"Productivity defines our actions and our mindfulness helps us clarify and surface our beliefs. So, the idea is to align your actions with your beliefs, so you can live a more intentional life."
Would you benefit from figuring out how to organize your thoughts while increasing your productivity? Our guest today, Ryder Carroll, famously created a worldwide movement and method known as “Bullet Journaling” (or what I call “Scribing 2.0”) that accomplishes both of those, simultaneously.
After struggling for years with organizing systems and finding that none worked the way his mind did (after being diagnosed with ADHD), he created Bullet Journaling— a new method to become consistently focused and effective.
He shared his invention with friends who suffered from similar challenges, and it went viral. His brand new, New York Times bestselling book is The Bullet Journal Method: Track the Past, Order the Present, Design the Future, and in it, he explores what it means to live an intentional life, one that’s both productive and meaningful.
Ryder has been featured in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Fast Company, Bloomberg, LifeHacker, and Mashable. He’s also worked with companies including Adidas, American Express, Cisco, Macy’s, IBM, and HP.
- Why finishing his first book was Ryder’s biggest achievement – and how he, a self-admitted “non-writer,” did it.
- The reason failure became so normal for Ryder that he became suspicious of success – and how he learned to reframe failure.
- What makes scribing so valuable, especially as technology encroaches on every aspect of our lives, to help us address conflict, solve problems, make breakthroughs, and discover insights.
- How Bullet Journaling teaches to think differently, take control of your life, and accomplish more.
- Why Ryder believes you need to change yourself before you can change the world – and how he used Bullet Journaling to do exactly that.
- How Ryder uses analog and digital journaling and the unique advantages to both.
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Hal: Howdy, goal achievers. Welcome to the Achieve Your Goals podcasts. This is your friend and your host, Hal Elrod. We just got done with the Fifth Annual Best Year Ever Blueprint Live Experience. Five hundred goal achievers and members of the Miracle Morning Community in San Diego for it was really just a just a special weekend. In fact, I’m sure I’ll do a recap episode of the event here probably in the next week or two or three year shortly.
Today is not a solo episode so you don’t have to or get to listen to me for the next hour. You’re actually going to hear from someone who I’ve admired from afar for quite a while, and this gentleman you’re not – we haven’t known each other well. We’re just getting to know each other. In fact, this is our second take probably a month, a few weeks ago I guess it was. We actually recorded a podcast interview and it was great and somehow it didn’t record. There was some tech error and so, I’m actually excited about that. Everything happens for a reason. It falls in that category because I ended that interview and I went, “Oh man.” I thought of all these questions like anything, you end the conversation and you think, “Oh, I should’ve said that. I should’ve asked that.” And so, I actually thought of a lot of things I wish I would’ve asked during that interview and it’s a blessing in disguise.
I think the audio didn’t work because now I’m getting to have another conversation with Ryder Carroll. And if you’re not familiar with Ryder, he is a digital product designer and he is the inventor of the Bullet Journal and if you don’t know about the Bullet Journal, by the way, it was something Ryder created out of necessity. For years he tried countless organizing systems, both online and off, but none of them fit the way his mind worked and out of sheer necessity, he developed a method called the Bullet Journal that helped them become consistently focused and effective, after he was diagnosed with ADD and we started sharing his Bullet Journal system with friends who face similar challenges. It went viral and just a few years later really to Ryder’s astonishment, the Bullet Journaling method is a global movement. I think all of us want, you know, many people will want to start movements, want to change the world, and the reality is very few people actually do that, and Ryder has created this global movement. My business partner, Honoree Corder, is a bullet journaling fanatic and she has been for years.
And as a result of what Ryder’s created, he’s had the privilege of working with companies like Adidas, American Express, Cisco, IBM, Macy’s, and HP. He has been featured in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Fast Company, Bloomberg, Lifehacker, and Mashable, and his first book just launched, The Bullet Journal Method: Track the Past, Order the Present, Design the Future, and that is available at all your favorite book retailers, The Bullet Journal Method.
Hal: And it is my good pleasure, Ryder, welcome my friend. How are you doing?
Ryder: I’m doing well. Thanks for having me.
