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Bullet Journaling Basics

xanderyzwich profile image Corey McCarty Originally published at coreydmccarty.dev on ・5 min read

As a developer with ADHD I've found myself frequently talking about bullet journaling. It has become a really popular tool with uncountable YouTube videos surrounding different people's methods. You many be asking yourself "what is a bullet journal?" Bullet Journaling is a technique created by Ryder Carrol, a digital product designer and authoer that was diagnosed with learning disabilities early in life. He created the technique for himself through years of trial and error, and now has a website where he shares his methods. I will summarize here but I highly recommend reading more on his website and watching his YouTube videos as he goes into far more detail than I intend to.

Bullet journaling is a type of rapid logging that can allow for tracking of tasks, events, and data in an imperfect format. The central design uses different bullets for tasks, notes, and events in order to track your day. While the basis is rapid logging, there is also a periodic activity called a migration where you periodically go through the days since your last migration in order to gather missed items, and evaluate when they should be done if at all.

Collections

A collection is a pair of pages that is viewable together when the book is open.

  • Index / Table of Contents Maps page numbers to given logs
  • Future Log A collection that is divided into regions for six month period
  • Monthly Log
    • Calendar PageListing of the days of the month
    • Task PageListing of tasks that are intended for completion during that month
  • Daily Log An ongoing collection for the rapid logging of individual days
  • Custom Collection One that is for gathering information on a given topic for ongoing usage of your own design. Tailoring these to your purposes can be one of the most power things about bullet journaling.

Bullets

These are signifiers giving type to the item being logged and drawn to the left of the log entry in such a way that bullets are stacked above one another (unless nested) and clearly set apart from the beginning of the log entry. The focus of rapid logging is to make entries when they occur and not to worry with organizing entries by type.

Tasks

  • initially denoted with a dot
  • X - upon completion
  • > - migrated to a collection
  • < - migrated to Future Log

- crossed out if no longer necessary

EventsDenoted with a circle

NotesDenoted by a dash

Signifiers

These are ways of setting things apart from the rest and include specific symbols that appear to the left of the previous bullet types mentioned. The ones listed on the website are below.

  • * = priority
  • ! = Inspiring

Migration

In order to harness the power of the logs, it is important to go back and address tasks that haven't been completed. It is recommended to perform a migration at the end of the month. If you do this when you create your monthly log then you can easily migrate the tasks that need to be done soon into the task page of the monthly log. If the item is something that should be scheduled further out then you can migrate it to the future log.

Next Steps

I haven't personally taken the next step of buying the two books that are available on the website, but after having used my bullet journal for more than a year I have made a few modifications to fit my life.

Many people find that using different colors, stickers, or other things help them. The only remotely artistic improvement that I've made is that I use two different colored inks. I use a black ink for headings, and any drawn dividing lines, and a blue pen for everything else.

Sprint Log

As a member of an agile team, I thought that it would be beneficial to track stories in this way. I was ultimately unable to figure out a good way to do this in a manageable way with daily tasks. The premise was basically that I would have a collection where all of my stories were listed with subtasks so that I could track the work done on each and keep track of things to circle back on. I still had tasks that were unrelated to track daily and found myself still keeping a daily log which felt a bit cumbersome.

Weekly Log

Instead of a daily log as described on the website, I adopted a week based style which I've found helpful.

Left Page

At the top is a table for my daily tasks so that I can mark them as completed or cancelled. It helps me to not only remember to do the things everyday, but also looking back to see what I missed. I got tired of making the same few tasks on everyday.

M T W R F
Employer Mail x x x x
Client Mail x x x x x
Daily Standup x x - - x
Agile Manager x x

Below this is a notes section that section off for the larger tasks that I'm working on. I've adapted my sprint tracking efforts from the failed sprint log to bring the story names into this section and allow myself to track next steps when I come across them.

Right page

Here I do the exact things that would be in a daily log as described before, but I find it helpful to have them grouped in blocks of weeks instead of the generic daily log which could have an entire month of days running together however they fit on pages.

My Custom Collections

Learning and career direction are important in software development as you so often come across new terms and tools. As a way to help myself to track the things that come up without stopping my current work or trying to learn new things before finishing the work at hand I have made a collection for learning. It's broken down into languages, frameworks, technologies, processes/principles that I'd like to learn about on one page. The other page of that collection has a list of learning resources that I don't already have committed to memory, and a list of things to research. This list of things to research is basically things that I've seen named and didn't know what they were.

Ideas for blog posts and projects to do in the future. I also keep blog ideas in a markdown list in the repository where I keep my blog (carefully gitignored), and I have a list of project ideas on Google Keep. You never know when you will come across an idea and I find myself using speak to text for sending myself text messages and gathering them into other places when I have more time.

Pregnancy information can be easy to forget with all that is going on. While my wife was pregnant we would come up with questions for the doctor and unless we had the written down we would surely forget when we were in front of him. I would record these questions, and track any things that the doctor said for us to do in this collection.

Discussion

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nicolasini profile image
Nico S___

I’ve done some BuJo on physical notebooks and then liked it
But I needed to get back to digital. Tried markdown editors like Typora, and it worked but not great
I’m now trying roamresearch, and it looks promising

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xanderyzwich profile image
Corey McCarty Author

The method that works best is the one that you use.

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Peter Witham

A great explanation Corey!

I use a form of bullet journaling throughout my day to capture everything I know I need to either remember or act on.

Then at either the end of the day or some point that week depending on workload. I go back and gather the notes into something meaningful for long term reference and to make sure my lists of things to do are up to date.

I always tell people I do this as a way to let my brain forget things until they are needed again and I know exactly where everything is when I need to go look it up.

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Danny Thompson

Really great article Corey!
Bullet Journaling is awesome and I do it frequently!

Keep doing amazing things Corey!

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xanderyzwich profile image
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JC Smiley

Great post

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