What started as a way to move past his learning disabilities, Ryder Carroll's life hack has gone viral on the internet and is now his full-time job.
Bullet journals are customizable notebooks used to "track the past, organize the present and plan for the future," as Carroll explains in his how-to video. The goal of a bullet journal, he says, is to reduce complexity and provide clarity.
Millions of people have shared their best practices and inspiration on YouTube, Instagram and Pinterest. There are even Facebook groups dedicated to advice and tips: for example, "Bullet Journal Beginners" has 15,255 members while "Minimalist Bullet Journals" has 35,958 members.
Despite the plethora of free resources, a couple of ways Carroll turns a profit on his method include selling Bullet Journal notebooks on his website and through a paid mobile app used to complement — not replace — the physical journal.
As of April this year, Carroll has taken on bullet journal as a full-time endeavor.
"I've been working on bullet journal or some other project, like having two jobs, for the better part of my career because there's the day job and there's the passion project," Carroll says. "Now the passion project has become the full-time job and that's a very big paradigm shift for me."
Carroll emigrated to the United States from Vienna, Austria in the late 1990s, to attend college. At the time, he was solving a lot of his own organizational problems, including carrying too many notebooks.
"I wanted to figure out a way for me to be able to capture whatever I was thinking, however I was thinking it and still house it in a way that was organized and easily accessible," Carroll says.
Although he was big on scrapbooking and loved how much clarity that process brought him, he says he eventually realized he could get the same satisfaction and clarity from structuring his notes in a specific way.
Carroll says journaling helped keep him grounded because it was a way of "constantly collecting personal data on yourself, which is an an incredibly powerful practice because our memories are terrible."
It was toward the end of college when the bullet journal started taking on its most noticeable form, he says.
After college, Carroll returned to school to learn to code. At that time, he realize the majority of the programmers and designers he worked with in the digital space all used notebooks. He applied much of what he learned as an app, game and website designer into his bullet journaling practice.
About 10 years ago, when Carroll worked at Ann Tyler as a web designer, he walked past the desk of a friend who was getting married. There was a mass of paper notes and color swatches and "she was completely frantic," Carroll says.
He offered to show her how he uses his notebook to stay organized, but he struggled to explain it. After all, he didn't launch his idea for bullet journaling until a few years later.
"I was really shy about explaining how my mind works," Carroll says. "Opening up and letting people peer into your mind is always a questionable exercise."
Despite the time it took to teach the practice, Carroll's friend urged him to share his bullet journaling method with the world.
Carroll says released the bullet journal to the public in 2013 when he was between different projects. In September 2014, he launched a Kickstarter to centralize the bullet journal community through a new website. He reached his fundraising goal in eight hours and raised close to $80,000 by the end of his campaign.
Though bullet journaling has evolved in the past few decades, Carroll says he views it as "a mindfulness practice that's disguised as a productivity system." He enjoys how bullet journaling allows him to pause, capture information as quickly as possible and de-clutter your mind.
Excited about the future of bullet journal, Carroll says he views it as more than just a quick solution.
"I found that life hacks are great but only for a certain period of time," he says. "The way bullet journaling is designed is that it evolves alongside you. I think it has become so popular because it becomes whatever you need it to be. Figuring out what you need it to be is very much part of the practice."
"My entire career has been trying to figure out what I believe in and how do I follow it," Carroll says. "Now, I know it was staring me in the face all the time, like every single day."