How to make a to-do list that you’ll actually do

New York-based designer Ryder Carroll has spent years refining his “Bullet Journal” concept. Here’s how it works

 

Example of a bullet journal style

Ryder Carroll, a New York–based designer who has created apps for brands like Adidas and Macy’s—describes his Bullet Journal as an “analog app” for organizing time. While any lined notebook can become a Bullet Journal, Carroll plans to have a ready-to-use version for sale this year. Here’s how his system works:


“The Bullet Journal is a customizable and forgiving organization system. It can be your to-do list, sketchbook, notebook and diary. But, most likely, it will become all of the above. It teaches you to do more with less. I came up with the name three years ago, but the system has really been evolving for more than 20 years.

 

“The key to the Bullet Journal is what I call ‘rapid logging,’ the idea being to capture information—the day’s events, tasks and notes—in the most lean and objective way possible. Digital apps can do this too, but they usually have one of two problems: Either they try to do too much of everything, or they’re inflexible. There is no system that adapts as well as a pen and paper. I usually tell people to try it for three months. Learn how to do the basics, and adapt it to your needs. It becomes more effective the more you use it.”

Here are the components of a Bullet Journal list:

Bullets

Rapid logging relies on brief notes paired with bullets (•). Each entry should be a short objective sentence that can be organized into one of three categories: tasks, events or notes.

Tasks

All actionable items start as a simple dot, but can be amended as they become tasks you’ve completed (×), tasks you’ve migrated from the previous page (>) or tasks you need to schedule and revisit later (<).

Notes

These are facts, observations or ideas you want to remember but require no immediate attention. These get a dash ().

Events

These are represented by a circle () and should be as objective and condensed as possible: “Friday sales meeting” gets the same weight as “anniversary dinner.”

Migration

If it’s a weekly list, take some time on Friday to revisit your journal, mark tasks as complete and migrate others to next week’s list. If you find the item has outlived its usefulness, strike it out. That feels really good.

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