I’ve tried for a few years to find an effective way to manage our family calendar and my to-do lists. It’s always been the ‘eh, this works well enough’ type system, but nothing really stuck or felt life changing. I’ve struggled the past year as Asher came into our lives, Poppy started preschool, I started some part-time work, and Mac and I both dove a bit deeper into volunteer commitments. More BUSY. There are so many different lists and schedules and it felt like I was always dropping something. Whether forgetting the one item that was the sole reason for the Target trip, or not getting a volunteer email sent in time (it wasn’t like we were forgetting kids at school or missing work) things were happening to cause chaos and stress for our family (I suffer from general anxiety. I know forgetting the butter at the store isn’t a big deal for some people, but it can be for me, so please don’t think I’m just throwing the word chaos around lightly). I was at the point of potentially dropping big bucks and buying one of those Erin Condren planners everyone seems to love. THEN. The amazing Zoot posted about how she’d started a bullet journal and it was possibly changing her life. I watched the video and was really intrigued. Part of my problem always seemed to stem from the fact that I’d make lists, but they’d always end up not in my purse or at my desk, so it quickly wasn’t in the thinking space of my mind, just more as ‘there’s a list somewhere,’ and that thought wasn’t actually getting anything done. I’ve tried a planner with a monthly page and a daily page, which worked well for managing scheduled items and immediate to-dos, but since I didn’t have ALL my to-do info, it was hard to effectively manage everything. I tried an electronic calendar (Google) a few times. It was great for detailed management of scheduled items, (color coding! Electronic reminders!) but HORRIBLE for me with task management items. Mac was not great about adding items (read never) so it would still have some holes. Once I started staying home and wasn’t in front of a computer all day, it was much harder to diligently update it. Really, nothing seemed like an ideal solution, so the fact that the Bullet Journal was customizable without costing and arm and a leg? Major plus.
I decided at the beginning of the year to give the bullet journal a try. One of the big reasons I finally felt comfortable was that Zoot posted some PDF calendar pages on her blog. I need a visual of the entire month; it’s hard for me to take a list of events and process them the same way as the calendar, as shown in the video. My work shifts don’t follow a pattern (I work in the nursery at my church) and Mac and I have at least five meetings a month; again, they don’t always follow a pattern. Vee takes clarinet lessons and does a couple extracurricular clubs at school, and I also like the visual of highlighting her weekends with us (we do a 5-2-2-5 rotation, so very regular, but again, I need the immediate visual when I’m planning stuff). These PDFs gave me the ability to incorporate the calendar into the journal.
Two months into the experiment, and I feel safe sharing the fact that it’s making a profound difference in my life. I feel more prepared to face each day. I’m better able to manage my time, and as a result I feel more in control of the chaos I’m trying to manage. I’m up to 19 pages so far. Here are my favorites:
-Important Dates: This includes birthdays and anniversaries for family and close friends. I can sit down and notate in my monthly or daily list to prepare appropriately (cards, gifts, etc).
-Running To-Buy Items: These are items like dishwasher detergent, shampoo, Kleenex, and cleaning supplies. If I see we’re running low on something, it goes on this list. (We don’t have a Costco and don’t belong to Sam’s. I do a lot of our basics at Target and CVS, since I base a lot of our spending off of ad prices.) I always reference this list when I’m looking at the weekly ads, so I’m not just notating all bargains, but ones that are applicable. I also reference this list before I check out at Target. I used to enjoy errands before having children and staying at home. Errands now are figured in child math. Factors include number of kids, weather, time since a diaper blowout, etc. I don’t mind hauling the kids to Target if I know it’ll be my only trip and I’m not going back two more times because I was stupid and forgot important crap. I know I’ll never be perfect, but I HATE forgetting important things and adding extra errands when I could have planned better to avoid it. This helps SOOOO MUCH with that problem.
-Running Grocery: Ongoing list of items basics we keep on hand. Again, I shop a lot by ad, so I’ll usually craft a grocery list based of our meal plan and ad prices. Inevitably, before my bullet journal, I’d perpetually forget we were running low on a staple, and then we’d be out a resource for planning a last-minute dinner later in the week (you can see right now that we’re out of brown rice, and we’ll need more fruit for smoothies soon).
-Gift Ideas: Lots of times, we’re at the library or a store or some other random place where the kids get fixated on a particular item. I’ve started jotting down these things, so that I’m not just filling our gift lists with random items that will elevate the level of crap in our house. For Poppy, she had a pair of toy binoculars break a while back. Something Mac bought on a whim once that she ended up loving. Honestly, it wouldn’t be something I’d retain in my brain, but since I jotted it down, it’ll be something we either gift to her or suggest to relatives for her upcoming birthday.
