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A programmer's pragmatic approach to bullet journaling

Damien Pirsy Damien Pirsy Follow Feb 21, 2019 · 4 mins read
A programmer's pragmatic approach to bullet journaling
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Bullet Journaling has been around for years, both in its original form or in any of the alternative method people developed, and its benefit have been praised by many around the world. I’ve always found bullet journaling fascinating. I can’t tell you why - I simply liked the idea, it sounded like being on your favorite chair, reading and sipping coffee, or like punching on an old typewriter by the window… But.

But it’s like attempting to do something difficult right after you’ve seen a professional doing it: you just feel inadequate, awkward and a bit silly. if you google bullet journal (or bujo if you feel fancier) you’re greeted with stunning works of art: finely drawn pages, beautifully organized sheets, catchphrases and smart quotations, colors everywhere. It always gives me the impression (I don’t want to offend anyone here) of them being “too artisty”, something done more for one’s personal ego than for any real purpose.

A journal for your Instagram follower.

(which is partly true: I’ve seen many posts in bujo forums where people ask if their work is “good enough” to be a bullet journal worth showing)

I also don’t like the “pre-cut” bullet journal type, like those “What am I grateful for today?” kind of pages - I’m well aware of the existence of “gratitude journals” (or any other such type) and I’m not going to disagree with their alleged benefits: they just don’t fit with me, easy.

But damn if they’re fascinating!

So what?

So, obviously, I tried several times to start a Bullet Journal, and I failed almost everytime - sooner or later. “Almost” actually isn’t that bad: it means I have one physical notebook I’m journaling with, and I force myself to keep it updated - but it’s more kind of a log of things that happened instead of being a daily planner like it was meant to be. Also, being a programmer, I’m now more used to write on a screen (on a terminal or an IDE, most of the time) than on paper, so I was looking for something that meets my current flow better. I’d likely prefer:

  • no extensive writing with a pen: I get frustrated, I’ve a terrible writing and it angers me before it gets tiring;
  • Something fast, minimal, easy to navigate
  • Something that can be accessible everywhere (PC or phone, no VIM for example), so I can use it during my commute
  • that files can be exported, and in plain text (or similar)
  • obviously, it should be free (as in beer)

The are a lot of solutions available out there, and I’ve tried lots of them. But in the end I’ve settled to Joplin and I’m now closing on a full month of daily journaling. Which might not sound much, I know, but for a chronical procrastinator like me? that’s a pretty impressive run (considering I’m not tired of it yet) Of course Joplin has its drawbacks too, but so far is the one that matches my requirements more.

A pragmatic organization

The second step is finding a way to actually use your bullet journal, which is both the simplest and hardest thing to do: writing is so closely intertwined with how you are and how you perceive the world that there’s no “one-size-fits-all” system. Indeed, the system you’re using today might not work for you in a few months from now, so the advice I’m giving you is to stick to something you can easily adapt or change, and let things flow as natural as possible.

That’s why I decided to keep a minimal footprint approach and organized my daily journal with these simple rules:

  • use the current date as title, in the format YYYYMMDD, which plays nicely with alphabetical ordering, it’s simple to understand and tells at once which day the note refers to.
  • bullet points roughly relating to a section of the day: spouse/family, work, home. In chronological order unless a more urging topic climbs the priority scale
  • Text only (images distract and links might stop working), with just simple markdown since it’s understandable even without a parser.
  • Tags identify the key points of a note (in space and time) : month, weekday, event, location. Can’t recall your anniversary? Easy to find the date, and what you did, by checking that tag. When did I go to that beautiful city? “vacation” can narrow down the search, the actual tag of the city nails it.

So far, this system seems to appeal pretty well to me: it’s easy to remember, fast and straight to the point - which has the advantage of easeing the approach to a daily bullet journaling routine without giving me the feeling of doing something just for the sake of it, without a concrete value.

Did you develop a particular system and want to share it? I’d be curious to see how it works, might find something interesting and useful 😎

Cover photo by Colton Sturgeon on Unsplash

Damien Pirsy
Written by Damien Pirsy