I have been taking and keeping notes on digital devices for most of the last decade and I have explored a number of tools, services, devices and workflows. I have mostly used Evernote and Gmail as a digital information repository until recently when I moved across to OneNote. I have tried and failed to implement David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology and I have learnt about sketchnotes, todo apps, outlines and mindmapping. Starting note taking systems is easy. Reviewing my notes and keeping systems going in a coherent, integrated way has been the difficulty because there were too many inputs and not enough time to stay organised.
When I bought my new Surface 3, I decided to migrate from Evernote to OneNote. OneNote is a great way to capture ideas digitally using a Surface pen. My early attempts to organise my information within and between notes were somewhat incoherent, which put me off wanting to use and review what I had written down. Was there a better way to capture and organise my notes? I think I may have stumbled across an approach to note taking called bullet journaling that is simple to master, coherent, attractive and enjoyable. The last two factors are particularly important because having fun makes me want to look at my notes later. Not having fun and being confused tends to have the opposite effect.
What is a bullet journal?
A bullet journal is a paper based system developed by designer Ryder Carroll as a low tech way to capture and review tasks, events and information based on a simple key for these different types of information. There is a manual calendar called a monthly log with a page for each month to record special events and tasks that will take place that time and a future log has a shorter one page calendar over a 6 month period to record future events and commitments as an overview. The video below is an introduction to bullet journaling which demonstrates how to organise and write notes following this system in a moleskine paper book.
The video has had nearly two million views and there are a number of bullet journalists out there who are fans of this approach and wish to explain and showcase their creations. What is really noticeable is the beauty, creativity and care that has been taken to produce and maintain these notebooks. It is not just about keeping a list of todos, which are crossed off whenever they are completed. I have seen people keep logs of all sorts of valuable and interesting information including recipes, favourite songs and workout logs. The notebooks I have seen on Youtube are works of art and show how flexible the method can be tailored to meet the diverse needs of whoever is making use of the bullet journal method.
Here are a couple of bullet journal examples.
With this in mind, I decided to try and refine and organise my digital notetaking in OneNote using the bullet journal method. I created 2 sections in my main OneNote notebook. The first section has pages for all monthly and future logs. This is my calendar that I can use to write all over using digital ink. The second section is for daily log entries. I created a page on the first day and wrote simple short bullet points to record tasks, events and other points of information. Whenever, I complete a task, I mark it with a red X. Today, I started to divide the page into 2 columns so the tasks and events are on the left and the ideas and information bullets appear on the right hand side but it is a new system so this aspect of the approach is not yet fixed. At the end of each day, I duplicate the daily note and set it up for the following day. Completed tasks, events and yesterday’s information are all deleted from the new note. Incomplete tasks and events remain in the new note. Therefore, my daily log behaves a lot like sourdough. The part of yesterday’s mix that has not been completed yet roll over into the following day. I have really liked this approach so far because it encourages me to review my notes and to write my reflections and ideas as simple information bullets. Bullet journals for me are very new but they are as much about thinking as they are about action.
Here is a short screencast that shows how I have been using a bullet journal in OneNote.