I’ve been intrigued by Bullet Journaling since I first heard about it last August. The person who conceived of the system, Ryder Carroll, explains it very well on the web site, so I won’t try to give a full run down here. Essentially Bullet Journaling is a system for keeping track of your daily tasks and notes using a pen and notebook. If you haven’t seen it in action you’re probably thinking, “Yeah, that’s a diary, moron.” Well it is a little more and a little less than that. At its heart is a concept called “rapid logging,” in which you record brief bits of data as they come to you. Each entry is a short bullet item, where you lead the note with a simple symbol that signifies if the item is an event (an open circle), a task (a check box) or a note (small, solid bullet). Additional symbols can be used to mark an item as important, as requiring further inquiry, etc… If you are trying to implement Carroll’s system completely, you also add calendars and other collections of information.
There has been a flurry of interest in Bullet Journaling, and searching Google will reveal quite a few commentaries on the system. I suspect part of the appeal simply comes from Carroll’s wonderful presentation of the concept. But Bullet Journaling does have some advantages that appeal to me:
- Speed. Pulling out a notebook and making a short note is faster for me than trying to enter that same information in a digital device at the time the information lands in my lap. If I don’t make the note at that time, then I’ll probably forget to do it.
- Off the grid. In a time when there is so much uncertainty about the security and privacy of online information, it is appealing to have a system that does not rely at all on “the cloud.”
- Independence. I like the idea of not having to rely upon software, computer, or cloud companies. Nor is the system dependent upon battery life, or access to wifi.
- Simplicity. There’s not a lot to remember, just three little symbols, and those symbols provide significant meta-data about the information, as well as a quick way to track the status.
- Integrated. Lists include notes, tasks and events in one integrated view.
- Flexibility. There is nothing rigid about Bullet Journaling. Carroll makes it clear that you should use the parts you like, change or discard the parts you do not like. “I hope that you take the ideas presented here and apply/adapt them so they work best for you.”
But there are drawbacks to Bullet Journaling. The ones that seem most crucial to me are the following:
- Repetitious. As Carroll describes his system, it requires a great deal of copying of notes from one location in the notebook to another. This is probably good practice, as it helps you to not lose track of these details. In fact, it is essential in a system that doesn’t have mechanisms to remind you of these details. But I know that I’d find this tedious, and would not do it consistently.
- No backup. Lose your notebook, you lose your data.
- No export. To use the information you’ve gathered, you need to transcribe it into a computer. This is no big deal with short notes, but if you’ve outlined a plan, or made longer notes, this can become inefficient.
- No search. With Bullet Journaling, you’re supposed to create an index page, where you log the locations of your information in your notebook so that you can find it when you need it. But this is clearly ineffective for real data mining, as all information falls into more than one category. Also it is one more piece of extra work, which kind of defeats the whole “rapid logging” concept.
- Insufficient calendar. The calendar that Carroll proposes for his system is intended as a method for tracking activity, rather than as a way to manage a busy schedule. Consequently, you still need to keep a separate calendar, which eats away at the efficiency of the “system.”
Some people will find keeping a Bullet Journal liberating and effective. Others will miss all they computing power they’ve given up for this simplicity. I fall somewhere in between, I think. I want to see if I can leverage the best aspects of the system, while “fixing” the disadvantages.
Clearly, some of the cons flow directly from the pros, as in the “off-the-grid” but “no backup” dilemma. I can’t expect to have all the advantages of Bullet Journaling and none of the disadvantages. Where Bullet Journaling really excels, in my opinion, is in the intake of information. It is fast. It is reliable. It is simple. It is flexible.
So, Bullet Journaling is a good front end to an information management system. Does it have to actually happen with pen and paper? Can an app work for this front end? I’m thinking, maybe. Of course, using an app destroys the “independence” and “off-the-grid” aspects of the Bullet Journal system. I don’t think that can be helped, not for me. Because all of the disadvantages of the system that I’ve named make it a non-starter for me. If I’m going to get any benefit from the system, I have to solve those.
I believe I have found a compromise that will work, but before I report on that, I need to use it for a week or two. Stay tuned.
Update: I’ve written further about my bullet journal here.