Hal: Yeah. It’s a pleasure. Take two, right? This is our déjà vu moment. I’m excited for today’s discussion because I think it’s perfect for The Miracle Morning Community and the Goal Achievers Podcast and the reason I say that is the core of The Miracle Morning is this acronym that is the SAVERS. So, it’s silence, affirmations, visualization, exercise, reading and then last but not least and most relevant to today is the final S in SAVERS stands for scribing which is a fancy word for writing or as my friend, JP Sears, said is a pretentious word for writing. But the Bullet Journal, in my opinion, the Bullet Journal method is essentially like scribing, the ultimate scribing. It’s the ultimate all-encompassing scribing practice. Now, before we get into that, I want to spend the large majority of our time today talking about scribing, bullet journaling, etcetera, but before I do, I have a couple of questions related to your goals and your journey getting where you are now. First question is what would you say, what is the most meaningful goal that you’ve ever achieved? And it could be the most meaningful recent goal. I know you’ve done a lot in your lifetime, but what was the most meaningful goal you ever achieved and what did you learn by achieving it?
Ryder: Well, I would have to say the first thing that comes to mind is writing a book. I’m not a writer or wasn’t. I was a digital product designer. So, setting out to write this book was incredibly challenging and I knew why I wanted to do it. The purpose was very meaningful today, but the actual execution of it was very, very challenging. And now that it’s done and that that’s wrapped up and looking back on it, it’s hard to believe that it was done. It’s much validated a lot of the things that I believe to be correct which obviously was a wonderfully motivating experience because we set out to write a book like you have all sorts of plans and halfway through, they go right out the window. It’s an incredible learning experience.
Hal: Yeah. I know. As a fellow author, I can relate and actually, I want to ask you something which I just thought of here because I just finished a book as well. I just finished writing a book and so my question for you is I wanted it’s kind of like is it just me question which is once your book goes back to the editor, it goes to the final print, do you not throughout the day almost every day think of things you wish you would’ve done differently or put in the book? Like to me, it’s like it’s never I wish I could just go back and change it all the time. Is that something that you’ve experienced as well where you think of, “Oh gosh, I should’ve put this quote in,” or I should’ve said this differently. Have you had that experience at all?
Ryder: No. It’s perfect immediately. Of course, all the time. I mean, until this moment right now, I mean, it brings me back to what Ira Glass said, I think. He said the challenges especially with like young creatives is that you have taste and you have ability. I don’t know if I’m getting that entirely correct, but the challenge is that your ability doesn’t live up to your taste. You might have really excellent taste, but you’re not able to actually execute on your own level of taste and I felt like that happened to me a lot like I have this idea and this concept and I kept trying to improve it and refine it and making it much more clear and much more accessible or relevant and every day just kind of sit down and I chip away at this thing and try to polish it and polish and polish it. You know, sometimes you figure out how to do that after the fact. You’re walking on the street you’re all of a sudden like, “Oh, this would’ve been a perfect metaphor or this is a common name for it.” Yeah. Honestly, left to my own devices I think I would have written this book the rest of my life. It tackles a lot of really, really intense subject matter. But at some point, you have to let it go. So, I think that that’s just as challenging as coming up with it as actually saying goodbye at some point, so we can make some progress but, yeah, I’ve had it all the time.
Hal: Yeah. Well, that’s a huge difference, right, between self-publishing and traditional like every other book I did was self-published so, hey, I could take as long as I wanted to do it like The Miracle Morning took three years for me to write and because I was indulging at that process where I’m like, “I’m not going to rush this,” and I’d be reading and months would go by and I’m like, “Oh, this is an idea I want to incorporate.” But when you’re traditional, you’re like, “Oh man, they’re really – once this goes to print…” They don’t like when I email them and be like, “Hey, can we change?”
Ryder: Yeah. They really don’t.
Hal: Not. They’ll only entertain so many of those before – like I’m learning with the limited service. So, yes, so this book, The Bullet Journal method which we’re going to talk a lot more about that and I can imagine that would be your first book. You know, the most significant goal or at least it’s very fresh in your mind. Let’s flip the script for a second and what would you say, and I’ll go over this a few different ways, so you answer in the way that resonates most with you, but what was the most significant goal that you, not that you achieve, but that you failed to achieve? Or you could even just take it as just what was a significant challenge or adversity in your life that you’ve endured and whether it was a goal that you were really working towards that you failed or just a difficult time in your life, some adversity that you experienced, in what ways did that benefit you? That make sense?
