Since January 2020, I’ve (for the first time) managed to use my preferred notebook as a daily todo list and (small) journal. I thought I’d share my opinions and some of the thoughts I’ve had on the subject. It should be no surprise to anyone that I attempt to write physical todo lists wherever possible given my relationship with writing and committing a task or thought to page, so let’s go over how I’ve been approaching basic bullet journaling.

Firstly, I’m picky as can be. After years of trial and error, I found the Essentials Matrix Notebook on Amazon which I found to be the best paper qualitly. After you have the medium which you most enjoy writing on, you need an instrument to write with. I’ve gone through and tested popular pen series such as RSVP Ballpoints, Uniball Vision Elite and the Pilot G2. Though I adored the Pilot series, it was the Papermate Ink Joy 0.7 Gel series which I found the most joy using. I find when it comes to tangible activites, the “feel” of the instrument really affects how much you enjoy using it -and by extension, how often you throw your ambitions towards it. I’ve played a fair amount of guitars and pianos in the various stores, and found preference truly did change how I played on each instrument for example. I digress, so what do we talk about?

What to Journal About

So, I’ve opted to use my Journal for few rather specific use-cases: todo lists and diagramming. I originally wanted to follow Ryder Carroll’s Bullet Journal system, but found all the various pages such as weekly spread, habit trackers and month reviews to be rather tedious at the time, so I opted for the more common and accessible entries:

  • Month Plans

    • List out any goals I want to try to accomplish.
    • List out work based deadlines if they are that important.
  • Daily Todo List

    • See below.
  • System / Logic Diagrams

    • To help visual workflows, interfaces and collect thougthts on a subject.

I’d advise to not let this short list limit your options, has a fantastic page on popular bullet journal pages, along with common posts in [/r/bulletjournal] and Ryder’s book The Bullet Journal Method. An interesting note regarding the subreddit, if you search for engineer in context with bullet journals, you’ll see many posting similar methodologies or semantics which work for them in attempts to marry the technical and digital with the art of analog and physical. Commonly, I see also references to GTD (or Get Things Done) which is another productivty system which I hope to look into in the new year.

How I Attempt To Plan My Day

In same habit of the productive few, I try to plan my day in the morning. I never truly understood the concept of planning your tomorrow the night before because so much could occur between then and now. So, I’ll list off major meetings I’m aware of (such as a demo), actionable goals for the day (such as debugging a bug, doing laundry, writing a blog post), and items which consume about two hours or more of my day (events, essentially). I’ve adapted some of the Bullet Journal syntax to one which I find to be more flexible. To better illustrate the syntax (and because I fear my own writing may be far beyond legible given the photo example), I’ve digitized it below. For some unspeakable reason, I opt to write 99% of my notes and bullet items in cursive. This is perhaps to fight those who don’t subscribe to privacy? Who knows. So, back to the semantics.

Journal Sample

Task Semantics

- Bullet item
* Completed item
? Optional or delayed item

Sample Day Entry


* Write awesome blog post
- Find image
* Update tags
- Publish blog post
? Discord Chat about upcoming music
    - hello
    - someone
- Import Nicole's vocals for `someone`

What’s Next?

The common sense item would be to digitize this process, but I still enjoy the mundane process of writing out tasks and thoughts. Plus, time away from the screen is healthy.

Instead, I want to see how I can go about integrating more of my life around the journal. This in part is due to 2021 looking to be another year of 100% remote work. This includes more diagramming of workflows and interfaces, but also listing thoughts and ideas such as:

  • Song lyrics
  • Blog topics
  • Focuses of interest
  • Habit Tracking
  • Release Planning

What’s It Not?

This past Black Friday, StandardNotes held a deal which I jumped on -having been a fan since being recommended by Hayden Barnes for it’s focus on privacy. With that, I started exploring additional editors and features which were enabled with the 5-year plan and found quite a few code editors which would make StandardNotes a fantastic cross-platform tool for storing code snippets, course notes, and even blog posts. I’ve hated since the very first day writing code by hand (curse you IPC144 and OOP244 exams), and would never subscribe to writing out snippets unless that was how you studied. For myself, I prefer to keep snippets digital and easily accessible so that I can attempt to leverage them instead of Googling. You won’t see me taking pictures of poorly written Python code in 2021.

Consistent. My days can change on a dime. So, I never expect some of the actionable goals, events, or meetings to always be completed or even focused on. I’ve had days which completed shifted from one deliverable to another while my goals for said day captured neither. Life is not static, and I’ll never try to force the journal or my own direction to reflect exactly what was commited. You can even see in the photo example, I had planned on a programming session to work on porting the Civitas backend to AWS.