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Bullet journaling for sysadmins

While so-called bullet journaling is a new trend, using analog techniques to track and manage your digital workflow is nothing new. If you're not doing it, you should be.

"Old meets new" by jonas.lowgren is licensed under CC BY 2.0

I'm an avid notetaker. I take written notes in meetings for article research and general ideas. Jotting down ideas, schedules, and even full paragraphs in my notebooks (journals) is an old habit that's impossible to break. And there's no need to break it now—it has become a whole new trend, though I maintain I was there first. This "new" thing is called bullet journaling, and a lot of people are doing it, and even more are talking about it. 


Bullet journaling is an organizational style that uses bullets, or bulleted lists, to focus your productivity requirements into intentions. In other words, this type of journaling helps you organize your thoughts and your tasks into easy to handle task "chunks" as bulleted items. This method allows you to prioritize and organize your tasks so that requirements and milestones don't get missed. 

The bottom line is that, as system administrators, our lives are generally dealt with by interrupts. We set off on a task, someone calls with a problem (an interrupt), and we're off on a tangent to fix it. By the time we get back to the task at hand, we can lose our impetus. These lists will help you to refocus after an inevitable interrupt, to avoid losing your momentum.

Getting started

Your tasks are generally split into three different log realms: Future Log, Monthly Log, and Daily Log.

The Future Log

The Future Log is a four-page list that is really more of a year-at-a-glance calendar where you itemize things like future events, milestones, goals, and long-term tasks. Be sure to add birthdays, travel plans, and major holidays to the list so that any milestones you've set work around these immutable dates. For an ambitious sysadmin, you should add entries for big picture items, such as:

  • Training goals
  • Mentoring goals
  • Projects to complete
  • Growth milestones
  • Decommissioning tasks

The Future Log is your chance to write down what you want or need to accomplish in the coming year. For the most part, these are your annualized goals for yourself and your work environment.

The Monthly Log

Your Monthly Log is a big picture view of your month—the list of tasks, goals, and promises that you make to accomplish within a given calendar month. Here, in a two-page summary, you list items such as:

  • Training
  • Patching
  • Decommissions
  • New setups and onboarding
  • Automation tasks
  • Backups

Don't be too specific here; this is not an "in the weeds" list yet. Save the details for your Daily Log.

The Daily Log

The Daily Log is where you cut into the details of both your Future Log and your Monthly Log. This is where you list your tasks, their priorities, and any notes for which you wish to remind yourself. You should, as a good sysadmin, document the outcomes with a few notes. These notes will be handy later when updating your online knowledge base.

The Daily Log is your day's task list and is the focal point of your activities. Six months from now, when you wonder how you created a script to automatically add a virtual host to your Apache config, you'll know. Hopefully, you also updated your online knowledge base as well from your notes.

Now, this all sounds like a lot of paperwork, but it isn't; it's just taking a few notes and doing a bit of planning. For example, at the end of the day before you pack up and bail out of your cubicle, take five or ten minutes to plan the next day's tasks. 

And you don't have to spend a lot of money on an official, branded journaling system. You really only need a notebook and a pen. I find that those unruled composition notebooks work quite well for $5.00, and you can buy a box of pens for a few dollars. Not a bad upfront investment.

The wrap-up

If you keep up with this journaling practice, you'll soon wonder how you, or anyone else, could optimally perform without it. Along with scribbling notes, you can also draw pictures, and freely plan a virtual network architecture or create a flow diagram for a script you want to create. And I won't even get into a discussion of mind mapping that works better on paper than it ever has on a screen. It's in your best interest as a sysadmin to adopt this "new" journaling fad and make it your own.

Have you seen success with any form of journaling?

Topics:   Career   Sysadmin culture  
Author’s photo

Ken Hess

Ken has used Red Hat Linux since 1996 and has written ebooks, whitepapers, actual books, thousands of exam review questions, and hundreds of articles on open source and other topics. Ken also has 20+ years of experience as an enterprise sysadmin with Unix, Linux, Windows, and Virtualization. More about me

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