Staying Organized with a Bullet Journal

ORGANIZE word cloud, business concept

When people ask me what I do, I always pause because it’s not a simple answer. I am a stay-at-home-mum to two teenagers, and I run our household (including handling all the finances). I also do consulting work, and I sit on the board of directors for a couple of non-profit societies. In other words, I have lots to keep track of!

I use Google Calendar for all my appointments, and I share a calendar with my husband, which helps us coordinate the use of our one vehicle. But I really only ever use the month-at-a-glance view, which doesn’t leave a lot of room for detail. Try as I might, I could never get in the habit of flipping around between weekly and daily views, probably because I found them ugly and not an easy way to visualize the layout of my day or week. There was also no easy way to make a list of to-dos that weren’t date or time sensitive.

I’ve tried using planners in the past, but the page layouts didn’t seem to fit my life very well. I don’t have a regular routine – each day is a bit different. I found I either ran out of room on the paper or I had entire pages wasted because there was nothing scheduled for those days. In the end, I’d always ditch the planner and go back to my default method: a TON of to-do lists, written down on various pieces of scrap paper and scattered all over my desk…needless to say it was a bit chaotic.


The other problem I wanted to solve, aside from keeping track of appointments and to-dos, was how to better organize my time. I often have large blocks of time at home, and making the best use of that was a challenge. I’d start working on one thing (or more often, get sucked into Pinterest or Facebook) and next thing I knew half the day would be gone. I also had trouble tackling my long to-do lists – I knew it would be helpful if I could divide them up and schedule them for specific days, otherwise the giant list just sat there feeling too big to tackle. Anything with a due date ended up getting put off until the last possible minute, which would throw off the next couple of days while I frantically tried to catch up. And then there was my housecleaning routine (or lack thereof), which I talked about in my last post.

So, with all of this in the back of my mind, one day while browsing Pinterest I stumbled across a reference to something called a Bullet Journal. Intrigued, I Googled the term and saw that, whatever it was, it was trending big time! I was soon directed to this website belonging to Ryder Carroll, who is accredited with creating the Bullet Journal system (or BuJo as it’s known by its fans). It’s basically a fully customizable planner system that uses a few simple techniques to help people stay organized, track their time, and improve their productivity.


The concept is pretty simple, but the potential for indulging one’s creative side has not been lost on the Internet. It wasn’t long before various online communities (and by communities I mean people united by a particular obsession) began creating fabulous BuJo page spreads and sharing them all over Pinterest and Instagram. There are blogs and entire YouTube channels devoted to all things BuJo. It has brought together planner/organizer geeks, OCD list-maker types, and art supply nerds (who doesn’t love a set of coloured artist pencils or markers?)…and I would say I feel right at home in the last two camps! The BuJo trend has created a renewed interest in calligraphy and handwriting, doodling and sketching, and all sorts of stationary supplies, much to the benefit of companies such as Leuchtterm (makers of one of the most popular BuJo notebooks), Goulet (makers of fine fountain pens), and Tombow (makers of coloured artist pens).


So what exactly is a bullet journal?

Basically, a BuJo is a blank notebook that you fill with schedules and to-do lists to suit your needs. The basic elements are:

  1. an index;
  2.  yearly, monthly, or weekly views;
  3. bulleted lists using specific symbols;
  4. task migration; and
  5. collections.

The index is placed at the beginning of your notebook and is basically a table of contents that you create as you go along. This allows you to put anything anywhere in the notebook and be able to easily find it.

The views, or spreads as they are often called, are pages showing appointments and scheduled events. Some people do a “future log” which shows several calendar months. It can be as simple as this:


Or as complex as this:


There are also monthly spreads:



And weekly spreads:




People use different combinations of these spreads depending on their needs.

Finally, there is the daily task list. Here is where to-dos are written down in bullet format:



The bullets have symbols, often described in a Key, as follows:


An important element of using the bulleted lists is the concept of “migration”. If a task does not get completed, you “migrate” it to the next day (or week, depending on your layout). This allows you to make a big list of tasks, perhaps even knowing that you won’t get to all of them that day, but at least it is written down. It sounds simple, but I have found migrating to be a really useful element for staying organized.

Finally, there are “collections”. A collection can be anything really: notes from a meeting, ideas for a new project, lists of birthdays to remember. People have come up with all kinds of idea for collections, which of course are shared all over the Internet: habit trackers, gratitude logs, meal planning, and book lists just to name a few.


