Bullet Journals, Knowledge Graphs, and Other Useless Things

A bullet journal alongside a knowledge graph diagram.
Bullet journals and knowledge graphs give the appearance of smart productivity, but looks can be deceiving.

What does a bullet journal and a note-taking app's knowledge graph have in common?

They’re both pretty useless.

Or rather, they’re both pretty, and useless.

Okay, maybe they aren’t completely useless.

Performative productivity

Here are a couple things bullet journals and knowledge graphs are good for:

In this way, we get to perform, for ourselves and for others.

From the nice-looking calendar drawn up in the bullet journal, the intricate drawings that hint at the week’s tasks, to pretty tape and stickers and colors – a bullet journal is truly a work of art. The tasks therein can wait, for there is still a lonely flower to be painted in the barren corner of the page.

To the web of the knowledge graph and its many threads – so many connections, so much information, so much wisdom! Look at this one web: look how many notes are caught in it. The mere act of connecting them surely empowers the mind. But alas, many notes are with weak webs, some notes entirely without webs. There is still much weaving, much connecting to be done.

And for all this, what has been accomplished?


Spurious ends

Bullet journals had utilitarian origins. They were intended to help organize one’s life and tasks in order to get things done. And when used for this sole purpose, they can be a nice way to organize and be more productive. But they are seldom used this way. For many, bullet journals become a fun art project.

Knowledge graphs never had utilitarian origins for the user, though they're quite useful for the company selling the app that produces the graph. A knowledge graph’s purpose is to be a potentially impressive-looking pictoral record of someone's knowledge work, to be shared on social media. It's a kind of performative erudition. When knowledge graphs are shared in this way, they can have a sort of viral marketing effect where people want to keep showing off their graphs to one another. When people have nothing else to show for their work, a knowledge graph will do just fine. The ultimate purpose of this sharing is viral advertising for the app that spawned the knowledge graph.


If you enjoy the process of creating bullet journals and the aesthetics that they offer, keep at it.

If you enjoy the look of a note-taking app’s knowledge graph and want to keep pumping out notes and connections in order to build up that pretty constellation of information, by all means continue.

But if you’re doing these things under the auspices of them making you more productive, more creative, more erudite, then you may be fooling yourself. You may be stuck in the productivity tar pit.

It’s important that we be honest with ourselves.

There are better ways

There are much better, albeit less pretty, ways to manage one's life, work, and learning endeavors. There are productivity-focused systems such as Getting Things Done [1], there's zettelkasten that helps you beyond just general productivity, and bullet journals themselves can even be useful as long as they're kept simple.

If the aesthetic experience of creating pretty journals and graphs is among your goals, then by all means pursue that.

But if you want to be more productive, learn something more effectively, or improve your creativity, look elsewhere.

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  1. ^ Allen David 2015


  • Allen David. 2015. Getting Things Done. NY: Penguin.

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