Ryder: Sure. Well, I would say that like that’s true in almost every different category of my life. You know, there’s a professional personal like I think there’s been a major goal that I failed at in every single thing. I guess to be very specific, there have been a couple of job opportunities that I was very excited about earlier in my career and in the digital space. A lot of times you have to go through up to like 12 or 15 rounds of interviews for some of these jobs that I was privileged to even be considered for and when you start like I don’t want to name the companies necessarily but when you start, you’re like, “Wow.” The first answer is already okay let’s see more like every progressive step you get closer to this thing, and one of them I got to the second to last round before I was hired. And then for one reason or another, it just didn’t work out so that was obviously disappointing, especially because you’re not just like showing up to an interview. You’re working for them already. Does that make sense? They give you projects to solve, and you spend time, you spend your weekends. They want to see how your mind works and that’s not just sitting there, talking for half an hour. So, like a lot of time and energy and thought and consideration went into it.
Hal: So, I’d imagine not only increases the level of disappointment or hate.
Ryder: Yes and no. I mean, the thing is it’s I guess maybe in my mind, my perspective on failure is a little bit different because I grew up with severe learning disabilities. Failure was a norm for me and like it became so normal for me that when I succeeded, I was suspicious of it like if a teacher liked my work, I was like, “Is this sympathy? Or did I just luck into it?” So, it was a very skewed perspective and if anything, I think one of the things I achieved was realizing that, yes, there is value that I can provide. So, for me, like my perspective on failure is that it’s required, it’s learning, and there are very few instances in my life where like there is a pass-fail situation like this job thing was like a perfect example that you either get the job or you don’t get the job. But obviously, I was disappointed, but like I moved on very quickly from that because I feel like if I couldn’t convince them that I was valuable then I probably wouldn’t prove to be valuable on that end and I don’t want to be in an environment where I’m not providing value. That would make me a very ineffective unmotivated worker. I want to work for a company that sees the value in what I do and what I provide. It’s good for them. It’s good for me and like that’s a good thing. So, for me, it was kind of contextualizing in that sense and I don’t want to luck into something. Does that make sense?
Hal: Sure. You want to earn it and make sure that it’s mutually beneficial and it’s the right fit for everybody.
Ryder: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, for me, I think that in my career, one thing that I found out is I would say pretty early on I was very successful at what I did in my career and I was always just so hungry for like what the company could do for me and what the company can do for me, and like that ended up being like a very empty pursuit. And once I start focusing on what I could actually provide, what value I could add, that was significantly more meaningful to me because I would show up knowing why I was there and what I was doing. I mean, don’t get me wrong obviously. I want to make sure that the time and effort that I’m putting into something is appreciated but like the change and the dynamic was much more important to me. So, like I would take jobs that were a lot less, I don’t know, I’m not get paid as much because I feel like I could add more value and enjoy the work, significantly more. So, that’s like one thing you learn, and I feel like having gone through this a couple of times it’s always like trying to find a fit where I believe I can add value. So, it’s not necessarily that I didn’t get the job. It’s just that I wasn’t put into a situation where I would probably be unhappy.
Hal: That’s a beautiful perspective. It’s beautiful, both on the front end in terms of your intention. I love that your intention is really to add value. You know, I think often in our world, its people really go through life and it’s part of human nature, but, A, “what can I get out of this” mentality? I want to get the most and squeeze the most from everything and having to go through life with it. “What can I give” mentality versus “what can I get” mentality. I actually get it’s just everything’s better. It’s like it’s more fulfilling for us as individuals. I feel like it endears us to other people because they really can tell that we care about what we’re contributing, not just we’re getting out of a situation. So, I love that you go in with that and then the other part is that you were able to reframe the failure or what some might consider failure of, “Oh, I didn’t get the job, I put in all that energy,” and now they’re distraught and depressed and discouraged whereas you went, “Oh, I guess that particular company was not the right value alignment.” Yeah. So, I commend you for that.
Ryder: Well, there’s also one part, I mean, I believe all the things that you say and that’s very important to me but like on a very practical level too, it’s you can control what you give. You can’t control what you get. So, if you focus everything on what you’re going to get, the chances of you being disappointed are very high. You don’t know what will happen, but you know what you can provide. And like figuring out how you can provide more or be better at, that is something that you can really work on and if that’s where you get to derive your sense of meaning that you’re going to get a lot in that process already. I’m not saying be completely selfless is the way to go but if you’re going to invest your time and energy into something, it’s like trying to figure out how you can be better, and I feel like I’ve gotten the most out of them, just always upping my own game. Obviously, at some point, there has to be a balance in the relationship with your employer, but I feel like I can control what I can get and focus on what I can control then I can make a lot more progress.
