Articles

Ideas and Insights from the Creator of the Bullet Journal, with Ryder Carroll

Rebecca Kochenderfer

08/12/2019

Ryder Carroll

Founder of The Bullet Journal Method

Ryder Carroll’s bestselling book The Bullet Journal Method: Track the Past, Order the Present, Design the Future has transformed the journaling landscape. Ryder’s innovative approach to productivity and mindfulness, through a method he calls Bullet Journaling, has contributed significantly to the rising number of people journaling today. He’s been featured by the New York Times, LA Times, Fast Company, The Wall Street Journal, BBC, Vogue, Bloomberg, and others. If you aren’t already familiar with Ryder’s groundbreaking work, you are in for a treat. It is a huge pleasure to welcome this visionary thinker to Journaling.com.

You can listen to his interview by pressing the play button below, or continue on to read the highlights of our conversation.

The Early Beginning

Ryder describes Bullet Journaling as “a mindfulness practice disguised as a productivity system.” Interestingly, when Ryder set out to develop this system, mindfulness was not foremost on his mind. Growing up with a diagnosis of ADD, Ryder often struggled to keep up with peers. This challenge eventually inspired him to design a productivity system to assist with becoming more efficient and better organized.

The methods Ryder developed helped him attain his professional goals. But despite numerous work-place achievements, Ryder recognized his accomplishments weren’t yielding personal fulfillment. “I realized a lot of my goals were appropriated from the world around me—namely peers and media. I never asked myself what I wanted or what was important in my life.”

A New Direction

Ryder returned to the productivity tools he’d developed and began to use them for inward self-reflection. Bullet Journaling, he discovered, not only helped increase productivity, it also provided a foundation for rigorous self-examination. And that, he tells me, is when things got interesting!

The words we write down are experiences waiting to be born.

Ryder Carroll

A New Approach to Task Lists

Ryder observes, “We live in a time when productivity is worshipped.” Indeed, we oftentimes equate a mile-long to-do list with our level of significance in the universe.

As our to-do lists grow, so too does our anxiety. This insight led Ryder to ask, what if the task- list were to become part of an “existential” exploration that assesses the quality of experiences that fill our days?

Today Ryder helps others contemplate their task lists in order to maximize their time spent tending to activities that provide fulfillment and meaning. He explains to his readers, “I can’t tell you what will make your life better, but from my own experiences, I can share ways of thinking that may help you find those answers for yourself.”

Shift Your Perspective

Ryder’s message to journalers is an uplifting one. “The words we write down are experiences waiting to be born not just a list of stuff we have to do. Our task lists are a preview to the life we are building.”

When we think of to-do lists in this new light, it helps us to:

  • ask why we do the tasks we do each day. In turn, we become more selective in choosing which tasks we can commit to.
  • clarify what’s important in our lives on an ongoing, regular basis so that we focus on tasks that have the greatest meaning and value in our lives.
  • reengage with the content we write down in meaningful, deeper ways.

Ryder’s Tips for Reengaging with Content

Your journal is a treasure chest filled with nuggets of wisdom and insight. Reengaging with your journal’s content on a regular basis helps you assimilate deeper understanding.

  1. Keep your journal nearby:  Throughout the day, jot down tasks, ideas, and questions to pursue later on. These notes can be brief. The goal is simply to capture these thoughts on paper in order to preserve them and to free up your mind for other thoughts.
  2. Daily Reflection:  Before bed, review the content you’ve written down that day. Use this moment to observe and clarify how the day’s tasks moved (or didn’t move) your life in a meaningful and desirable direction.
  3. Monthly Migration: Once a month, review the previous week’s journal entries. After some contemplation, rewrite only those words that still have value and purpose in your life. Vital tasks and thoughts will migrate with you into the next month. Leave unnecessary obligations and distractions behind by omitting them from this migration process.

Evaluate Your Task List

We are a culture on auto pilot trying to accomplish an infinite list of tasks. Streamlining task lists so they are an approximation of the life we want to cultivate is vital. To help with this process, Ryder recommends considering these questions:

  • How do the tasks on your list make you feel?
  • Which of these responsibilities do you want more or less of in your life?
  • Of the tasks you completed today, which ones were essential? Which provided you with fulfillment, pleasure, and meaning?
  • What would have happened if one of the tasks on your list was not completed?
  • Which of the items on your list could be eliminated without any negative consequences?

Put your To-Do List into Context

Whether or not an act is vital is sometimes unclear. To help untangle this ambiguity, Ryder uses the example of washing dishes. Theoretically, this task is not vital. Nothing catastrophic will happen if you never wash a dish again. You could simply use paper plates or eat all of your meals in restaurants. But context, Ryder explains, is what matters here. If you live with someone you care about who cooks dinner every evening, in this context, washing dishes is vital because it’s a way for you to reciprocate that person’s act of kindness.  

Seeing a task in its own unique context, Ryder points out, infuses even our most base chores with new meaning.

Why It Matters

In the midst of crisis, people are often compelled to face life’s “big questions.” They ask themselves what in my life matters most to me? What are my regrets? Who do I love, and have I adequately cared for these people? Have my actions made a difference in the world?

Instead of waiting for a moment of crisis to contemplate these issues, checking in regularly, asking these questions frequently, alleviates pressure and makes these inquiries less daunting.

It Doesn’t Have to Be Fancy

We see them on Instagram and YouTube all the time—those gorgeous Bullet Journals that make us swoon. Elaborate interpretations of the bullet journaling method are great fun to look at and can be a tremendous source of inspiration. But Ryder wants to be sure users remember that Bullet Journaling is based on particular methods that do not rely on looking a specific way. “Bullet Journaling is a paper mirror there to reflect your choices, responsibilities, and the things that matter back at you.” How this paper mirror looks is not an important part of its functionality, Ryder reminds us. Instead, he insists, your Bullet Journal should look however you need it to. Every life has unique requirements and so a journal should be customized for the individual it serves.

Your Action Plan

Start your own bullet journal with help from the official Bullet Journal notebook which was designed by Ryder to support your individualized needs.

  • Listen to our entire conversation on our podcast, The Power of Journaling.
  • Make space in your writing life to integrate Daily Reflections and Monthly Migrations.

In talking with Ryder, it became clear that a productivity system is only as effective as the level of mindfulness it inspires. How does mindfulness inform your own productivity? We’d love to hear all about it. Reach out to us on Facebook.

Rebecca Kochenderfer

Founder of Journaling.com

About Rebecca Kochenderfer

Rebecca Kochenderfer is Journaling.com’s founder and host. She is the author of Joy Journal, an uplifting collection of journaling tips and techniques. Rebecca is honored to hold this space for the journaling community to connect, thrive, and grow. Fellow journalers can connect with Rebecca at  [email protected] or on Facebook and send her questions and stories about their own journaling experience. For press and advertising inquiries contact here.