How My Life Got Perfect Through Bullet Journaling

By Kay Gardiner
December 19, 2018
Zen and the Art of Knowing What We're Supposed to be Doing Right Now

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83 Comments
  • I started my first BuJo 4 weeks before I retired. And along with an instant pot and sheet pan dinners it’s something I wish I had had far earlier in my career! Now in retirement, I find monthly set ups still helpful, and was thinking daily 5 minute reads, right before you post popped up in my mailbox, is really a habit I need to cultivate. Cosmic.

  • I tried this and I found it really stressful. I dreaded checking and keeping it up to date—That didnt feel fun to me just a reminder of all the things I didn’t accomplish in my life or all the tasks I didn’t do yet, so every time I opened it I felt bad. Then I would fall behind and feel worse. It was like the journal itself became another locus of failure along with all the things in it that I didn’t check off. Just thinking about it is making me hate myself all over again. I have a knitting journal tho which has no system just more like a scrapbook, notes and pictures, and that is my happy place!

    • I totally understand this. Over time I’ve made my peace with the fact that I’m not going to do it all, and I’ve come to love the moment when I finally cross something off and say “I’m just not doing THAT.”

      Kaffe Fassett has this saying about how he keeps track of all the different colors of yarn in intarsia: PULL FROM THE TANGLE. He doesn’t believe there is any point in bobbins and other systems for keeping the strands organized. Spend that time pulling the yarn from the tangle and knitting the dang sweater.

      Sometimes my bullet journal is the tangle I’m pulling from. Sometimes it’s sitting there for two weeks looking at me reproachfully. Sometimes I’m checking stuff off like I’m the master of my domain.

    • I’m with you sister!

    • I let my bujo sit and rot for about 6 months before I realized/decided that I could make it any way I wanted. That’s when I ditched the index, future log, collections, and all the other parts in favor of a monthly calendar, a few habit trackers, a list of books read, and a daily page with a bullet point to-do list and a daily diary-type wrap up, usually written the next morning. I tape in fabric scraps, yarn pieces, quotes, make gift lists, books recommendations. Sounds to me like your knitting journal is like my bujo, made to suit your needs. Stick with what works for you. Come over to the Bujo thread on the Lounge just to be part of the crowd. Everybody into the pool!

    • In Ryder Carrols (Bujo Creator) new book, The Bullet Journal Method, he talks about that! He has this profound quote…
      “Turn any guilt over not completing a task into curiosity as to why it didn’t get completed”

      Game changing perspective!

      So when things don’t get done, it either means it didn’t need to get done or my priorities were way off that day and I need to refocus the next day on the things that really matter to ME.

      His book is fantastic.

      • I agree, Ryder’s book is so good.

  • Yeah, that’s a lot of work…
    More work on top of work, I’m not retired, this seems overwhelming.
    Nice idea, tho.

  • I’ve tried so many times to organize my life to manage to do the critical things more than 5 minutes before deadline. I’m hoping maybe this will be the “magic Bullet” that helps me focus on and somehow spend more time on the things that are important and meaningful to me.

  • Ooooh Kay, how fun is this!? I am just about to break in my fourth (!) bullet journal … I’ve kept one every year beginning in 2016. I think the whole key to enjoying bullet journalling is to remember two important maxims:

    1. Comparison is the thief of joy.
    2. You do you.

    It can be whatever you want it to be. I have started to draw in mine more, when I have time, because it’s fun and I don’t care if I stink at it. I have also started to write just a couple sentences about each day, in the way of a traditional diary. I also tape all kinds of things in it, in the way of a scrapbook.

    I am also if-I-don’t-write-this-down-I’ll-forget-it years old, so my journal is where I write those things down. Even if that’s all I did with my journal, it would be worth the time, but it is fun to make it a creative outlet too.

    Looking forward to bu-jo’ing with you!

    • Thank you for #’s 1 and 2. Always important but seems necessary for this.

      • I follow a few bujo Instagram tags and if I don’t keep #1 in mind, I start to feel pretty bad about my handwriting. HAHA!

        • Some of the handwriting out there is incredible, isn’t it?

          My only esthetic rule is that I always use The Pen That I Like.