Hal: Well, you just mentioned about being selfless and I think that there is such a thing as being you can be selfishly selfless which is meaning understanding that the more value that you add to another person’s life to an organization, your company, your customer, whatever, the more value that you add, the more valuable you become to them and then they like you, they trust you, and they’re willing to do business with you or promote you or hire you or whatever. And so, I think you can understand that, you know what, I can be selfless understanding that I’ll end up getting more, the more that I give. The more value that I add, the more it’s going to come back. If you don’t want to be altruistically selfless, which is fine, no, either way, you can be selfishly selfless and either way, everybody wins.
Ryder: Yeah. I totally agree with that. I mean, I ran teams of people and then the people who are most disappointed were the people who feel like they couldn’t add any value because that’s like when boredom and indifference start to set in. So, like for me, as somebody working with a team like we’re trying to find a way to align the things that they were interested in with the things that they’re working on and that’s when they start to thrive. They’re like they’re really into it and then other people see that they’re into it and it’s like it creates energy around them and then people aren’t going to work on their team and they know that they’re like a team player as opposed to putting it somebody on a product you know that they don’t want to do and they’re kind of mopey or they’re like complaining or whining all the time and that’s the energy they bring into the team. And then I felt that that was the same when I was on teams and then it’s always just like trying to align people with a sense of meaning and purpose that if they feel they’re adding value, then chances of them actually adding value are much higher.
Hal: Beautiful. And I would imagine when it comes to leading teams, leading other people, the acknowledgment of people, the value people are adding, I think that that’s got to be crucial so that they’re, A, they’re aware that you notice but, B, sometimes people aren’t even aware of what their greatest contribution is until someone else tells them. You’re like, “Oh, really? I do that well? I want to keep doing it. I didn’t know that. I’ll keep working harder.”
Hal: That’s awesome. Okay. So, my first scribing/journaling related question I want to start broad, what would you say, what’s the importance, the value of scribing, writing, journaling, putting pen or pencil to paper however you want to put it, but what’s the general value of any scribing or journaling practice?
Ryder: I can only speak from my own experience because having done this for a while now, I realize that many people have different purposes why they do it. But for me, it helps me literally go off-line for a while and since the one time where I can sit down and think and like I let my mind catch up with my life, which has this the digital age kind of encroaches on every single aspect of our life. It’s as easy to be distracted. I feel like technology has cured boredom in some ways. Somebody’s bored immediately the phone goes off or the screen goes on, and I feel like those in between times used to be the time where we think or digest or have some insights because we are forced to reflect. So, for me, journaling allows me to connect with myself and actually see what it is that I’m working on and figure out. Most importantly why I’m doing what I’m doing. And sometimes often that answer isn’t clear. So, when I write, I have an opportunity to actually unpack my thoughts a little bit so, on the one hand, bullet journaling is about keeping very minimal notes, but it also provides the flexibility that if you want to expand on an idea or a thought, it’s just blank paper essentially.
And in my own practice, longer form journaling has become more important as well. If I get caught up on the challenge and I want to explore a little bit more or like really upset about something like what is it that I’m actually upset about and it helps me keep my ongoing dialogue with life a lot more productive.
Hal: So, you mentioned that the journaling that you just spoke of, I think you called it long-form journaling. I’m curious on your method, is that kind of a free writing method where you just start typing and typing and typing and kind of have a conversation on paper and get your thoughts out of your heads so you can work through them or what is your long form journaling? What does that look like? What’s that method?
Ryder: Well, so long form journaling, I say long-form journaling is my own term. There’s some others but part of the reason I designed the Bullet Journal the way I did is that my own experience long form journaling just felt like it took so much work. Every day I have to sit down and write for half an hour and for somebody who has ADD like that’s a lot to ask for especially when you’re a kid because the value isn’t clear. That was the big problem and it’s going to sit there. It just turned into more homework so when I designed the Bullet Journal, the idea was to kind of get the best out of journaling and reduce it to like very small bite-sized pieces of information that you’re capturing. That being said, having done it for a long time, I think that there is a world for both. So, throughout the day, maybe something bad happens or something that requires me to think about it longer and rather than having to stop in the middle of the day and figure it out, I just put like…
Hal: Ryder, are you there? I lost you. Hello? Ryder, hello? Check, check, check.
