Bullet Journaling for Software Developers

Software development is an intellectually intensive job. It requires focus, determination and a good amount a strategic thinking to be fairly good at it. And so software developers by nature are not very organized outside of their current development task. They would rather focus on the current task than to manage their overall workload. Because of this they are generally not very good at managing expectations. And because they are so focused on development, often have a very skewed view of how much time it takes to do any sort of development. This is why frameworks like Scrum was invented.

The amazing thing about Scrum and why bullet journaling it perfect for it is because it allows you to work in iterations. Even if you don’t work in iterations, you can still use bullet journaling to manage your work load. But for this article I’ll focus on the iterative approach.

Bullet journaling, for those who aren’t aware of it, is a means to add structure to your life, yet it’s flexible enough to make adjustments as you go forward so you can improve on the way you work. And as a software developer it forces me to slow down and thing more thoroughly about my day and upcoming week.

The Tools

Below are the tools that I use on most days to keep my journal.

The Notebook

I prefer to use a Moleskine or a Leuchtturm 1917 with dotted pages. They’re more expensive, but keep me on track and committed. Currently, I have my Leuchtturm 1917 covered in a nice leather sleeve. It’s more professional; it adds that extra oomph and is definitely better looking than any of the senior level’s notebooks I have ever seen.

The Highlighter

I use mildliners to highlight the headings and special sections. They’re translucent like highlighters, but more subtle so they don’t jump out like the neon colours. Zebra is the most popular brand, but there are others.

The Writing Instruments

I’m still on my quest to find that perfect writing instrument, that writes well without leakage. Currently, I use a 0.38mm black pen that I bought off of Wish. I also use the coloured pens, also 0.38mm, that I bought off of Wish. They’re better than anything I’ve found at Staples or on Amazon so far.

The Writing Gang

Other Accessories

Other things that I use are rulers to keep the lines straight. Whiteout tape for those annoying mistakes. And page tabs to highlight each sprint and important pages. Amazon has all of this stuff, but Etsy has some nice page tabs for the creative type.

The Setup

After several two-week intervals (sprints) I’ve more or less settled on the main sections of my notebook. There’s the sprint page, the daily update, the meeting notes and the information section.

The Sprint Page

This is a straight forward full page that describes the current sprint number and/or dates. The stories or tasks that I’ve committed to and the effort required to complete them. I’ll also add any information relevant to the sprint. When the book is flat open, I always make the sprint page on the right, so I can attach a page tab to it.

The Daily Update

Every morning after I’ve logged onto my computer, the first thing I’ll do is setup my daily update page. I use the green mildliner first to setup the title and then write the current date into the highlighted section.

Then I’ll go through my calendar and emails and write down all the meetings for that date; the time, meeting description and the bridge number of room number of the meeting.

Then I’ll jot down any daily tasks that I need to complete for that day as well as the sprint commitments, etc. Also I’ll keep a running journal of important events that occurred that day, if they’re important. These events could be blockers, emails I’ve sent, reminders. I’ll use different coloured pens and mildliners to bring attention and prioritize work and meetings.

The Meeting Notes

I use the purple mildliner for the header of meeting notes. I’ll always use half page chunks regardless of how much content there is and I start at the top half or bottom half of a page, never in the middle. If I’m hosting the meeting or am expected to participate, I’ll prep by writing out questions and points I want to bring up during the meeting.

If the meeting will be a knowledge sharing session, then I’ll write my notes in a crappy spiral bound notebook and transcribe the main points into the Leuchtturm after the meeting. If I have any action items, I’ll highlight those and may also write them down into the daily update section.

Information Section

Sometimes I like to keep track of a list of ideas or long term items I’d like to work on. Just like meeting notes, I’ll use a full half page and highlight the header in blue. And then use a page tab to mark this page a special.

If I have a small chunk of data I want to remember, like the daily scrum bridge number. Someone’s phone number or other small tidbits, I’ll draw a square below the current daily update and inside it will write out that bit of information.

Other things you can document in a blue section:

  • Code review notes
  • Coding practices
  • Git commit instructions
  • How to determine a story estimate
  • Motivational quotes
  • etc.