The nice thing about the Bullet Journal system is you can put a collection anywhere because you have an Index. Once you create a collection – for example, a packing list for an upcoming vacation – you simply note it in your Index with the page number. Now you can easily find that list any time you want, and it really doesn’t matter if it was squeezed in somewhere between your weekly schedule and your list of tasks for a particular day.

Bullet journalling can be used by anyone. In fact it turns out my husband has been using his own version of bulleted lists in a little notebook for years. But if you are the kind of person who benefits from the act of writing something down, and perhaps taking time to make it pretty and colourful, or if you find drawing and colouring meditative, then a BuJo is particularly appealing. In my next post, I’ll show you my own Bullet Journal and how I use it to stay organized.

Meanwhile, below are some videos about Bullet Journalling. The first is by Ryder Carroll, the creator of the Bullet Journal system. It shows the original concept, which is very simple. Fans refer to this as a “minimalist” BuJo.

The second video is by my favourite BuJo guru, Kara Benz of Boho Berry. Not only is she an inspiring young lady who turned her artistic talents into a successful business, but her videos are well produced and enjoyable to watch. Her video is the first in her “Bullet Journal 101” series.




Categories: career, family life, Homemaking, lifestyle, Personal Growth | 2 Comments

Earning our Keep

As long as we’ve had the dream of moving to a small acreage and creating a homestead, making a living off the farm has never been part of that dream. The truth is, trying to support a family on a farm’s products is labour-intensive, highly competitive, and not all that lucrative. If we weren’t blessed with careers that can be molded to fit our circumstances perhaps we’d be entertaining thoughts of being farmers. But we’re middle-aged, not cut out for heavy work over long hours, and are able to earn a good living doing other things that take up far less time and allow us to get outside whenever possible, not to mention being with our homeschooled children. There’s lots to do in order to turn this place into a homestead, but it’s about providing good food for our family, a healthy environment around us, and a connection to the land. It’s not about earning a living.

For the last several years I’ve been running a small consulting business out of my home. It’s very part-time, the hours are flexible, I enjoy the work very much, and it pays well. About a year ago Husband found a job that fit him perfectly, too. He and his sole partner get along very well, he works almost entirely from home, and his hours are mostly flexible. His partner had already established the business some years before and there’s a steady influx of clients for the foreseeable future. And the pay is good, so he doesn’t need to work long hours to provide an income that keeps us quite comfortable. We’re both very proud of what we’ve built for ourselves, and although we recognize that the socioeconomic situations we were born into certainly helped get us where we are today, we’ve definitely chosen a road less travelled when it comes to the direction in which we took our careers. Husband could be earning a lot more money with a big firm, but he’d also be in an environment he loathes (big business), working long hours, and with little control over his future. We also would not be living here, in this smallish town. We’d be on the outskirts of a major city centre, with a long commute every day and a whole lot less land for a whole lot more money. For me, were I to seek out full employment I’d be earning ten times what I make now, but I too would be working long hours, would have missed out on the vast majority of my children’s lives, and also would not be living in this town. For us, maximizing our earning potential is not part of The Dream. We’ve pared back and chosen a more simple lifestyle, and we haven’t regretted it for one minute.

I’m writing this post because there are two things going on for us right now related to work and income, both of which I’m quite excited about. I’m in the process of re-branding my company. The name I started with is rather generic, as I wasn’t really sure what it would all look like once I got going. As with many entrepreneurial journeys, I found out along the way that there were niches I could fill, ones I didn’t know existed, and the focus of my work shifted and moved until I found my groove. I’m ready to move my business to the next level and work on promoting myself more. Virtually all my business comes via the Internet, so I’m having my website revamped and reworked to up my search engine rankings and include a way to promote those services in which I specialize. I’ve spent countless hours trying to come up with a new name, and I don’t go anywhere now without my scrap paper lists and a pen –  you never know when inspiration will hit you! I’ve found a wonderful woman to work on my website – she’s an old friend from my university and club-hopping days whom I recently reconnected with. Now she’s a stay-home mum with a home-based business and her work demonstrates that she is very talented and creative. It’s not my intention for this to become a full-time job, but I do have room for an increased caseload and I’m hoping this process will result in some more new clients.

