Task Tracking and the Bullet Journal Method

For the last decade or so I used Org mode for tracking tasks and taking notes. This worked reasonably well while I was mostly working full time on a single project. Nowadays, things are a bit more complicated. I usually have multiple projects going on both at work and in private. Over time, I ended up with a wild bunch of different .org files for different purposes floating around on different computers. As you can imagine, things got increasingly hard to track:

org mode confusion

Eventually, I almost stopped consistently tracking tasks due to the inadequacy of this system. It was clear that I needed a better solution.

Modern Note-Taking Apps: No Thanks

One solution would have been to adopt a modern cloud-based note-taking application such as Microsoft OneNote, Evernote, or similar. Unfortunately, these systems typically result in vendor lock-in due to proprietary storage formats. In addition, there are some serious concerns about data privacy and security. To me, all of the above simply does not sound quite right for something that is supposed to last and be accessible for years to come. Alternatives such as setting up my own system to keep all .org files in sync did not seem very appealing, either.

Bullet Journal to the Rescue

Roughly a year ago, I stumbled upon a different approach at handling tasks and notes: The Bullet Journal method originally introduced by Ryder Carroll. This simple technique is completely analog and does not require any sophisticated digital tools. All you need is this:

Notebook and Pen

A notebook and a pen. That’s it. Plus a few simple guidelines how to organize your tasks and notes. The following gives you a glimpse of the method.

Bullet Journal Basics

The core of the method is something called rapid logging, which introduces a short-form notation for quickly adding different types of entries to your notebook. The basic entries are tasks, events, and notes:

Rapid Logging

Once you are finished with a task you simply mark it with a cross:

Completed Task

A dedicated index allows you to quickly look up entries later on. Specific logs gather tasks you need to accomplish in a certain time frame such as the current month. On top of that, collections help you organize your entries into related categories. Finally, migration is the process of moving incomplete tasks to a future log so that they remain visible. A migrated task gets an arrow to signify that it is taken care of somewhere else:

Completed Task

An important aspect of manual task migration is that it helps you to identify which tasks really matter to you. Before migrating a task, take a moment and think about whether it really is still relevant. If not, simply cross it out. If you already migrated a task several times, chances are high that it is not really that important or urgent. Or, you are just very good at procrastinating. In any case: Consider manual task migration as a chance for simplification. The effort it takes is an incentive to get things done and focus on the essential.

Got interested? Take a minute or two and checkout Ryder Carroll’s original introduction to the technique:

Wrapping Up

I quickly adopted this simple low-tech approach for pretty much everything I want to track: Tasks, notes, ideas, meeting minutes, important dates, habits, stuff to read, sketches, and whatever else comes to my mind.

After more than one year of intensive usage I’m still amazed by the system’s simplicity, flexibility, and effectiveness. Of course, there are some rough edges as well, especially when it comes to bridging the gap to other (online) systems. Overall, however, I’m pretty satisfied with the system and I don’t see myself switching to anything else anytime soon.1

Want to know more? Checkout the official website and the updated video.

If you like what you see, just give it a try! I hope it will help you getting more organized and maybe even more focused on what really matters to you.

  1. Ironically, I was using analog calendars before Org-mode. I guess it was the lack of flexibility of traditional calendars and the general lack of a system that made me switch to Org-mode in the first place. ^

tags: productivity