    • Love your 2 maxims. Definitely going in my journal. Thanks Laura.

      • Aw thanks! ♥♥♥

    • I’m going to add your maxims to muy bujo as inspiration. Thanks!

  • It’s going to take more coffee this morning for me to understand the video. Lots more coffee.

    • Agree!

  • Just bought my first one. I LOVE calendars and I LOVE lists. I’ve read a couple tutorials and watched a couple videos and I don’t think it’s intimidating at all — you can make it what you will. I did splurge on a packet of stickers and I’ll probably treat myself to some nice colored gel pens (squee!), but mostly it’ll serve as the calendar I always keep, just better.
    For example, it will have pages of book titles, knit patterns and a page to keep track of my (awful) golf scores.
    I will set a physical challenge each month.
    I’ll use it to dump thoughts/lists of a busy mind.
    And while I know I could start it right now, I prefer to dive in Jan. 1.

    • “Monica” not Miinica, lol

  • I have tried many planning systems over the years and bujo is the only one that stuck. I love how flexible it is and that you can return to it after days/weeks of slacking off.

  • I started 4? years ago. Quickly devolved into a two page spread weekend to-do list, Sat one page, Sun the second. Includes fun and tasks. During more busy times (past May to Thanksgiving), I’d sketch out the week in a quarter page space on the Sun half. Was I still bujo-ing? I guess not to a purist.

    It works for me. That is the only answer that matters.

    Have been contemplating a refresh and see what else I want to add. I’m no good at hanging out in the Lounge, but will see where it takes me-after Christmas, that is!

    • I think the most important thing is that it works for you. I’m considering giving up the monthly overview spread, because I’m kind of a slacker about doing it and I’m not entirely sure that it’s helpful to me/worth the time. My December is just a bunch of single-day entries with lists, but still it has been a lifeline.

  • This couldn’t have come at a better time. My life has been spiralling into overwhelm recently for lots of reasons. I have used a bullet journal in the past and your post is the kick up the butt I need to restart. I know it will make the difference from languishing in overwhelm to getting life in order and back on track. Thank you.

  • Oh, Kay – do you collect Pyrex??
    I use a composition book with graph grid lines in a similar way. I’ve loved the examples of MDKers BuJo pages over in the Lounge. xo

    • I only collect Pyrex to the extent that I’ve got 2 bowls from my mother’s 4-bowl wedding set of Butterprint nesting bowls and would love to come across the other 2. (Her set is intact and somehow pristine despite 60+ years of use.) But at any moment I could break into a frenzy if I see any of those “fridgey” containers. Sometimes you see good Butterprint in thrift shops in NYC because people here don’t know what’s good.

  • The idea that I could organize my whole life with this is tempting and panic inducing all at the same time … because past failures with calendars and lists bring back bad memories.
    But we all have SO. MUCH. TO. DO. all the time. Obv the originator of this system has put a lot of thought into it, soo…
    I think I’ll get my feet wet with this, using it for one aspect of my life that I’m sad about – another year has come and gone and I didn’t get nearly enough knitting done. Or projects finished. Or finished in a timely manner. Maybe a bullet journal will help me.

  • I keep playing with the idea of bullet journalling. I’ve always been a lover of notebooks – as a kid I would spend my allowance on ledgers, that I would never write in because I thought their pages were too beautiful to mess up. What does a page of a bullet journal look like? (I’m at work and don’t have access to Youtube) Are there actual bullets? Or just notes? Do we date the pages?

    • It’s a dot grid, so you can customize each day and page endlessly.

      • Cool! Thanks!

  • I have it on good authority I am getting a Nordic Blue bullet journal for Christmas. My family is getting suspicious; I am pushing an unprecedented opening of one gift on Christmas Eve. There better be only one bullet journal-shaped package under the tree for me. Can’t wait to try it.

  • I’ve been keeping a notebook (any kind works) on my desk for years. All notes and to-do’s are on its pages (no stickies allowed). It’s a running list of tasks; I line them out when done (fun!). I can turn the page back and check for undone tasks. When a page is full, I turn to the next one and date it. I’ve kept these notebooks for over 15 years. It’s fun to go back and see what was going on 5, 10 years ago. Not as detailed as bullet journaling, but not as overwhelming for me. Love the Bullet Journal, though, with its beautiful blind embossed cover.

