OneNote Bullet Journal on 3 screens

Should the Messy Paper Bullet Journal Go Digital?

Part 5 of The Messy Bullet Journal Series

Can the Bullet Journal be taken to Digital? Yes and No. Some people like to do everything digitally. But remember, the Bullet Journal is supposed to be “The Analog System for the Digital Age.” I point out the word, “analog.” Handwriting your thoughts is believed to be better for creativity than typing them onto a screen. Plus, as I’ve noted in earlier posts, practicing your handwriting is a good thing.

Others feel that using a digital app, with its reliance on phone or other technology, just puts an extra layer of technology between the user and the system. After all, you don’t need a user’s guide to open and use a notebook.

 

Bullet Journal with OneNote and Evernote

Having said all that, if you prefer a digital system or, for some reason, you prefer not to (or cannot) write by hand, my suggestion is to use a notebook app, such as Evernote or OneNote to implement your digital BuJo system. I’ve used both, and I think OneNote might be better for this project, mainly because you can have monthly tabs on top with individual pages for each day of the month (or each week of the month) going down the side.

In OneNote, create a notebook for your Bullet Journal; I called mine “BuJo.” (No surprises.) In that notebook, create tabs on top for Future Log, Collections, and each month in your notebook. As time goes by, you can group together tabs into “Section Groups” (similar to stacks in Evernote) to keep everything just a click away.

A Bullet Journal in OneNote

A sample template for Bullet Journaling in OneNote

Detail of Daily Pages

A detail showing the pages you can add for weeks or days in each month.

OneNote Tags for BuJo

The graphical tags in OneNote. Note the Customize Tags option.

OneNote has a nice set of graphic tags that work well with the BuJo system, but not all of them show in the dropdown list automatically. Use the Custom Tags function to add arrows and whatever other symbols you like. Change the order of the list to customize your keyboard shortcuts. Or, you can use the selection of bullets included with the bullet list drop down menu, also in the Home menu tab.

Evernote’s design is different, but works similarly. Create a new notebook. Then use a stack for your Monthly calendars and each day or week of the month. Use another stack for your Collections. Add the dates in descending or ascending order. The only real disadvantage of Evernote is that you cannot have parallel text blocks going down the page as you can have in OneNote. (For calendars, use the table tool, now improved in the latest version.) Evernote doesn’t have graphic tags as in OneNote; Evernote’s tags and search are more useful for finding notes, though. Both programs allow you to embed links to other notes and documents (including online docs).

If you spend an inordinate amount of time carefully drawing habit trackers into your Bullet Journal, using the Table tool to insert a custom table is a lot easier in OneNote and Evernote.

Once you have your system functioning, you can create templates to simplify the creation of new pages from month to month.

OneNote is free from Microsoft. You don’t need to buy or use Microsoft Office with OneNote, but the two integrate well. Evernote has a free plan, which is more than enough for using the program as a Bullet Journal. If you upload a lot of things to Evernote, or want to email info to Evernote, you probably will want to upgrade to a paid membership. If you use Chrome or Firefox, be sure to add the Evernote or OneNote clipping tool to your browser. OneNote also has a Windows clipping tool.

 

Use Mind Maps

Alternatively, if you are a fan of mind maps, you can incorporate mind maps to be creative with your monthly, weekly and daily tasks and appointments. Create separate, linked, maps for your Collections. Mind Map tasks can be exported to task managers.

If you don’t have a mind map program (you could use paper, too), there are a number of free and low-cost versions for PCs, Macs, Android and iOS. You would need an online mind map program, though, for cross-platform compatibility, and those tend to cost more. If you want to learn more about using a mind map, see our earlier article, Why Mind Mapping is For You! – Some Ideas for Starting with Mind Maps on Frugal Guidance 2.

Other Software

You could probably do something in Google Docs, or even a spreadsheet program if you’re more comfortable with spreadsheets, but I think the digital notebook is the better way to go.

You could use other note taking apps and calendars for your phone or tablet or computer. The disadvantage is the lack of cross-platform access, especially compared to OneNote or Evernote.

There are both pros and cons of creating a Digital Bullet Journal. Here are some things to consider.