The other thing going on is that Husband has begun working on a long-standing dream of his to produce artisan spirits. He spent his teen and young adult years on his family’s winery learning the art and science of distillation, but never really thought anything would come of it professionally. Fast-forward a couple of decades and things have really changed. On a whim he recently looked into the idea again and found that the trend in local eating and artisan food products has cleared the way for artisan distillers. While putting together a business plan we discovered that we can house the facility on our property (gotta love rural zoning) and have planned to build a small barn-style structure for this purpose (we picked the plans out of a book; it’s gorgeous and rustic and exactly what you’d expect on a homestead). What’s so great about it is there are no waste products other than water (which, as the product of distillation, is as pure as it gets) and mash (which the pigs will love). We finalized the incorporation process a few weeks ago and are now making plans to clear some of the property (which we’d planned to do anyway) and put up the barn (using the lumber we recently had milled*) this spring. We’ll be spending the first several months trying out different recipes and working to develop a unique formula and process using locally-sourced ingredients (of course!). Our goal is to produce small batches of a quality artisan product that reflects the unique flavours of our region (which is a haven for locavores). Because of the flexibility of our work schedules (and the fact that our kids are quite independent at home now) we have the time to devote to this side-business. While neither one of us is giving up our “day jobs”, who knows where this might take us? In the meantime, the cash layout is relatively small and we’re sure to have lots of fun along the way.

What’s so funny is that I don’t even drink hard liquor (I’m a lightweight when it comes to alcohol). But what I’ve learned so far is that making spirits is the perfect blend of art and science. Husband excels at the art aspect of things and the scientist in me is rather excited about taking on some lab work again. Although the setting will be much different than the labs I used to work in, such tasks as performing batch experiments and keeping pristine notes of all processes and variables is right up my alley (they don’t call me the Spreadsheet Queen for nothing). Mostly it just all sounds like a good deal of fun, something Hubby and I can bond over (like having kids isn’t enough), not to mention the source of some fabulous homeschool experiments for the kids. I’m very excited about what lies ahead for us, and immensely grateful and happy that we have managed to craft such a good life for ourselves.

* in searching for a link here I discovered I never posted about our milled lumber; pictures coming soon, I promise!

Categories: career, lifestyle, money matters, outdoor projects, the dream | 4 Comments

Crazy, Busy, but Good

I want to apologize for not keeping up with the blog much lately. And I’ve barely had time to visit all my favorite blogs, too. So I’m sorry if I seem to have disappeared!

There have been some big changes around our household lately. My husband got laid off; but it was a Good Thing. He got a nice severance package which made up for the fact that he wasn’t planning on leaving until January of next year: we ended up with the same amount of savings but sooner, and without him having to slave away at a job he didn’t like for six more months! The best part is that he ended up getting a new job with the guy he was hoping to work with next year, so he’s very happy.

This new job has him working mostly from home and setting his own hours (this is why we thought it would be a good job to have when we move – it doesn’t require us to stay in the city). There will be busy periods interspersed between slow periods and that works out perfectly for us. My business has suddenly picked up speed so we find ourselves in the happy position of sharing child care and work duties pretty equally. It was what we’d wanted all along but we didn’t expect it to happen this soon. We’re still shaking our heads and smiling at the way it just sort of landed in our laps!

So, with two case deadlines looming I’ve been spending a lot of time working and not much time on my blog. Things will slow down a little bit after those cases are done, and I plan to get back into more regular blogging then. I hope you’ll bear with me through these adjustments, as Husband and I try to settle on a schedule of housework, cooking, and grocery shopping. It’s great having him home, but we need to completely rework our routine and that part is challenging!

Categories: career, Homemaking, parenting, the dream | 2 Comments

the Not-So-Simple week

Sorry I haven’t posted in a while. I’ve had a very busy week.

On Monday I had a La Leche League meeting, which I hosted myself because my co-leader’s middle child was sick. I ended up leaving my kids at her place to entertain the older one (who is Daughter’s age) – they all know each other well. The risk of them picking up the middle one’s bug was less frightening to me than trying to run a meeting with my kids there (a four hour stint when setup and cleanup is factored in).

