Gunnar's Blog - Meta

Taking Notes

I love taking notes, and I love talking about taking notes. This is how I personally take notes, and I'd love to hear about how you all take notes!

I wrote earlier about why you might take notes. Here's how I take notes:

I've tried a lot of systems. I've tried Evernote. I've tried a wiki (several wikis, really). I've tried text files on the filesystem. I've tried Google Drive. None of these systems worked for me. Their organizational schemes, and the fact that I need a working computer to use them puts too many barriers between me, and the notes I want to write.

The note taking system that works best of me is Bullet Journaling, which is a structured way of categorizing and organizing notes. The practices that I find most useful are adopting a set of shorthand symbols for each note, keeping a weekly log, keeping a monthly calendar and keeping an index of my notes.

How I Take Notes

I take notes at all the meetings and trainings I attend. Sometimes my notes are just "I attended this meeting". Other times, I come out with a list of todos, and still other times I just come out with a bunch of things I want to remember.

Here's an example of notes I took during a project management training:

An example of what notes look like in a bullet journal

I kept track of what the training was about and observations on The Flight of the Phoenix, a training aid our instructor chose. I didn't have any todos or other particularly notable notes on this page, but it gives a flavor of how I use bullet journaling in the day to day.

My Preferred Set of Symbols

I adopted a set of symbols based on the bullet journal suggestions to indicate different types of notes. I went with a subset of the bullet journal symbols, because I found my todos are generally not very complicated. They either need to happen, happened or aren't going to happen. I didn't find moving them around from day to day very useful.


I use a dash to prefix general notes and observations

I use an open circle to indicate a todo. I put an "X" through the circle when it's done or cross it out when it becomes irrelevant.


I use an eyeball for things I want to look into more


I use an exclamation point for things that I think are important

Keeping a Weekly Log

I work in an office environment, with semi-annual performance reviews. I find writing up what I did over the last six months a lot easier if I've kept track of it at some kind of high level overview. To that end, I use weekly logs

A detailed log of my weekly activities

I write out the log at the start of the week, then as I do things, I put a short note in on each day. "Attended stakeholder meeting," "Wrote workflow container," "Created permit entry UI," "Mentored junior developer," etc.

Keeping a Monthly Log

The weekly logs are great for looking back, but sometimes I want to look forward. I keep a couple months calendar in my journal to help plan when my busy periods are likely to be.

Here's what a fairly empty calendar on a new month looks like:

An empty calendar for a new month

As I learn new things, I put important events in my calendar, whether they are target release dates, testing cycles or demos. I also use these calendars to plan around personal events, like vacations or doctor appointments.

Keeping an Index

Keeping an index sounds boring and difficult, but I find that if I'm diligent, it's not particularly difficult, and it turns out to be one of the most useful parts of my journal.

An index of topics my work bullet journal covers

The three practices that make keeping an index easy are

  1. Number pages as you turn to them
  2. Title new entries before you write them
  3. Update the index as soon as you create a new entry

The payoff is six months after you've written a bunch and can't quite remember where that important technical decision originates from. Just look at the project meetings, or other promising entries and cut your search time down!

Ride off into the Sunset

Whatever method you choose to take notes in, having a system makes it easier to use the notes after writing them. I find the Bullet Journal technique very useful, but it took me a couple tries to settle in on how I wanted to record information. I'm still learning and changing how I take notes - never hurts to change!


Thank you Matt Reinbold for the notepad

Tags: productivity management process how-to notes journal memo

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2017 Goals

2017 Goals

So, given how 2016 went, what are my plans for 2017?

I'm going to stick to the same basic plans, but scaled back a touch so I have some chance of hitting them.

Blog Goals

  • 26 blog posts this year
  • Measurable blog traffic
  • Create some tools for people
    • Talk about tools

Personal Goals

  • Be present in year 2 of the baby's life
  • Figure out how to manage a toddler
  • Bicycle
  • Lose 20 lbs (I lost 40 last year, so this is just a touch up to get where I want + a little padding for the occasional dessert)
  • Pare down household to a manageable level of stuff
  • Tweak savings plan to account for global instability
  • Pick one worthy political cause to be active in
  • Keep up sociability

Professional Goals

  • Learn how to build Javascript build/packaging/deploy systems
  • Get a grip on messaging and Service Oriented Architectures
  • Beef up supervisory and leadership skills
  • Succesfully project manage rollout of new Sealandings client
  • Project manage migration from legacy Flex monolith to SOA and Javascript system


Having written all this out, I notice I have a lot more personal goals than blog goals. I think that's ok - I don't intend to live this blog. I suspect blogs are more interesting when they are written by someone who is living. I also notice most of my professional goals are along the project management and architectural lines. I think that's most likely normal at this stage in my career. My techincal skills are sufficient to the tasks I do, so it seems natural to want to focus on the meta-technical and support skills.

Tags: goals meta 2017 blogging

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2016 Year in Review

2016 Goals In Review

How'd I do? Not well. I set some big goals and whiffed on all of them. Essentially, my problem is that I didn't blog enough (or really at all). I think the trick is something like how to keep a slow garage project rolling. Every day you need to get in there and tighten one bolt, or clean one thing, just to keep momentum up. Do the big projects while you can, but if you can't, keep the ball rolling with small stuff.

I suppose I could chalk this up to acquiring two new responsibilities in 2016. I had a baby - great fun, great responsibility, takes up far more time than I had anticipated, not that I begrudge a second. I also picked up an acting supervisory role at work, which takes up a surprising amount of my bandwidth for planning and organization. Not sure it's as fun as a baby, but it's a change and pretty interesting, to boot.

Tags: goals meta 2016 2017 blogging

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My 2016 Goals

I've read, like the rest of you internet creatures, that having goals and sharing them is encouraging and helps you reach your goals.

I've also read that concrete, attainable goals are better than pie in the sky fantasy goals.

So here it goes:

  • Write at least 50 blog posts, or roughly one a week
  • Get site traffic that moves the needle on google analytics - 5 people a day would satisfy me
  • Get at least one subscriber on my mailing list

The year is half over, but I'm not going to let that stop me. I'm about 10 posts in and I think I get something like 3 visitors a week whenever I post something new. Hopefully they aren't all robots :)

Tags: goals meta 2016 blogging

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First Post

Testing, testing... Sibilance, sibilance.

Ok, everything looks good here

Tags: meta introduction hello yay

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