Bullet Journal after 15 years of GTD – Day 1

Meet Gregory, a writer and the brains behind Face Dragons. He's the go-to guy for getting things done. Gregory's been living the digital nomad life in Asia for as long as anyone can remember, helping clients smash their goals. He writes on topics like software, personal knowledge management (PKM), and personal development. When he's not writing, you'll catch him at the local MMA gym, nose buried in a book, or just chilling with the family.

Today I started a Bullet Journal after 15 years doing GTD.

Since the first time I read about GTD, I knew that it was what my life needed, after reading the book and later Making it All Work, I knew I was right. That first weekend doing my first full mind sweep of everything I owned, thought about and ever wanted to do was therapeutic to say the least, it was life changing.

Since that weekend in my one bedroom apartment in Tianjin my GTD system, along with my GTD mentality have evolved. I started with a paper based system (this was before smart phones) I still have that first notebook somewhere. When I got my first iPhone I used a few apps, finally settling on toodledo, which made the switch with me over to android.

Since then both my analogue and digital life are becoming more minimal. I Prefer to use Free and Open Source Software where ever I can and the less bloated, the better. My GTD system now consists of a single plain text file and bash script I wrote to interact with it.

After so long on GTD it has become part of the way that I think, much more than a time management system. When someone mentions in passing a new book or restaurant to try I capture it for processing later. When they suggest a dinner party I hear “project” and my mind starts to come up with next actions.

GTD served me well and I have done so many things with it that I may never have done without it. Without GTD I wouldn’t have finished my degree 18 months early, I wouldn’t have learned the three languages I have since acquired, I wouldn’t have been able to home-school my boy or start a business, finish my book or create the websites I have.

All that being said, today I started a Bullet Journal.

Bullet Journal After GTD
My New BuJo

The Bullet Journal

The Bullet Journal was originally conceptualized by Ryder Carroll as a way to help him deal with his ADHD. It’s a simple log and calendar, with year, month and daily sections. Tasks, notes and events are logged in any of the sections not only as a todo list (that’s the bullet part,) but also as a log of what you have done or what you were thinking or feeling at a certain time. That’s the journal part.

Since it’s simple beginnings The Bullet Journal has evolved into a free-form creative experience. It encapsulates todos, journaling and self expression in the form of art/design/penmanship.

I have been aware of Bullet Journaling for a few years. However, I always saw them more as an artistic venture rather than a productivity system to rival GTD. The expressive two page spreads I saw online would often include artistic motifs, hand drawn borders or graphic representations of the data presented on the page.

Like most who see the beautiful Bullet Journal pages that get posted and shared online, I thought it wouldn’t be for me because I’m not artistic and don’t have the motivation to spend time coloring and outlining my todo list. But on seeing Ryder Carroll’s much more minimal bullet journal in his setup video, I became intrigued enough to read his book.

The book made me understand that the bullet journal isn’t just a productivity system in the way GTD is a productivity system, it’s also a functional journal/diary too.

The problem with productivity systems

Looking past the pretty layouts and spreads which seem to be the most shared images of Bullet Journals, I thought of Bujo in the same way as every other productivity system. Incomplete.

The beauty of GTD (and also the reason why so many people back away from it) is it’s complete-ness. Nothing is left out. From what your doing now, later today, next week, next year or 40 years from now, if it comes across your mind, you capture it and process it.

Most productivity systems don’t work on all these levels, they may help you manage your day, but not your life. Or they may help you manage your long term goals but leave you not knowing what to do now. Or they give you an excellent strategy to progress with your projects for work but not your love life.

Is it so with the Bullet Journal?

This is what I want to find out, whether it will be able to replace GTD as a complete system. I’m willing to give it a fair shot.

Why I Chose the Bullet Journal?

The Future Log

Celebrating Victories

Recently I have been paying attention to the idea of ‘celebrating your victories,’ something that I had never taken the time to do. I make goals then I go about creating plans, projects and tasks to complete them. And I do manage to check off a lot of goals, even long term goals that require years of persistence like juggling 5 balls or learning Tibetan or Latin. But from time to time I wonder what I’m doing it all for and whether checking off goals that I originally wanted is actually creating any meaning in my life.

I found was that I wasn’t celebrating my goals, I learn 5 balls and I’m instantly thinking about learning 6, I create one business and all I can think about is the next.

This is where the bullet journal comes in. It’s not just a productivity system, its actually a journal, something to remember events, tasks and achievements with. It’s something I can hold in my hands and look back on years from now seeing how far I’ve come from where I was.

Self Contained

I also like that the Bullet Journal is all contained within the pages of one notebook. Like I said, my GTD system has taken many forms over the last 15 years but never was I able to have my action lists, projects lists, areas of focus, project planning, project support material, someday maybes, goals, vision, principals and capture tool all in one place. There is a part of me that is hoping that the Bullet Journal may be the place to do that. That it may turn into the ultimate GTD system.

Before I try to make the Bullet Journal a GTD system though, I am going to set it up as the creator intended it to be setup. Rather than watching the thousands of YouTube tutorials or flip-throughs, I am setting it up exactly as Ryder recommends in his book.

How I setup my Bullet Journal

I finished the book yesterday and today my journal arrived in the post. I set it up just the way Ryder suggested:

  • Index
  • Future Log
  • Month View
  • Daily Log.

I thought I would get used to using the fundamentals of the bullet journal before adding trackers or other collections.

The journal I bought was by PAPERIDEAS, which seems to be a cheaper option than the more widely used Leuchtturm 1917. It has two bookmark ribbons, page numbers already printed on it and is dotted, rather than lined. It also has a pocket inside the back cover. At only $5.00 it seems perfect to me.

The Future Log

The Future Log is a month by month calendar spread across four pages. I has enough space for me to add any month specific events or actions. Birthdays, Holidays and appointments. Mine is almost empty right now but I’m sure it will fill up as the year progresses.

The Month View

The Month View is about as basic a calendar as you can get. It has numbers down the side with a letter for each day of the week. On the opposite page is a list of tasks for the month

Month View


It only took me about an hour before I created a Collection. A list of blog posts I’m working on for this site. I have a list on my computer but it’s nice to have it in the journal too. The mere act of writing them out gave me some ideas, which I quickly rapid logged on my daily log.

My First Collection

I’ll admit I did pull out my GTD capture tool a few times over the day. I even captured some of the important ideas for fear of loosing them. But each time I did, I wrote them in my daily log too. My life is still very much inside my GTD system, I don’t think I want to transfer ti all into the bullet journal.

Other than tasks I also logged my lunch, my shoulder pain and the game I played with my son. These are all things that would never go into my GTD system.

It’s 10 pm now and I’ve just done my first evening review. After migrating a few tasks I read my first daily log. It summarizes the day nicely, both the work I’ve done and how I spent the rest of my time. It’s a nice way to end the day.

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