Love for the Dash/Plus System


Bullet Journaling has become extremely popular in the last few years. Ryder Carroll, the guy who invented the bullet journal system, initially created a key or set of symbols that stand for particular types of items in the Bullet Journal. For example, a dot for a task and a circle for an event. However, if you take a look on YouTube or Instagram, it appears that a lot of people love to create their own symbols—anything from the ubiquitous checkbox for a task, to elaborate shapes that have special, personal meanings to some people and are completely meaningless to others.

I’ve always been fascinated by Ryder Carroll’s Bullet Journal system. I tried it for a a couple of months with great results. It was the closest I ever came to a fully analogue organisational system, and the only reason I strayed from it was to try out the new and shiny Things 3 app.

The thing is, the official Bullet Journal key doesn’t work for me, for two reasons:

  1. There are too many symbols to remember, and if I have to refer to a key, I’m much less interested and the system becomes less useful for me.
  2. At the time of entering data into the notebook, I have to think about which symbol I have to use, and that creates friction. For me, what Ryder calls ‘Rapid Logging’ must be completely and utterly frictionless to be effective.

So, I ended up adopting the Bullet Journal methodology (the calendar, the collections, etc) alongside a system I came across a few years ago that was created by Patrick Rhone of Minimal Mac and Enough fame. It’s called Dash/Plus, and its brilliance lies in its simplicity.

The foundation of the system is the dash: one simple horizontal line (-). Every single item that is noted down can be done so using just the dash, and can be built upon to turn each item into a different kind of item.

In Patrick’s own words:

The beauty of this system is that it is all built upon, and extensions of, the original dash. Therefore, it is easy to change items from one state to another (an undone action item to a done one, an undone action item to waiting or delegated) and in the case of an non-dashed item changing completely the item is circled to denote that.

This means that I can note down a bunch of tasks, events, and notes in one fell swoop and without paying any mind to what kinds of items they are, like this:

– write essay

– the Chinese restaurant is closed on Tuesdays

– lunch with Steph next Friday 12pm

These are three different kinds of items. The first is a task, something I need to do or take action on. The second is something I need to remember, reference for later, or note down somewhere else. The third is an event, something to add into my calendar for future reference. But when I wrote all of these things down, I did so using only the dash.

Once I’ve written the essay, I can mark that task off to indicate that it’s complete by adding a vertical line down the middle, creating a plus (+). When I come back to check my notes for the day (usually during the evening for me), I can turn the second item’s dash into a triangle to create a data point entry (something informational or to reference later if necessary). At the same time, I can add a lunch meeting at 12pm tomorrow to my calendar, and draw a circle around the dash for the third item to indicate that it has been carried forward to a new list (or in this case, a calendar entry).

The best part is that it’s all perfectly customisable and extendable. I’ve ended up creating a system that uses an asterisk as a note or data point instead of the triangle, which is still built from the original dash but much easier for me to draw repeatedly throughout the day.

Using this system with the official Bullet Journal system is a no-brainer, but I also recommend it to those who use pen and paper to jot things down throughout the day. It gives your random, haphazard notes a bit more structure and meaning (which is helpful when referencing them later) without spending any real time or energy learning a new system. Seriously, who has time for that these days?


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