We’ve finally found a useful to-do list app

By Adam Westbrook 15 June 2016
Bullet Journal could solve your to-do list woes. Pic: Bullet Journal.

It sounds anal, but trust me, it works

It might be the most hipster thing I’ve ever done.

And as a Tom Ford wearing, stubble sporting, macbook using millennial who “makes videos on the Internet” that’s not an empty statement.

In January 2016 I walked into a stationary store, dropped far too much money on a Leuchtturm1917 notebook and a nice new pen and joined the Internet’s most middle-of-the-road cult: the Bullet Journal.

The cult of “BuJo”

What is a Bullet Journal you ask? Well it’s, err, just a paper diary really, but one that has been parsed through the mind of a hipster designer prone to thinking about things far too much.

The designer in question is Ryder Carroll, a man whose name, job title (digital product designer), location (Brooklyn) and haircut (excellent) outgun my hipster credentials significantly.

Carroll spent several years tweaking his personal todo list until he developed his own system of “frameworks” (yes, really) and symbols to organise his lists. He gave these frameworks and symbols names, shared his system and the Bullet Journal cult was born.

For example, the Bullet Journal system is built up of “modules” which include The Index, a Future Log, a Monthly Log and a Daily Log. Each log is a todo list on steroids: a series of dots, circles and dashes are used to signify the status of various entries in the log. A simple task is signified by a dot, and once the task is complete the dot is covered with a cross. If the task is not completed, it is turned into a forward arrow, which denotes it is being “migrated”.

My description can’t do it justice, so if you feel so inclined, check out Ryder’s own video, which explains it more clearly.

Now if this sounds like little more than an anal todo list then you’re probably right. And as I opened my shiny new Leuchtturm1917 in January I admit I was skeptical. But six months later, the Bullet Journal has become an essential part of my daily routine. Not only that, three friends have joined the cult after I told them about it. What’s going on?

There’s not an app for that

For years I have been looking for a reliable system for managing my life and like many people, I assumed technology would have the solution. Over the years I’ve tried all the apps on the market: Todoist, Evernote, Wunderlist,, Remember the Milk and Google Keep to name a few.

With each app the story was always the same: get excited by the nice aesthetic, add items to the list, quickly forget I put them there and within a week forget about the app entirely. Meanwhile, I’d actually be organising my life on pieces of paper spread around my office. As an exasperated Wired journalist opined recently, “It’s 2016. Why can’t anyone make a decent freaking to-do app?”

Carroll describes the Bullet Journal as a way to “remember the past, organise the present and plan for the future” and this is something that the hi-tech solutions don’t do. Once you swipe a task from your phone it is gone, whereas over time a Bullet Journal becomes a record of your days and plans throughout the year.

“The analogue system for the digital age”

Bullet Journals are customisable, and users are encouraged to design their own “modules” to suit their needs. This has become a subculture within the cult, where journalers share their module designs with others, from recipes to food trackers, reading lists and sketches. If you think I’m exaggerating about the popularity of these things, do a quick search on YouTube, and you’ll find thousands of videos where people literally show you inside their journal.

But maybe most importantly, in a world saturated with apps, gadgets and screens, there’s something sacred about quietly and carefully migrating your monthly tasks in pen and paper. Some research shows our brains work differently when working in analogue materials; it forces you to slow down, take stock of where you’re coming from and where you’re going.

Now if you’ll excuse me I need to cross “write article for The Memo” off my list.