-Date Ideas: Some items on this list are event specific, but others are more general. Aside from my birthday weekend, we’ve been on one date in the past two (three maybe?) months. I don’t always like doing the routine dinner and a movie, so this is a good motivator to find different and fun ways to have couple time. It’s also a good motivator to see looming dates (concerts, food or drink festivals) and make an effort to attend. I’m very much that person who hears about something 4 months ahead of time, and then because life=busy, I inevitably forget until it’s passed or it’s too late to secure childcare.
Here’s a picture of my index page, so you can see what other pages I have going on. (I only have A and B pages because they originally had stuck together, and I’m a little bit, uh, particular, about order and precision, so I didn’t want to have to cross anything out or try to rip out the blank pages and potentially damage the binding.)
I like having a place for all my lists, and this keeps them organized and with me at all times. It’s not in the form of random slips of paper or sticky-notes. They aren’t getting lost or crumpled up, and since they all have a standardized format (the journal) they stay much neater and relevant. I’m pretty horrible about long-term project management, and having a place to make and keep these lists, and then reference when I’m doing my monthly planning and daily planning really helps me stay on top of being accountable for what I need to manage. The monthly to-do lists are something I like more than I thought I would. I thought it would be a hassle, but it helps me see what I’m not completing (and therefore, maybe isn’t a priority and needs to be dropped), and what does get completed. It’s also very much a mind game for me, in that I’m not continually lengthening a list; starting a new one triggers a fresh start mentality for me.
I probably make a daily to-do five out of seven days. On days I’m super busy, it helps my recall ability, and to not leave anything out. I don’t write down everything I may end up doing, just things that I’ve decided absolutely need to take priority. Last week vacuuming made it onto the list one day, but I also cleaned up some of our spare room, which wasn’t on the list. There are some days where only one item on my list may get crossed off, but I am less anxious because I’ve had the chance to reference all the other pages and know that putting something off for a day is made from a time management standpoint, not because I’m lazy. According to Mac, I’m my harshest critic, so when things don’t get done, it’s hard for me to just see it as an item on a list, and not a personal failure. I think this is slowly helping me see that I DO manage a lot, and there is no expectation for me to be perfect from anyone. I’m excited to see how its use holds up as the year progresses. I think there are a few changes I’ll make when I get a new book, or as the opportunity arises:
-Color coding items on the monthly calendar. I put a few items on here that aren’t mandatory, but I like to know are going on (library story time, PAT playgroups, etc). I’ll probably try a month of two colors (mandatory and non-mandatory) and see how I like that.
-Tabs. Zoot talks about using tabs for frequently referenced pages. Now that I’m over a dozen pages, this does seem like it will be something that will be helpful
-Adding a ‘random notes’ page: I struggle with this one. I’ve created a page for books I want to read, and I think I’m going to do a TV show and movie one, but sometimes I want to remember something less categorizable. Maybe it’s an interesting piece on NPR, a helpful medicine recommendation, or some info about a new store opening up. I’d love a page to jot these all down, but I worry if it’s too general of a page, it’ll become cluttered and nonconstructive. Once I figure out an acceptable (to me) format, this will make an appearance. BUT! If you’re not as peculiar as me, this would be a great page to add.
-Upgrading to a Moleskin: I found some clearance journal (about the size of an iPad) that I like, but is a bit big. It has a very light dotted grid, but I would like to go ahead and find something lined. Now that I know this works? Fairly cheap investment when you look at the average price of commercially manufactured planners.
In terms of the pages not being grouped together? (All the monthlies in a section, daily to-dos on consecutive pages) It really doesn’t seem to be too big of an issue. The index is absolutely the key (and I think tabs will be too). I usually find that I have to add the next month about mid-way through the current month. I have a page (again, similar to Zoot) where I keep long-term dates, such as VBS in July. My current journal has a slim pocket in the back, which I keep a couple upcoming months printed out and stored there for easy access. Right now they’re being added much sooner because our schedule is nuts from January-May. (I added April two days ago). I think it also helps that since I use the PDFs and they’re glued it, it’s sort of a physical differentiation that make it a bit quicker to find it (again, tabs would do this same thing. I really do think that it’s a game changer, organization wise. It really is the best, and I probably owe Zoot some major Swistle points for sharing such an awesome tool.
Other organizational notes of importance, so you’re not under any illusion that the bullet journal is a single end-all answer to family organization:
We use a big desk calendar on the side of our fridge so that everyone else can see what’s going on and I’m not the only one with this information. I sit down a few days before the month starts and copy whatever is on my monthly in the bullet journal. I also have a calendar (an adorably cute one that was a CDP!) where I’ll write down our meal plan for the week. I do the majority of the cooking, but this way it’s somewhere public so the task can be delegated. I’ll put notes about where to find the recipe (cookbook, Fresh 20 file, etc) and I want to start writing down prep time. I’m not constant with this (I just looked and had notes for 10 days in February), but it’s nice to have a centralized place to put this info.
If you have any questions I’d love to try to answer them for you. Or, if you use the bullet journal style and want to share your successes or other tips you find helpful, please do!