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. 

Do Unfinished Projects Keep Us Comfortably Stuck?

This, my 46th year on the planet, is the year of finishing what I’ve started.

During a trip to Kripalu this past winter, I was introduced to oracle card decks, which are like Tarot cards, only they’re used in a more free-form way. I fell in love with this practice and brought it home with me. “Pulling a card” has become part of my morning prayer/meditation/journaling practice. (I even got my husband on board—we often will each pull a card together in the morning.) Usually, I use it as a general message for the day, and sometimes in response to a specific question I’m asking.

Yes, it’s kinda woo-woo, even for me.

I love my card decks because they give me a little nudge toward the intuitive, creative right brain every morning. By default, I tend toward the left side, so I can always use a little less logic and a little more magic in my life.

Speaking of magic, though, I don’t believe the cards supernaturally arrange themselves to hand me the perfect message. (Although I have a friend who believes this, and some spooky shit has happened, like my husband and I both pulling the same card for days in a row, which has made me wonder for a second.)

What I do believe is that there are beautiful gifts of insight when you find meaning in whatever card(s) you happen to pull. You can also use them as journaling prompts if you want to reap the benefits of journaling but are often at a loss for what to write about or where to begin.

So what does all this have to do with finishing projects? On my 45th birthday last week, I pulled three cards from my Earth Magic deck. The question was simply, “What do I need to know now?” Here’s what I got:

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It was pretty easy to find meaning in the the Childhood (innocence) and Mountain (strength) cards. Full Moon (completion), not so much. Continue reading

KonMari Kitchen Decluttering: Lose It or Use It

I started my KonMari Method decluttering adventure 14 months ago. This method is based on the book, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by Marie Kondo. Kondo advises doing a ruthless, massive purge only once, by category instead of area, and keeping only those things which “spark joy.” The promised result is an organized, clutter-free home containing only things you love and use, and nothing extra to weigh you down.

You can read my first post here. I started with clothes, then moved on to books, then papers and files. The changes I made in those areas have stuck (yes, even the anal retentive folding and storage methods!), but my progress stalled from there because life happens.

According to Kondo, the whole process is supposed to take six months. However, she writes as if children don’t exist in the world, except for herself as a child, when she was already enthralled by decluttering, which my children are not. Kids, of course, mean a lot more stuff and a lot less time to spend decluttering it. So I figure I get an additional six months per kid, and if I’m done by Halloween, I’m good. Continue reading

Lessons From Books (Not the kind you think…)

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As some of you know, I’m in the process of a massive decluttering project using the KonMari Method from the book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. The author recommends purging by category rather than area or room. Per the suggested order, I did clothes first, and after a long break during which life happened, this week I finally moved on to books.

Before I read the chapter on books, I was dreading this category, having always found it near impossible to part with books.   I did one purge already last winter, but only got rid of a couple boxes. After reading Kondo’s chapter on books, I felt excitement rather than dread because she gave me new ways to think about it that made sense to me.   Continue reading

Decluttering Brings an Unexpected Mother’s Day Gift

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I’m in the midst of a massive decluttering extravaganza via the KonMari Method. So far, I finished the clothes category and I am completely sold on the process outlined in the book. My reluctant husband was inspired to do his clothes after seeing my results, and we have gone from filling two closets to sharing one. And we both have room to spare in our dressers—we could probably share one and move the other one out if we wanted to. We are both finding it simple, easy, and pleasant to get ready in the morning.

I haven’t had time in the last week to tackle another category, but I have been doing small things to stay in the mindset. Continue reading

Decluttering Via the KonMari Method: Clothing Purge

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This week, I bid farewell to my perennial half-assed, unfinished and unsustainable decluttering efforts and started what I’m determined will be a massive and complete purge of our house and a total overhaul of our STUFF habits. I’m doing it right this time with the intention of never doing it again. No doubt, there are many ways to do it right. I’ve chosen the “KonMari method” detailed in that little book in the picture by Marie Kondo. The gist of her method is:   Continue reading

Killing the Clutter Beast. Because in my house, it cannot be tamed.

The kitchen crap pile.

The kitchen crap pile.

“If you take care of the small things, the big things will take care of themselves. You can gain more control over your life by paying closer attention to the little things.” –Emily Dickinson

We went on a family vacation a couple months ago and I was thinking about why it’s so freeing to be on vacation. I only work part-time and I love my job, so it’s not about not being at work. And it’s not like you’re relieved of all your normal responsibilities when you’re traveling with kids. A lot of the moment-to-moment stuff we do is the same no matter where we are—keeping everyone clothed, fed and out of the ER. There are the obvious reasons why vacation is awesome–the excitement and fun of exploring new places, spending time with old friends, and all four of us being together for a whole week. But there seemed to be even more to it than all that, and then it dawned on me. Continue reading