Many years ago, I discovered Ryder Carroll’s Bullet Journal (BuJo) Method and immediately fell in love with the system.
I began using it to store my appointments, projects, tasks, notes and thoughts. I still use it to this day to rapid-log my entire life – not only does it keep me organised and productive, but it also helps me to reflect on my past and plan for my future.
My love of writing also sparked one of my other passions – E-ink writing tablets. These devices are about as close to reading and writing on actual paper as it is possible to get on an electronic device, and they’re easier on the eyes than LCD screens.
For over a year, I’ve been using my Boox Max Lumi 2 to make notes related to my work projects; however, I’ve still used my paper bullet journal for appointments, tasks and other notes.
NOTE: Since writing this, I’ve moved to the Supernote A5 X as my primary e-ink tablet.
Although I’d often considered it, one of the things that prevented me from switching to a full E-Ink Journal was the inability to link between pages within a notebook (an index is an essential component of the BuJo system).
This functionality appeared with the recent release of Boox firmware version 3.3, so I decided that for the final two months of 2022, I would take the plunge and convert my traditional BuJo to a digital BuJo.
This article describes how I set up my BuJo on my E-Ink tablet and how it differed from my paper-based system. I will also explore the advantages and disadvantages of digital note-taking.
What is the Bullet Journal Method?
The Bullet Journal Method is a paper-based organisation system developed by Ryder Carroll. As he describes it:
Your Bullet Journal can be your todo list, journal, planner, sketchbook or all of the above, all in one place.Ryder Carroll – The Bullet Journal Method
I highly recommend you read Ryder’s book to gain a full understanding, however, for those not familiar with this method, I will provide a brief overview (if you already know how the BuJo system works, you might want to skip to the next section to see how I adapted for E-ink).
The first pages of your notebook will be the INDEX. This will have a chronological list of all the pages/spreads, along with their page numbers, so you can easily find what you’re looking for. Each time you create a new page topic, you add an entry to the index.
Next is your FUTURE LOG. This is a list of important tasks and appointments that are coming up in future months (i.e. not this month).
It is usually divided into monthly boxes for the next 6-12 months, with an additional box for anything further in the future. When you create a task or make an appointment for the future, you put it in your future log and can forget about it until near the time. Getting it out of your head and onto paper is a great way to de-clutter your mind so you can focus on your current priorities.
The next page is a MONTHLY LOG (sometimes called monthlies). This page is usually divided into two, with your monthly appointments on one side (calendar) and tasks/objectives on the other (to-do list).
COLLECTIONS are additional pages that contain customized information. For example, you may have a habit tracker, some sketches you’ve made or a project you’re working on – basically, any information that is important to you, but is too big to be documented as a single task.
Like your future log and monthlies (which are also a type of collection), each collection should be logged in the index so that it can be quickly located.
The bulk of your BuJo will be filled with DAILY LOGS (also known as dailies). No need to reserve a page for each (unless you want to); just put the date at the top and then make a list of your daily tasks, appointments and notes.
The Bullet Journal Method uses different bullets (hence the name) to signify each line, which makes journaling quick and scanning/finding information easy. For example, a dot (•) means a task, a circle (￮) is an event, and a dash (-) is a note.
Because daily logs flow between the other information/collections in your BuJo and are in chronological order, they are not added to the index.
To set up a traditional BuJo, it is recommended that you do a brain dump of all the things that you are working on, and the things that you want to work on.
From your list, delete anything that isn’t important and, from what is left, decide where they fit into your timeline and add them to your future log or monthly log.
At the start of each day, take a little time to review your recent journal entries and monthly log. If there was anything left unfinished yesterday, add it to today’s to-do list, as well as any items from your monthly log that you plan on doing today.
At the end of the day, review your notes and reflect on what you’ve achieved today. Also, make sure that all tasks are actioned. You can mark tasks as complete or deleted; if they are postponed, you can move them to the future log.
The end of the month is also a time to reflect on what you’ve achieved and look forward to the next month. You set up a new Monthly Log on the next free page of your BuJo and migrate any important tasks over. Some of last month’s tasks may no longer be a priority so they can be moved to the future log or even deleted altogether.
A similar process is carried out when you start a new Bullet Journal (for me, this is Jan 1st of every year).
One of the beautiful things about the BuJo system is that it can be used as a framework for individuals to create their own systems that work well for them. If you don’t like the recommended bullet icons, change them to something that works better for you. If you like to draw, you can decorate your pages with sketches. Because it uses pen and paper, you can express yourself in your journal however you wish and let your creative juices flow.
How I switched from a paper Bullet Journal to an E-Ink Bullet Journal
The Bullet Journal system was originally designed to be used with a paper notebook.
Whilst, technically, this same system could be used with an E-ink notebook, I felt that doing so would not take advantage of the unique features of this medium, so I took some time to think about how the BuJo method could be adapted.
The E-ink BuJo File/Folder Hierarchy
Each Christmas, I ask my girlfriend for a new Leuchtturm 1917 (A5, gridded) notebook, which serves as my BuJo for the next 12 months.
