I’ve always been a list maker. Whether or not I come by it naturally or it’s a system I’ve picked up after years and years of forgetting phone chargers, who can say. This is not ground-breaking; most people employ some useful system of organizing the big and small things in their lives.
For me, finding systems to stay organized is essential. I have a wonderful combination of intense tunnel vision, general unawareness, and a short memory. In theory this is quirky and fun! In reality, it makes life just a tad harder than it should be, like when I leave my (house and car) keys at work, take a bus home, realize I can’t get in my house so go to my car to drive back to work, find my car in a boot (because I forgot to pay parking tickets), go to call the city to get car out of the boot and look down to find a dead cell phone. This all really happened. If my blood sugar is low or I’m even just a little bit hungry? All bets are off. You’ll find me sitting on a stoop in the streets of Boston looking at a booted car and wondering what happened to my life.
As a child my mom and I would experiment with systems. She encouraged me to foster that anxiety kick of “wait, what am I leaving behind?” which turns out most people just naturally have and for me is entirely foreign. We tried what we called the number theory, which means I would have to remember the number of things I needed to remember, not the actual things. This worked to a point, but was trickier if my number was higher than say, eight.
Other people help! I’m not ashamed to say that my life is made easier by the help of others, for which I am very grateful.
I spent a long time feeling guilt about this particular part of my personality. I wanted to be better! I wanted life to be easier, to be able to effortlessly leave my house with everything in my purse because that’s what humans do. But that’s like wishing I was 5 inches taller. I do (who wouldn’t? Tall people, probably), but it’s impossible, so I work with what I have.
Enter the Bullet Journal. A system created by designer Ryder Carroll, it’s a combination of a day planner, a diary, and a field notebook. You make it what you need it to be.
I started using a bullet journal two years ago as a fun experiment that would allow me to use markers every day, buy new pens and organize my life. It was mostly about the pens though, if I’m being honest.
It started simple, I added things that I thought were fun or useful, I took things out that were not, and now I’m about to finish my 4th journal (one of which I left and lost in NYC at a Gap in Midtown while I was looking for jeans, which is clearly a two handed activity because they stack those jeans one on top of the other and you really can’t see the sizes without pulling them out, and since I was wearing a small purse because it’s NYC the journal wouldn’t fit so I was just carrying it which is such a rookie move I know, so I must have put the journal down and then, like a goldfish with a memory span of 2 seconds, just blissfully walked away. I didn’t even buy the jeans. It was like 10 pages from being completely full, and nothing makes me happier than a completely filled notebook. So, RIP. And also, see the irony? I do this.)
Lost notebooks aside, the system does work. I’ve become more productive with my time, I’ve gained new habits that never came easy to me, and, not to brag or anything, but at a moment’s notice I can locate the exact password for our DirecTV account.
You’ll find there are lots of reasons to start a bullet journal. It’s really fun and kind of meditative, but for me the main reason was getting the mess of things I need to remember to do on a daily basis out of my head and neatly onto paper. If you want to get started, here are the basics:
(Side Note: there are a lot of resources online about the “best” way to bullet journal. Pinterest is a gold mine, and entirely overwhelming. There are Facebook groups and so, so many blogs. I would suggest starting at Ryder’s website and moving on from there.)
- Journal: Bullet journal purists will tell you that you must get the Leuchtturm1917 dotted notebook. The pages come already numbered, which is a key tenet to the bullet journal system, and it’s good quality. However I started with a 100-page journal I already had, then my second and third journals were soft-sided Moleskine graph paper notebooks which I hand numbered. My current journal is in fact a Leuchtturm, but with graph paper– I like the squares more than the dots. It is my favorite of the four, and have bought another one to start when it’s done (bright yellow! Happy!) My point is, you can use anything. Don’t get hung up on this.
- Pens: A whole other post. But I bet you have a favorite pen. One that makes you really, really happy to use? One that when someone asks you if they can borrow a pen, you hide away like a little pen miser? Use that one. It will bring you joy.
- Collections: these are non-date-specific lists that you want to keep handy, like books you want to read or podcasts you want to listen to. They can be interspersed throughout your journal, and you can easily find them by referencing your index. You watched Ryder’s video, right? You know about indexes?
- Monthly, Weekly, Daily: I set my journal up like this: I have a monthly overview which is like a calendar for the whole month, then I have a weekly entry that just focuses on what I have going on that week, and finally a daily entry which tracts my daily to-do lists. My monthly to-do list items get migrated to my weekly tasks, and finally my daily goals.
- Trackers: I use a couple of monthly “trackers” which is Bullet Journal Speak for data collection. I track my daily and weekly habits, my spending, and my exercise. Trackers have been a game changer for me productivity-wise. There’s something deep inside my psyche that needs to mark things off a list. My ego is a tiny child who preens and primps when she gets a gold star, and that gold star is getting to mark off the box that says “make bed.” It’s weird, but it works.
- Pretties: I don’t use stickers or washi tape or go overboard with the markers, but boy can you. I used to carry around a pen case that weighed about 8 pounds and contained every marker I’ve ever bought, but this was not practical. Now I choose one color for the whole month (this month is purple) and all of my writing is in my favorite black pen and black fine-tip marker. All I have to carry around is my journal and those three implements.
If this at all interests you, welcome, we are of the same tribe. I can talk organization and systems and pens and paper all dang day. In future posts I’ll get more specific, like what exactly I put on my habits tracker, goal setting and goal getting, a few collections I find useful, and how to put this all into practice.
I can’t say that it keeps me from losing anything, but I can say that it keeps me from losing everything, which is a marked improvement. I’ll take it.