My notebook system wasn’t working anymore – it was too cluttered and I started to lose track where I recorded things which in turn made it harder to find notes.

1 have one major notebook – with 5 subsection: meetings (with my supervisor), research group (the wider research group meetings), Lab (not sure why since I have a lab book), ideas, other

I also have 7 (yes 7) other notebooks – reading notes, conferences, seminars, training, lab, outreach, EGU

As you can imagine that is a lot of notebooks to keep track of and after a lot of travelling in the last months I ended up loosing track of where things were – It was time to admit defeat. So I asked Twitter for help, advice and inspiration to sort this mess out.

As you can imagine the answers varied depending on the person and what stage in their career they are at. However most researchers seem have  one major notebook that runs continuously along their work with special notebooks for big themes or stand alone research projects. Only 2 researchers mentioned electronic copies – either as default or typed from handwritten notes.

Still not quite sure what to do I came across a post about bullet journaling – I had come across this system before but decided that it was too difficult to use as an academic – however now it seemed to be what I needed. After doing some research ( & similar blog sites as well some google searches for images to see how people arranged & designed certain aspects of the journal) and realising the flexibility this system offers I was hooked. I ordered a notebook and started bullet journaling. I’m now starting week 3 and here is how I’m getting on.

MY KIT: I use the Leuchtturm 1917 dotted A5 notebook – highly recommended by the bullet journal community and I can see why – the dots give you a lot of flexibility to design the pages as you want them. I use fine tip pens (I can’t remember the brand) to organise the pages and to take notes etc. I try to stick to 3 colours for note taking: black as major colour, blue for house work, red to highlight important events and for design of the pages. For colour coordination and to enhance some pages I use WHSmith felt tip pens.


My bullet journal kit: WHSmith felt tips, fine point pens, small ruler & Leuchtturm1917 dotted A5 notebook

THE NOTEBOOK: I opted for the highly recommended Leuchtum1917 in A5 and so far I like the flexibility of having lines or squares.

THE LAYOUT: This is what is perfect about this system it’s flexible, changes as you keep using the book and it’s absolutely up to you. To start of with I kept to some standard bullet journal spreads (that’s what pages/designs/layouts are called).

THE KEY: I have two keys I use – one is the standard bullet key to show what symbols I use for tasks, events etc and a colour code that helps me to find pages faster based on topics such as ideas, postdoc, meetings. I colour a small square equivalent to the colour code on the required page as well as the Index entry.

My bullet key
Colour coder on both ends of the notebook to find pages faster








CALENDARS: I have a yearly calendar at the start to note down holidays, birthdays and major events.  At the start of the month I added a monthly overview (deviating from the standard bullet journal system) but so far I like the square layout but I might tweak it a little for July – adding monthly tasks etc to one side. I use a weekly and daily spread – which I’m not sure is common but I like to plan the week and have somewhere to write down events etc and then I copy the major events or tasks into daily logs. This way there is more room for tasks – since I use this for work & life using a daily spread helps. It has been very useful as it forces me to plan my week by deciding what I can actually do in a day. I used to have running to do lists that would be re-written, binned and so on without ever feeling that I got anything done. This way of planning my week and days has really helped me to focus and to be more productive.

TRACKERS: A thing I saw a lot (and liked) was the use of different trackers within the journal. I adopted a habit tracker – trying to encourage myself to keep up good habits such as running, no electronics after 10pm etc. I also copied a Twitter tracker to check up on my profile and keep an eye on numbers. In addition I added a log for running, swimming, cycling and hiking where I note down day, time and distance – another motivation to keep going with exercising.

After the first week of using the journal and getting used to the system I decided to add some academic trackers – I now have a tracker for the writing group I attend where I note down, pages and words written, and how many people took part in the session. Next to that page I have a paper writing tracker – showing my progress for individual papers.

Writing group & paper writing tracker

With that came the idea to add a reading tracker for journal papers – I have been pretty bad with keeping up with my reading and these pages really help to try to read some papers every day. It provides a good overview what work to use for the paper I’m writing, which journal papers to revisit later and which ones are suitable for a different project.

Journal paper reading tracker & organiser

I can only say that I’m glad I gave the bullet journal another shot and decided to adapt it to my needs without worrying if it’s right or not – the beauty of this system is – if it works for you –  IT IS RIGHT! The flexibility means that I can have ideas pages or meeting notes between weekly spreads or have my writing tracker in the middle of the notebook. It’s all up to you.

I also love that I can have everything in one place and this (so far) has really helped me to focus more on achievable daily and weekly planning rather than unrealistic overambitious to-do-lists. I’m more productive (at least I think I am) and it really has made planning fun. I will keep the bullet journal up – especially since it meant getting rid of most of my other notebooks – now I have 1 bullet journal, 1 lab book & 1 book for my journal paper reading notes!

Do you use a bullet journal as an academic – share your tips & tricks