Brooklyn-based designer Ryder Carroll likes to say that he spent 20 years coming up with the perfect way to stay focused and organized. He designed a note-taking method to corral his thoughts and to-do lists in what he called a Bullet Journal. When he shared his Bullet Journal method with the rest of the world via online videos, it quickly gained millions of fans (check out the Instagram hashtags #bulletjournal or #bujo). Carroll has since turned the idea into a blog, an app, a notebook, and, on October 23, a book: The Bullet Journal Method. Below is an excerpt from the book describing a simple exercise for getting started with more meaningful to-do lists. You can also listen to the excerpt here

The first step to recovering from decision fatigue, to get out from under the pile of choices weighing on you, is to get some distance from them. You need some perspective to both clearly identify and corral your choices. We do this by writing them down. Why write them down? Each decision, until it's been made and acted on, is simply a thought. Holding on to thoughts is like trying to catch fish with your bare hands: They easily slip from your grasp and disappear back into the muddy depths of your mind. Writing things down allows us to capture our thoughts and examine them in the light of day. By externalizing our thoughts, we begin to declutter our minds. Entry by entry, we're creating a mental inventory of all the choices consuming our attention. It's the first step to taking back control over our lives. Here is where you can begin to filter out the signal from the noise. Here is where your Bullet Journal journey will begin.

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Just like when organizing a closet, we need to take everything out before we can decide what stays and what goes. Creating a mental inventory is a simple technique that will help you quickly take stock of what you've been jamming into your mental closet. Chances are there are a lot of useless responsibilities hogging valuable mental and emotional real estate up there.

To begin, sit down with that sheet of paper I mentioned you'd be needing. Orient it horizontally and divide it into three columns (you can either fold it twice or draw the lines like in the Mental Inventory illustration below).

1.   In the first column, list all the things you are presently working on.

2.   In the second, list all the things you should be working on.

3.   In the last column, list the things you want to be working on.

Keep your entries short and in list form. If one task sparks a stream of others, go with it. Give yourself some time with this exercise, and dig deep. Be honest. Get it out of your head (and your heart) and lay it out on the page. Take a deep breath and begin.

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The Test

This Mental Inventory you just created provides a clear picture of how you're currently investing your time and energy. It's a map of your choices. The next step is to figure out which ones are worth making.

We're so busy with all the things we're doing (or should be doing) that we forget to ask ourselves why we're doing these things. We end up burdening ourselves with all sorts of unnecessary responsibilities. The Mental Inventory grants us the opportunity to take a step back and ask why.

Go ahead, ask why for each item on your list. You don't need to dive down an existential rabbit hole. Simply ask yourself two questions:

1.    Does this matter? (To you or to someone you love)

2.    Is this vital? (Think rent, taxes, student loans, your job, etc.)

TIP: If you struggle to answer these questions about a given item, ask yourself what would happen if said item just didn't get done. Ever. Would there be any real repercussions?

Any item that doesn't pass this test is a distraction. It adds little to no value to your life. Cross it off. Be ruthless. Keep in mind that each task is an experience waiting to be born, offering a glimpse into your potential future. That's why everything on your list has to fight for its life to stay there. More accurately, each item needs to fight for the opportunity to become part of your life.

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When you're done, you'll probably be left with two types of tasks: things you need to do (your responsibilities) and things you want to do (that is, your goals). Throughout the course of this book, I will show you ways you can push forward on both fronts. For now, though, you have all the ingredients needed to populate your Bullet Journal. All, that is, except for your notebook.

Now you may be asking, Why didn't we just do this in our notebook? It's a fair question. As you read this book, ponder the ideas, and try out the techniques, you might find yourself paring back your Mental Inventory even more. When you christen your Bullet Journal, you should do so with only things that you believe are important or will add value to your life. Being intentional about what you let into your life is a practice that shouldn't be limited to the pages of your notebook.

From THE BULLET JOURNAL METHOD by Ryder Carroll, published by Portfolio, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright 2018 by Ryder Carroll.