    • Your system sounds marvelous. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

  • At a time of need I read about Bullet Journaling here at MDK and have been using it ever since. Mine is super simplified, 2 page week, very small index. No art, no decoration. Works for me and that’s what it’s all about.

  • I’m looking for the human personal trainer version of a bullet journal. “Give me five more paid bills and one load of whites and then you can go get a drink of water and towel off.”

    • BWA HA HA. I need this too.

    • You are too funny…..but I do exactly that: work best when self-bribed!

  • A few years ago a design agency client sent me a large spiral bound custom bullet journal as a holiday gift, I didn’t know that was what it was called but it totally suited my combo style if planner/list making/ scheduling/project piecing . I’m utterly addicted and have a stack of them now. I refuse to check if there are items still being carried forward from the first page of the first one (JK of course there are! )
    Tbh I advise against following any bullet journal accounts online, GRINCH WARNING ‘cause they are full of folks substituting decorating their to-do lists with cute stickers instead of, you know, actually doing things on the list. Though I am pro washi tape in theory 🙂

    • I will admit that I judge those people but I know that is wrong. I’m like, YOU COULD BE KNITTING YOU KNOW.

  • Before retirement I kept track of my life in a pen & paper planner. Now I try to kept appointments & reminders via an online calendar. It’s not working so well. Bullet journaling might be what I need.

    • Although I have to use an online calendar at work, I also use a paper one, with 2 pages/month spreads. Most of my work meetings go only in the online one, but personal stuff gets put on the paper one. But my calendar has lined pages, a couple after each month, plus in the back, and I keep to-do lists (both work and personal) and notes there. My technique is sort of BuJo-ish and it works for me. And I’m fond of washi tape as page markers!

  • Hm. I, too, am a collector of journals & notebooks & even just seemingly useful pads of paper — some are pretty, some are not, but they are all full of BLANK PAGES. I have never kept a regular journal or diary, but I do make lists and I have GOALS. Bullet journals have been popping on & off my radar… and perhaps it’s time. I love the idea of NO RIGHT OR WRONG and the freedom to make it completely my own. I don’t want to get overwhelmed (because then I’ll certainly quit), so maybe just a few things to start. Looking forward to watching the video and joining you in The Lounge… already some great ideas in the comments!

  • I started a bullet journal I think three years ago and am about 2/3 through my first Leuchtturm journal. . It has evolved as I’ve figured out what works and doesn’t work for me. I now have a 2-page monthly calendar noting appointments, and what I fixed for dinner each night (it really helps me visualize the month), a fairly sporadic journal, and keep track of several lists for the year: books I’ve read, projects knitted, Christmas and birthday gifts given and received, workouts completed, and this year added our Thanksgiving menu and guest list. I really like having all this information in one spot instead of each written down in separate places.

    • I have always kept to do lists and dipped my toe into bujo just over a year ago starting with a 98 cent spiral bound notebook so no pressure. I just bought a hardcover for 2019 and I am a convert. It’s empowering to look back & see in black & white how much I really did accomplish.

  • 2019 will be my 2nd year with a bullet journal. Last year I used the 2018 planner I bought at Target and adapted it. 2019 is a full on dot grid…Some weeks are better than others for sure…My method is to put everything into a Google calendar first, work and personal appts and then on Sunday night, I sit down with my laptop and plan for the week. This works and it has allowed me to tweak the lists/trackers and figure out what works…I also am working on a little calligraphy to improve my lettering style…

    I was thrilled to see this article this morning from a knitter because it’s a great way to organize a knitting project into a busy life. For 2019 I am going to do a “knit the sky” scarf and keep track of the colors in a sky journal in my weekly plan, with little checkboxes of course when I finish my rows for a particular day…

    • Sky scarf! I saw that a few years ago but since I’m not a fan of blue and wanted to knit from stash so I chose the maple tree out my window, sorted out bark and leaf colored yarns and got knitting. I put in a few red stitches when I saw the first robin, a line of white for a blizzard, and a row of clear beads when fog droplets lined the bare branches. It’s too thick and way too long to wear since I used worsted yarn so I’m contemplating separating it into seasons, knitting the panels together and making a maple tree afghan. Hm, I could put that into my 2019 Bujo as a knitting goal… Thanks!