My experience with E-ink notebooks is that performance is slightly slower as more pages are added, so I felt that a single notebook for the whole year might start to get sluggish over time.
However, a notebook each month would mean opening and closing different notebooks (during migration) and setting up a new index every month, which would be a bit of a ballache.
So, I felt the happy medium would be to have a notebook for every quarter – this would also work quite well because I always do a quarterly review and reflection of my journal.
My plan is to keep my current quarterly journal on the home screen (for quick access), and older quarterly journals will be archived into a new Journals folder that I set up.
The naming convention I will be using for my journals is JournalYearQuarter. This will ensure that journals are listed chronologically in the archive folder.
So, I created my first journal: Journal2022Q4. The next thing to do was add the index…
The E-ink BuJo Index
One of the limitations of using a paper notebook is that it is linear. Whenever you add something new, it goes on the next page. This means that dailies, monthlies and other collections are often interspersed with one another, and it can feel a little disorderly. In addition, larger collections (for example, big projects) can often span multiple pages throughout the journal, and the index has to refer to several different page numbers and ranges.
On the other hand, with an E-ink notebook, I can insert extra pages wherever I need them. So, for example, if I need more pages for a project I am working on, I can simply insert a new page at the end of the existing project pages rather than going to the next blank page at the end of the journal.
Of course, this will mean that the page numbers will change, but if I use internal links rather than page numbers in the index, I can go straight to a particular collection at the touch of a button. I was a little concerned that the links might screw up if I started adding additional pages in the middle of my journal, so I tested it, and I’m happy to report that the links still work 🙂
This feature also meant I could split my journal and index into categories. The index would be at the front of my journal, followed by all the logs (future log and monthlies). The following pages would be all my custom collections. And at the end would be my daily entries. This is probably better explained in the image below:
Taking a mental inventory
The next step was to do a brain dump of everything I am working on, should be working on and want to be working on – termed the Mental Inventory by Ryder.
I also referred to my paper BuJo and migrated important tasks over. Next, I deleted anything that was no longer important and had a list of tasks ready to import into my new digital journal.
Note: The black lines in the image below is information I have redacted because it refers to personal/confidential information that I don’t want to share publicly.
The E-Ink BuJo Future Log
My future log is split into three columns; November, December and Future. I transferred information from my paper BuJo calendar and mental inventory to the respective columns.
NOTE: I started my digital BuJo a month into the quarter, so only needed three columns. However, I will usually need four columns, so I will have to redesign this layout in the future.
The E-ink BuJo Monthly Log
For the monthly log, I downloaded and inserted a calendar image (as a new layer) for my appointments. Beneath this, I added my tasks for the month, which were migrated from my mental inventory and paper BuJo.
I added the future and monthly logs to the index and a link to them.
At the end of the month, when I need to add a December monthly, I can simply insert it into a new page after November, thereby keeping my monthlies consecutive rather than having to use the next blank page.
E-ink BuJo Collections
Finally, I added collections for all the larger things I am working on (for which a single task is not enough). At the time of writing, this included the following:
- Goals and Dreams – these are my long-term objectives
- eWritable Project (this website)
- Xmas 2022 – what Xmas presents I need to buy and for whom
- Wellbeing Plan – a personal wellbeing plan for 2023
- E-ink BuJo (this article)
- eWritable News (notes for e-ink news stories that I may want to write about on this website)
- E-ink Tablet List (a list of e-ink tablets to be added to the search/filter/compare features on this website)
When I set up a new collection, I write the title at the top and sometimes the aim or purpose of the collection below it. I’ve also got into the habit of lassoing the title and adding tags to it because I think it will be useful to search by themes/projects in the future. After this (but before adding content to the collection), I add a new entry to the index with a link.
In contrast to my paper BuJo, I found it nice not to have to guesstimate how many pages I will need for a collection. I can set up the collection on one page, and if I need more space, I can add another. It also means that all the collection pages are consecutive and not scattered throughout the notebook.
E-Ink BuJo Daily Logs
At the tail-end of my BuJo are my daily logs. Each journal entry has the date and underneath are my daily activities (tasks, appointments, notes, etc.).
To the left of each activity is a bullet denoting the type of activity. I use a dot (•) for tasks, a circle (￮) for events, and a dash (-) for notes.
To the left of the bullet, I use a tick (✓) to signify that a task/event is completed, a cross (X) to signify it has been deleted, a left arrow (←) to signify that it has been moved to my future log, a right arrow (→) to signify it has moved to the next day and three dots (…) to signify that it is in progress.
I don’t add each daily log to the index as it would make the index too big, but there is a link to the first daily log page. I also add a link from the monthly log to the first entry of the month so that I can get from the monthlies to the dailies quicker.
The E-Ink Bullet Journal System in action
So, how do I use this system in my day-to-life?
Each morning I look at my calendar and tasks for the month (monthly log) and decide what I will do for the day. Some things (such as appointments) will already be arranged.
I then go to my daily log, write the date and create bullets for each activity.
This takes about five minutes. Then I get to work…
Throughout the day
During the day, I will work through the activities listed on my daily log.