Ryder: So, writing the book, for example, I would have a really interesting thought, but it was just the very beginning of an idea. It was a baby. It was there, and it was alive, but it didn’t know anything yet. And so, I made sure that I captured that and when I sit down to write about it, all of a sudden, this tiny little thing started to grow and started to mature and like this idea where this notion rather started to mature into an idea. So, I took this idea and actually educated it and myself and trying to figure out what is the value here. What is the purpose of this? How can this be helpful in the greater context? By writing
and all of a sudden, all those things started to upside like let’s say you’re in the office and all of a sudden you have like a real problem with a colleague for whatever reason. It’s a difficult personality or they’re somehow blocking you from working on what you want to work on. Take your pick of reasons why they don’t get along with somebody at work and there’s the option of like immediately like going right in the combat with this person, which in my experience has never made anything better.
Everything just escalates immediately, reacts to poor situation. Or for me, one thing that I would do is I would try to remove myself from the situation if we came to an impasse, rather than rising to it and then when I had the time, I would actually sit down and write a letter to this person in my journal, not for the purpose of giving it to them. But for me to be able, A, to vent just to kind of get all that anger, frustration, or whatever out of my system and then actually start refining what it is that why am I upset exactly? What about their behavior is causing this response in me? And by actually writing it out or like dear whoever today this, this, and this like I could start to clarify it and that process was just tremendously helpful because half the time you start realizing things that you had no idea about in the heat of the moment like maybe it has nothing to do with what they said. Maybe you are having a bad day. You’re putting out a bad vibe and they picked up on that and things went off the rails or they’re upset about something that’s super valid. They just expressed it poorly and if you’re in their position, you would’ve felt the same way.
You don’t really have that context in clarity when you’re butting heads with someone so that’s something I can use long-form journaling for and it just keeps going on and on and on like recently I’m working on something else right now and I had this idea, and there was a technical issue with this idea. So, I started writing out the problem and I was trying to explain it to somebody else of something. I believe the process is called rubber ducking essentially where you try to explain the problem that you’re having to somebody else who doesn’t have any context. So, you have to be very clear about what the problem is step-by-step and in so doing, you’re clarifying it to yourself as well and in that process, also you might get insight or make progress where you weren’t able to before. So, long-form journaling it just serves its purpose and that was the big change for me because at first, long-form journaling was homework but now I use it only when I have to and when I do, it adds value, so I look forward to that opportunity, and that changes everything.
Hal: I love it. I love it all. Now, with long-form journaling, I would call it free writing. It’s like just the same thing. I think it’s just a different name for it. I wanted to get into bullet journaling now which you are the inventor of, creator of, so you’re the man to talk to about this. And I want to say this, I’m going to ask you for your kind of your explanation of what bullet journaling is. What I like about your book, I should say, what I love about it and for anybody listening, it’s at least something to consider, Ryder, your book teaches people, not just the bullet journaling method, but through that, this book really teaches you how to think, how to think more effectively because just by bullet journaling, you’re having to think more effectively to get more clarity and organize your thoughts, your life, your activities, your goals. All of that, in fact, given the entire chapter on goals, I just think this book really teaches you, teaches a method. The bullet journaling method isn’t just writing in a journal following your method to me. It’s thinking in a way that allows us to feel more in control of our lives, more in control of our days, and then we see tangible results in the form of increased productivity. So, I think it makes you feel better internally about your life, about your goals, about your accomplishments, and it actually propels you to accomplish more than you would otherwise. So that’s my laymen’s kind of definition or explanation of what I love about the bullet journaling method. I’d love to hear your explanation of what is bullet journaling and how can it help people.
Ryder: Sure. I like to describe it as a mindfulness practice that’s disguised as a productivity system. So, at the end of the day, the Bullet Journal method is a notebook. It uses a notebook as a tool. On the one hand, you have so the methodology is comprised of two main components. On one hand, you have this system and the system is what most people who are familiar with Bullet Journaling have seen online which is the visual representation. So, you have a system, but on the other hand, you have the practice and the practice helps us form a routine of introspection and with various things that I’ve described in the book like what do you do with the practice of introspection. So, the system part is based and focuses on productivity, which I think we live in a culture now that we worshiped productivity. We have to be productive. We have to get more done and I think it’s gotten to a point where it’s become unhealthy because we fill all our days with doing so many things, but we can like very productively work days, weeks, months, years towards goals that are completely empty.