  • I needed to read this today. Thank you

  • What a great and inspiring topic. I’ve thought (not too seriously) about “bujoing” for a couple of years, but I think 2019 might be a good year to begin. I’m all about lists and I journal every night, so this seems like it will work perfectly for me.
    Thanks for inspiring me once again!
    Happy Holidays to you and yours…….now I’m off to order my BuJo!

  • I’ve bullet journaled for years… Even have the original design journal that Ryder started thru kick starter. Some journals cover only a few months, other a year or longer. I start a new one on my birthday instead of New year. It seems a better time to start fresh. Before I knew about ravelry I had grids of my needles in my journal. Now keep a collection of what projects I’ve completed. As others have said, it’s what you want it to be. How much of life is like that?

  • I’m in! I’ve been using a bullet journal for a couple years now and just love it, even though I’m not terribly consistent with it. Sometimes (more often than not) it’s little more than a place to keep my shopping lists for weekly grocery trips, other times it’s a full-on journal. I also keep a separate one at work, which I maintain much more regularly than my personal one; it follows the bullet journal format more closely, too. My goal for 2019 is to take the time to make my personal one more of a journal, to keep track of my knitting projects, outside projects, life in general.

  • It’s tempting to dive into because I like journaling. But I like drawing my own lines, making my own dots and saving my pennies for things I absolutely need more, like a perfectly perfect system to store yarn. Or crayons. Or every color of linen thread to sew up books.

  • I discovered BuJo here a couple of years ago and it has been a game changer for me. I was a notebook-list maker-organizer type to begin with and the very basic rules of the BuJo were just what I was looking for to kind of bring things into more order. That being said, I use mine consistently for work and have a separate one for personal/home stuff that gets picked up and put down. It works for me. 🙂 And I highly recommend the addition of wash tape. Knitsonik had a great post about using it (https://www.knitsonik.com/2018/10/24/knitsonik-is-making-washi-tape/) and I haven’t looked back.

  • ooh I’ve bought a Moleskeine squared notebook soft cover to try this… I have lost my washi tape. A very organised person I know uses this system. She juggles creative, plus volunteering projects very efficiently.. I want to Be More Like Elaine…

  • Anything that starts with me having to watch a video to understand just isn’t going to happen.

  • Oh my gosh, I started this 12 years ago, while I was in college. I didn’t even know it was a thing! It’s crazy to go back through the journals from that long ago, when my then significant other would take it and jot down notes to me, or I’d write down things I thought were important that are definitely comical now. I’d take it everywhere with me (so you can only imaging what types of to-do lists or life plans were written down after a night of bar hopping!) Lots of concert tickets, and grocery lists. The journals are a cherished piece of my history. I think anything that encourages us to put our devices down and pick up a pen is worthwhile, thanks for reminding me how meaningful this type of journaling/scrapbooking is!

  • I’ve never been good at making lists – they are always too long and just make me cower in my bed and hope they magically go away. There’s something about this system that appeals to me. If I don’t get something done, it can go onto next month’s list or even be eliminated. I also do not have to write everything onto today’s list! Maybe I’ll give it a try…

  • Gotta add my testimonial! First, Kay, thank you for mentioning this earlier on MDK. I checked it out and was immediately intrigued by the flexibility of it. A few simple, elegant pieces of structure yield the most enticing space in which to play, and bring order to the wonderful swirl of activity, dreams, plans, etc. we all have.

    I started doing it a few weeks ago, and love it. It’s more than just a book of to do lists, though it handles “to do” admirably. It’s that with a backdrop of tracking bigger/longer term things, with the sparkly addition of your ruling passions right alongside. It’s a medley of satisfaction. I feel more connected to the things I care about most. Now those things are tied to my everyday. They are in my hands, in my own handwriting. Bujo is a really good tool!

    Thanks Kay!

  • I started using “my version” of bullet journaling when my husband was being treated for cancer. It was a perfect way to keep track of appointments, symptoms, treatments, medications. Everything was at my fingertip and went with me easily everywhere, and had any information readily available for various doctors. He passed in late spring and now I am using my journal to track finances during this first year while I make sure what my new budget and living costs will be. When I meet with my financial advisor, I have all my information and spending history right there.

