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“It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to.”
Our mind never sleeps. It’s constantly crunching the countless things we experience. Every once in a while, a notable thought sparks into existence. Maybe it’s a sentence, an insight, a lyric or even an image conjured by our creative mind. So we use our notebook to capture this thought before it’s gone. It’s often the first – and sadly the last – step in the creative process.
Notebooks can become graveyards for our ideas. We have all these random creative thoughts that we don’t know what to do with, which ones are worth acting on, or how to act on them. Meanwhile, life moves on. Thoughts come and go. Over time, they scatter throughout our pages, and are lost or forgotten. It does not need to be this way.
It’s easy to use The Bullet Journal Method to add simple layers of structure and ritual to your notebook to prevent that from happening. Let’s take a look at a few techniques we can use (individually or as a whole) to support our creative thinking.
The Daily Log
The Daily Log is often used as a todo list, but it can be much more than that. It can also be home to interesting insights, thoughts, and feelings that surface throughout the day. When something interesting comes to mind, simply Rapid Log that thought as a Note in your Daily Log. If it’s something that’s particularly interesting to you, you can add the “!” signifier next Note to make it easier to find. If the thought spawns additional thoughts, you can simply add them below by indenting the related entries. It’s fast way to chain your thoughts.
The Daily Log is a type Collection, one of the main organizational structures in BuJo. Collections serve to aggregate and structure related information and thoughts based on Topic. For example, Daily Logs serve to collect your daily thoughts, Project Logs collect thoughts and information about a project, Gym Logs collect information about your workouts and so on. But what about the random thoughts, thoughts that are hard to define, especially ones that can’t be captured through Rapid Logging, like longer written thoughts or sketches?
If you have spontaneous thoughts that are unrelated to any Collection, create a General Topic in your Index. Let’s take for example “Sketches.” In your Index, create an entry called “Sketches.” Now when inspiration strikes, simply flip to your next blank page, and draw. You don’t have to worry about giving this page a Topic, or trying to define it. When you’re capturing a random thought, it may be impossible to define, and trying to do so, can get in the way of your flow. Once you’re done, simply add the page number of that sketch back to your general “Sketches” Topic in your Index. You can also do this retroactively for any existing sketches. Now you have a simple way to quickly catalog and locate all your sketches in your Bullet Journal.
We’ve talked about how daily logs and general topics can help us capture and locate our creative thoughts. Now let’s look at what to do with those thoughts.
Thoughts are seeds. Not all seeds will take, but some will. The only way to find out, is to water them with our attention. Just as staring at a seed won’t make it grow, forcing yourself to think about something until it clicks doesn’t tend to work. Rather, we need a way to regularly bring our attention back to our thoughts and rethink them.
Migration is the process where we revisit our content. It’s often used to simply transcribe Tasks that still add value to our lives. Migration can also be used as the ritual to regularly water our thoughts. When we’re reviewing our pages during Migration, we’re given the opportunity to revisit old thoughts. Every so often, as we bring our attention back a thought, it will bloom. A simple sentence or drawing all of a sudden opens up. It’s the moment where a thought becomes an idea.
When this is the case, simply turn to your next blank spread, and create a Collection. Now you have a dedicated place to explore that idea whenever the mood strikes. It’s a home for all your thoughts related to that idea.
Migration can also provide critical context that’s often missing. Our creative thoughts may seem unrelated because they come to us randomly. Sometimes it’s hard realize that many small thoughts orbit around an underlying idea. Rethinking our thoughts during Migration can help us identify a pattern, or relationship between thoughts that wasn’t clear before. It helps us to connect the dots, and link related thoughts together to form an idea. Once you establish a link, create a Collection to funnel your thoughts into that place.
As you can see, Collections don’t only store related information, they can also help you concentrate your thinking. Each Collection offers a space dedicated to capturing, exploring, and refining your thoughts into ideas. It’s a garden for your idea that can be cultivated over time. Now all you have to do is frame that Collection with a Topic and a page number, and add it to your Index. Now you can easily return to that idea, step into flow, and keep developing that idea until you’re ready to take to the next step: the work.
Overtime, your Index, which houses all these Collections, will transform a notebook from a graveyard of ideas, into a rich library of ideas. With each Bullet Journal, your library of ideas grows. It can be a very useful and practical resource because some ideas can have a long shelf-life.
For example, as a digital product designer I was often tasked to come up with solutions to specific challenges. Like design a checkout flow. Or simplify a registration form. I would ideate multiple solutions by mapping out flows in my Bullet Journal. One of the solutions would be picked, leaving other perfectly good solutions up for grabs. So when another client would ask for a solution for the same challenge, rather than starting from scratch, I could simply look through my Indexes, locate my ideas related to this Topic, and see if they still held up. I could take what worked, or avoid what didn’t. It would save a lot of time, and helped me transition back into that line of thinking.
We can often have ideas, whose time or purpose isn’t clear yet. That doesn’t make them any less valuable. We can use our Index to remain aware of our ideas, and perceive them in a way our mind struggles to. The mind can be a jumble of ideas, because they come to us randomly. Our thoughts and ideas are separated by time and context. The Index can remove the distance between ideas by re-contextualizing them as clear list. Just like we use migration to thread the needle between thoughts to from ideas, we can use the Index to thread ideas together into creating the work.
For example, you started by capturing small random thoughts. Eventually you started to group those thoughts into Collections based on their Topics. The Index can help you realize that these Topics relate to a much grander idea, which may lay the foundation for your novel. Or you could notice that images you’ve drawn to practice your lines, or composition are actually part of a larger narrative. This could form the basis a style, a web comic, a series, or an exhibit.
Last but not least, the Index is more than just a list of Collections and ideas. It also serves to highlight the things that your mind is naturally drawn to. If you’re overwhelmed by the amount of things you want to pursue, or don’t know where to start, study your Index. There, written in your own hand, are the things you’ve already begun. Look at the amount of pages these Collections have taken up. Feel into the Topics listed there. If your mind keeps being drawn back to the same idea over and over again, focus on that. Cultivate that curiosity, see where it leads you.
The exploration of an idea is the cultivation self, and it shouldn’t be ignored. In an outcome focused world, we forget that process can be just as, if not more, important. It’s through the process we learn, and we grow. This is just as true for writing a book as it is for tracking your mood in a creative way. Both are reflections of the pursuits that you’ve identified as meaningful, and that’s what it’s all about.
Productivity isn’t valuable unless you’re focusing on the right things, things that excite you or add value to your life. In the rush of the everyday grind, it can be easy to lose sight of those things, or not even realize that they’re already there, captured in the pages of your notebook. By adding just a little bit of structure and ritual, you can slow down and look back. It can help shift your perspective and align your thoughts, revealing things that you may have been looking for all along. That’s what The Bullet Journal Method can become, the instrument to find and focus on the things that light you up.
About The Author
Ryder Carroll is the creator of the Bullet Journal®.