Suggestions for reflective journalling based on Ryder Carroll’s Bullet Journalling system

I’ve been bullet journalling for nearly a couple of years now. It’s helped me organise my self-employed life and help keep track of my thinking on a variety of different topics.

A few people have asked about the hows, the whats and the whys. So I’ve pulled the answers together in this post.

Introduction to the bullet journalling system

Ryder Carroll (the inventor of the bullet journalling system) came up with the idea as a response to his attention deficit order.

The bullet journalling system is an analog database designed to document the past, track the present and plan for the future.

His overview video below is a good introduction.

It’s important not to view this overview as hard and fast instructions. They just give a suggested starting point – a framework which can be amended to meet your requirements.

There four main components to Ryder Carroll’s system:

  • Future Log (rapid logged tasks and events for the next 6 months)
  • Monthly Log (tasks and events for the month ahead)
  • Daily Log (tasks, events for and ideas captured from the day)
  • Checkboxes, circles (events), dots (tasks), X (completion), – (idea)

How I’ve used the bullet journalling system

The key to the system (I think) is to take the principles laid out by Carroll and make them work for yourself. In my case, that has meant:

  • Planning out the next six months
  • Having two monthly logs (for the next two months)
  • Drawing up a weekly log (to aid productivity and have accountability)
  • Drawing up a daily log every day first thing
  • Occasional mood tracker
  • List (Carroll calls these ‘collections’) of negative thinking patterns

It doesn’t take as long as you think

Daily log for Wednesday 28 August – the three bracketed statements are part of a daily routine of capturing successes from the day before (part of the abundance versus scarcity coaching exercise)

A lot of people see this as pointless busy work (and therefore procrastination). The reality is that the process takes around 20 minutes for monthly/weekly logs; and 5 minutes for the daily log. This short amount of time on a daily/weekly basis is an exercise in focus and attention and counter-intuitively helps settle my nerves a bit! So I find the short amount of time taken to be very valuable indeed.

Visualisations

Take care when you Google ‘Bullet Journal’ because since Carroll’s explainer video in 2015 a whole army of influencers, Instagrammers, graphic designs and font nerds have taken over the idea and turned it into a 20-something calligraphers wet-dream. There’s nothing wrong with this per-se, but it does slightly misrepresent the originating idea, taking the user away from the usefulness of the bullet journal.

Monthly Log for August 2019 – key dates on the left hand page, monthly goals/tasks, plus a thought log (sensitive bits removed obviously), and a mood tracker (a self-coaching exercise)

That being said, I have gravitated to using charts in my bullet journal, in part because very early on I found the process of journalling in this way kept taking me back to school timetables. I appreciated how the school day was separated into 40/45 minute blocks during which intensive bursts of activity were engaged in.

I wanted to adopt a similar approach to my self-employed life, so tried to introduce a similar visualisation into my weekly planning. The process of constructing timetables every week was in itself quite a relaxing process that focused the mind. I also find charts rather pleasing to the eye.

How my weekly chart is laid out and why

This chart is a reflection of my own curiosity and needs. It changes from week to week. It’s not a one-size fits all. Explaining it may well help trigger your thinking when working out how you want to journal.

The week runs Monday-Sunday.

The list of three words top left, are a challenge to myself when drawing up the chart to ‘vision’ the week ahead and then describe it in three words. So in this case it was documenting (ie blogging some recent coaching-style insights for Medium), reset (I wanted to reorganise the office in readiness for the ‘new term’), and celebrate (reminding myself of the progress I’d made with money management, new work, and family over the summer). These may seem a little twee – but personally speaking its really important for me to concentrate on abundance rather than scarcity. It’s a kind of personal strategy for the week ahead I suppose.

To the right at the top of the chart is a ‘goals’ box. This is a rapid-logging list of things I want to have achieved by the end of the week.

What follows is the action plan that meets the personal strategy and visioned achievements.

I split up my tasks into work and home (this because I want to see that I’ve done something for home every day as I have a tendency to only focus on work). The ‘challenge’ column is me identifying what I think my biggest challenge will be during the day ahead (or reflecting on what the biggest challenge was).

At the bottom of the page are two boxes listing the insights/achievements from last week I want to keep uppermost in my mind this week. The thinking behind this is that implementing change is a gradual thing and demands sustained focus. It would be too easy to forget achievements from last week when I’ve got my head down in this week’s tasks. So a visual reminder of last week’s achievements/changes/insights helps bake stuff in.

The box to the right will be used at the end of the week to capture the main insights of this week for carrying over to next week.

Make it what you need it to be

There are no rules, obviously. But I think there are one or two guiding principles.

  • Make journalling, visualising, charting (whatever you want to call it) a regular thing. Daily.
  • Make your daily engagement with your journal efficient (don’t spend hours on it – that’s procrastination)
  • Configure your journal to meet you needs; your needs may change over time

What to use and where to buy it

Technically speaking, you don’t need anything specialist other than a pen and a notebook. But I do have my go-to kind of notebook (and pen) which I’ve provided links to here to recommended products on my Amazon store (I get an Amazon voucher when readers purchase via these affiliate links).

Dotted Notebook

Lechtenturm Dotted Notebooks are the bees knees – £12.99
Buy via Amazon Affiliates here

Non-branded Dot Notebook – thicker covers; thicker paper – tasty – £11.29
Buy via Amazon Affiliates here

Lemone Dotted Notebook – £8.99
Buy via Amazon Affiliates here