tasks and appointments.

While there are a lot of productivity systems out there that can help you achieve the same objective, few systems are as flexible as the Bullet Journal. That’s because the Bullet Journal is more than a glorified to-do list. You can use it to record any and every important thought that crosses your mind–such as plans, goals, and important facts you don’t want to forget.

Where most productivity systems simply act as daily planners, Bullet Journaling helps drive personal innovation and creativity by allowing you to brainstorm ideas and quickly record those special insights you get randomly throughout the day.

Freelance writer Stephanie Leith who specializes in technical copywriting said of her bullet journal experience: “I love so much about using them: They’re a great visually creative outlet for my energy, I can record memorable things about each day or week, I can use them to look back on my life later and see how far I’ve come, and overall they help me stay organized.” Bonus: They help her keep her creative brain sorted for both work and fun activities.

What else do I need to keep in mind?

Don’t be discouraged to write information in the journal because you’re afraid of cluttering up your logs. Bullet Journals are designed to make it easier for you to track all of your important information thanks to the index pages, which you can use to quickly look up your recorded information whenever you want (regardless of how organized they are or how nice your handwriting is.)

“I love putting actual pen to paper and how you can pick up an old bullet journal and go to past years and see exactly what you were doing/feeling on any day,” said Austin-based freelance web developer Charlie Oritz. “For me, bullet journals help me reflect on what I was learning or having trouble with at the time. You realize how much progress you make (or don’t make.)” This is a great resource as he expands his web developer knowledge.

Bullet Journals are also great for people who prefer keeping track of information the old-fashioned way.

If you’ve already embraced modern technology and have gone completely digital, consider this: researchers discovered that we’re 42% more likely to achieve our goals when we write them down. Perhaps that’s why a whopping 77% of project managers and a jaw-dropping 93% of educators admitted that using a Bullet Journal has made work significantly easier.

Coincidence? Cognitive psychology research suggests that handwriting information is more effective than typing because:

  • It’s easier to remember and recall handwritten notes
  • Handwriting something requires more conscious thought than typing, meaning you’re actively processing your thoughts, ideas, and tasks as you write them on paper

Because the Bullet Journal makes it easier for you to write down quick blurbs without losing important context, hand-writing your notes doesn’t have to be a time-consuming process. It’s a win-win situation.

Making the Bullet Journal work for you

Now that we’ve talked about the Bullet Journal and some of the benefits that come with using it, how can you put it into action? Just start by writing down your thoughts, ideas, tasks, and any other important information into your journal. It’s that simple.

With that said, you’ll need to keep the momentum going, so consistency is important. But even if you do fall off the wagon and stop using the journal for an extended period of time, you can hop back on and pick up where you left off without having to waste pages like you would with calendars and daily planners.

The simplistic nature of the Bullet Journal makes it one of the easiest productivity systems to use. There aren’t any real start-up challenges, and the biggest obstacle is creating your initial logs, index, and page numbers, but even that only takes a few minutes to complete. Just be sure to give yourself some time to get used to the Bullet Journal system. The longer you stick with it, the more you’ll become accustomed to using it as a productivity tool and a creativity enhancer.

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Kaleigh is an experienced writer on all things SAAS at She is a Forbes + Vogue Business retail contributor on her free time.
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