I have a long and rocky relationship with pen and paper. I’ve often romanticized the idea of keeping a paper journal to record the passage of my life. Yet, despite many attempts over the years, I’ve never been able to stick to any kind of journalling habit for more than a couple of weeks at a time.

That was until I came across Ryder Carroll’s brilliant Bullet Journal concept and mashed it up with Patrick Rhone’s Dash/Plus pen and paper markup system into a “Hybrid Journal”.

Required Reading

None of what follows is going to make any sense unless you have at least a rudimentary understanding of Ryder and Patrick’s concepts. So, if you’ve never read them before, take a few moments to catch up on these:

Bullet Journal

The foundation and layout for the hybrid journal is Ryder Carroll’s Bullet Journal. He’s done an amazing job documenting the setup and usage on this site, including awesome video how-tos. I recommend reviewing it in a desktop browser to get the full effect.

Dash Plus

I have deplorable penmanship. Even my check-boxes look like shit. This is one of the main roadblocks I struggled with when figuring out how the Bullet Journal would work for me. However, I can draw a pretty boss dash, so Patrick Rhone’s Dash/Plus paper markup system ended up being the perfect solution.

Extending Dash Plus

Since Patrick’s system is based on a simple “—”, it is very extensible. There are almost limitless ways it can be adapted to fit your needs.

Trickle Lists

I’ve incorporated Michael Lopp’s Trickle Lists as the right page of each Month section of my journal. These give me a way to track incremental habits in a Seinfeld method-type way.

Markup

I don’t stray too far from Rhone’s suggested Dash/Plus markup. All items start with and are converted from the initial “—” Dash.

  • “—” is an incomplete action item
  • ”+” is a completed action item
  • “→” is an item that has been carried forward to the next day
  • “←” is an item that has been deferred to another list, calendar, or task/project manager
  • “triangle” is a data or reference point
  • “*” is an event
  • “lightning bolt” is an idea or thought

Pages

As suggested in the Bullet Journal walk through, I start the book with an Index, on the right page of a two-page spread, a couple of pages in. I include a markup reference in one of the preceding pages leading up to this Index.

Next, also true to the Bullet Journal, I start the each month on the left page of a two page spread, the first month immediately following the Index. The left page contains a numbered column with one row for each date of the month. In the adjacent column to the date, I mark the day of the week with a single character. This page is used as a calendar to record the most important event(s) occurring on a given date.

On the right page of the month-spread (opposite the calendar), I deviate slightly from the Carroll’s setup.

I couldn’t really grok the suggested “list of actions to accomplish each month”. So, instead of this list, I duplicate the two-column date/day format from the left page of the spread. Asymmetry drives me completely bananas, so I’m careful to get the rows to line up with those on the facing page.

I add two to three additional columns, depending on how many trickle habits I’m working on at the time. Currently, these are Daily Writing and Exercise.

These serve as a “don’t break the chain” system for tracking incremental changes.

From there, the setup stays fairly true to the Bullet Journal, dashing and plusing the events and tasks from each day as I go.

Hardware

I recommend the large, squared-grid Moleskine to serve as the journal. I like the quality, aesthetic and the history of a Moleskine. The back pocket serves as a wallet and holds a few Frictionless Capture Cards in case I need to pass on a note to someone. It’s my analog iPad mini.

I write with a 0.7mm Pentel Energel. They’ve been my favourite for years. To be honest I wish the ink dried a bit quicker, but I am learning patience.

Software

I integrate a couple of iOS apps to extend the hybrid aspect of the notebook. One serves as a digital backup of the log, and the other is used to defer tasks and track projects.

Day One

To digitally back up my analog journal, I take a photo each night of that day’s entries and add it to Day One. I tag them with “hybrid” to keep them organized. Sometimes individual log items are copied to their own entry as well if I think they’ll need to be recalled later.

One could use Evernote in the same fashion and take advantage of the superior search and OCR ability. If I were to use Evernote, I’d call my main notebook “Journal” and sort it by Date Modified (like a gentleman). I’d archive that notebook at the end of each year by renaming it to “20xx” for the year that just passed and create a new “Journal” notebook to coincide with a new Moleskine.

Omnifocus

Occasionally, journal items aren’t carried forward to the next day. Instead they may belong as a next action on a project-specific list, or need to be deferred to future date. These scenarios can both be handled within the confines of the Bullet Journal, but to me they’re better handled by Omnifocus. Really, you could use any task app here—I don’t think it matters. I use OF because it’s familiar and it works the way I think.

Logging

I use the canonical Dash/Plus method to log items throughout the day. Each item as it comes in begins as a “—” and evolves from there depending on what it means to me.

Every night before bed I do a quick review and plan for the next day.

Review

  • Marking any completed action items with a “+”
  • Carrying forward with a “→” any items I’ll try to complete the next day
  • Copying any deferred or project tasks to Omnifocus and marking them with a “←” if I don’t plan to carry them forward to tomorrow
  • Copying any incomplete date-specific events to my calendar and marking them deferred with a “←”

Plan for tomorrow

  • Check forecast view in Omnifocus for tomorrow, add any events to the journal
  • Add any due or deferred tasks to the journal
  • Select the top three most important tasks for tomorrow so I can start the day without thinking about what I need to do

This gives me a head start for the next day. Then, I just try to repeat the same process again.

Adaptability

The key to both Bullet Journal and Dash/Plus is adaptability. Neither system is rigidly defined, and Pen & Paper are inherently customizable. If you’re feeling artistic, you can incorporate Sketch Notes into your workflow. What I’ve documented here works for me and got me to stick with an analog journal. Take whatever elements you like from these systems and mash them into one that works for you.

Hybrid journal | June 5, 2014 by James. Looking for more? Check the archive or follow the feed. Want to say hello? Send me an email. Or a beer.