Take Note - Your Guide to Mind-maps and Bullet Journals

Many of us also spend time worrying if we've missed anything, despairing at the length and complexity of our notes, or even wondering where we put the list with its vital reminders and details.

If you are looking for something more reliable than post-it notes, messages stuck on the fridge, or even reminders written on your hand, you may have come across talk of mind maps and bullet journals and wondered if they might solve the problem.  

Is there an ideal method, guaranteed to boost productivity and unleash creativity - and ensure you never forget anything?  Unsurprisingly the answer is no - what's best for you depends on your own personality and style, and your purpose.  Here's our quick guide to help you choose.

Take up your pen, or pencil! - Best for: conceptual/ factual recall and understanding  

  • Despite the plethora of apps available on your phone or laptop, there are distinct advantages to writing by hand, particularly when it comes to assimilating new information. 
  • Research shows that writing notes rather than typing them could double the amount of detail you can recall later. 
  • This is due to the brain activity required by each method: typing what you hear takes less conscious thought than handwriting which requires you to cognitively begin to process the information and reframe it in your own words.

Seeing the big picture with mind mapsBest for: project scoping; problem-solving; creativity  

  • Popularized in the 1970s by Tony Buzan, but with roots in the 3rd century, mind maps particularly suit creatives and those with a preference for visual learning.  The idea is to reflect how the brain naturally works in seeking associations and connections. 
  • Research indicates that using mind maps can be beneficial for children and adults with dyslexia.
  • To create a mind map you put your key topic in the centre - like the hub of a wheel - and then add further pieces of information, ideas and questions around it. As you identify connections or dependences you can link ideas with lines and arrows - or even a colour code.  
  • You could use a mind map to:
  • Capture group input when working collaboratively, e.g.  sharing initial ideas for a project.
  • Put a complex issue into context to identify routes for problem-solving. 
  • Organise your thoughts in advance of writing a report.
  • Help you remember key points (as the information is all in one visual image)  - which will aid in studying for an exam, or preparing to give a presentation.

Keeping track with the bullet journal - Best for:  diary management; project planning; control 

  • The bullet journal - or bujo - is a relatively recent addition to the list of lists. The founder of the method, Ryder Carroll, devised it initially to help himself manage his ADHD and mental health as a student.  Since he began to share his ideas in 2013 bullet journaling has become massively popular worldwide.
  • Although there are now many variants on the system, and each person will adapt the method to suit their own needs, there are some standard components:
  • Your bullet journal is your "one stop shop" of lists, reminders and plans.  Rather than juggling an appointments diary, a reflective journal, a shopping list and an ideas book - you simply work through your notebook, page by page.
  • The index is the key to managing your content. Since each page is numbered you can check your index to find any list or plan in the book, without having to assign a section to each type of item.
  • A journal will usually contain one or more calendar elements: a year ahead, month by month, weekly or daily spreads.
  • Bulleted lists contain minimal wording and symbols are used to identify the type of content and actions required. For example: a dash will mark a piece of information you want to remember; a circle shows an event; a dot against something "to do" which becomes a cross when completed or an arrowhead if rescheduled.

Fans of the method report that it helps provide peace of mind, especially for those who become anxious handling multiple tasks or who are feeling overwhelmed.  This may be due to the reassurance that all necessary information is safely captured and stored in a "reliable" place - rather than on random lists or in our heads.

In summary

You can choose from a range of note and list styles, to suit your personality, preferred way of working and the task in hand. Why not try them all and see?


The information in this article was correct at the time of publication. We regularly fact-check all our content but please note that data, links and advice may change in between reviews.