6 Ways Bullet Journaling Makes Me Less Busy and More Productive

If we asked how many people feel perfectly happy with their organizational habits and systems, what percentage would say “yes?” Less than half, I’m thinking.

I haven’t written about my Kon Mari decluttering project in a while, probably because I haven’t worked on it since I did my kitchen this summer. That whole process is supposed to take six months. Since Marie Kondo’s book doesn’t acknowledge the existence of children and how life with them— and their stuff—might impact a massive whole-house purge, I added another six months for each kid. Even with that, I just passed my projected finish time. That’s OK, I know I’ll get it done. I watched the documentary “Minimalism” over the holidays and I’m re-motivated. Plus, I have a new system to keep me accountable and focused moving forward.

The Kon Mari decluttering method promises to be “life-changing,” even in the book title. I can’t say yet if it lives up to that for me. I’ve done several major categories—books, clothes, papers and kitchen stuff, and my approach to buying and keeping those items has definitely changed. In general, my attitude toward buying anything has changed—I’m much more thoughtful about any item I bring into the house. But there is still enough left to be done and enough areas of clutter and excess stuff around that the house doesn’t feel all that different yet. So “life-changing” remains to be seen.

What has been life-changing, though, is Bullet Journaling. I stumbled across this organizational method on a friend’s Facebook page and knew instinctively this would be a game-changer. At the same time, I was skeptical, because I do have a tendency to get all excited about my new things and then run out of steam (hence what is shaping up to be my 2-year KonMari purge!). I reserved judgment for a couple months to make sure it actually works for me and I stick with it.

So what’s a Bullet Journal? The best way to find out is to watch this 4-minute video:

Briefly, it’s an analog system for keeping your task scheduling, to-do lists and other lists all in one place. Using any lined blank journal, you start with your Index, where you list each page after you create it and number it. Then, on a two-page spread, you make a Future Log where you’ll schedule things you want to get done over a period of several months (mine is 6 months). Next, you make a two-page spread Monthly Log for the current month. Then comes the Daily Logs where you put your to-do list for each day, just a day or two in advance. Optionally, you can keep lists of other things you want to remember, called Collections.

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It’s completely flexible to suit your needs because other than having the Index at the beginning, the order doesn’t matter, you just use the next available blank page when you want to start a new Collection list, or it’s a new month, or you ran out of space on the current page for your daily logs.

You really see how it keeps you on top of things when the month ends and you look at what did and did not get done, and what needs to be migrated to the following month or bumped down the road, or nixed altogether. More on that in a minute.

I use the Moleskin Volant journal, XL size, which is big enough to be functional and small and slim enough to fit easily into any of my bags. I set it up pretty much exactly per the instructions, with one exception. The suggested list of dates on the left side of the monthly spread doesn’t do it for me, so I made a visual calendar page instead. I still use Google calendars for scheduling things I need to physically be at months out, but this gives me an analog at-a-glance view of the current month so I can see where my task list items might fit in.

Some people make their bullet journal pages artful and beautiful. Mine are very simple.

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So how is it changing my life?

1) I’m getting more shit done.

I’ve tried a few different organizational systems before. The one I used most of my life—keep it all in my head and hope for the best—didn’t work when I was younger, and it certainly hasn’t worked as I’ve gotten older and I remember nothing that’s not written down. I tried keeping lists in the notes on my iPhone, but something about having to go into the device and pull them up doesn’t work for me. I never looked at them.

Now that my monthly and daily to-do lists are in tangible, easily visible form in one place, I am actually looking at both daily and doing the things on those lists. I’m getting some things done that have been pending forever, and other things that have just come up are getting done much sooner than they would have in the past.

Sometimes, a quick task comes up like a phone call about a bill or ordering a replacement part for something, things I typically would put off for days or weeks, and because I don’t feel like putting it on my monthly or daily log, I just do it right then and there and it doesn’t even make it into my bullet journal.

That said, I’m not getting everything done. Far from it. At the end of each month I’ve been doing this, I’ve migrated about a third of my monthly log items to the next month or the future log. That’s OK. (I even crossed a few things off, having decided I don’t have to do it, and come to think of it, I don’t really want to!) I now have a built in way to deal with the things that don’t get done, which brings me to the next benefit…

2) It’s freeing me of mental clutter and the oppressive feeling of having a million things “out there.”

