Creating a Life Free From Chaos

Bullet Journals: How I Found My Perfect Planner

If you’re a planner fanatic like I am (or surfed Pinterest for more than five minutes), you’ve probably seen the term “bullet journal” popping up, with pictures of gorgeous hand-written planners full of fancy lettering and cute little doodles. You may have looked at them (like I did) and thought, those are so pretty, but I could never have a planner like that. Then, after a team retreat last summer with my Goins Writer family, and seeing my fellow team member’s simple-but-infinitely-useful bullet journal, I decided to give it a go. And it’s been life-changing.

Bullet Journals: How I Found My Perfect Planner

The market is saturated with thousands of planners in every conceivable design, and yet I had never found one that meets my needs. The bullet journal is different — it starts with a blank journal and a pen. That’s it. It’s so simple, but it’s a genius system that can bend to whatever organizing system you need.

It’s better than an online system.

Online is better, right? Not necessarily. Our brains are hardwired to approach analog methods differently than digital methods. You remember things better if you write them down. I still use Google Calendar to share events and appointments with my husband, and as a long-range system that I can keep at my finger tips, but there’s yet to be a digital system that works for me in keeping track of tasks, memories I want to remember, blog posts and writing assignments, what books I want to read next, sketch notes from church, and those little scribbles that may later become a book. My bullet journal can handle all of these, and more.

My bullet journal will never replace my iPhone or my iPad. I’m far too attached at this point to immediate access to podcasts, email, maps, and books. But those devices can’t contain everything — it’s just not possible for them to save information the same way I can with pen and paper.

Is a bullet journal right for you?

It’s worth a try if:

  • You like pen and paper to-do lists
  • You like goal setting and habit tracking
  • You’re a planner fan
  • You want to love planners, but just can’t seem to find the right one
  • You want to journal, but have a difficult time sticking with it
  • You have dozens of Post-Its with little notes everywhere
  • You just want to be more organized

It’s simple to set up.

A bullet journal can be set up in 10 minutes. If you’re hesitant to drop cash on a new journal, no worries — you can grab an old notebook or one of those barely used journals half-forgotten on your shelf (yes, I have a few of those too).

I’m not going to go into tons of detail on how to set one up, because there are plenty of fantastic blogs out there that have already written those posts. I do want to mention the king of bullet journaling websites, Ryder Carroll’s website Ryder created the bullet journal, and he’s got an amazing video on his site that will walk you step-by-step through everything you need to know. Another awesome resource is How to Bullet Journal: The Absolute Ultimate Guide

Bullet Journals: How I Found My Perfect Planner

OK, is it a planner or a diary?

It’s both, and more. I use it to track my daily activities, as well as memories and experiences. I use it to track habits and progress on long-term goals. I use the “future log” to keep track of activities that are months away, and monthly logs to see my month-in-a-view. I track doctor appointments and medications for my chronic illness. I plan out blog posts and newsletters. I plan trips and sketch note church sermons. I make notes on the rebuilding of our house, and which bills have been paid this month. I make notes for future books, and keep track of what sizes I wear for which Lularoe clothes.

Bullet journaling is more than a task list, more than a planner. It helps me keep track of what my daily routine is like, and it helps me see my future more clearly.

The ones I see online are fancy, and I can’t draw like that.

That’s OK — neither can I! If you can, awesome! Make it pretty! But my bullet journal isn’t fancy. I have decent handwriting and can make a few stick-people-style sketches here and there, but that’s it. As a hobby, I’ve started working on sketch notes and hand lettering, but it’s slow going. I use my bullet journal to practice. The important thing is to let go of your perfectionism and just give it a go. I had a hard time with that at first, because I wanted my bullet journal to be pretty and perfect, like the ones I see on Instagram. It’s important not to be too precious about the whole thing though. The bullet journal is a tool to help you plan and record your life. There’s no requirement to Instagram it or post it to Pinterest. I prefer the minimalist approach — with a nice journal and a few great pens. Don’t overthink the process. You can refine as you go.

What kind of planner do you use? Would you be up for trying a bullet journal?


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16 Replies

  1. Thanks Sandy Kreps

    This a great post for me! I went straight to watch the video and a bullet journal looks like the best way I’ve seen to keep my life at least a little more organized.

    It does indeed look like a genius and most flexible way to keep up with what in the world I need to be doing next? I spend my life buried in post its, 3×5 note cards, notebook paper, and more.

    I have great hopes for the bullet journal to unravel my doings?

    1. Thanks Mike! I hope it helps — it’s been a game changer for me!

  2. Intrigued! Thanks Sandy .. heard so much about this . I am a planner nerd, but have yet to find one which meets all my desires! I’ve used the moleskine for bit – also faintly simple- but bullet journaling is definitely something to explore!

    1. Thank you Nancy! I have tried so many planners, but this is the one that really works for me. So versatile!

  3. I’m excited to try this! I love my lists, and for a few years I was diligent with a daily planner, but now I have more kids, more chaos, and more often than not my planner collects dust over plans. This may be just what I need to bring some mental order back to my life.

    1. Love that Elizabeth! The bullet journal has helped me so much, both with work and with keeping track of everything at home!

  4. This year I have made the commitment to use my planner . . . I’ve bought from the same woman/company for three years and have failed. This year, I love it. I feel so organized and able to make changes here and there and draw lots and lots of arrows to move things around. Mine is also part diary with prompts of “what would you change”, space for gratitude, a must do list AND a to-do list. It has made me more sane this year and more able to do for others.

    1. Love this Renee! I’m so happy you found a planner that works for you — it can be such a powerful tool!

  5. I’ve not heard of this but it sounds very interesting. I’m going to check out the links.

    I love paper and pen and the physical act of writing, but over the past few years I’ve relied more and more on the apps on my phone. Which I love and they’re definitely helpful, but I just miss actually writing. Thank you for posting about this! I think I may have some fun work to do! 🙂

    1. Thank you Kathy! I seem to get so much more done when I have the pen and paper handy to organize my thoughts 🙂

  6. I’m not much of a planner fan, but I know I need a system to be more organized. I’ve come across bullet journals before but never quite got around to trying it. But it’s worth giving everything a go once, right?!
    Thanks for posting.

    1. Thanks Kamsin! The best part about the bullet journal is that it can adapt to anything you need it to be.

  7. Found you via Sarah Werner’s podcast. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Thanks for stopping by Charlene! Love Sarah’s podcast and was honored to be part of it!

  8. I love Bullet Journal. Like all systems I learn enough of the official system to make it work for me and then make it my own. I’ve even gotten my wife into it, too. What’s great is you can make it whatever you want!

    1. Thanks Brad! I started off by doing it “by the book” at first, and now I make it my own too. Love how adaptable it is!

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