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—bullet journaling! 

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.


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.


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. 

15 thoughts on “6 Ways Bullet Journaling Makes Me Less Busy and More Productive

  1. Stephanie says:

    I bought a journal LAST November and haven’t started it. I follow bullet journal principles in other notebooks but I want to have a set system and keep everything in one place. I guess something about using a notebook that cost quite a bit more than $.25 makes me nervous. So silly. I like your minimalist approach, I need to start there. I think the elaborate spreads and trackers have intimidated me. Thanks for the extra push 🙂


    • I hear you, Stephanie, and I’m glad I didn’t even know about the elaborate spreads until I had already been using it for a couple months! I might have dismissed the whole thing as not for me. I love that quote that goes something like “Perfection is the enemy of done.” I fall victim to that plenty, but not this time. I was so excited about the idea when I heard about it, I immediately set mine up simply, like the video, and ran with it. We all need creative outlets, and if some people love to use their bullet journals for that purpose as well, that’s awesome. Mine is purely functional for keeping me organized and more productive.


  2. Very interesting. While I’m not going to do this particular approach, I am going to marry elements of it with my current OCD-ish to-do lists and prioritizing systems. I admire bullet journaling’s strategic aspects, and I’m hoping that adding them to my own approach will help keep me from losing sight of my longer-term goals. Gracias!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s