Wednesday, October 21, 2015

How I Keep My Sanity and Get Stuff Done

Bullet Journal cover with bandolier

I originally had a different post planned for today, but I really felt the need to share this particular post I wrote back in June on my personal blog. Why? Because I had gotten away from this habit when we left for our 3 week trip to western Europe the end of July and my productivity and sanity have been suffering since we returned. I started back up a week ago, have been very disciplined about it, and productivity has been over the top awesome since. Sanity....well....that's always questionable. And if my system could help others, then it would be selfish of me to keep it all to myself.

I have occasional bouts of Planner Obsessive Disorder (POD). Ok, so I actually JUST made up POD when I typed that sentence, but I'm pretty sure it's a thing based on the number of hours I've spent reading other people's blog posts, watching their you tube videos, looking at their images on Pinterest boards, and the sheer VOLUME of different planners you can buy or tutorials to follow to make your own "perfect planner."

I'm here to break the news to you. There is no such thing as a "perfect planner." Sorry. Please don't hate me for bursting your bubble.

Up until I started taking college classes, I had the almost perfect system for my family. I had even trained my husband to look at and USE Google Calendar (that was a miracle and sanity saver right there!) This giant wall week at a glance calendar combined with Google calendar, and we were set.

Vinyl wall calendar

I would make notes of things to do in the extra rectangle, or use it to remind us what was coming on Monday.

But things first started coming apart at the seams when we got a lake house. Now I suddenly had TWO household to do lists and NEITHER of them were getting accomplished. I have a whole list of reasons why, but that would be far too tedious for any of us to endure.

When I started taking college classes nearly a year ago, those seams were ripped wide open. Again, I won't go into why. Tedious. But I'm sure most of you have enough experience in running a household with a crazy schedule, plus a home, plus a business, to get an idea of how addled my poor brain was getting. And trying to keep track via an app on my phone was NOT working at all.

Then I discovered the bullet journal system by accident the end of March or beginning of April. I wasn't even looking for a solution at that point.

And while I loved the simplicity of this concept and that everything could be kept in one place, it was NOT going to work for me. One month at a time? hahahahahahaha! Don't make me laugh.

Knowing that there are some pretty creative people on the internet, I started googling bullet journal ideas. The #1 idea: add a full monthly calendar in the front. Some people drew them. If I had to draw each monthly calendar, I would never get past one month.

Bullet journal month at a glance spread

I printed my monthly calendars from a blog, reducing the size to fit the Piccadilly journal I bought clearanced at Barnes and Noble. I don't remember where I found the calendar. But it was free. Then I cut them out and taped them to the book.

I was super gung-ho first starting out. For like 2 days. Then it fizzled. Sigh. I needed more space in my monthly calendar to fit my long term school assignments and regular household stuff. I mean, look at how full April was! April was a slow month compared to May...Plus you have to be dedicated to write out each day. I wasn't.

Then my total freaking out about a bunch of stuff that needed to get done at 2 different households, plus dealing with kids and their "stuff" a few weeks ago and being afraid of forgetting something, I was starting a "to do" list that I knew I would lose or forget about or something.

I went down the planner rabbit hole. Again. I looked at Erin Condren, Plum Papers, etc. I read reviews. I looked at Pinterest. I looked at all the Bullet Journal stuff. Again. But every single system was missing something. Also, I am intimidated by cute or by complicated. Those people posting on Pinterest and blogs about their planners? They have these super complex symbol and color system. They use stickers. They have accessories. These things are really cute, but do they actually keep up with all that complexity for more than a few days? I would lose my ever loving mind, and it's already on thin ice.

I also read blog posts and articles on organizing your life. Some of them just made me laugh because do people actually plan their entire week out minute by minute? I never shop for an entire week of groceries or plan an entire week of meals because:

#1-usually a friend/neighbor invites us over last minute to share a meal.

#2-usually we invite a friend/neighbor over to share a meal, increasing the number of people we need to feed or

#3-we eat out unexpectedly.

We live a rich life full of people and experiences and work and love and learning. Sometimes we don't even know if we're spending the night in the city or at the lake. We don't know if my husband will make it home before midnight. Dinner time is anywhere from 5pm-11pm depending on what we have going on. We change plans last second. It drives our children completely batty. Even after living it for 17 and 14 years. I personally love it.

Inside front cover with  a message saying "If you find me, I am missed very much!' and my name and cell phone number

Ok. Fine. I made a mental list of what I wanted a planner to have: a daily to do list, a way to keep track of those to do's when they don't get done, a monthly calendar, a place to take notes, a place to journal, a way to keep track of long term assignments and projects, and more.

So I revisited the bullet journal and asked myself what I was missing and what I can do to overcome this issue.

Starting to build the index - I've added several more categories since taking this photo...including an entire page about a certain child getting a Typhoid vaccine before his trip to Costa Rica, which is probably one of the stranger entries...

What I decided I needed was spread at the beginning of each week was a "week at a glance" on one side, and a running "to do" list on the other side. Then each day, I pick 2-5 things from the running weekly to do list to attend to.

Bullet journal week at a glance example

With week at a glance, I can also add notes to work on long term projects and remind myself about due dates. In addition, I decided to stop adding EVERYTHING to my monthly calender. Rather, I will only add the things which are scheduled really far out, like doctor appointments, vacations, etc so that I will have room to add my assignments to the monthly calendar.

