Bullet Journaling

I’ve been using, or trying to use, my bullet journal for almost 3 weeks now.  Like any change in routine, it has been really good, but it also has its challenges. And without further ado, I will jump into the bullet points.

The Challenges:

  • Before I got my bullet journal I was using 2 notebooks and I haven’t been able to give either of them up yet so now I am carrying around 3 notebooks. That is at least 1 too many notebooks.
  • At work I tend to use my notebook for notes and to do lists and whatever else I need to write down. My bullet journal is too “fancy” and too specifically organized for that. I fear I will never get away from having at least 2 notebooks
  • I haven’t yet found the future logs to be very useful. Maybe that will come with more time?

The Good:

  • I’ve combined my work and personal life to do lists in my bullet journal and that has definitely made me more efficient. If there’s a small thing on my personal list it is right in front of me when I’m eating lunch or something and I can just get it done instead of forgetting it.
  • This type of journaling provides a delicious sense of accomplishment
  • I’ve gone onto to YouTube and looked at some videos of the really creative things people are doing with their bullet journals. Wow, some people take bullet journals very seriously! While I am not up to design themes for each month or much artwork I have added a few other trackers into my journal and I am enjoying seeing my progress in those areas too

Like any good Agile practitioner, I will keep on refining my process with the bullet journal.

My first goal is to get down to no more than 2 notebooks.

When the going gets rough

Up until this point I have been writing about Agile practices outside of work, but today I am going to focus on agile at work. Specifically on trusting the Scrum process — especially when crises occur.


My place of employment has been going through a lot of transition in the last few years and it has led to all kinds of frustration. Change always does that. As a result of the organizational changes both of my Scrum teams now include new developers and there are fewer of them. Some of the new team members are good, and some are not up to the same standard that we are used to. It takes time to build a good team.

As a result of these changes to my teams, work has been proceeding at a slower velocity. We are working on that in various ways, but recently I have had a couple of urgent requests from stakeholders come my way where the requestor specifically asked if we could do something “outside the sprint.” When I have asked what that means, I don’t get an answer.

I do know what that means, actually, but no one wants to say it out loud. It means I need this other thing (this unplanned thing) done ASAP and I don’t want to have to give up any of the other work that is already in progress and it cannot wait. It also means I don’t want to think about reality.

I understand urgent requests and am all for responding to changing needs (of course!), but I cannot advocate trying to work around or outside of the Scrum process. In my opinion the only thing that can happen is that all the work goes even slower causing even more frustration.

To all you stakeholders and product owners out there who get feel that Scrum doesn’t work in a crisis please try to remember:

  • Scrum is all about getting the highest priority work done first. If the focus changes from one goal to another sprint-to-sprint to resolve urgent issues, that is just fine. The process is designed to be flexible that way.
  • There are a lot of ways to work on improving velocity, but sacrificing the Scrum process is not one of them. You will end up waiting longer for everything instead of solving your urgent needs and the team will never improve.
  • Developers are not like coat hangers – you can’t go out and buy more or borrow from someone else’s closet just because you have more coats than you usually do. Developers need ramp up time on any project. QA is important.
  • In a crisis it is better to solve the problem than to create more with a band-aid.
  • It takes time to build a good team.

Bullet Journals are Agile

bullet_journalHave you heard of a Bullet Journal? If not, the Bullet Journal site will explain it all to you in detail, but here is my summary:

A Bullet Journal is a personal version of Scrum.

If you are familiar with Bullet Journals or have one yourself you may already have realized the goals and potential benefits of keeping one, but if you’re also a Scrum Nerd like me, you may have also realized how the techniques also line up to The Scrum Guide and the Agile Manifesto.

The Scrum Guide’s statement on Scrum Theory says:

Scrum Theory:

Scrum is founded on empirical process control theory, or empiricism. Empiricism asserts that knowledge comes from experience and making decisions based on what is known. Scrum employs an iterative, incremental approach to optimize predictability and control risk.

Three pillars uphold every implementation of empirical process control: transparency, inspection, and adaptation.

-The Scrum Guide

Transparency, inspection and adaption is exactly the process one follows when keeping a bullet journal.

Additionally Scrum is described as being:

  •  Lightweight
  •  Simple to understand
  •  Difficult to master

Again, I would say this is all also true of Bullet Journals.  It is a simple concept that takes time and refinement to employ in a way that is truly effective on an individual level.

Bullet Journaling is described as:

Bullet Journaling lives at the intersection between mindfulness and productivity. A system that adapts to your life every single day. The Bullet Journal is a customizable and forgiving organization system. It can be your to-do list, sketchbook, notebook, and diary, but most likely, it will be all of the above. It will teach you to do more with less.

– bulletjournal.com

Let me explain my thinking:

  • Rapid Logging is the first instruction in getting started with Bullet Journaling. Rapid logging is the technique used and it consists of four components: topics, page numbers, short sentences, and bullets.
    – In other words it contains just enough information as is needed.
  • Future Logs and Monthly Logs are used to help establish the daily log
    – Sounds like a Product backlog and a Sprint backlog to me
  • The Daily Log and Migration – the daily log is established the night before for each day and tasks or items from the day before are migrated to the new day.
    – Daily Stand Up anyone?
  • Refinement – the process of bullet journaling requires constant refinement. Indexes and symbols and habits need to be established over time to make it work on an individual level. This requires practice and reflection regularly.
    – Refinement of the process is an important goal of the retrospective
  • Goals – Just like a sprint, Bullet Journals help users establish and keep track of their progress towards defined goals. Those goals are personal.

I made an attempt at bullet journaling about a year ago. To be frank, things in my work life became so haywire that I abandoned a number of practices and am now establishing new ways of working for myself. I have decided to re-start my bullet journal to see how it aligns with my agile practices both at work and at home. I will periodically post on my progress.

Anyone who’s interested in hearing more about Bullet Journaling should definitely visit the website, but also watch this great TED talk by Bullet Journal creator Ryder Carroll.