Using Google Docs for Bullet Journaling

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In continuation of my experiment to see what common tools can be used for productive journaling, I’m trying the combination of Google Docs and Bullet Journaling. Now this far from a pure implementation of the Bullet Journal, but it does carry forward some of the basic requirements needed to be able to capture, process, and report information.

To begin, I wanted to see how easy the capture process would be. Since Google Docs is a cloud based service, access should be an easy matter and for the most part it is. Where the challenge comes in is in situations where artificial constraints on accessing Google Docs have been imposed, such as in many companies that block access to the platform. If you are in an environment that limits your access to Google Docs, understand that this may not be an option for you.

Turning on Outline View

As part of the initial capture of information into the journal, I needed a way to easily group the information into Collections and topics and then navigate between them. This is easily done with Headers (which I will elaborate on later) but first turning on Outline View in Google Docs was the easiest way to keep track of collections and navigate as the document grew longer. Go to View > Outline to enable the Outline View on the left side of the page. It starts off empty since we haven’t added any headers, a key requirement of Outlines, but that changes quickly.

Creating collections and sections

Using the Headers feature in Google Docs is the easiest way to create collections in your journal. First, enter the title of the collection and then press *Ctrl-Alt-1* to turn the text into a header. You’ll immediately see the style and size of the text change and the text will appear in the Outline View we enabled earlier. Each collection should receive a header for easy navigation and identification. I also recommend adding a header for your Daily Notes collection as well as your Weekly / Monthly Notes collections.

Adding Sections in a Collection

Sometimes you’ll have smaller divisions within a Collection, for example if you’re planning a trip you may have a Collection for the entire trip and then Sections for Places to Visit, Things to Pack, Airline Information and so on. To capture this information in your structure, just enter a title for the section and then press *Ctrl-Alt-2*. This creates a second level header in the document which shows up as indented in the Outline View. You can also do a third level header if you need to drill down to even more detail.

Ending a Collection or Section

I recommend pressing Ctrl-Enter at the end of a collection or section to insert a page break at the bottom. This will push new Collections onto a new page and make it easier to print the content later. You can always expand the size of a collection or section by adding content and carriage returns before the page break.

Capturing Tasks

Tasks are a critical piece of information to be managed so I used the same technique I have used in other tools to see if it carried over in Google Docs. By placing a double square bracket [] at the beginning of a line I designate that is a task that needs to be addressed. It’s a quick capture of the item being a task and allows me to find the item easily as well as update its status for tracking.

Locating an item

Ctrl-F opens the Find drop down allowing you to search for content as well as markers you have placed in your entries. If you search for the double square bracket [] you can find all the incomplete items in your journal and step through them. It also provides a quick way to locate content within your journal and additional markers you may have created to identify other types of content.

Linking to Collections

A common use case I wanted to test was capturing notations in my Daily Journal about work I am doing on a specific project. Rather than capturing detailed information in the Daily Journal, I added a link to the collection from the journal by pressing Ctrl-K and selecting the heading for the collection from the list. Now I can tell not only the days I worked on specific topics but also have quick access to the details just by clicking the link.

Additional Features

There are a number of additional features that can be applied both in the web and mobile versions of Google Docs. I’ll go into those in detail in a future article, but for now I’d say that Google Docs is a viable tool for tracking your productivity journal.