On Tuesday I worked out of the home for a client at the local University. Kids were with an on-call Nanny who turned out to be wonderful (with one grandma out of the country and the other just having a pacemaker put in I was suddenly way short of child care). On Thursday I was away for a half-day teaching a lecture (my co-leader again babysat) and then on Friday I was working all day (Husband had the day off) and then went straight from work to see The Business of Being Born (awesome film, by the way).

I have *really* missed my children! I am so not cut out to be a full-time working mother. By Thursday morning I was not wanting to leave for work and by the weekend I was ready to quit everything. But…I do like my work when it’s only occasional (this was one of those everything-came-up-at-once weeks) and my usual six days per month is plenty for me.

Tomorrow I’m off for another full day of work and my heart isn’t in it. I still miss my kids from last week. Son came down with a cold today and was just wanting to snuggle with his mama. If he’s that sick tomorrow I can’t leave him with a Nanny. Not just because it wouldn’t be fair to her, but mostly because sick kids want their mama and I want to be there for him! If I send her home it’s $54 out of my pocket. I’m hoping Son will be perky in the morning and I’ll just come home from work a bit early when the afternoon blahs set in. I also have one more lecture this Thursday morning and then I’m done until September.

I won’t deny that the extra money is nice. But it’s weeks like these that confirm in my mind that being home with my children is a Gift and I’ve made my choices wisely. It also reaffirms my commitment to Living Simply – the rat race is not for me!

Categories: career | 2 Comments

The path not taken

I teach occasionally at my Alma Mater and the other day I received an email announcement from the Department congratulating a former graduate student on a big promotion in his job with a major pharmaceutical company. This guy was in grad school with me and got his PhD around the same time as I did. He’s a great guy and I share in the pride of our department at his accomplishments. As the email said, we like to see our graduates do well in the world.

But in reading this announcement I couldn’t help but wonder if my career constituted something the department could be proud of. I thought about where I would be now if I hadn’t left my career path to be a stay-home mother. Despite the fact that I don’t regret my choices one bit, I am conscious of the fact that my choices don’t make me appear “successful” in the way our society usually defines it.

In the book Simple Living: one couple’s search for a better life, Frank Levering describes how he felt a few years after he left Hollywood with his wife to run the family orchard business in rural Virginia, and would hear through the grapevine of old colleagues working their way up the career ladder:

“Though he had voluntarily traded wingtips for workboots, asphalt for black soil, the mind does not so easily substitute new patterns of thinking for old ones. There was keen envy when a close friend in Los Angeles called to announce his new job as a film executive at Disney. There were Frank’s older siblings, among them three Ph.D’s with academic careers whose visits never failed to evoke his parents’ pride and approval.”

I really related to this sentiment, although in comparison to Frank I’d already achieved a few milestones of success before leaving my career. I’d gotten that PhD and completed a successful post-doctoral fellowship under a highly respected and admired mentor. There was little doubt in anybody’s mind that, at the time I left, the only direction ahead for my career was upwards. Yet still I’m aware that, in the world of academia, success is defined in terms of promotions, grants, and tenure. I left all that for the humble role of Mother, and I think there are some who wonder what to make of me for that. While I know my old teachers are pleased with me (and grateful for my teaching assistance), my accomplishments don’t lend themselves as readily to celebratory annoucements as those of my big pharma colleague.

The sad truth is that Western society defines success in terms of profession, income, and possessions. I’ve got enough of these under my belt that I can dodge the issue of whether what I’m doing with my life now counts as “success”. I can speak the proper code words and leave one with the impression that I’ve achieved success in Western terms. But I say these things with a trace of irony because, while I’m proud of my accomplishments, I realize now how little they mean in terms of true success. Simple living is about recognizing the fallacy of these variables as any indicator of happiness, satisfaction, or contentment with one’s life.

For example, as a parent I’m repeatedly reminded that the ultimate goal for my children should apparently be sending them to college. I can’t tell you the number of people who ask if I’m saving for their education, as if no parent in their right mind would not place this high on their list of desires for their children. Me, I want my children to be happy and fulfilled, with solid  healthy relationships around them. I could care less if they are a doctor or if they quit college to become a woodworker, so long as they are truly happy. To me, the ultimate gift I can give my children is not a college fund (though, admittedly, they’ll have one thanks to my father) but instead the gift of freedom – to be who they want to be and to find happiness on their own paths. If they can do that, then I’ll have truly succeeded in my career.

Categories: career, simple living | Leave a comment

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