The Bullet Journal has become a world-wide phenomenon – due in part to a very large talented and creative community that design and share amazing "spreads" and modules, that are (I'd imagine) just as intimidating to non-artistic people, as Notion is to non-tech people. Behind that, though, is a very solid productivity system.

Dash/Plus, in many ways, is like the Bullet Journal's grandfather. Created by Patrick Rhone in 2006, Dash/Plus has many of the same basic markup ideas as Bullet Journal without any of the added weight of modules and spreads. Think of it as a minimalist Bullet Journal.

Beyond the markup syntax, the other commonality between the two systems: they are primarily paper-based productivity systems. So what could I possibly take from either of these systems for my digital, Notion-based system? Let's dig in and find out.

Core Concepts of Dash/Plus

I will start with Dash/Plus since it's simpler and the ideas of Bullet Journal definitely build off these basics.

Dash/Plus is essentially a syntax for marking up a todo list:

  • A dash (-) signifies a todo
  • A plus (+) signifies a completed todo
  • When you turn the dash into a right arrow (->), it means the todo has been pushed forward or in waiting
  • When you turn the dash into a left arrow (<-), it means the todo has been delegated to someone else
  • Using a triangle signifies the item is a data point that you want to remember.
  • Adding a circle around a dash means the item has been moved elsewhere or has become a new action (ex. - you were waiting for a response and now you have a new todo)

The beauty of this system is it is so simple: a todo has just a few states. I also like that there is a note/reference system built in with simple markup additions.

The biggest drawback (for me) is the lack of organization. I would get lost without some form of organization or structure to my todo list.

Core Concepts of Bullet Journal

Where the Dash/Plus markup was based on dashes, the Bullet Journal system is obviously based on bullets:

  • Bullets signify todos
  • Bullets with an X through them are completed todos
  • Bullets turned into a greater than symbol ( > ) are for tasks that are moved to another collection
  • Bullets turned into a less than symbol ( < ) are for tasks moved to the Future Log
  • Dropped tasks are signified with a strike-through
  • Events are signified with an open bullet or circle
  • Notes are indicated with a dash
  • Priority tasks are marked with an asterisk
  • Inspirations are marked with an exclamation mark

So, by comparison the Bullet Journal system has some extra markup to cover things like events and priority. I am not sure all are really needed, but I do like that the flexibility to use them or not is up to the user.

Beyond the markup, Bullet Journaling relies on a few key concepts:

  • Rapid Logging using the markup system. The idea here is a simple markup system allows you to quickly and easily jot down anything you need to get out of your head.
  • Collections ( specifically the Index, Future Log, Monthly Log, Daily Log, Custom Logs) - these are the core of the system:
  • The Index helps you keep track of and easily get to all of your collections – since this is paper based, that's crucial.
  • The Future Log, as you would expect, helps you quickly log and track future items.
  • The Monthly Log, is a combination calendar and task list for the current month.
  • The Daily Log contains your plan and notes for the current day.
  • Custom Logs can be for whatever you like: tracking habits, your diet, health metrics, and books read are just a few examples.
  • Migration is the monthly process of moving (or dropping) leftover todos and setting up the coming month. Basically a paper-based monthly review.

The beauty of this system is it provides a general framework and structure, but leaves many of the details and customization to the user.

The biggest downfall (to me) is the manual effort required to maintain the system. Writing things down on paper does tend to help ideas stick in your head, but every time I've tried to get into Bullet Journal I usually give up after like a month due to the time consuming nature of the process.

Recap: What I plan to use in Notion

From Bullet Journal: I really like the idea of "custom logs" – collections tailored to your passions and interests that are tied into your system. I can see value there as it puts your passions front and center – something I wanted to do more of with my new system.

From Dash/Plus: I definitely love the idea of "simple states" for a todo, as well as the ability to quickly add notes and reference materials. I think Notion can handle both of these well, so I can't wait to dig in and build.

Next up, I will take a look at two systems that were already built in Notion: Tiago Forte's PARA and August Bradley's PPV to see what aspects I can use in my new system. Until next time!