Every 20 years or so, a game changing productivity book comes along that becomes the gold standard. This is it.
The Bullet Journal Method by Ryder Carroll
Consider for a moment the gold standard books of previous eras:
How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. Published in 1934, this book was the best representative of the “personality ethos” of how to be likable and how to go along to get along. Loaded with lots of basic practical tips, it held sway as the go to personal development book all through the 40s and 50s.
The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale. Published in 1952, Peale didn’t refute Carnegie’s work. Rather, he turned the focus toward mindset – having a focused, relentlessly positive mindset that empowers you to persevere through obstacles. This text laid the foundation for almost the entire self-help industry and helped transition from the conformity of the Eisenhower era to the individualism of the 60s and 70s.
The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. This 1989 book marked a definitive turn from the “personality ethos” to a “character ethos” focusing on values, transcendent principles, and thinking about meaning and purposefulness.
Getting Things Done by David Allen. Reflecting the dramatic changes of the early Internet era, Allen’s 2001 work puts the focus squarely on productivity. He offers a simple method based on lists and a “weekly review” which functions as a brain dump. Central to his method is getting all your thoughts out of your head and into your productivity system. Equally important is the discipline of deciding specific actions that result from all your thoughts.
Each of these previous works stands head and shoulders above their contemporaries. This can be seen in the fact that they are all still in print (while most productivity/self help books are quickly relegated to the recycling bin of history). They have each spawned fanatically loyal communities of disciples who carry the books like holy writ and speak in the distinctive jargon that arises from their systems. Ultimately, these all stood the test of time because they are chock full of useful ideas that continue to help people navigate the confusion of life.
Enter in 2018 Ryder Carroll’s The Bullet Journal Method.
Carroll does not write this book as a refutation of what came before. Rather, the book comes across as a distillation of the best of many different systems. The great contribution here is Carroll’s insistence on analog. Critical to the bullet journal method is the use of pen and paper. Not an app, not an ephemeral cloud service. Use ink that stains the fingertips and paper that is oh so fragile (yet oh so durable).
The act of slowing down to write forces us to consider. It puts us in a place where we have to pause. And think. Then, when we have to transfer lists from one month to the next, the very act of writing all that stuff prompts us to consider whether we should prune some things out of our lives. Therein lies the real insight of the method.
Yes, the system of bullets is nifty and the organizational system of lists is elegant and simple. But the real brilliance comes in the counterintuitive assertion that in our digitally accelerated era, we need a break from screens and we need an experience with the tangible, the tactile, and the material. As the paper and pen prompt us to pause, we begin to ponder anew the bigger questions.
Search “bullet journal” in your favorite search engine and you will discover that there is already a fanatically loyal following to the bullet journal method. Mark my words: this built in fan base will beat the drum for this method, and they will help establish it as the dominant productivity book for the next couple of decades.
But beyond the bullet journal tribe, what really cinches the deal is that this method, like all the other classics that preceded it, really does work for our era. It adds value. It helps. Give it a try and see for yourself.