Paper Based Markup Systems

by Patrick Rhone

I’ve long been fascinated with the various methods and organizational systems people use to take notes. I’ve even been known to spot something someone next to me in a meeting is doing and then pepper them with questions about it afterwards. I’m a real nerd that way.

I’m especially interested in markup systems — the little marks and symbols some use to process, prioritize, or otherwise make sense of the notes they have taken. There are many of these sorts of things out there, some well known and others not. Therefore, I thought I would start a post that would begin to round up some of these things — mainly as my own way of tracking them. These are in no particular order and is in no way complete. It is my hope as well that those reading this will get in touch if they see one missing.

  • Bullet Journal — This exploded onto the scene a few months back, thanks in no small part to it’s well designed website and video. It seems easy to implement and provides a lot of context in a minimum amount of space. Another unique feature is the incorporation of daily and monthly calendars and an index.

  • Getting Sh-t Done (GSD) — Mainly for task tracking and time blocking. It’s been out there for quite a few years and there are a lot of fans of this approach. It sure does look cool.

  • Michael Hyatt’s Smart Notes — Designed for taking notes in meetings to allow a quick processing of their meaning afterwards.

  • Word Notebooks — Word Notebooks are similar in size and execution to Field Notes, but it is the markup system incorporated into their pages that set them apart. I have seen a few people who have taken the idea behind that system and adopted it into their notebooks and workflow.

  • Dash/Plus — Full disclosure — this one is mine. I developed it almost ten years ago as a way to handle tasks, meeting notes, and since have extended it to my daily logging. It involves using a dash before ideas, notes, tasks, etc. and then building upon that dash during review. I designed it to be versatile and I encourage others to adapt and extend it for their own needs — it’s very flexible.

  • Hybrid System — James Gowans adapted both my Dash/Plus system and Bullet Journal and created a hybrid of the two. Sounds really swell in practice and James does a great job of explaining what he took from both and why.

  • The Strikethrough System — Mike Vardy’s markup system that emphasizes completely striking through items and incorporates energy level based contexts.

  • Rocket Journal: My (More Robust) Bullet Journal — Chelsey Dagger’s tweaks on making the Bullet Journal system better fit her needs.

A note of encouragement: There is no “one true way” for any of this stuff. Perhaps you like the functionality of my Dash/Plus system but wish you also had the calendar/index of the Bullet Journal system. Mash them up? Maybe there is something that you want to track that is not covered in any of the above — make up your own. That is the beauty of this stuff (and paper and pen in general) — you’re not locked into someone else’s idea of how a thing should work. The page is blank, own it.


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