Most of the work I’ve done for the past couple years doesn’t require taking much in the way of notes. One tab in Notepad++ for misc ideas and reminders (auto save is nice), then put the stuff that needs to be tracked into Trello and it’s good enough, though you could make the argument that if you always do it you build the habit for the day when your work situation changes.

I hadn’t really thought much about it until I ran across a post on bullet journaling, also known as bujo. I’ve tried different paper planners over the years with varying degrees of success, the biggest challenge for me is bridging the paper to computer divide. I need my calendar online as a minimum. For serious work I need to be to able to search months of notes to find some thread I only sort of remember and paper isn’t good for that either. So then, why my interest in a paper based system?

Yeah, I don’t know.

It seemed interesting. It’s loosely prescriptive. There’s a pattern to it, but it’s mild one, lots of room to customize, minimize, or maximize as you feel like. As you might have guessed it’s based on capturing todo items, notes, and events as bullets (wait, it’s not Powerpoint?). If you need a lot of structure, this might not work for you, it could be a little daunting to start with blank pages. Maybe the timing was just good because I was thinking about my volunteer time and how I seem to both spend to much time on it and feel like I’m not spending enough time on it (not sure which of those is correct yet) and sometimes you have to go back to basics – track the time.

Rather than go all in on journaling, I decided I’d start by just tracking the time I spend on SQLOrlando. For supplies you need a notebook and a pen or pencil. Any notebook and any pen will work, but mostly you see it done using a bound notebook that opens flat and has a dot grid instead of lines (not much structure I told you!). The gold standard seems to be the Leuchtturm1917 ($20 at Amazon), but I have to be different so I got the Limome ($12 at Amazon). Nice faux leather cover, pen loop, strap to keep it closed, and it has paper in it. The only argument I can make for spending more than a buck or two on a composition notebook is whether it will make it more fun for you. 

I’m about 7 days in at this point so I’m not an expert and don’t know if it will work long term or if I’ll stick with it. I struggle with parts of it, for example the pattern is to line through items that aren’t done and will never get done, which goes against a lifetime of crossing things off when done (instead of not done!). Calendar stuff still goes on my online calendar as soon as I’m connected.

But in terms of logging my effort and getting ideas and notes out of my head into something concrete, it’s satisfying. I like grabbing the notebook just for SQLOrlando, doing a 5 or 10 minute task (today I ordered the food for the Wed meetup), logging the task and the time and putting it back into my backpack where it might get used later today or in a month, whenever I have time to spend on volunteer stuff again.

The value is in the journaling, not the system, unless the system somehow encourages you or rewards you for doing the journaling. Evernote, Onenote, bullet journal, diary, whatever works is good – if you decide it’s worth the time to do it at all.

I’ll try to revisit in a few months to see how it works out.

5 thoughts on “Journaling

  1. I’ve recently tried starting a bullet journal myself, in order to help track tasks, ideas, etc. I have to say, at the end of the week, seeing the completed items generally provides a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. some weeks, it feels like nothing gets done, and the journal actually proves just what got done, which is a great boost to the ego (usually). Keep on journaling!


  2. I have been bullet journaling for a few years now, mostly because my mid- to long-term memory retention sucks. But because I am also a perpetual IT geek, I adapted it to an electronic system right away.

    After trying a few other applications, I settled on using Box Notes as the journal platform. I can access it from literally everywhere, and it auto-saves and synchronizes rather flawlessly. It’s also nice to be able to create separate notes for more extensive information, and link to them from the journal.

    I still move scheduled items to a calendar app, but mostly so that family members can know where everyone is.

    And I have recently started using a separate task application (like you use Trello; I’m using Todoist) for more long-term tasks because it’s just more robust and dynamic than a flat note. And I can still link between the two applications easily.

    While I do use one journal for my personal and consulting work, I have a dedicated journal for my full-time job just to keep things more separate. But I am following the same practices and habits for each. And journalling electronically still works very well for pruning/purging, too. The OCD in me likes replacing bullets (key below) instead of writing over them. Strike-through still works for dropped entries. I cut-and-paste older items to the bottom of the journal weekly, and move previous months to a separate archive note (one for each year) that I can link to quickly. And of course, searching for old items is much easier electronically. It can’t get much simpler than that!

    Because of how well this system works for me now, I don’t think I would ever go back to paper-only. But obviously, everyone has to do what works best for them. And regardless of which journalling system you prefer, I highly recommend it.

    Sample Key:
    – = Note
    o = Event
    + = Task
    > = Continuing task effort (carried over to another day)
    x = Done
    # = Scheduled (to calendar app)
    \ = Migrated (to task app)
    ! = Priority
    * = Inspiration
    ? = Requires exploration


  3. I really like bullet journaling and have been doing it for over a year now. I just recently purchased a Kindle book on bullet journaling which was definitely worth the small price. It’s called “Dot Journaling A Practical Guide” by Rachel Wilerson Miller. It has lots of ideas on format and different ways to use your bullet journal.


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