The Dash/Plus System


Dash/Plus |sfref|referrer|kdtad
is a metadata markup system I created for paper based notes to mark the status of action items on a todo list. It quickly evolved to be equally well versed at marking up meeting notes for easy scanning and processing. This is mainly designed for those who keep lists or take notes using pen or pencil and paper.

I first wrote about this system in a 2006 whitepaper that outlined most of my productivity tools and methods at the time. Much has changed since then but the dash/plus system remained steadfast and is still in use by me (and many others now) every day. Yet, there was no place that it alone was fully outlined and permanently lived. This post now changes that.


(Dash): Undone Action Item — Individual items (action items and ideas) are marked with a dash preceding them. All items, no matter what they are, are therefore treated as items to be processed.

(Plus): Done Action Item — If the item is an action item (todo), when the item is complete, a vertical line is drawn through the “dash” thus making it resemble a “plus”. This makes the dashed items stand out quite well despite the fact that the same color pen or pencil may be used.

(Right Arrow): Waiting – (i.e. for another action) — Drawing an arrow pointing to the the item denotes that it is something that is waiting on another action to happen or deliverable.

(Left Arrow): Delegated — Drawing an arrow pointing to the left of the item denotes that it has been delegated (with a note to whom and the date) .

(Triangle): Data Point — Turning the dash into a triangle denotes a data point (a fact or figure you wish to remember for instance).

(Circle) — A circle around any of the above means that it has been carried forward, moved to another list or otherwise changed status – i.e. a “Waiting” item has now become an Action Item elsewhere (with a note about where that item has gone).

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.


Extending Dash Plus — Wherein I describe ways in which I, and others, have extended the system to fit new needs.

DashPlus for iPhone — Dave Mendel’s excellent list app based on the Dash/Plus system. Proceeds from sales go to School-In-A-Box — an educational initiatives to bring iPads and learning materials to developing nation communities.

soypunk » Using Dash/Plus Markers on iOS and OS X — Shawn Medero’s really clever trick of implementing the system using Unicode and the built-in text expansion tools.

Hybrid Journal / James Gowans — James Gowans has mashed up Dash/Plus with the popular Bullet Journal system. Useful things occurred.

Recommended Items

Levenger Annotation Ruled Paper is ideal for meeting notes and lists. It is a loose Cornell Style arrangement that has spaces at the top for Topic, Date, File Under and Page Number and a wide left hand margin that is perfect for the dash/plus system. Levenger’s Circa system also comes with the same annotation ruled paper by default. I use (and love) both! Also, the paper is bright, thick and takes ink from a fountain or gel pen easily.

Praise for the Dash/Plus System

It is incredibly simple. The dash means it is still to do. Adding another mark makes it done, delegated, waiting, moved or canceled. No messy crossing out of the entire item. One mark…I’m done.

Joe Ely, Director of Operations at Cook Biotech, Inc

It is the first system I’ve found that lets me successfully manage capture and todos in the same workspace. There is no fear of missing critical data or overlooking a task.

Jason Rehmus

…sexy “dash/plus” notation system for identifying item status.

Merlin Mann of 43 Folders

Dash/plus is simple, yet flexible & adaptable to your own needs. Pen & paper or digital, it “just works”

Stephen Smith of In Context MultiMedia

If you have found the Dash/Plus System helpful, or if it makes your day just a little bit easier, please consider a free will donation of any amount.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

What do you cost?

Once |etkty|referrer|kaiba
we enter the working world, we all put a price on our time. The American Dream, we quickly learn, is largely predicated on steadily increasing that price until we reach a point where we are “comfortable”. Of course, everyone has their own opinion of exactly what comfortable means. For some it simply means not having to worry about having enough. For others, it means having so much more than enough that they never have to be in a situation where they have to put a price on their time again.

Many of us start out as teenagers doing odd jobs for cash. We mow lawns. We babysit. We shovel sidewalks. We may be too young for a “real” job yet we are old enough to learn the lesson that time and labor is worth cash. Then, we get out first job. Many of us for minimum wage, which in the US is currently $7.25 an hour. As we work more and move up, this price per hour steadily increases. Our first raise, even a fifty-cent one, gives us a tangible idea how much impact such an increase can have when compounded. And, if asked to work overtime, many jobs offer to give you even more — 1 1/2 times our regular rate perhaps. All the same, we have a very direct idea of what every hour of our time is worth. The math is easy.

But then, as we enter the world of salaried work, something strange happens. That cost becomes obscure. Because until then your brain has been conditioned to think of your cost reduced to an hourly rate, when someone offers you a job for, say, $35,000 per year, it sounds surreal. The number is almost too big to comprehend. Especially, if all you’ve been thinking about until then is that $10.50 or $11.25 or $12.70 or… is the most you’ve ever costed. Now you cost as much as a low end BMW. You must be valuable. Why stop to do the math?

And, that is where they have you. You never stop to figure out that your time is worth, at that salary, $16.80 cents at a normal 40 hour work week. But, when you have a salary these days, many work more hours than 40. In fact, more is becoming increasingly common. We never stop to do the math that more hours means, in fact, we are costing less per hour worked to the employer.

But, you keep moving up and they (the collective “they” of employers everywhere) keep throwing bigger numbers at you. They sound so big and nice…

$50,000 ($24.00 per hour at 40 hours)
$70,000 ($33.00 per hour at 40 hours)
$100,000 ($48.00 per hour at 40 hours)

And, quite honestly, if you are making $100,000 per year in this country right now you probably have it pretty good. You don’t have to do the math. And I would argue that’s exactly what the people paying you are hoping for. They are hoping to entice you by the big number and promise of comfort, in return for your forgetting the fact they have you working 60 hour work weeks for $32.00 an hour.

I lay all of this out here as an idea for us all to start doing the math. To start figuring out exactly how much we cost. Because, I believe, once we do so it will give us a much clearer picture of what “being comfortable” really means and what it will take to get there.

I’m a writer. Writing is how I make this world better, friendlier, stronger place. If these words improved your day, please let me know by contributing here.


The |ehnyr|referrer|yfzey
weather is really affecting my mood. While the rest of the world is enjoying spring, we here in Minnesota continue to have temps in the 30s. It is grey and cold and has been snowing off and on for 10 days now. Including what amounted to a full on blizzard three days ago. And when it is not snowing it is freezing rain and sleet and cold. And, while, such is not unheard of in Minnesota, it is unusual. It seems even the heartiest of our citizens are cranky and tired of it. Myself included.

I’m supposed to run my first half-marathon next weekend. The amount of training I’ve done so far? Next to none. I loathe treadmills and I flat out refuse to go outside and run in this. I figure if the day comes and I’m not ready for it, it is my first half. Anything I do will be my personal best. I would rather walk 13.1 miles (which I know full well I can do) than spend another minute outside in this weather.

The upside has been that it has been causing me to write a lot more than I normally make the time for. Quite frankly, writing is an inside and, in many ways, escapist activity. When I’m writing I forget about the weather and the other activities I should be doing instead. Writing allows me to lose myself in the work.

Sorry about the whining. I just needed to get it off my chest and state a bit of how I am right now. It’s sometimes really hard to inspire and motivate others when one cannot do so for oneself. Perhaps getting this off of my mind and heart will clear the way other more positive emotions. I can only hope so because right now I’m just kind of "meh".

home/ journal/ books/ dash/plus/ archives/ rss