These goals are things that we didn’t necessarily think through, or maybe we automatically accepted them from our culture or Instagram feeds. I have plenty of stories of people who quit their jobs and became like a yoga teacher in Costa Rica, only to come back because they realize that that wasn’t really for them. So, on the one hand, we had productivity, which can be very helpful, but I also feel like it’s a very important component missing from productivity and that’s where mindfulness comes in and mindful many different – people have different definitions of what mindfulness is. So, for me, mindfulness is about becoming present. It’s about kind of understanding where you are, or at least being okay with things as they are. You don’t need anything. There’s nothing more. You’re just there and in that space, it is making space for you to start learning from your experience because you start feeling things that you have and before you realize you’re stressed. You feel how tired you are or excited you are, and it was time you can start to correlate those experiences with the actual events in your life. You can start understanding why you feel the way you do because you have a record of what you’re doing and, in that space, you can get insight like what do you want more of? What do you want less of? What is important? What is a distraction?
But the problem is with mindfulness is that all those insights like anything you would read or seen or getting from art, you learn these things about yourself or the world that can be incredibly impactful and improve your life empowering. Take your pick, whatever it is, but in six months down the line, where is it? It’s probably not playing a role in your life and the reason is because these insights and these thoughts are simply ideas and we forget them. So, for me, what’s really important is actually taking these insights and applying them to our life in our everyday life in a very practical way. So, what the Bullet Journal method tries to do is help you align the actions with your beliefs. Productivity defines our actions and our mindfulness helps us clarify and surface our beliefs. So, the idea is to align your actions with your beliefs, so you can live a more intentional life. And that’s what I’m trying to get across in the book because I think one without the other is just not as helpful or as impactful as it could be.
Hal: I love it. So, align your actions with your beliefs to live a more intentional life and, yeah, I think that you said it better than I did, which is just that, that it’s giving, or you said that it’s a mindfulness. The Bullet Journal method is a mindfulness practice disguised as a productivity system but of course being that, it gives you both. It allows you to be more mindful and have those insights that are extraordinarily valuable and then in the way that you’re organizing and journaling, do the bullet journaling method you then hand those insights over to the productivity aspect of the Bullet Journaling method and then all of a sudden, those become real actionable tangible improvements in whatever area of life you’re applying to. I’m going to ask you kind of an off the cuff, we’re going to take a little diversion and we’ll come right back but it seems right now that so many people, especially entrepreneurs want to start a movement. It’s a real buzzword. We’re starting the move, this movement, that movement. People, we want to change the world but again, it’s very rare. It’s easier said than done and it’s a grandiose vision. I think it’s beautiful and I’ve experienced it almost by accident where This Miracle Morning thing has become this global movement.
And so, you literally have done the same thing where you’ve got this Bullet Journaling method. It’s become this movement. It’s practiced by hundreds of thousands if not millions, I don’t know the number, but people around the world like you said I learned about it for my business partner in The Miracle Morning book series, Honoree Corder. She showed me her stack of journals that she’s got. Her Bullet Journal, she keeps record of them. It’s her life and she can look back and reflect on her life. So, anyway, I just want to ask you, regarding the movement, did you ever imagine that you would create a movement and whether or not you imagined it and planned for it, now looking back and even looking at what you’ve created, what advice would you give to someone who wants to make that impact and change the world and create a movement like you have?
Ryder: My advice would be start by changing yourself. Don’t try to fix the world before you understand what you need. That’s all the Bullet Journal ever was. It was my attempt to overcome or mitigate their own challenges that I had, and then I shared what I learned. That was it. The movement was unexpected. It was never part of the design. I don’t know. I just feel like as the saying goes, if you want to change the world, you change yourself. That’s how it begins and share what you learn. Maybe something that you learn is something that nobody has seen before or hasn’t heard about in that way or it’s reintroduced to them in a way that they can understand better or had a better part of their life and I feel like that’s where it begins and I feel like it’s either something that you change in yourself or it’s you solving a very particular challenge in the world. I would say most of the movements that I’ve seen that have started with individuals are people fixing a problem in their own space and then people believe in that and that’s where it begins. I don’t know very many movements and it might just be my own ignorance, admittedly, but where people set out to change the world and then that’s what happened is that people set out to fix something and people believe in that endeavor and then they would join them.
Hal: And then it just spreads.
Hal: Yeah. Most of them I think, you’re right. They are organic. Absolutely. Now, the Bullet Journal, what year did this method, what year did you create it and then what year did you start making it public and telling other people about it?
Ryder: It’s really hard to say when I started because it didn’t arrive fully formed. What you see today is the result of decades literally of me just solving one small challenge at a time and then the things that proved to be effective started to aggregate. I had like more and more solutions to very, very common problems they’re based upon. At the time, I didn’t realize these were common problems. I thought they were new problems and I figured out relationships between these different solutions and how they can actually have compounding interest that their length and all those things but then I share the Bullet Journal. When I finally sat down and actually try to teach it, that was about five-and-a-half, six years ago at this point.
