Casey and I are moving next month. With time winding down and tasks piling up, I’m grateful for both the bullet journal method as well as the Notion app. Either are separately effective. Combined, however, they turn into the ultimate productivity tool – at least for me.
I’ve spent hours in Notion tailoring a digital BuJo that’s digestible for my [slow] brain. And while the process isn’t perfect, it functions well. I’m ready to share it with you. I have to say that the amount of work it takes to simplify what we believe to be simple never ceases to baffle me.
Here’s the link to my Notion template.
Things you’ll need to make this setup work:
- A knowledge of how bullet journaling works
- A free Notion account + the app
- A basic understanding of Notion’s features, including
- the sidebar
- “/” functions & commands
- syncing blocks on different pages
First, Understand How Bullet Journaling Works
In a gist, bullet journaling is the practice of tracking everything in your life through concise, organized note-taking. Ryder Carroll designed it to have 4 core components – or modules – to effectively accomplish this. These modules communicate with each other through “rapid logging” and “task migration”.
The key was figuring out how to implement all these features into a digital tool and still have them reliably retain their designer’s intent.
The 4 Core Modules
The index helps you find everything in your bullet journal quickly and easily. It threads relevant subjects together just as a traditional index would. Usually set up at the beginning of the notebook, a BuJo index looks like a table of contents.
The future log is where you record important events and tasks scheduled beyond the current month. At the start of a new month, you’d “migrate” the items for that month from the future log to the new monthly log. This guide explains how the future log works.
The monthly log is designed to help you track your life’s activities month by month. It’s more than a simple calendar. For example, many monthly spreads contain habit trackers, goals, and other content that reveal trends in your life.
The daily log, which is also called the weekly log, hones in on each day’s thoughts. This is where you write whatever comes to mind, which is then filtered via rapid logging and task migration.
Rapid Logging and Task Migration
Rapid logging is a system of combining symbols with short notations to create meaningful, concise journal entries. The symbols indicate the type of entry and its condition. For example, is it a task or a note? Is the task open, finished, or canceled? Is it a priority?
For a clear guide on rapid logging, read this.
Task migration is a practice for ensuring that you’re as productive as possible without getting overwhelmed. It involves carrying over an unfinished journal entry, especially a task, from one module to another until it’s finished or discarded. This extra work is purposeful, helping you to be accountable for your own plans.
Notion – The Future of Productivity Apps
Notion is a cloud-based note-taking app that is designed to combine many separate tools into one convenient virtual office. Its minimalist interface can organize entire databases of nearly anything, be these lists, reminders, files, presentations, galleries, pages, etc. – and all within a linkable, syncable, LEGO-like workspace. You’d have to experience it for yourself to understand what I mean.
I wanted my Notion BuJo to work as a traditional bullet journal as much as possible. That’s because Carroll’s system hinges on this principle: the more work it takes to manage your entries, the less likely you’ll stick to your system.
This meant that implementing rapid logging and task migration seamlessly in Notion would be the key to success. It also meant not allowing the app’s plentiful features to distract from the otherwise simple process.
Here’s how my digital bullet journal in Notion works:
Step 1. The (Mostly Auto-generated) Index
My “index” in Notion is the sidebar and the cover page, as shown above. Logically, this should be step one because the app does most of the work as new pages are created.
Unlike a paper bullet journal, Notion automatically generates two links to each page – one in the sidebar and another on its parent page. All I have to do is to make sure the pages are logically arranged and nested properly.
On the cover page, notice how I organized the links under two main headings: 1) Core Modules – which includes the future and monthly logs, and 2) Collections.
Step 2. The Language of My Digital Bullet Journal
Implementing rapid logging – the language of the BuJo – in a digital version took some thought but was a success.
My Rapid Logging Key
Notion provides several symbols for task management purposes. While they can’t be modified to mime Carroll’s original rapid logging key, they do make an adequate substitute. Here’s how I interpret the app’s list icons:
Not identical to the original, but the BuJo essence is unmistakable. Tasks, events, notes, and signifiers are all clearly definable at a glance.
Also, I’ve infused David Allen’s GTD method into my rapid logging. How? By using the ‘Toggle list’ to designate projects. Those familiar with GTD know a project consists of two or more actions nested together. Since everything within the Toggle list is nested, it’s the perfect indicator for multi-step events and projects.
The only downside to rapid logging within Notion is the app’s inability to import custom symbols. So if I ever wanted to expand my key, I would be forced to use color-coding.
