Bullet Journal in Data Science Projects

2 minute read

During this long holiday, the brazilian carnival, I started doing a little bit of retrospective. Thinking on how I’ve been doing my work and organizing it, and life with it. Remembering one thing that has been helping me: after an conversation with a friend and the previous (lots of) work done by my wife, I decided a few months ago to start doing a thing called bullet journal. I was searching for a long time for a way to organize

  • what I have to do
  • what I’ve done
  • what is interesting
  • and what should be avoided.

There’s also a bit of planning involved, like when should I plan for that data analysis? So after seeing how this was helping them and how easy is supposed to be, I decided to give it a go.

I started very skeptical of this, as I tried tons and tons of other methods before. But surprisingly, this thing has been working for day to day and more general tasks. For example, I have to keep track of tasks that are more managerial, like talking to one of my team members, or sending a presentation to someone. This is a task that I have to do, so I list it on my day list of tasks. I need to reserve some time do to a more deep analysis in a data set, so this is also a task, but now I have an idea of what are the things I have to do, and this helps to organize my time and my activities.

Another thing that it helps: I have a reasonable number of meetings, and most of them are remote. I usually took what I call “tactical notes”, the notes of what was discussed on the meeting, who was there, and what are the next steps and so on. But as I take these notes during the meeting, they’re a mess that sometimes I can’t untangle a couple of days later. So I register what I have to do or remember as tasks or notes in the bullet journal, keeping a clearer history and better accountability. This can be critical when dealing with some new project or correcting an analysis. The longer term plans, like month and next six months, are also tracked there. I still keep all my meetings on my email and Outlook/Google calendar for the reminders - I’m blind (deaf?) without them.

Bullet journals can be very elaborate, with colors, bells and special pages. I try to keep mine simple, to keep the cognitive load low and also not to write much. And of course, to hide my lack of talent on drawing anything more complex than a circle. I’ve been considering my bullet journal as more or less my calendar and my lab notebook. I don’t write all experiments that I have to do there, but usually the most important ones and the process, and also where to find the documentation about it, as is usually related to the project repository. This is a higher organization level than a reproducible experiment: I try to keep the information and lessons from several experiments, keeping track of the experiments themselves. I can go back to a specific note and see what happened there.

I can try to avoid doing the same stupid mistake twice. Hopefully, I can try to repeat what was good. Hopefully. So far so good.