So bullet journals, if you haven’t heard of them before, are growing to be a popular way to keep yourself organized.
The basic idea is simple: you have a bulleted todo list that you write down every day, periodically migrating over the things you still need to do. There’s various shorthands for assigning different bullet points to different semantics, such as an open task, a closed task, an event, or a migrated task.
So the most basic of workflow is, every night or every morning, making your current list of tasks for the day and modifying the bullets as need to show a state change. Then, every week or month, you migrate over tasks you still care about while tossing out the ones you’ve decided just aren’t relevant anymore or just won’t get done.
The other part of the story, though, is that people develop all sorts of “modules” and “trackers” for recording additional information. These include habit trackers, monthly calendars, indexes by topic, diary entries, etc. People get really elaborate and creative with their additions to the bullet journal system, as you can see from a quick glance over Pinterest.
Now, I had two basic thoughts when I first binge-read all about bullet journals. First, that I think they’re a cute idea. Second, that I’d never really want use one.
I like the idea of having a habit of writing down tasks and diary entries and habit tracking in a time indexed system you can read back through, but the biggest problem with a paper system is that you can’t search it. Sometimes I brain dump a bunch of ideas and tasks at once and I won’t necessarily remember when I wrote them down after the fact or which journal they might be in. Now, you might say that indexing is the right solution for this, but wouldn’t searching your documents be even easier?
The other thing is that I like including links in the middle of my text, because keeping to-dos/diary entries/etc. together with all the additional context around them is really useful, especially when combined with org-ref as a citation manager. To state the obvious, you can’t include working links on paper.
So what’s the solution? Well, I love org-mode which is already searchable and makes including links to files and sites trivial. Org mode also includes the agenda which allows you to see all of the scheduled tasks and automatically handles migration of tasks over time. So what makes org-mode different than an electronic bullet journal? Mostly that org mode files aren’t organized temporally by default in a way that allows you to “flip through” your past writing and accomplishments and ideas. At first I was just using capture templates filing into a date-tree (as described here) but that’s not easily readable in terms of reading over old entries. I found it was just barely cumbersome enough that I was using it as a write only system, which while still somewhat useful isn’t ideal.
As usual for the org/emacs ecosystem, I found a library that did exactly what I needed! Org-journal is an awesome little library that allows you to
- create files for each day
- with timestamped entries within each file
- navigate through them with keyboard shorcuts and a calendar interface
I’ve been having really great luck so far trying to use it like a bullet journal. I can separate out “modules” by tag names, so I can have daily and monthly logs, true journal entries, collections of events happening, etc and still easily go back and re-read old entries when I want to remind myself of thoughts I’ve had in the past.