How I Do Task Migration
Implementing task migration definitely required contemplation. On paper, the mechanics of task migration are easy. Set up your future, monthly, and daily logs. Then move your bullets around via changing up their symbols and rewriting their notations.
But digitally, I knew I wouldn’t maintain this habit. Retyping bullets would be too redundant of a step. I had to streamline the process somehow, such as by dragging & dropping or by other shortcuts.
Basically, I needed the concept of task migration to work without creating a hassle that would make me give up in frustration. Here’s what I decided to do:
Using drag & drop:
Using the ‘↱ Move to’ command, I can search up any page or database and move my entry there at the click of a button, like so:
Is this method perfect? No, because there’s often still one too many steps. For instance, when you transfer a block to another page in Notion, it’s placed at the bottom of that page. This means you may need to manually move it again to its rightful place within the page layout.
Step 3. The Future Log
This page works exactly like the one in Carroll’s bullet journal template. It’s for storing all of your future commitments before their corresponding monthly log is created.
The layout is simple. Each month is represented by a ‘Heading 3’ block and the date-related entries (date + notation) are listed beneath it. Sometimes, I’ll leave the date out if there’s no specific timeframe attached. I also divided the page into two columns for better aesthetics.
How To Use
After creating a heading for the months you’ll track (I’m tracking the next 12 months), begin by listing the commitments that initially come to mind.
At the end of each day, move the bullets that belong outside the current month (if there are any) from the daily log to the future log.
At the start of a new month, select the entire list of entries for that month in the future log and convert it to a synced block. Then, copy & paste it to the bottom of the new monthly log. From there, you can move the entries individually, such as to the calendar or the daily log.
Quick tip #1. What are synced blocks in Notion? Simply put, they’re the same block in multiple locations. Edits made to one affect all the others in real-time. They lessen the number of repetitive steps you’d otherwise have to make with task migration.
Quick tip #2. Although you could migrate bullets TO the future log at any time, you should only migrate entries FROM the future log ONCE A MONTH, at the beginning. Managing your plans this way is less overwhelming.
Step 4. The Monthly Logs
I created a template for my monthly logs, which could be added at the click of a button on the index (cover) page. It includes the following components:
The Bird’s Eye View (an Inline Content Calendar)
Notion lets you embed certain pages within pages – these are called inline blocks. My calendar is one such inline block. I use it mostly to visualize the month but sometimes also add entries to it, such as travel plans.
You can embed the default Notion calendar or a Google Calendar. I’m fine with the default. The great thing about the app’s calendar is that it allows for standalone, full-featured pages. These are invaluable for planning detailed itineraries for events, projects, trips, etc.
Quick tip. Any list item moved into the calendar, such as from the future log, will convert into its own page. If the list has nested items, these will be moved to the page unchanged.
The Daily Logs (an Inline Gallery)
This is where I manage my daily task list. Since the daily log is the focal point of rapid logging and the hub of task migration, I needed it to utilize lists while being as simple as possible. So I decided to integrate the dailies into the monthly log as an inline gallery. It’s less cluttered this way. Plus, the gallery is perfect for the job.
Each card in the gallery represents one week of the month, which can be added as a template. Within each card are the weekdays, organized by headings, similar to the future log layout (see Step 5).
The Current Month’s Future Log “Snippet”
This section is nothing more than a ‘Heading 3’ along with a synced block extracted from the respective month in the future log. It’s easier to migrate items into the calendar and daily log when they’re on the same page.
I still haven’t figured out how to make Notion automatically generate targeted synced blocks. So, for now, I have to link the sections manually every time a new monthly log is created.
What About Other Monthly Spreads?
Notion allows you to design custom “spreads” on a whim. For instance, there is a dedicated habit tracker block which is essentially a customizable database. Whether you include these as inline blocks within the monthly log itself or as a link to a separate page is totally up to you.
Step 5. The Daily Logs
Grouped as a weekly spread in the inline gallery in each monthly log, the daily logs are nothing more than segregated lists on a page.
Best results using the daily log come from adhering to your rapid logging key.
Step 6. Collections
Like everyday life, a physical bullet journal never fills up in logical order. A common topic within your paper journal could be scattered about. That’s why Carroll uses collections, which classify these bits and pieces cohesively.
Fortunately, the digital version of a collection is much more flexible. Topics can be sorted, combined, or dispersed according to your heart’s desire with little effort. There’s no need for page numbers in Notion; only links.
My template only includes a crude brain dump page as a starting collection, so please feel free to populate it with your own.