The latest system I tried, inspired by a Zen Habits blog post, was writing down only the three things that must be done each day. As promised, the essentials got done, but what about the things that aren’t mandatory or time-sensitive that I still want or need to do? I kept a master list of tasks that are non-urgent but still “out there” to be done eventually. I had it on a clipboard along with any papers associated with those tasks. Each day, I would write the three essential tasks for that day on a sticky note. The trouble was, new essentials are coming up all the time, and I would get the three daily ones done while ignoring the clipboard.

The trouble with my clipboard “master list?” It never answered the question of “when?” Now, those same master list items have each been considered and assigned a target time frame—either this month or months down the road in the future log. This means there’s a time by which I have to a) do it or b) consider why I didn’t do it, whether or not I really want or need to do it, and if so, do I roll it over to the following month or bump it a few months down the road? If it’s the latter, I know there’s a future time built in when I will revisit that task. That means I can relax and forget about it for now, and not have it hanging in the background as something “out there” that I might lose track of.

I had dozens of pending items like that before, adding up to a vague feeling of pressure and lack of organizational control over my life.

This, I’m convinced, is what creates the feeling of being busy even when you’re unproductive.

3) I’m no longer missing deadlines for things that aren’t critical but I really want to do.

Pre-bullet journal:

Ooh, I want to go to that concert. Tickets aren’t on sale yet. So I’ll just tuck it in the back of my mind right now and hope for the best. Weeks later: Oh, yeah, that concert. Let’s see. CRAP! It’s sold out!

Post-bullet journal:

Ooh, I want to go to that concert. Let’s see when tickets go on sale and write that down on my monthly spread for later this month. Then when I’m doing my daily logs, I won’t forget to add that in. Tada!—not only do I get tickets in time, but good seats!

Yes, I know, first world problems. But I missed a dream show due to the pre-bullet journal scenario, when Robert Plant and Alison Krauss were touring together a few years back. I’m still pissed about that.

And yes, you can do this with any regular calendar. Only I didn’t. Now I do. I think it’s because I’m more on top of things in general due to this system. It used to feel vaguely overwhelming to add small, nonessential items to my to-do lists, even things I wanted to do. Now it doesn’t.

4) Collections lists are helping me focus on things that are important to me.

One of my personal goals is to do less reading of articles online (and, if I’m honest, less mindless scrolling on Facebook) and make more time for reading books, which I do less of than I used to.

Does this sound familiar? You hear about a book and think “Ooh, I want to read that one.” Then, you either promptly forget about it or write it down on a loose list which you promptly lose, and then when you want to start a new book, you have the annoying experience of knowing there were a million books you wanted to read, but you can’t think of a single one of them at the moment!

One of the Collections lists in my bullet journal is books I want to read. I’ve already read one, I’m about to finish another, and have started a third. That’s pretty good for a two-month period for me. My bullet journal is helping me read more books—not a typically expected outcome from an organization system!

5) I’m bringing better organization—and more motivation—to individual tasks.

All kids say the darnedest things, hence the cliché, and needless to say I’m biased, but I think my kids are particularly hilarious and profound. One of the tasks in my future log is to put all my kids’ quotes into a book. To do this, I will need to go through years of my Facebook wall and scraps of paper tucked into various journals. I’ve been talking about doing this for years. Let’s face it, with all there is to do, it’s not exactly urgent, so it’s easy to never get around to it. Starting a quote book as soon as the child starts talking and keeping it current has become one of my top pieces of advice for new parents (since no one really wants to be told how approach parenting, but everyone wants practical tips).

Now, one of the collections in my bullet journal is current kid quotes. This means at least their brilliant utterances from here on out are in one easily accessible place. Having it there and seeing it regularly means it stays in the forefront of my mind as something I want to do, and when the assigned month comes up (February), I do believe I’ll actually do it.

6) It’s keeping me accountable for my self-care practices.

In my daily logs, I put the usual task-y things on the left. On the right, I list the self-care activities I’ve identified as important, which are my morning meditation/prayer/journaling practices, my workout, healthy eating, and mindful media use. At the end of the day, I see how many I’ve done. I can also look at daily logs for the last few weeks and see how I’ve been doing overall. This keeps me honest and more consistent with the things that keep me happier and more pleasant to live with.