Super Important

I have a red mildliner that I use to highlight very important information. Just like the blue mildliner, I’ll use it on a half page or a small square box or just to highlight a single line. What ever is appropriate.

Other tips

I use the gray mildliner to highlight important information that may be contextually important.

Be creative in how you use the journal. Don’t be afraid to experiment; you don’t need to be perfect the first time. Every page is a new chance to try something new. Software development is mostly a left-brain activity. But using colours and rulers and trying to be a bit creating will unlock the right-brain. This is particularly good for those developments that have a hard time switching between coding and documenting. Reserve half pages for doodling. Or to experiment with the mildliners and pens.

The purpose is to unlock new potentials that you may not know you have. Essentially self-improvement.

Bullet Journals for Beginners

I’ve been watching a lot of Bullet and Habit Journal videos on YouTube lately which is what has gotten me on the bandwagon. All of them provide great inspiration on how I can set-up my journal. I’ve Googled a lot and viewed a lot of journal spreads on Pinterest to get some ideas. The problem is there are so many good and useful ideas that it’s hard to keep it all in my head. Plus Bullet Journal Keepers seems to be able to organize themselves organically, something I can’t quite do yet.

Below is the Bullet Journal organization I came up with. At the end of every day, I will have additional room to add new features and learn. At the end of every week, I will be able to reflect and add additional items as needed. And ditto for the end of each month. This gives me structure and some flexibility to learn and adapt. What do you all think?

  • Key
  • Index
  • Future Log
  • Books to read or currently reading
  • Book Quotes
  • Bucket List
  • Running List of good & bad habits, and fears
  • Cleaning Schedule
    • Monday
    • Tuesday
    • Wednesday
    • Thursday
    • Friday
    • Saturday
    • Sunday
  • Calendar – Yearly
    • Birthdays
    • Goals and Resolutions
    • Monthly – Dates Listed with major events
      • Weekly
        • Week Log
        • Morning Routines
        • Daily
          • Day Log
          • What I need to improve – habits, fears, etc.
          • Who am I? – What have I discovered of myself
          • Anything goes.

When is being afraid of an elephant not about the elephant?

Everyone has fears they would like to conquer. The fear of roller-coasters, the fear of spiders, the fear people, and the fear of elephants. Some people ignore it. Some run away from it. Others have no choice but to face their fear.

What I have discovered is that fear is a cascading set of smaller events and actions that build up into a suffocating tidal wave. And often those actions and events occur so fast with such subtlety that they are hard to recognize in the moment. It requires a lot of deep thinking and replaying of events in your mind. Step by steps. Until you can determine with some assurance that you’ve discovered the trigger. That one moment that when your body suddenly stopped functioning. And the fight or flight response kicks in and determines flight is the best course of action.

For me, building habits to adapt to these events is what has worked. And these events are usually made of three components: expect (predict), keep calm, avoid.

When I find myself in a similar situation I try to predict what will happen next, expect that particular event to occur. Then I breathe to keep calm waiting for Armageddon to let loose. And I enact my avoidance measures; take evasive manoeuvres to avoid an event collision until I’m past it. Over time I’ve been able to build resistance over these events.

But be warned that while you may have defeated one event, there most surely will be more hiding behind it. The trick is to write down all these discoveries and resolutions in a journal to help program them into your subconscious. Remind yourself of these on a daily basis to build them into habits.

Self-Reflection

As you build on these fear busting habits, you’ll eventually start seeing a clearer path ahead. It takes time. A lot of self-reflection. And a lot of emotional turmoil. If you feel emotionally raw after a session, then that means it’s working. It’ll take a few days for your emotional system to rebuild itself. It’s like you’ve thrown a fork in your emotional soup and stirred it; a lot.

It’s important to write everything down; just reflecting on it isn’t enough. You need to let your knowledge pass through as many senses as possible. Write it down. Read it. Speak it. Hear it. Draw it if you must. Art is a great way to open up the pores to the subconscious.

Habit Journals FTW!

