Ideas in the front, BuJo in the back

Dec 31, 2021

Notetaking

Like many people, I began 2021 with a lot of resolutions and goals. Whilst a few of those goals have fallen away as I’ve grown and reassessed my priorities, one of the goals that I began in January is slowly becoming an essential component to my creativity. That goal was to maintain a physical notebook and bullet journal.

Where I began my experiment and where I am today are incredibly different. The relationship between my analog and digital tools has altered. How I thought about bullet journaling has changed. And my note-taking is maturing with each effort. Months on, I feel I’m beginning to settle into a structure which is supporting me to make progress in my projects. Today, I want to walk you through my notebook set up as it exists today.

Table of Contents

The first section exists at the front of my notebook. Having a table of contents enables me to quickly find and retrieve a note with speed. An added benefit is that it presents a generalised structure of my notebook at a glance. In my opinion this is the simplest section and has remained unchanged since I began my experiment in January.

The first two pages of the notebook have been transformed to accommodate this section. On the left side of the column, I place the note title, and on the right side of the column, I place the date the note was created.

I avoid using page numbers and instead opt for dates because it presents a few advantages. Firstly, it gives me a sense of time passing when browsing my notebook. Secondly, I can analyse when projects were first ideated and see patterns to my creativity. For example, was a certain month more creative than the others, and if so, why?

Ideation Space

The next section is what I consider the core of my notebook. I call it the ideation space and its function is to act as a blank canvas for me to jot down notes, sketches, storyboards or ideas.

At the top of the page, every note is assigned a title and the date I began working on it. This corresponds to the table of contents section. I find always keeping the title in the same position and dates moving forward chronologically makes my notes incredibly easy to find.

When I began my notebook in January, this section was the hardest to fill in. A blank page can be intimidating. And I felt anxious I’d make an irreversible mistake. To support myself, I’m challenging that thinking and replacing it with a different mindset. Ideas should be messy and unformed by their nature. They become refined and complete when they are placed on paper and worked on. An ideation space is a section where I have permission to be human.

Calendar and reflections

The final section exists at the back of the notebook. The bullet journal helps me organise and reflect on my day, weeks and months. Of all the sections, this is the one that has seen the most learning and adaption over the past months. Slowly I’m finding a system that works for me.

A separate section for the bullet journal didn’t exist in January. I was keeping my calendar, reflections and habits inside the ideation space. Because these were the pages I was always referencing, I wanted to make them easier to find. Which is why I determined the bullet journal needed a designated section of its own.

I initially designed my bullet journal section to incorporate a week view. On Sunday, I would write three big rocks for my upcoming week. These would be the most important things I want to achieve for that week to move me in a forward direction. Every morning, I would review my week and place five priorities for the day ahead. I felt five priorities a day was my upper limit before my ability to produce good work was severely effected. Next to the priorities, I structured a reflection space for the day. My reflection space isn’t mandatory to fill in each day as I feel that would make it a chore or high-maintenance.

Whilst the concepts behind the week view remain solid, I felt there was too much wasted space having one week spread across two pages. It also made it difficult to plan projects and commitments further ahead. Hence, I switched to using a month view to track all my tasks, events and commitments. This had three major advantages to staying organised:

  • Having a large amount of information available on one page which spans multiple weeks makes it incredibly easy to see my current commitments and how my future weeks are looking. This allows me to plan ahead.
  • I keep reflections on a separate month view page. This separation from tasks and other commitments changes the dynamics of my reflections. I feel the new reflection space is incredibly meditative and an opportunity to move away from the hustle and bustle of the busy day.
  • I have kept the concept of big rocks. Rather than coming up with new ones per week, instead I choose the big rocks that are going to move me forward across the month. Once again, the ability to plan further ahead means I am less reactive and more responsive.

Recap

Notebooks and bullet journals are a constant evolution. As I learn more about note-taking and myself, I’m sure my system will become even more refined. I hope you enjoyed the article and have gained inspiration for your own notebook or bullet journal!