Hal: Five or six years ago. That’s been out spreading. Okay. Got it. What do you – go ahead.
Ryder: No. I was going to say like it’s still an ongoing thing that’s still being that continues to evolve and be refined as I learned more about it and as I learned more about the community so these are just different milestones for me. It was like the first version of the site, the second version of the site. Now, there’s a third version of the site and it’s an ongoing thing so it’s hard to say when was it presented to the world. It’s keeps being reintroduced. As I learned and as I learned what my community needs, they help me grow and that’s probably the most exciting things about it all.
Hal: When you say the site, are you talking about BulletJournal.com?
Ryder: That’s how it was originally released to the public. So, one day I sat down for, I believe, two weeks and took this idea that I work for this toolset that I had developed for myself and then try to figure out a way to teach it to people and that in itself is an interesting process that I’m using a digital medium to teach an analog system. So, it was a personal project, again, that I just hoped would help people avoid or at least mitigate the same problems that I had to deal with and learn from my lessons and that was it.
Hal: Now, speaking of you mentioned digital a few times, what would you say to someone like me who prefers digital over analog? What would you say about the bullet journaling method for I guess to convince me I should get out of the digital or try both or enter it both? Yeah. I don’t know. I’m just curious because I know, obviously, a lot of people do everything on their phone and I’m one of those people that does most things on the phone. So, what would you say to somebody that’s mostly digital?
Ryder: Well, a lot of people ask me is like digital or analog and I don’t think it’s like digital versus analog at all. I think it’s digital and analog. They’re both just tools and for me, it’s about figuring out what tools actually have an impact on your life. So, as a digital product designer, I completely appreciate the power and opportunity that technology has given us. I wouldn’t be where I am today without it. My entire business is virtual. It’s incredible what people are able to do with technology today and it’s incredibly powerful with how it helps us connect with the world around us, but I feel that it often fails in helping us connect with the world within. And if you feel consistently overwhelmed, when you feel like you’re not making progress, then maybe it’s not about adding more apps to the Frankenstein that we all end up creating. It’s maybe you take a step back from all of that and figure out what tools are actually adding value to your life. I found myself being an early adopter often and starting to build or starting to introduce apps into my life that were solving problems that I didn’t have.
The promise is like, “Oh, here’s this new app,” and you create a calendar appointment and all these things are like, “Wow. That sounds great,” and I’ll get caught up in that and I’d spend so much time getting organized that nothing would get done and I feel like we can get caught up in that because we always want to be better and a lot of times people are selling us these things that hold this promise that we can buy into if you’re not acutely aware of what is actually adding value. And for me, it’s taking a step back actually using my notebook. All of a sudden, I’m like, “Oh wow. I got way more done and taking 10 minutes out of my day thinking about this project.” I’ve been working on it for three weeks and realizing it wasn’t important to begin with so it’s I would say the analog, at least for me, provides an alternative that it gives you an opportunity just to take a moment where you’re not going to get notifications and you’re not going to like start planning a trip and end up buying shoes and ordering food like it’s too frictionless.
Hal: And then checking Facebook and then yeah.
Ryder: Exactly. All of a sudden, you end up like having to update your computer because you haven’t done that. So, it’s these never-ending possibilities for distraction and what I like about the analog at least for myself is that I realize that every time I will design an app, I would step away from the computer and actually sit down and start drawing it out and start thinking about things and I could just get more work done. If I wasn’t distracted and also just like writing by hand connects your mind and your body in a way that typing just doesn’t. It takes more effort, but that that amount of friction slows you down enough to actually have insights and start to identify patterns you haven’t before and I think that if you’re not interested in what you’re hearing then I’m not here to convince people, but if you are, I guess, the thing is just try it out and see if it makes a difference. That’s all I would say. If you’re interested in what you’re hearing and most people that access the pen and paper, it’s a system that is upgraded based on what you actually need and you’re the one that’s designing the software at all times and that software will continuously change.
Now, like I’m sure in your own experience, you found like the ultimate app to do this thing and then life happens and all of a sudden you realize that that app isn’t really doing what you need anymore but now you’re beholden to that app. With a notebook, it becomes whatever you need it to be. It meets you wherever you are. It’s limited mostly by your imagination. But that being said, you’re not going to send emails with your notebook. You’re not going to copy a URL into your notebook and find the tools that help you become more productive. Now, just seeing that so many times now that people who realize that’s just spending some time with their mind with a pen in their hand can be the most impactful time they spend in a day. It helps them clarify what it is that they need to do and prioritize in a way that’s free of distractions so when they re-engage with technology, all of a sudden, they’re much more focused.
