Return of the Bullet Journal

Notetaking has been a theme here for a long time and it’s interesting for me from time to time to take a longer view of my tools and workflows. In general, for a given season in my professional and personal careers, I settle into some set of tools that for the time being, simply work. As the setting or tasks shift, I tend to experiment with tools, old and new, until I reach a new equilibrium.

A few years ago, I read Ryder Carroll’s Bullet Journal Method and incorporated some of his conventions into my note taking. Nothing too formal, just the idea of mixing To Dos, longer form thoughts, event logging and planning into a stream of consciousness format in a dedicated notebook. Last year, I actually transitioned, more or less, to a Bullet Journal for tracking the monthly calendar events and planning my day. In the end, I was frustrated with how a bound notebook mixed up planning for the year, month, week and day which were separate sections in my old Hobonichi, so I moved my new Bullet Journal style into a ring binder from Plotter.

Moving book notes into a dedicated notebook or the Kindle Scribe has had mixed results. For detailed note taking on the substance of a book, for slowing down and really digesting a text, it’s been great. But it takes discipline to get those notes into a usable digital form, mostly because my summaries, reactions and personal takes on subjects get buried among the notes on the text itself. I don’t generally need to go back to those text notes, I’m more interested in my take aways and my own ideas. So I took a cue from something that Cal Newport has mentioned regarding lowering friction in taking book notes. Now Cal is one who highlights and writes notes in his books. I’ve never been comfortable with that since I find that my interest the first time through a book is often different than later, finding my highlights and notes interferes with my interaction with the text.

So I now have a second note taking flow for reading notes in which I simply jot down ideas using the BuJo “rapid logging” approach. These are not long narrative notes as I’d use for journalling, not summaries of the book contents and arguments but an abbreviation as to source and the thought in brief, just enough to trigger a recollection of the idea. Sometimes even a page number if I want a reference for later.

This faster style of note taking has has allowed me to speed up my pace of reading of interesting non-fiction as I explore some new areas around the neuroscience of decision making.

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