I like to work on one thing at a time – I can’t multitask – so I will mark my current task with ellipses (…) so that I can give it my full attention. As tasks/events are completed, I will tick them off. Sometimes I may add or remove activities.
Changing the status of activities (e.g. from ‘in progress’ to ‘completed’) is something I couldn’t do very easily with my paper BuJo because I couldn’t erase the ink when it was written like I can on my E-ink tablet.
I also make notes throughout the day – things I need to remember or thoughts/feelings about something that has happened. If I think that I need more time to process and reflect on an experience, I change the note signifier from a (-) to a (+) – this reminds me to create a task or allot some time to think about it.
In the evening, I review and reflect on my day.
I look at what I’ve achieved and give myself a little mental self-congratulation if I think I’ve done well.
If it’s been a challenging day, I take time to reflect on what happened and what I might do differently next time.
If I have some notes marked with a plus (+), I spend time thinking about them or doing long-form journaling about the experience (added as a new collection).
If there are any incomplete tasks, I either delete them, move them to my future log or carry them forward to the next day.
At the end of each month, I spend around an hour reviewing and reflecting on my monthly achievements and challenges (similar to the evening review).
Next, I set up a new page for the monthly log (along with tags and a link from the index). Then I migrate tasks and events from my future log and the previous month’s log into the new monthly.
I will also review my current open project collections and decide how I would like to progress them this month. If I plan to work on a project at some point in the month, I will add some related activities to my monthly task list.
This process forces me to decide if each activity is still important. I will often add tasks to my future log that felt important at the time but, in retrospect, will not add any value to my life. So I delete them.
During quarterly migration, I set up a new notebook for the quarter, with a fresh index, future log, monthly log and daily log. I can also copy any collections I still use to the new notebook (they would have had to be copied by hand in my paper BuJo).
I then migrate the previous quarter’s activities to the new notebook. Finally, I archive the old notebook by moving it to my Journals folder.
During this process, I also review and reflect on the previous quarter and how I am progressing towards my long-term goals.
Advantages of the E-ink Bullet Journal
I’ve already touched upon some of the advantages of switching from a paper BuJo to a digital BuJo, but I will summarise what I like about my new system below:
- Ability to insert pages wherever I want
- Ability to keep the BuJo structured and ordered by grouping the logs, collections and dailies
- Ability to easily erase any mistakes I make (including erasing/changing the status of activities)
- Ability to insert, resize and rotate text and images (can also record voice notes in notepads, although I haven’t used this feature yet)
- Never run out of paper – not a regular occurrence, but one year I filled my paper journal up before the end of the year
- My BuJo is always available as a PDF on my phone or laptop if I need to check some information (exported as a PDF)
- My BuJo is always backed up to the cloud
Disadvantages of the E-Ink Bullet Journal
Although I really like my new system, there are some things that I feel my paper BuJo did better, and some things that I wish my digital BuJo could do:
- I miss the sensory aspect of the paper BuJo (the touch and feel of real paper)
- My digital BuJo is a bit heavier and has a larger footprint than my paper BuJo
- My digital BuJo is not as robust as my paper BuJo
- Flicking between pages is not as slick on a digital BuJo
- My E-ink tablet is monochrome (although colour devices are available)
- The time it takes to boot up the E-ink tablet (from a cold boot) is longer than it would take to open a paper BuJo
- The jump links in the index are not available in the exported PDF
- Notebooks can only be edited on Boox devices (they export as PDF for viewing on other devices, but you cannot make edits or sych those edits with the Boox device )
I never thought I’d actually go fully digital with my BuJo, but after a week with this new system, I have to say I’m quite optimistic that this will be how I organise my life going forward.
However, it’s early days, and the novelty still hasn’t worn off, so I’ll come back in a month or two to update my thoughts.
Both paper and E-ink BuJo’s provide a blank canvas and a writing instrument to capture and express your thoughts and feelings without restrictions. They also don’t emit blue light like LCD screens, which (in my opinion) makes them more comfortable to use for longer periods.
I do miss the tactile feel and even the smell of my paper BuJo. I also miss how I could treat my paper BuJo a bit rougher (e.g. throwing it into my bag, letting it slide around on the back seat of the car etc.) – I have to treat my tablet a bit more delicately and with a bit more respect because it is not as robust! It is also easier to simply pick up and flick through a paper notebook than it is a digital device.
However, being able to keep a structured order of pages in my digital BuJo, along with inserting pages, inserting images, erasing mistakes, having a backup and being able to view my journal when I have left it at home, more than compensates for these shortcomings.
I’m sure I’m not the only person who has combined the power of Bullet Journaling with the power of E-ink tablets. I would love to hear from anyone with a digital BuJo – perhaps we could compare tips for improving our systems?
Similarly, I’d be happy to answer any questions from anyone considering making the switch to a digital BuJo – please use the comments box below or email me via email@example.com 🙂
About the author
Dan Dutton is passionate about E-ink writing tablets, which bring together the pleasure of writing on paper with the power of digital technology. When he bought his first tablet, he realised that there wasn't a lot of unbiased information available for people that were considering buying an E-ink tablet, and so he built eWritable.