The problem with using Google for assignments is that I can't see at a glance that something is coming up without going through each individual day. Also, then my husband also gets notifications about my assignments, which would probably by kind of annoying (although he would never say it, just think it).

I also love that now I have a place to keep the every day random ephemera that I think I'd like to save, but end up throwing out because it just takes up space.

Example of saving ticket stubs and other ephemera in bullet journal

Every morning I sit down with my journal to make my list for the day. I check the previous day and see what didn't get done that needs to be dealt with. On Sunday evening I do my week at a glance spread and check to see what didn't get accomplished from the previous week.

I keep it with me in my handbag and journal or add to the lists while waiting (I do a LOT of waiting for kids or at appointments). In fact, my index has gotten much fuller with various home improvement projects I'm planning and doodle ideas for a floor plan of a home if we ever decide to downsize to a smaller place (which I would love to do now). I keep a small roll of washi tape in my handbag as well so I can tape in business cards, tickets, or other important papers.

Like I mentioned before, I could never handle something complicated, so I just use a bandolier from Clever Hands stretched only over the cover because I find it super annoying to have to keep taking the bandolier off and back on to write in it and keep a single pen in it. I might add another color or something later, but for now, simple means I will be consistent.

An excuse to go to the craft store! Buy simple to implement accessories for a bullet journal

The only thing I do to make it look "pretty" is to use washi tape to tape things in. And that's mostly function too because if I have to glue something in, it isn't going to happen. So I bought a few rolls of washi tape that I keep in strategic places where I am most likely to be working on my bullet journal: handbag, junk drawer in kitchen, nightstand, and desk.

I got some cute paper clips so I can strategically place them so I can easily find the current month and the current week. I use the ribbon built into the Piccadilly journal as the bookmark for the current day.

And I taped an envelope into the back of the journal in case there's something I wanted to save, but didn't have a roll of tape handy.

When Linda Landig discovered I was writing a blog post about bullet journaling, she said the bullet journal is what helped keep her on track for her daughter's wedding and is the best (and only system) she has managed to use consistently and effectively to keep her organized. Another thing she has set up in her bullet journal is a social media checklist so she knows what she has shared and where.

One of the great benefits I have found for the bullet journal is that it frees your mind from all the junk you can't forget, but probably will. Now that you no longer have to struggle to remember this stuff, you can use more brain power and energy on creative pursuits.

I did end up ordering a Plum Paper student planner for my daughter after we spent time looking for her perfect planner. I think it will work great for her. And you can customize the planner with add-ons. We added a couple pages of to-do list pages dispersed to each month.

So, that's it. My system in a nutshell. Do you use a planner? We would love to hear about it and why it works for you.


  1. I share your struggles! My daily/weekly planner starts on Sunday nite with a (tedious but useful) printout of my week on Google Calendar. I save space on the right for a weekly to-do list, and enter what;'s planned for the next morning, what I actually DID on it at the end of the day. Now to find a way to carry it along. I may just try the 'bullet' idea in the journal I keep on my art table. Books, sketchbooks, planners... I have a million of 'em too!

  2. Well I sure need to find something that works for me. I've tried most of the same things you have with pretty much the same results. Really like the simplicity of this. Thanks so much for sharing! 😊

  3. I started with an Erin Condren and nearly vomited at all the beautiful layouts, etc. that I knew I'd never keep up with and I could not figure out how to make that itty bitty space work for personal/home/work, etc. So, I use a bullet journal for work and it is perfect. Now, I need to nail the personal planner thing because I don't want to spend a lot of time planning, I want to spend time working on those personal projects I need to get done.

  4. As Jen mentioned, I love my bullet journal! There are Bullet Journal groups on Facebook and the one on Google+ is especially active. I've learned a lot ways to customize the Bullet Journal from their posts.
    Here's the Google+ link if anyone is interested.

  5. I started bullet journaling this year and it REALLY works for me! (The first thing I did was add a monthly calendar to the front.) Didn't know there were Pinterest/Facebook groups. I'm off to explore even more modifications!

  6. Great problem solving, Jen. I use a letter sized "Week" "At a Glance" planner. It is broken down into 15 minute intervals (Sunday-Saturday). I write in PENCIL because appointments are ALWAYS changing. I circle appointments/events AWAY FROM THE OFFICE with a bright magenta broad nib. I use 3x3 Super Sticky Notes (whole back is sticky) in neon colors, one on each side of the touch pad of my computer and in my car, for to-do lists.

  7. Ooh I like this! I have a somewhat haphazard system that relies on using weekly planner pages with a decent to-do list, problem is it's not very portable. And I don't like having everything on my phone either. I reckon this could work well for me, now I just need to schedule some time to actually set it up!!!

  8. I sort of do a Bullet light. With just 2 of us we do keep an accurate calendar on our phones. So I do weekly list... But I DID just get great month tab stickers at the Container store. So I think Ill add a layer...

  9. I get all psyched to plan and it actually works for about 3 whole weeks before I stop. I just can't do it! Same thing with blogging, after less than 2 months, it peters out and I don't pick it up again. argh!

    I DO manage to keep track of my parents doctor appointments on my phone. It seems that's all I can handle!


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