    • Oh, Belle, I’m sorry for you loss. I kept my husband’s med list and all the doctor info in the back of mine. My husband passed in mid-August and I’m using my Bullet Journal to organizing finances too and to stay on track with faxing in forms to the pension people, etc. We’ll both get through this year of firsts without that one special person. I know we will. Knitters carry on.

  • But how do you search a hand-written journal? I prefer digital.

  • I discovered BuJo here when you first talked about it and have loved it ever since. I don’t stick to their whole regime – I don’t plan the year in advance or do weekly schedules as I actually use a calendar. But the beauty of having everything important in one place for the year is magic. It kept me organized my first year as an independent college consultant (initial notes from every potential client went in the book), and the next year when my mother died it was a godsend. Everything went into the BuJo and I have referred back to 2017 so much since the blur of grief made me forget a lot of what we actually did to help my dad afterwards. The Leuchtturm is such a simple, beautiful book. Thank you for sharing!

  • I have been using Martina Behm’s Strickplaner. It is more of a day planner with calendars, quarterly goals and lots of pages of lists. It also has pages for knitting stuff – projects, yarn wish lists, ideas. This really helped me to keep track.

  • You mentioned Bullet journals a month or so back. I posted a question about it and then followed your direction to the website. What a difference it’s made. I retired two years ago and my diverse activities, volunteering, 10 grandchildren, knitting, reading, and everything else seemingly defied organizing. Enter the bullet journal. Hurray! Mine is not perfect, but it is truly helping me accomplish more, without forgetting things. Task migration is wonderful. Thanks for sharing BuJo with me.

  • well I hate to say it but it sounded good in the beginning but by the time I finished watching the video not so much.

  • I use a monthly planner in a similar way. At the beginning of each month, I write down my goals for the month in theses areas: Sew, Knit, Needlepoint (working on a kneeler for my church so it usually says something like “do all red”), Read, Ebay, and Home. I usually list 3-4 things to work on under each topic. This keeps me from becoming distracted by all the things I see on Pinterest, blogs, etc. I just pin those and if I need ideas, I add them to my monthly goals once my other projects are done. By identifying my goals, I make sure I have time for creative projects along with work and home commitments. I also use my planner to plan my weekly meals and made to do lists for work and home. In the back I keep lists of books to read, podcasts to listen to, notes, quotes, etc. It has pockets for appointment cards, etc. I use the monthly calendar blocks for appointments, meetings, etc. I guess bullet journals are just more of a hand drawn personal format. What I love about my system and this system is that you make every moment count and do not waste time trying to decide what to do next.

  • “We need a plan that plans for the near certainty that we are not going to stick to the plan.” You should put that on T-shirts or bumper stickers and sell them. =)

  • Oh, this looks like so much fun. I’m a journal keeper, a notebook lover, and this appeals to my attempts to simplify and get more creative and stream-of-consciousness. I have been reading about Bullet Journals for a while now, and it has popped up in a few places, so I’ll give it a whirl in 2019. Thanks for writing about it. I’m rediscovering your blog after a while away from it. Thanks for sharing your BuJo adventure with us. I can see this would be a fun, less formal way of keeping track of my knitting and weaving projects, as well as reading lists, etc.

  • I think by “joke title” you mean “click bait”. 😉

  • I have had a bullet journal off and on for the last two years. I got really busy around September of last year, and dropped it completely at that time. I was only using it for work, and it was literally just an index, a yearly calendar, some monthlies and dailies. Nothing pretty, because I’m not really into hand lettering anything. For the new year, I have purchased a Scribbles That Matter journal to include both my work and personal life in it. I wanted something that I didn’t have to do a lot of set up and creating with just to be able to use it, and I hope that it fits the bill.

  • I’ve been doing this with a kraft-paper Moleskine journal for years— it was interesting to see it get a Name and become a Thing. 🙂

  • What I do isn’t really bujo, but I find it helpful as an old lady living alone who can have days that seem useless: I keep a beautiful hand bound notebook beside my bed,and each night jot down what I did that day.

