Experimenting with the Bullet Journal system

For a long time I’ve had a love affair with the idea of taking notes & managing tasks within a notebook. There is some romantic appeal to carrying around a hardbound notebook, presumably filled with introspective notes and grand ideas. Today I have probably a dozen notebooks, that despite the austere intentions that went with their purchase, are nowhere near full.

Paradoxically, as a guy who spends a lot of time sitting in front of a computer, or otherwise always connected via smartphone or smartwatch, I’m a big fan of keeping many things in my life digitized. I’ve read all about time-management and productivity methods like GTD and Merlin Mann’s InboxZero, and Francesco Cirillo’s Pomodoro Technique, however there are many aspects of digitization that lack the same tactile appeal and psychic benefits of taking pen to paper.

As I was completing my undergraduate education, I often found that my handwritten notes were able to provide a much higher-fidelity of information than those that I took on my computer. My written notes weren’t as easily searchable or categorizable, but with handwritten notes it was always much easier to quickly jot down notes or reproduce diagrams and conceptual maps, and most importantly, much easier not to be distracted by the allure of the internet and it’s infinite possibilities when my laptop was closed.

Task management drudgery

While I often took notes inside of a Moleskin notebook, I also experimented with a variety of task-management apps to help understand due dates for assignments and other extra-curricular activities, while using Google Calendar to manage my schedule. This system, while better than not having one, had a high management overhead, and I was never really quite satisfied with it.

When I completed my degree, my note-taking and task-management activities took a decline. It is only in the last year or so that I began again using a task-management application to manage the various projects and tasks that I need to complete. For this I currently use 2Do (highly recommended) and Google Calendar, but continued to run into the same problem of the high-management overhead causing it to be a taxing and error-prone process. This is where the Bullet Journal comes in.

Enter Bullet Journal

Several weeks ago a colleague of mine at Jama introduced me to the Bullet Journal system after noticing that I had been carrying around a Leuchtturm1917 notebook (yes, also nowhere near full) for note-taking at meetings. Bullet Journal gives itself the tagline of being “the analog system for the digital age,” which seemed as though it was being marketed towards individuals with the class of problem I have had. The system was created by Ryder Carroll, a digital product designer based out of Brookyln.

After watching a video on the system (the one above) and reading up more on it, I decided that I should give it a try once I completed my current (half filled-in) notebook. Thus began a vigorous effort to fill my current notebook in with notes and writing, and trying to understand how I wanted to make use of the Bullet Journal system.

Modules

The primary thing that appealed to me about the Bullet Journal system is its flexibility. While the core concept of it is a framework for rapid logging using, you guessed it, “bullets” and variations on them to indicate status, the primary seller was it’s usage of “Modules” (maybe more pandering to my love for modular programming?).

In Bullet Journals, Modules are portions of the system that you choose to use or not use based on your specific needs. Example Modules include The Index, The Future Log, The Monthly Log, The Daily Log, however the flexible nature of paper and pen has allowed the Bullet Journal community to contribute ideas for their own. One of my favorites is the Monthly Habit Tracker, for tracking recurring activities that you also want to see a heat-map of to indicate forward momentum.

Next steps

Over this weekend I will be setting up the module framework for my brand new beige Leuchtturm1917 journal. Once that is wrapped up, I’ll share what I came up with. I am also considering taking some of the diagrams and notes that I’ve written in my soon to be retired notebook and sharing them here.