Joseph Hallenbeck
July 28, 2017

Bullet Journals and Traveler Notebooks

Filed under: Journal

If Goodbye Trello, Hello Todo.txt didn’t reveal my roots as a day-planner fanatic then I’m sure this post will.

This week, I sadly retire the Franklin Planner that has been by my side for the last twelve years. I never really followed the Franklin method, and over time my personal day planning strategy has relied less and less upon it’s features. The notes pages were never quite large enough to fit the reams of notes that I need for my work. The hourly planning lacked the ability to schedule in twenty-four blocks (who in this day and age keeps strictly to 9-to-5?). And the hundreds of detailed todo items, reminders, and recurring calendar events are best rendered computationally rather than by hand. Over the years, the Franklin Planner saw less and less use until it eventually become an afterthought to my daily planning regiment.

As of late, I have been trying to consider alternative solutions to GTD in order to get a more fluid style of day planning that respects the flexibility in time scheduling and necessity of play in creative work. The rigidity of keeping to a fixed hourly schedule, and a general movement towards a kind of fixed daily routine, has left me thinking of my time less in hours and more as four to five work blocks; an hour for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and bed respectively; and a single block of after-dinner time for creative or cultural pursuits.

Bullet Journaling

My attention has turned Bullet Journaling as a planning method that incorporates a the kind of looseness and play that I am looking for in my planning. The Bullet Journal does not replace the todo.txt cli, but rather augments it. A large part of my day is routine and need not be recorded other than to generate an automatic reminder and be marked done. There are perhaps twenty to thirty items each day, varying by day of week or time of month that appear magically in my todo list. Likewise, managing my backlog of some three hundred house chores, creative projects, and writing prompts could fill several hand written journals.

The Midori Traveler’s Notebook

Bound Traveler Notebook

I received, form my birthday, a Midori Traveler’s Notebook. This wonderful, passport-sized leather notebook solves so many of the Franklin Planner’s problems: it’s light and pocket sized so I can carry it on me at all times, the pages are 25-lines high and open to my creative interpretation on how they will be used, the classic band-bound design allows me to easily store loose sheets of paper such as receipts or printed and folded shopping lists. Once more, it just looks and feels great to have in my hands. My passport-sized item has two bullet-guided notebooks inside (my estimate is that each notebook ought to last me roughly a month), and I carry a binder clip to hold it open to my schedule for the work day.

My Method

The method that I am about to describe is highly experimental. Over the next two months, I am forgoing the Franklin Planner to see if some form of bullet journaling could take it’s place.

The bullet journaling method needed some adaptation for my usage. First, I am not attempting to create a journal of all my tasks in a day. Such would merely be replicating the logging that I get from using Todo.txt. Rather, this is a birds-eye view of the most important tasks that I want to complete or progress in the day and a simple layout of those tasks into my block schedule.

The general bullet journal idea of placing a topic on the page with subsequent sub-items remains and will fill in the side pages. As will an index at the beginning of each notebook. The small size (remember we have only 25 lines to work with) of the notebook necessitates brevity and focus on only the most important items.


The bullet journal syntax remains close to the original. We have three types of items: a task, an event, and a note. I add to this, the project which is a kind of aggregation of tasks. Each is marked in the journal as such:

  • (•) A task
  • (+) A project
  • (o) An event
  • (-) A note

Each of these items can then take one of five states:

  • ( ) Incomplete, not occurred, or null
  • (•) In progress
  • (✓) Completed
  • (x) Canceled
  • (>) Bumped, but not scheduled
  • (<) Scheduled

The Daily Template

The Daily Template

The daily template is a full spread in the journal, except for the weekend days of Saturday and Sunday (and probably holidays or vacation days) which make use only of the right page.

The Right Page:

  • The full date in the upper right along with the day of the week
  • The page is divided into three sections of six lines: work, chores, and fun
  • The spread is numbered in the lower left

Experience tells me that it is better to keep a short list (typically five or less) goals for a day than a long list of goals. Short lists make the anxiety of what to focus on vastly easier. Likewise the three contexts of work, chores, and fun are easily separated in my routine. I am either working, getting some bit of necessary drudgery out of the way (chores), or I am free to do something fun. Also, if fun isn’t expressly earmarked then I am often given to letting chores expand until it uses up all of my time. Putting some bit of fun (a movie, continuing a book or game) on the same page as work and chores gives it the same level of import and thus I am more likely to put away my tools at the end of the day and leave time for leisure.

The Left Page:

The left page is broken into nine blocks of time with each work block and post-dinner getting three lines and all others getting two lines:

  • Planning Block (Roughly 08:00-10:00)
  • Work Block A (Roughly 10:00-12:00)
  • Lunch Hour (Roughly 12:00-13:00)
  • Work Block B (Roughly 13:00-15:00)
  • Work Block C (Roughly 15:00-17:00)
  • Work Block D (Optional, roughly 17:00-19:00)
  • Dinner Hour (Roughly 19:00-20:00)
  • Post Dinner Block (Roughly 20:00-21:30)
  • Evening Wind Down (Roughly 21:30-23:00)

Beneath each header, I jot very briefly the main task be it from the right page or perhaps some routine item on my Todo.txt list that I hope to complete or progress through that period. I may also note specific meetings or appointments that begin or cross that block and their times found in my calendar.

"Bullet Journals and Traveler Notebooks" by Joseph Hallenbeck is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.