I’m a person who fills notebooks with all sorts of things, but finds it impossible to organize them. The result is a huge stack of notebooks that take forever to sift through. So, I start a new notebook, and the process continues. I have a file cabinet full of notebooks and no idea what’s in them. One of the reasons I started this blog was so I could use tags and categories to easily find notes. It’s useful, but I still find myself scribbling down notes to use at my workbench or other situations where I’m not at my computer.
I started looking into bullet journals (also known as BuJo) as a way to keep my notes and projects organized and decided to test drive the idea with my electronics notes. I’ve since learned Maker Notebooks are a thing. The official ones are blue grid notebooks with electronics reference sheets in the back.
There seem to be two main camps of bullet journaling: those who focus on productivity and the classic bullet journal method, then those who trend more towards aesthetics–sometimes called elaborate journals. People skew to both sides, some hang around in the middle. When I first started looking into bullet journaling most of what I saw was on the elaborate side, which makes sense because those journals are deliberately photogenic. It was only after looking into the original method that I discovered the productivity-oriented side. I’ll distinguish by calling the classic/productive side BuJo.
Core Principles of Bullet Journaling
These are such simple, obvious things, and I have to wonder why I didn’t think of utilizing them sooner.
A table of contents at the beginning of each notebook that dutifully charts where everything is.
Fill it Out as You Go
In the past, I have tried creating sections full of X blank pages. Not only does this give me a lot to page through, I often didn’t estimate the right number of pages. Bullet journals are usually filled out as you go.
This is huge, and again, such a little thing. Since you fill the notebook out as you go, some topics will be stretched across multiple pages. On the index page we would expand the page range, but another trick is to add an arrow next to the page number pointing to the next page in the series. If my devlog starts on page 5, and I’m to page 20 by the time I start the second page, I’d add this to the bottom of page 5:
5 -> 20
An analog link, kind of like the old Choose Your Own Adventure books.
Do What Works, Keep it Simple, Adapt
I think I could never stick with pre-made planners in part because the layouts didn’t fit my needs. I want to make a point of dropping any bullet journal layouts that doesn’t mesh. Like, you’d THINK I’d need a calendar, but if I don’t keep up with it, out it goes. Looking at elaborate bullet journal examples online is fun, but people track the damnedest things, and for someone like me a lot of it is busywork. This is a common issue with word count tracking as well, some writers get so into tracking their writing stats they may be spending more time writing about writing and juggling numbers than actually writing. The word counting itself becomes a form of procrastination.
The bullet journal system was orginally conceived to help organize one’s life. A lot of the consumption tracking (movies watched, books read, etc.) isn’t relevant for me. It doesn’t matter if I watched the X-Files last Tuesday or watched 4 movies this month. Creative output and health tracking, on the other hand, make a lot of sense to me. Knowing I wrote 500 words last Tuesday is important, but I don’t need to know much more than that. Being able to glance at a calendar and say, yeah, I stuck with my exercise goals, is important and useful. Being able to tell my doctor, actually I know exactly when I had these symptoms last month so you can do something doctorly about it instead of sending me home to spend the next month keeping a symptom diary, is important.
My Bullet Journal
I ordered a simple spiral-bound A5 dot grid notebook for this. I looked at what others have tried and sketched out some ideas for myself.
- Divided Index (Calendar / Other / Recipes)
- 2-page Future Calendar Spread for appointments, birthdays, future tasks.
- Annual Tracker Spread - Writing Word Count [which is a big enough deal to warrant its own spread, and I think this will actually be an improvement over the big ol’ Calc spreadsheet I’ve used in the past]
- Monthly tracker page for exercise, health (symptoms), medication, mood, sugar as needed
- Ongoing daily notes as needed
- Devlog for coding commisions, threading pages as they fill up
You’ll notice the conspicuous absence of any sort of reference to my day job. Keep it fun, they say, so work stays at work.
My Maker Notebook
It turned out the reference notebook I started was somewhat similar to the official Maker Notebooks, but my references (schematic symbols, polarity, etc.) are a lot more streamlined.
My rule is if I have to reference something twice it needs to go in one of the notebooks. If it’s a code/software related note that I would need at my computer, a copy goes into my blog with copious tags so I can find it. So if I reference the capacitor conversion table more than once, and of course I have, I should include a copy in this blog. It’s one less click, and if for some reason all the capacitor conversion tables on the Internet sponatenously explode one day I have a copy on my site. [In fact, I think repeating information and crediting the source is good practice. Too often I’m following a Q&A comments only to find link rot.] If I have to reference something twice at my workbench, it goes on the blog and in my Maker Notebook. But, in the spirit of bullet journals, I’m keeping things streamlined and simple in the Maker Notebook. So the specific capacitor conversions I actually need go in my notebook, the full table can go in my blog. My Maker Notebook Nano pinout is a good example of what I’m shooting for, it only details the pins I commonly use and I will add additional pin labels as I need them.