    When I see a list of small (and not so small) achievements and realize I have had a much better day than I thought, it’s cheering. I’m much more effective than I credit myself with! I credit myself with periods of just being quiet, it’s not all about doing. Being matters too!

    I’ve given up on the idea of listing tasks to do, too pressuring.

    • I’m also an old lady living with my dog but I’m in a certification program so at the age of 65, I can reinvent my life.
      Give yourself tons of positive credit ❤️

  • I did something similar to this by printing out a monthly calendar once a week that had all my scheduled things on it and a blank space I could write in all the “stuff” that needed doing. Crossing things off was gratifying, but seeing the list regularly is what kept me productive. Since I no longer have a desk job, I find I struggle since my list has no “home” that is regularly glanced at. Need to fix that.

  • Project managers do this all the time, but instead of writing it every time, using post-it notes and moving them forward helps things not get lost while the completed ones stay on the days it completes. When you deal with global teams and work, it’s really necessary. In my knitting time, its a break from the rigor and i like to relax and let the knitting flow. Thanks for the article bullet journal is a great idea and has saved many a project/program.

  • I’ve purchased a bullet journal but after using a FILO-Fax for over 30 years, I still haven’t opened it. I know that I can change but this is a huge change. Wish me luck ❤️

  • Count me in ❤

  • I have been using a bullet journal for the past three years. It is the first “planner” that I have actually stuck with and used from first page to last. I have finally found the basic layout that works best for me. It keeps all of my “to do” lists in one place and I use it to keep other ideas together. I have “collections” for movies to see, books to read, and a random list of things that I have seen or read about that I want to check out (this list is one of my favorite things in my bujo). I use it to keep a running list of gift ideas, knitting projects, vacation plans and packing lists. I use it to keep track of my budget and savings plan. I keep it in my Better Together Daily Pouch, which zips closed and keeps my bujo, pens and random slips of paper together in a very neat way. It goes with me everywhere. I highly recommend giving it a try!

  • I swear your posts are so engaging that I am utterly unable to resist. I literally grab my heart because you have once again struck the nail on the head. After reading to the end of the post I want to print it and hug it close . Thank you .

  • I don’t know where I heard of it; but, I’m so glad I followed up. I am disabled and seldom leave the house so my days are flexible. So flexible I could lose hours playing a game or reading a good mystery. Enter the BoJo. I am now taking 4 on-line classes; knitting three projects (which I do while watching/listening to classes); have gotten my A1C under control; track my hydration and walks around the house; and feel so much more alive!
    I don’t often recommend things but I highly recommend this journal idea.

  • Maybe I’m missing something but is a bullet journal just ‘a list’?
    A to-do list, a want-to-do list, or never-will-do list.
    Why make it complicated?

  • This could certainly be used as a personality assessment tool. I’m not sure what it says about me that I quit watching the video at about the two minute mark, already overwhelmed. Google Keep (keep.google.com) works for me – and no, I don’t work for The Big G. Rocking it old school, sticky notes are my friends.

    Mercifully my life is intentionally lacking in the complexities demanded by something like this. As others have said, the BJ’s mere proximity would be stress inducing. That said, I’m glad it’s helpful to others.

  • This is brilliant! I have been using a planner for years (the Erin Condren LifePlanner), which I LOVE. Looks like there are a lot of things in the bullet journaling method that I can use in my planner. I need some structure around it, so I don’t see myself moving to bullet journaling altogether…. maybe.

    As I watched the video, it occurred to me that this is a better way for me to “brain dump.” The way I have been doing it is to just pull out a blank journal and just write all the stuff in my head, then I move some things into my planner or decide that there is no action item or whatever. This seems to be a more organized way of achieving the same thing.

    Thanks, Kay, for sharing this!!!

  • Thanks Kay! I started my Bujo in late December using a small spiral notebook i had accumulated. . .before investing in some thing that i might not want to continue. I am loving it. A great place to organize my thoughts and lists. I have it with me and out always (as opposed to being in my purse) so it’s always at the ready. And glad i started smallish as I’m figuring out my pages and collections and enjoying this process. What a great personal tool!! Listening to the bullet journal method audio book and enjoying this as well.