Every once in a while I go on a Googling binge researching ways to improve myself. How can I better organize my writing, my thoughts, and see what others are doing. This time I decided to Google YouTube (is that a thing?) and I found Habit Journals.

Habit Journals are effectively what you might think they are, journals to track the progress of your habits. But what I found on YouTube was a lot more impressive than just that. There is a whole community of people keeping of their habits in an artful way. They’re taken the Bullet Journal method and threw crayons at it. The ladies usually go for the colour look while the guys usually go black. But any way you look at it, they’ve turned the Bullet Journal into a hobby of sorts.

So I decided to do my own Bullet Journal and experiment with the artsy part of it like the ladies do. What I immediately discovered is that art makes deep thinking much easier to achieve. It seems to allow the brain to relax and open up. And writing my thoughts a lot easier. And in turn, helps in programming my habits more effective.

Habit Journal Tools

If you Google Habit Journal you will get two sorts of results, fill in the blanks books that guide you through the process of habit journaling. And tons of blogs that describe how to track your habits in blank paper books like the Leuchtturm 1917 with dotted pages. If you browse through the videos and blogs you’ll discover the tools used and how those tools are used.

Daily Greatness Journal

Pinterest is another place to look for a great source of ideas for habit journals. For those who are looking for creative ways to lose weight, or eat healthier, or whatever part of your life you want to improve, Habit Journals are the way to go. But if you want some guidance in working on yourself, purchasing a professionally made habit journal may be the way to go. Something like the Daily Greatness Journal which has a page for every day of the year with prompts.

Myself, I plan on learning to draw so I can improve my creativity and thinking process to make this a great year.

WTF is Habit Programming?

Improving yourself is damn hard and takes a lot of time. It’s about figuring out how you work and learning how to learn. And the best way to learn it to organize and categorize your thoughts, feelings and actions. And today I came up with something I call Habit Programming. It’s something I’ve been doing for a while, but I just figured out it is its own thing.

What is Habit Programming You Ask?

Let’s start at the beginning. You have a goal you want to reach. We wouldn’t need goals if they were easy to reach, otherwise we’d just do them. So we need to break down goals into manageable units called habits.

So if you want to go on a big vacation at the end of the year, you need to save money. So easy, you just reserve a chunk of your paycheck to saving it for the trip. Problem is you like spending money on things you don’t really need. So now you have to figure out why you buy stupid things.
So next time you’re at the cash register paying for something you don’t need you suddenly have a epiphany. Buying something new fills an emptiness inside your soul. So you make note of this. Having an empty soul makes me want to spend money. That is what I call Habit Programming.
Next time you go shopping because your soul feels empty you take a walk around the block to subdue that feeling.
The next paycheck you realize you have fewer bills to pay. So you decide to go spend the difference because, eh, it’s free money. But after you’re spend the money you feel bad because you could have saved it. So you take note of that for the next time you get paid.

The trick is to be able to catch yourself at that exact moment you realize you’ve made the mistake. And then write it down the your habit journal you decided to start using.

But what I decided to do different with habit programming is to write down my note with a strong key word. Trying to remember all these notes is hard. But the brain is capable of quickly retrieving information based on contextual keywords.
So I would write down my habit programming note like below:

Soul Crushing – Don’t spend money on stupid things.
Free Money – Don’t spend free money, save it.

But for the above to work, you need to write it down with a pen/pencil to paper. Read it back loudly. Speak it out loud if needed.

You may think that the above is a bit hard to remember. So I might decide to add a third line for those other times I try to spend money on stupid things.

Soul Crushing – Don’t spend money on stupid things.
Free Money – Don’t spend free money, save it.
25 dollars – Spend no more than twenty-five dollars on stupid things.

The above three lines would usually keep me going for a while until I find something else that I need to add to the list to save money. Before you know it in an attempt to implement a good habit, you’ve vanquished a bad one.

I have been doing this habit programming thing for a year and it really works for me. It takes time and effort. But I find that it helps a lot towards achieving my goals. At first, it was really hard to figure out those triggers and correct them. But over time I became a lot better at pointing them out and writing them down. And before you know it, it becomes a challenging game.