Problems with a Digital BuJo

  1. Using a digital BuJo puts an extra layer of technology between you and your journaling. If you are already comfortable with one of the digital tools (say, Evernote or OneNote), then that’s less of a problem. Still, it can take more time to start up your phone or tablet and open a program than to reach for your notebook.
  2. If you like to write by hand, that’s obviously harder to do in a digital app (although OneNote allows you to write and draw if you have a touchscreen and stylus. Many people feel that the act of handwriting can help the brain be more creative. You don’t get the same brain function tapping keys.
  3. If you want to use a digital tool, such as Evernote or OneNote, you have to commit to keeping your digital tools with you most of the time. This means you need, at least, a phone app and the desktop application on your PC or Mac, or use the online version of your app. The problem here is that the desktop, online, phone and tablet versions of these programs all have different interfaces and ways of doing things. This is not insurmountable, but you need to be very comfortable with the different programs in order to make digital tools as easy to use as a paper notebook.
  4. How much time would you save using a digital version of a Bullet Journal? If you spend a lot of time coordinating your journal calendars with your online calendars, or if you frequently have to transcribe your paper notes into digital format, maybe digital is the way to go for you. Likewise if you dictate to your device or use Google Translate. Otherwise, a traditional Bullet Journal may work better.
  5. Paper Notebooks have been a proven technology for hundreds of years. Software tools come and go. Anybody who has been to school past Kindergarten knows, technologically, how to use a notebook. No training required. No software updates. Very few bugs (other than bookworms).
  6. Handwritten books have lasted over a thousand years. No Web app has lasted over 26 years, yet. There’s something to be said for long-term archiving.
  7. No hacker has ever attempted a Denial of Service Attack on a paper notebook. (Although a pickpocket could.)
  8. Digital is not always better than analog.

 

Advantages of a Digital BuJo

  1. Although handwriting is easy, if you want to get a lot of ideas down quickly, using a keyboard or a voice-to-text converter definitely has its advantages. This might not matter with calendar and daily pages and task lists, but it can definitely make a difference with drafting articles and longer works, or capturing research notes.
  2. Digital Bullet Journaling can make use of search tools, tags, hash tags, and live links. Capturing photos and location data is easier with a phone’s camera. You can use hash tags and search in both Evernote and OneNote (and Google Docs). Evernote’s and OneNote’s browser clipping tools (for Chrome and Firefox) are excellent for internet research. Pocket is also excellent for keeping web articles for future reference.
  3. Using live links can make it easier to find related notes in a digital app. But setting up a link is a bit more complex than adding an entry into your paper index.
  4. You never have to transfer info from an old notebook to a new notebook with a digital system.
  5. Page size in a digital notebook is irrelevant. Your notes, calendars, task lists, and collections can grow almost infinitely. You can also edit at will and never have to cross things out (unless you want to). You can also move your pages and notes around as you like. (That’s really hard with a bound paper notebook.)
  6. There are no page numbers in OneNote or Evernote, so you can’t keep an index. But search, tags, hash tags, links, and tabs are a fair trade for finding things easily.
  7. After you create your digital system, you can also create templates for your monthly, weekly and daily pages. Once you do that, you don’t need to draw new pages in your notebook!
  8. Migrating tasks is also easier with cut and paste.
  9. Analog is not always better than digital. (But see #8 above under Problems.)

 

It’s worth remembering that, just as you need to use your traditional Bullet Journal daily to make it work, the same thing goes for digital Bullet Journaling. If you can’t commit to using your software daily, the system will fail just as easily as it does in the analog world. However, if you can incorporate the BuJo system into a program you already use daily, that would be an advantage.

Create Your Own Hybrid System

If you like digital calendars, use both. Or keep the traditional Bullet Journal and use a computer program (or cloud program) for writing and research. Use the tools that work for you. Forge your own path.

Next post: When a Bullet Journal is not your cup of tea, there are other options.

1920s blogging tools

Antique blogging tools

More Resources

Using OneNote for a Bullet Journal

How to Use OneNote as a Task Manager, Notepad, and Journal by Melanie Pinola, Updated July 06, 2017, on LifeWire.

The video How to set up a Bullet Journal-style notebook in OneNote by Michele Christensen on YouTube, uses a slightly different organization than I did in my demo, but she has lots of useful ideas, too.

My Digital Bullet Journal – Onenote by Mary Plethora on her Student Lifestyle and Organisation blog.

Using Evernote for a Bullet Journal

How to Use Evernote as a Bullet Journal by Nancy Messieh, April 29, 2016, on Make Use Of reviews the basics of a Bullet Journal and how you could transfer that to Evernote.

How to Create a Digital Bullet Journal with Evernote by Clara Ryanne Heart on TheInvisibleAuthor.com blog.

But if you’re on the fence about digital vs. paper, read How to Be Productive When Productivity Apps Don’t Work for You by Dann Albright, February 18, 2015, on Make Use Of.

After publishing this article, I discovered an article on the Trello blog, How To Bullet Journal Using A Trello Board. I would not join Trello (available for free) specifically to implement a digital Bullet Journal, but if you already use Trello for other projects, you might like to give this a try. [added 9/12/2017]

Image Credits

Title image of Three Screens shows the same Bullet Journal template on a Windows screen, an iPad and on an Android phone. Photo is by the author, Andrew Brandt, Copyright © 2017.

Screen shots are by the author, Andrew Brandt, using the Windows version of OneNote. Other versions may appear differently.

The final image is part of a series of images conceptualizing Blogging in the 1920s. Photo is by the author, Andrew Brandt, Copyright © 2017.

For much more information comparing the features of OneNote and Evernote, see our Frugal Guidance 2 series on OneNote and Evernote: Which is Best for You

Frugal Guidance 2 - http://andybrandt531.com