Ryder Carroll Discusses The Bullet Journal System

I am a productivity junkie -- yes I admit it. I have an uncontrollable need to organize everything so I can be the most productive. 

I read more books and articles on productivity than I do on photography. Why? I am not just a photographer -- I am an entrepreneur, publisher, editor and freelance writer.

I am managing a great many moving parts -- solo. So being organized and productive is a necessity. Evernote is my go to productivity tool, but I also use a notebook to brainstorm and jot down ideas. 

Unfortunately, I always found it tough to find specific ideas or brainstorming sessions. So instead of my notebook being my biggest ally, it was becoming a liability.

My wife, Jessie Nuez, recently introduced me to Ryder Carroll's Bullet Journal System. It's a simple yet powerful system that has allowed me to organize my notebook.

I have been using the system  on and off for the past month. It does take some getting use to the new process so I am slowly introducing it into my workflow.

The Interview

For those folks who have never heard of you -- who is Ryder Carroll?

I’m a web/product designer living in Brooklyn, NY.

What is the Bullet Journal System?

The Bullet Journal is an analog life-logging and productivity system. All it requires is your notebook of choice and a pen. The Bullet Journal system provides a framework for modular methods. Some methods include: calendars, to-do lists, journals etc.

Methods can easily be modified to suit your needs, or you can invent your own, and plug them into the framework.

The second main concept about the system is Rapid Logging. Rapid logging is the process of quickly jotting down things as they happen.

There are three main bullet-types: Tasks, Notes, and Events. In order to quickly parse information, each bullet-type uses a different icon so that you can quickly scan and understand your notes.

The Kickstarter campaign for the Bullet Journal System was set for $10, 000. As of 10.15.2014 the campaign has over $75, 000 pledged. Why the popularity of the Journal System?

The Bullet Journal is very customizable and forgiving. It allows users to easily create effective tools to help deal with their challenges. Not long after I made the system freely available a year ago, people started to modify and invent their own methods.

Better yet, they shared their ideas with others. A community of people started to form around the Bullet Journal, one that loved exchanging ideas and methods, making it much more effective than I could have ever made it on my own.

The Kickstarter campaign's main focus is to provide that community with better resources.

The Bullet Journal System appears to be rather mature -- how long have you been developing the the system? Were you inspired by other systems, i.e. David Allen's, Getting Things Done.

I had heard of David Allen, but didn’t know much about GTD when I launched Bulletjournal.com.

I’d been developing the system for many years. The original motivation was coping with learning disabilities (severe ADD) from an early age. I tried out a lot of different methods. I outgrew my challenges, but the methods remained effective.

Once I started working in the webspace, I was introduced to a lot of digital patterns that applied to the analog world. I don’t think the development of the Bullet Journal will ever be done.

It’s big strength for me is that it evolves to becomes what I need it to be.

Do you find that the art of note-taking is lost in the digital age? Why is it important for creatives to take to pen and paper when fleshing out ideas?

I don’t think it’s lost. I work in a totally digital environment, and even there, most of my colleagues use a notebook. It’s the fastest most flexible tool to get your thoughts out of your head.

There is also no digital tool that can truly recreate that tangible experience of laying ink on paper. Speed is really key when iterating on ideas.

While the Bullet Journal is designed to make "you" more organized, will it lead "you" to being more productive? Do you use a productivity system, i.e. Pomodoro technique?

Funny, I’m currently testing out the Pomodoro technique. For me, productivity is about being mindful of time. The Bullet Journal is a way for me to capture my day, process it, and then filter out the noise.

It’s not about spending hours forcing your entire life into lists. It’s about defining your goals, and then breaking them down into actionable steps.

How should someone new to the Bullet Journal System begin using it?

The first thing would be to go to Bulletjournal.com and watch the video and read the tutorial. After that, get a book they like and spend a few months trying it out.

Make adjustments as you like, and check out the communities out there for more inspiration. Take it one step at a time and do what works for you.

The Challenge

Yes, this post has very little to do about photography. There are no bits of photography wisdom or inspirational stories. This post is much more important than wisdom and stories.

As a professional photographer being able to not only be organized, but productive are two crucial foundational processes.

Yes, there are dozens of techniques, tools and technologies but at the end of the day there is no better alternative than the old standby of pen and paper.

My Challenge For You: Grab a pen and paper sit in your favorite creative spot.

Write down an inventory of what you did in 2014 and use this as a launchpad for 2015. Here are some questions to help you get started:

  • What was the two or three major theme that kept reoccurring?
  • What went well this year?
  • What did not go well this year?
  • What do you feel that you should have been acknowledged for, but were note?
  • What was missing from the last year as you look back?
  • What major life lessons were learned from the last year?

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