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How To Start Organizing Your Life With A Bullet Journal


The second most popular New Year’s resolution last year, according to search results, was “get organized.” This week, in anticipation of the New Year, I’ve seen several friends ask about bullet journaling on Twitter and on Facebook. They want to know how it works, and if it actually works.

I’ve been an avid bullet journaler for the last nine months, and even taped a Tile tracking device into my journal in case I lost it. Of all of the personal organization methods I’ve tried out, it works the best for me.

I am the most disorganized person alive. Anyone who has set two feet into my home can tell you this. Kids, those tiny people without filters, have exclaimed, “Wow, this place is a real mess!” Before last year, I was organizing my life in the same way as all my stuff.

In stores, I would wander around aimlessly grabbing food we’d probably cook, and realize at checkout that the same exact product was much more expensive from one store to another. Every week, I’d realize the same thing at the same moment. I kept shopping lists, phone numbers, and notes from conversations as draft emails on my phone. I was basically careening through one work project or personal appointment to another.

Then I Got Some Help

Last March, a mother I look up to for always having her stuff together started a small business doing homeschool consulting. Amy Snell holds seminars for mothers who teach according to the Charlotte Mason method. One of the features (they assure me it’s not a bug) of a Charlotte Mason life is order—something we have exactly none of in our home.

Snell is an avid user and promoter of the “bullet journal” method. I took one of her seminars last March and was sold. I bought a Moleskine and some nice pens and went off running.

Bullet journaling is and can be many things. You take what you want and leave the rest. Had I been introduced to the method through Instagram or Pinterest, I would’ve run the other way. Lots of folks with seemingly too much time on their hands spend hours with different colors, designs, and layouts planning their lives in meticulous detail.

I am not that person. I use the bullet journal to save time, not help me waste it. Nevertheless, there are some great ideas online for how to make the most out of your personal bullet journal, nicknamed BuJo. You can search Instagram or check out Pinterest for some inspiration.

I’ve already begun my 2018 book, and because I’m starting it fresh in the New Year and know what I’m doing now, it looks a lot more fresh than it did last March when I was just starting out. This is what my 2018 index looks like:

That’s the barebones of bullet journaling: starting an index and numbering the pages. This is how you stay organized between lists, notes from meetings and conferences, and weekly and monthly layouts. Things don’t have to go in a certain order, but they do have to go into the index so you can find them later.

Bullet Journals: The List King

The bullet journal is a great place to keep all of the lists that are constantly floating around in your head (Pinterest has a great list of other list ideas here and here). Some of the lists in mine include:

  • Shopping lists per store
  • Future vacation ideas
  • Books I’d like to read
  • Books I’d like my kids to read
  • Long-term household chores
  • Dinner ideas, for when I find myself thinking “What should I make tonight?”
  • “All the crap I keep putting off,” like obtaining a Social Security card for my baby, for example

In addition to these lists and notes from any meetings I attend, the bulk of my bullet journal is layouts of my weeks and months. In my weekly layout I include:

  • Appointments or regular classes or programs we attend
  • A to-do list per day and for the week
  • A shopping list
  • A menu slot for each day

If you keep a bullet journal across years, you can easily flip back to remember what was said at a meeting two years ago, or what you made for Thanksgiving dinner four years ago. I try to also include a few things I’d like to keep track of throughout the year, like my kids’ weight and accomplishments (the baby crawled on 12/20, for example). With three kids, it’s easy to forget who did what and when, and keeping track of it all in one spot is crucial.

A few other cute ideas, which I haven’t implemented as much as I’ve wished, was keeping track of their funny dreams, or things they’ve said or done. You can keep track of the last time you did things like change the batteries in the smoke detector or change your oil (a great list of those kinds of milestones is here). You can also track everything from what you’ve eaten to what you’ve purchased, and how much you’ve slept. The sky is the limit on how functional or imaginative you want your BuJo to be.

One of the special things about the bullet journal is the opportunity to reflect. At the end of each month, I create a page for reflections on how the month went, and a chance to plot what I want to accomplish the next month. We all make New Year’s resolutions, but the bullet journal can be a way to force yourself to keep them.

If your resolution is to read a book a month, you can plan which book you want to read next month. If your resolution is to lose weight, you can give yourself a small goal for each month. If your resolution is to simply be more organized in your daily life, the bullet journal may be where to start.