Automating a Bullet Journal with Evernote and IFTTT by@mikefettis

Automating a Bullet Journal with Evernote and IFTTT

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mike fettis

“A bullet journal is an analog system for the digital age.” This is fantastic but for knowledge workers sometimes we just need a digital system for a digital age. I had carried a moleskin for over 6 years, these notebooks were great at being able to jot things down and get the ideas out of my head. Then, I began depending heavily on Evernote and stopped writing things down and using the moleskin. Evernote was also awesome because I spend the vast majority of my life in front of a computer and being able to copy paste and append to my notes is great. Also, their web clipper extension is an astounding tool. Then, I came across this method called bullet journaling where it took my idea of tossing all the ideas out of my head and into a list of sorts. It gave me guidelines to help it keep the chaotic good, organized. The downfall for me was the analog limitations. The idea behind analog and writing things down is that the comprehension of the notes is better, and the entire process intends to be an exercise in mindfulness. This is proven out by many research articles and blog posts.

A bullet journal is meant to be an analog system, it is meant to cut a digital divide. I used the system as such for 6 months, it worked pretty well. I always felt like it had limitations. One of the major draw backs for me was I needed to carry another notebook as well as my laptop. This isn’t such a big deal if I am working at my desk all day, but when I have to hop around and go troubleshoot problems with other folks carrying all my junk around quickly became a hassle. I thought I might be able to meld both worlds. It turns out Cal Newport had similar ideas.

There is a vast number of productivity systems out there that over the years I have come to the conclusion that taking little bits and pieces from many and melding them in to my own workflow is really the best option. We will take a little bit form GtD, Cal, traditional bullet journaling, and my own stitched together automation.

Lets start with the basic setup for Evernote and then we will dig deeper with automation.
Phase 1, Evernote: create a notebook called bullet journal and create some ingestion notes. I like to separate work and home, I have a “bujo” and a “bujo life”. These are going to be the meat and potatoes where everything will be ingested and then processed. Next I will have a monthly tracker, which will hold important dates and longer term todos.
Scratchpads, I have a note devoted to “notes” and then another one for “memories”. These are used for random thoughts and then throughout the day important events and situations that unfold I will add to memories. Memories helps me end of day journaling but that is a topic for another day. Lets just say journaling everyday is important

Great, these notes are awesome but they would quickly get lost in the shuffle of my Evernote and keeping a massive number of shortcuts is just never going to work. Enter the index note. This brings the bullet journal to the Evernote realm. I found this tip towards the end of this article.

The idea is that I can select an entire list of notes then right click from a desktop using the Evernote client and it will create a table of contents

Awesome! automatic index. This will create the table of content in a new note with links to all my other notes. I like to be redundant, and frankly I have spent some time setting up this index note before only to accidentally mess it all up and losing track of the notes i had indexed. Therefore, every time I create a new note in my bullet journal notebook, that I want to have indexed I will add a tag of “bujo” to it. This give me the ability that when I mess up that index I can run a quick tag list, easily select all the notes, and recreate the table of contents. In addition, instead of creating a full table of contents every time I can add a new note and then right click on the note in the list and “copy note link”. Then, paste this into the index and we are good to go.

Superb, we now have a digital Mock up of an analog bullet journal. For some folks this is all they are going to need, but for me, I love automation. Enter IFTTT and “magic”.

Phase 2, IFTTT
I will create an applet that every day will go in and append to my Bujo note the date and some break text. This is all part of the bullet journal system, which states that any tasks left over from the prior day needs to be manually brought over to the next day. For me, when I open the note and have the new day break I will then need to copy and paste or rewrite left over tasks. Also, the automatic breakpoint forces me into this migration process. Some folks think this is needless but if I am going to leverage the benefits of bullet journaling then I would like to bring over the beneficial aspects of the analog world to the digital.

Phase 2.5 Ingestion! 
One of the hardest aspects of the digital bullet journal for me is getting my thoughts into it. Evernote is fantastic but note switching and quickly interacting on a mobile platform is a real pain. If i wanted to make sure that I was trying to emulate carrying a simple notebook to jot down ideas all the time then I wanted to make entry as transparent as possible. IFTTT widgets to the rescue. IFTTT recently came up with the idea of a widget, this is a shortcut that will let me do things quick and easy. The “Note widget” is the widget I am going to abuse here.

This widget is an absolute gold mine for bullet journaling. Earlier we created those ingestion notes “bujo”, “memories”, “ideas”. Leveraging the note widget we can set a whole fleet of widgets that will simply append to each one of the ingestion notes. These are often in the form of “append a todo” for the “bujo and bujo life” notes or append directly to a note in the case of “memories” and “ideas”. Using the widgets we are affectively getting the ingestion out of our way. When I click on the shortcut instantly a note box will pop up and I can get the thought out of my head. Then I can go back to the list later and expound. The real win here is getting the idea out quickly, because if I had to open the evernote app then navigate to the note, then edit the note then add the idea. I would have forgotten the idea that I wanted to add long before I ever had the chance to write it down. When I combine 6 or 7 widgets I have quick and easy access to adding data to all my base notes. A major benefit of wiring up the widgets with IFTTT is cross platform as well. The widget feature will work on iOS and android, create the widget once and use it everywhere

  • Bonus ingestion: Siri
    It is also very easy to tie a reminder List in iOS directly to the evernote base note. Go into IFTTT and create a widget that will append to a note whenever a new reminder is added to a list. This will let me use Siri dictation to “Add my awesome ideas for a blog post to my Bujo list”. The catch with this one is periodically I will need to go in and delete the extra reminders in the iOS reminders app but I get dictation for free. Which helps when I am walking around or doing chores around the house. 
    **HINT Amazon alexa has an identical IF trigger for todos.

Finally playing by all the same rules of bullet journaling from the analog form we will review and refresh the notes. I also, keep an archive notebook that I can migrate notes to. I also archive tasks once they become no longer relevant but maybe someday I might want to reference them. It is also useful to throw some reminders in whatever reminder system you’d like to check and review notes throughout the day and in the evening.

This has been by no means a complete system and I don’t expect it to solve all the problems. I know automating the majority of my workflow has greatly improved the usefulness of the digital system. Get the roadblock out of the way and let the free flow of ideas and information funnel into a repository of awesome.


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