Hal: I love it. I agree 100% and it’s kind of it’s almost like meditation, like you’re not going to meditate while you’re – yes, there are meditation apps on the phone and guided meditation, but you wouldn’t be meditating while you have your notifications turned on. I think journaling in the same way. I think you just give a beautiful description or just the way you articulated kind of the benefits of good old-fashioned pen to paper and in our brain does work in a different way when we’re actually writing letters out, words out versus just point capping with their finger on a screen.
Ryder: Yeah. And also like, sorry, just one thing to add clarity to there. Also writing by hand takes longer which people, I mean, you’re like, “Oh, I don’t like that,” but when it takes longer, it forces you to be more, it forces you to use a different vocabulary, it forces you to think in a way that you haven’t before. When you slow down, and you go down the way that you think, all of a sudden, you’re forced to clarify things. The economy of your language helps you produce something that’s much more focused often. It’s like what is the most important thing that I need to write down here? When you’re typing, you don’t have that pressure. It’s because you can write, write, write, write but when you’re writing by hand like your arm gets tired or like whatever. There’s actually more of a cost and that friction helps you really narrow down to the point of I would say greatest clarity or your most value that you can manage in that moment just because there is a little bit more of a cost. It’s a little bit more of investments though you rise to the occasion over and over and over again and that can be incredibly valuable.
Hal: Yeah. I love that your book has so many pictures in it. Maybe it’s the kid in me, but it really is beautifully designed in that simple journaling is an analog. You’re actually writing a journal throughout the entire book. There are all sorts of dotted pages with real-world examples of what you’re going to be writing your bullet journal and it really is, I mean, to me this book is like taking a semester-long class on journaling, bullet journaling specifically, but I mean it’s such a great job just really teaching and breaking it down and unpacking everything. The fastest way for somebody to learn of bullet journaling I would imagine is BulletJournal.com or grab the book on Amazon. What’s the best place to get in touch with you to learn about bullet journaling? Really for somebody I guess that’s not familiar with it, if they’re familiar, obviously, they’re going to buy the book or they’ve already got it. If they’re not familiar at all, what would be the first place to go? Would it be go buy the book? Go to BulletJournal.com and get some free resources? What’s the best way for somebody to start following the Bullet Journaling method?
Ryder: I mean, I think the lowest barrier to entry is going to BulletJournal.com which introduces a lot of things that we talked about but if you want to delve deeper, that’s really what the book was designed for to really take the time to spell things out very clearly. So, the introductions BulletJournal.com you get a five-minute lesson for free which will teach you the basics of the system. If you’re more interested in the practice and the mindfulness, then the book is definitely the way to go.
Hal: Perfect. Beautiful man. Well, yeah, I’m reading the book right now and really enjoying. Like you said, it’s helping me to think, improve my thinking, not just my journaling and it all starts there. So, well, Ryder, man, anything else you want to share with the Achieve Your Goals listeners?
Ryder: Well, actually, I would say that the one thing I would recommend for people who are interested in Bullet Journal, they may have seen it online, on Instagram or Pinterest, these very, very elaborate examples out there. I would like to let people know that that’s not how it needs to look. It’s always about content and not about presentation. You don’t have to have a single artistic bone in your body to start bullet journaling if that is your goal.
Hal: Got it. So, yeah, I thought that was one of your frequently asked questions is, “Do I need to be artistic to do this?” because there are some people that show off their Picasso level, you know, or that they do in their bullet journal and like, yeah, that might intimidate somebody. Cool, man. Well, I’m a fan writer. Thank you so much for your time today. I really appreciate it and for everybody listening, The Bullet Journal Method is the book, Track the Past, Order the Present, Design the Future by Ryder Carroll and you can get it where books are sold and I’d encourage everybody to go to BulletJournal.com to kind of get started and get a fast track way to understanding the method and then you’ll know if you want to dive deeper and go through the book, which I do highly recommend. Ryder, thank you for joining, my friend. I really appreciate you.
Ryder: Thanks so much for having me.
Hal: All right. My pleasure. And, goal achievers, I love you, I appreciate you, and I will talk to you all next week.
"Start by changing yourself. Don’t try to fix the world before you understand what you need."
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