We have this running joke about Mom’s planner. Mostly it involves my brother wailing and flailing as he struggles to flee but insists it’s too powerful: It has its own gravitational field! It’s like a black hole! There’s no escape — I will be consumed! (He collapses to the floor and claws at the tile.) Help me, dear sister!
Imagine, if you will, the mid 2000s/early 2010s. Three kids: two immersed in middle/high school/college, and one in the small minion stage where they can’t have scissors without supervision. Add two cats and two dogs. Add rural desert where you have to drive over an hour to get anywhere. Think of the doctor, dentist, and vet appointments alone; roll in homeschooling, cars that need servicing, swim team practice, music lessons…hence the Planner of Doom and my brother gasping for breath on the tile, a final foot twitch signalling his demise.
I’ve always liked the idea of a planner. I bought academic planners for uni, but if you were to line them up, you’d see manic activity in September, a flurry of exams and final papers in December (filled in months ago with the syllabi), and a half-hearted attempt to reengage in the spring. Pathetic.
I’ve managed to bump along in life with a combination of my phone’s calendar, short-term memory, post-it notes, and luck. But I knew there was a world of organisational bliss out there where people hopped on marshmallow clouds with little rainbows over their heads. I felt doomed. Nothing clicked. Then I heard whispers of a different way: the bullet journal. Track what you want to track. Make your own system. Make it work for you.
It took me a few false starts, but daily journaling over the past year and a half has led to a gradual evolution of a style that makes sense to my brain. The basic structure is that each day has its own page, and those pages are laid out like this:
| Things I Gotta Do ||Health stuff|
|HERMAN!|| Creative/Freelance |
random notes, events, or anything else I fancy jotting down.
Confession time: I had a serious inferiority complex when I bought my first dotted journal. Just search “bullet journal” in Insta, and the results are a dizzying array of gorgeous art. People actually use these to organise their lives? You’ve got to be joking.
The problem was that I was focusing on style over substance. It’s like learning penmanship: first you learn the letters. Then combine them into words. Then you learn cursive or italics to make it something more artsy. Then you develop your own handwriting style, bit by bit. But you can’t start with the funky embellishments before you understand which way around the b or d goes.
But back to the BuJo Method, baby.
It took me a while to get here. I tried a list format, I tried special pages with trackers (bar graphs, filling in with colour each day such as number of steps, etc.) but nothing stuck. Then I settled into my box system. I have a separate bullet journal for work, which is similar but involves a two-page spread where one page is exclusively for call notes and scribbles. I’ve never felt so calm at work.
Time for another confession: I fight rigid structure and routines. I like a loose schedule to guide my life, but I absolutely loathed school with its classtime blocks and period bells. It’s not a byproduct of being homeschooled — I think being homeschooled was so great for me because I’ve always been like this.
This method I’ve built works for me because it’s just enough structure to keep me engaged and focused, but there’s wiggle room for creative expression, changing priorities, and super hectic days where I barely manage to breathe. Most importantly, it has room for Herman, my faithful companion.
Herman started as a doodle a few years ago, and then he went away for a while. I realised it was because I hadn’t made a special space for him. My bad. Now Herman is a daily fixture in my life and here to stay.