This all adds up to being more productive while feeling less busy and more in control. SOLD.

Try it and let me know what you think!

© Copyright Camille Williams and Wake Up, Mama! 2016. All rights reserved. 

An Ordinary Day in a Privileged Life, When the World Is Falling Apart

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“When the world is running down

You make the best of what’s still around” —Sting

As we heard the news of the final massacre in Aleppo on Tuesday, I felt things that are becoming all too familiar. There was, first and foremost, horror, heartbreak, and confusion about how such atrocities can keep happening, and incomprehension about what is wrong with human beings? In addition, it felt utterly perverse that my family and I were about to spend the evening decorating our Christmas tree in our safe (for now, anyway), warm house while this human catastrophe was happening simultaneously.

I woke up the next morning full of heartache and foreboding for Aleppo, and for everything that’s weighed heavily on my heart most prominently since the summer, beginning with the latest spate of police killings of unarmed black people, and intensifying with, of course, the election.

So I began another day with the question: How do I approach my relatively cushy (for now, anyway) life on the days when it seems like evil forces are taking over the whole world?

Continue reading

Being a Parent on Day 1 of Trump’s America

Donald Trump makes a point

When it started to go bad Tuesday night, I sat on the couch with gathering dread in the pit of my stomach, like millions of Americans. I was sobbing before the deal was sealed, already terrified and angry that it could be that close. The first coherent thought that crystalized within the fog of disbelief and terror was, “Oh my God, how will we tell the kids in the morning?” Continue reading

Notes from the Beachbody Bandwagon, Part 2: The 21-Day Fix Workouts

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About 10 weeks ago, as a person who “doesn’t believe in diets,” I started the Beachbody 21-Day Fix weight loss program. In my last post,, I talked mostly about the eating plan and why this program feels doable and sustainable for my life. I’m learning how to eat properly (meaning, in reasonable portions) for the first time, and I really was “eating healthy” by most standards. You can read that post here.

They say nutrition is 80% of getting to and staying at a healthy weight. Today, I’ll focus on the other 20%—the workouts. Continue reading

Notes from the Beachbody Bandwagon, Part 1: The food

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Two months ago, I finally accepted that my 30+ extra pounds were not going to come off via mindful eating and positive body affirmations. Since then, I’ve lost 7 pounds and 8 inches, and I feel great. Besides feeling good, long-term results and maintenance are the real tests, and it’s way too early to know about that. At the risk of eating my words later, I’m writing about it now because I’m excited to have found a nutrition and exercise plan that feels like a sustainable lifestyle change more than a diet. I’ve been doing Beachbody’s 21-Day Fix.

At age 45 with a 20-year career in health care, it’s crazy that I’m only now learning appropriate food portions. It’s kind of embarrassing, really, but I’m glad I finally am. It’s motivating and empowering. Continue reading

I’m Not The Mom Who Makes Halloween Costumes: A Story of Self-Acceptance (new on Parent.co)

Very scary spooks on Halloween

In preparation for Halloween, I didn’t wonder if this would be the year I finally learn how to use a sewing machine. I didn’t visit the craft store, hoping to be hit with creative inspiration as I stood in the aisles staring at rows of feathers and beads, felt and pipe cleaners. When I asked my kids what they wanted to be for Halloween, I had no secret agenda for them to pick something that seemed easy to throw together from brilliantly repurposed items.

Instead, giddy with freedom and happiness, I put the kids in the car and we headed straight for the second-hand shop to buy costumes.

Store-bought costumes are the eventual outcome in my house every year. So what made this year different? Click here to read the rest of the story on Parent.co. 

Hope for Humanity in the Face of Trumpocalypse

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Nasty Woman

To say the presidential campaign is a horror show is the understatement of the year. We have a truly frightening number of people actively endorsing white supremacy and casual sexual assault against women, and not caring that our children are receiving the message, loud and clear (even if he loses), that this is not only excusable behavior, but becoming of the potential leader of our country.

Wednesday night’s final debate was predictably horrifying but brought no real surprises, because as Samantha Bee’s team points out, absolutely anything could happen in this campaign now. There are no standards of basic human decency or adult behavior, never mind presidential behavior or even entry-level professionalism. There is no bottom. Continue reading