The “Bullet Journal” : a New Time Organizing Method or a Recycled Idea?

The Bullet Journal MethodI love organizing things. Ideas, notes, calendars, appointments, and tasks. You name it, I can organize it. I’m the queen of sticky notes and reminders.

Thus, I’m always interested in finding a new and better way of organizing my life, either digitally or on paper. The first method I used was Franklin Covey, complete with paper calendar, task list, address book, and Mission Statement. I later moved on to Getting Things Done (GTD). I have tried other organizing methods, but I tend to revert back to the Franklin Covey method. Maybe because it is the first one I learned?

In truth, each method has its pros and cons, even paper versus digital “life stuff” organization. Paper is actually faster, but I have to carry something else around with me. Digital organizers can make it hard to find information — I like to lay my non-digital calendar, schedules and tasks out in front of me to review them — but it’s less burdensome to carry around a smart phone tied in to my laptop via the Cloud.

When I saw this article promising a more efficient way to organize my life, I was intrigued. Could it really be this good?

I admit, I was disappointed by what I saw in the video. However, I was intrigued enough to read through the entire web site for the Bullet Journal method.

In my opinion, the Bullet Journal organizational method is a handwritten, Moleskine-oriented, hipster version of the Franklin Covey system. (I show a typical Franklin Covey daily page in the photo below.) To me, it’s not a “new” method, just a recycled version of an existing method. Franklin Covey also organizes by task, event, and note. As well, it uses notations to decide how important a task is. It is also organized by monthly calendar, daily calendar and schedule, and daily tasks. Franklin Covey also provides a way to organize by monthly and weekly tasks, and to plan ahead months and years in advance, if I remember correctly.

Franklin Covey

The Bullet Journal method doesn’t seem to provide a way to plan months ahead on a calendar. I guess that goes in a note until you create your new calendar at the end of the current month? That doesn’t seem very practical, and depending on your schedule, hand writing every task and event and moving them each month seems tedious compared to the Franklin Covey paper method or using a digital time tracker like OmniPlan, which is based on GTD. It’s also not very flexible. If I try to write out my tasks by day a month ahead, and then I need to add a significant number of new tasks, I am likely to run out of space! This photo, below, is an example daily task page in the Bullet Journal method.

The Bullet Journal

I suspect, also, that the author doesn’t have a family. I am skeptical that this method would scale. If you happen to lose an analog time tracker, there are no back up files. In addition, I am not a fan, anymore, of letting outdated paper organizers pile up and take space. That happened to me with my Franklin Covey paper planners. Eventually, I shredded the paper to save space when I lived in a small apartment in Los Angeles. I did not refer back to them after a certain amount of time passed, and it was unnecessary to keep them. It was a relief, actually, to let go! Personally, I don’t have time to manage my current and future tasks, much less to sit around and flip through my past ones.

I will give Ryder Carroll credit for creating a well-organized, manual, paper and pen system for the Moleskine or a Composition book, though. Should you use it, I have no doubt it will help you. If I still used Moleskines or a Composition notebook, I would adopt this system to organize my life. He has put a lot of thought into developing an analog organizing system. (I just think it is too similar to the Franklin Covey method to be called an “original” method. And, like all methods, it is not perfect.)

What do you think of the Bullet Journal method? What method do you use to organize your life? Do you have any tips and tricks you swear by?

Addendum, 31 December 2013: In spite of my criticisms above, I am going to give the “Bullet Journal” method a go. Please check back as I report on how well it does or does not work for me. Happy New Year 2014!

Addendum, 2 February 2014: I have an update on my use of the Bullet Journal method, 33 days later. In short, success. I am happy to eat my words. :)

  • RoyM

    I also thought that the transcription of the todo list from month to month was a bit silly, but several months in I realise now that it is such a good productivity tool. The very act of sitting down and going through the previous months todo items and transcribing them is almost therapeutic – any important tasks you’ve previously forgotten about bubble back up to the surface, and I find that a lot of things I thought were important at the time may, a month later, be a task I can safely forget about. I never had that sense of closure with an electronic todo list, it just kept getting bigger and bigger.

    The lack of a yearly planner is an omission that I’ve corrected myself.

    I must live a very boring life, because I find it pretty easy to manage the forward calendars. I just estimate how many pages I’ll use for a particular month, and then start my next months calendar on the next free page. If I have to leave a blank page or two, no big deal.

    It’s not a perfect organisation method, but for someone like me who needs a fairly high level view of todos, and a high level calendar that focuses on only the big events it works very well.

    • Jewel Ward

      Ray, thank you for your comments.

      After I wrote this post I began to wonder if a monthly review of tasks via transcription might do just that — help me sort out what needs to be done, and let go of tasks that aren’t so important. I’m glad to hear the transcription has worked for you. I have to admit, my tasks do get lost in my electronic task list. My task list just grows bigger and bigger. I miss my Franklin Covey Planner for that reason.

      The virtual world is more convenient. It is certainly less bulky to have my calendar and tasks on my smart phone and laptop. But I miss having it laid out on paper in front of me.

      How did you work around the yearly calendar planning omission?

      • RoyM

        For the yearly calendar, I created a single page at the back of my notebook and restricted it to significant events (birthdays etc.) If it gets too unwieldy I’ll split it over multiple pages.

        I’ll be interested to hear how you get on. I’m no fanboi, but so far it’s a method that works well for me. I enjoy hearing about improvements, as there are a couple of things that could be better.

    • Jewel Ward

      Ray, I am going to give the Bullet Journal a go. I bought a paper journal today. I posted about it here (, and I quoted you, above. Wish me luck! I’ll post again about whether or not the method works for me. So far, so good, though. Happy New Year 2014!