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Thursday, March 13, 2014

How I use my planner + Bullet Journal notebook

Tina commented on yesterday's post on my Bullet Journal notebook changeover asking how I use my planner along with my Bullet Journal notebook system that I described in that post. I started to write a "short" reply but it got really long so I decided to just do a separate post about it!

It's all very personal so I won't be able to show you any photos of my pages, not that you would be able to read my writing. (I keep telling myself, if it's worth writing, it's worth writing legibly! Anyway...)

But I can tell you lots of specifics and examples of how I use my Bullet Journal system along with my planner.

I call it a Bullet Journal, but it's really not. That's a common buzzword these days, so when I say that people automatically have a pretty good idea of what I'm talking about, but I have modified the BuJo system to my own needs.

First of all, NO forward planning goes in my Bullet Journal. None at all. All forward planning goes in my planner. I wrote a post last year on how I used my planner along with my day per page diary, and all of the part about how I use my planner still applies so you can see that in this post here. In today's post I will focus on how I use my Pseudo BuJo system.

Some people might not like to use two separate books. But after years of trying hundreds of different planners trying to find a system that works for me, using two separate books is a small price to pay for a system that works so well for me. Using a separate planner allows me to plan the entire year in one book without rewriting. I use up a notebook in 3-4 months, and I would not want to have to rewrite all my forward plans several times per year. Also the two separate books help me keep their purposes separate: forward planning only in my planner, day to day recording only in my notebook. Another advantage of separate books is I can have them both open side by side so I can see today's details in relation to the rest of the week and my weekly task lists.

As you saw in yesterday's post, I'm using a large unlined Moleskine notebook for my journal. I wrote some details of how I use it in my Journaling Lessons Learned post. But today I will give you some day-by-day detailed examples of how I use this notebook.

The evening before, I start a fresh page and write the day and date at the top. Then I leave some space so I can write significant events right at the top of the page where I can see them easily. Then I write if my husband is traveling, and any scheduled events or appointments I have that day. Then I slot in MUST DO tasks for that day. I only write tasks I MUST DO THAT DAY, nothing that is optional because these would mix in with the Must-Do tasks, and I need to be able to see easily what I absolutely must do that day. Then if I get those done, I look at my weekly task list (in my planner) to see what else I can fit in today.

Therefore my day is planned the evening before, and I wake up knowing exactly what I have to do today. As the day rolls on, I record things right in the notebook. Sometimes I use one page for a day, sometimes less, often two pages.

Bullet Journal symbols: I don't really use them. I have my own very simplified system using only asterisk *  box []  dot . and arrow -->  Here is what they mean:

       [] Task. When the task is finished, I check it off.

      *[] Very important task. Do these first.
  • Information/ notes. For example if I phoned someone, I tick off the To Call box and write a dot under with notes on the phone call, who I spoke to and what they said, and the number I called so I can call them again if I need to follow up. Which brings me to...
      ---> Follow-up action or ongoing. To continue the phone call example, under the dot information I'll write --> Sue will call me back next week when the new stock is in. That way I know the result is not complete yet.

This is why I love using unlined pages: I can write between lines easily. If I'm writing on lined pages, I don't have as much space between my writing to make notes like this unless I skip lines, which feels wasteful to me. Without lines, I can always cram more writing in between.

If I've written something that becomes irrelevant I line it out. For example this morning I had written Call G's friend's mom to arrange playdate tomorrow, but I had to line it out this morning because G is sick so I can't make play plans for her for tomorrow.

I record emergent tasks (those things that come up during the day that you hadn't planned but get done anyway), so I have a record of when I did them.

Here's a real-life example: I record online orders with the amount, which card I paid with, confirmation numbers, etc. I keep a list of these in the back and track when I ordered, when it shipped and when I received it so I make sure I'm getting everything I ordered. For example I ordered something back in October, they shipped it to me but the contents were wrong with an invoice to someone else, so they said they sent it again but I never received the replacement. I called two weeks ago (noted in my BuJo and on the monthly reference book) and they said it had been shipped, but if it does not arrive today I will be emailing them again, armed with ordering dates, confirmation numbers, phone conversation details and the entire timeline history, all thanks to details written in my BuJo and easily referenced in my monthly reference booklet.

Here's another actual example from today: my daughter has been ill for a couple of days, and when my kids are ill I write their symptoms and note when they stay home from school. Thanks to my BuJo and handy-dandy monthly reference calendar, I noticed she had a similar thing back in January where she was off school the same number of days, and that she often gets a tummy ache when she has a cold. In my monthly reference booklet on the day I write "G home from school, ill" then on the day's page I write her symptoms. That way I have a quick reference of sick days, and can look up what was wrong.

What else? I pretty much write everything in there. For example, yesterday my daughter was looking at a book of British birds and asked what the genus and species names meant. So in my notebook I wrote Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species (remembered from "King Philip Came Over For Good Steak") and explained classifications. Years from now it will be fun to look back through my notebook and see that she was interested in taxonomy that day.

Also every day I write the weather and temperature, and anything else significant. When I walk in the forest I write in my book which birds and wildlife I saw, and what flowers are blooming. Yesterday the daffodils in front of our house started blooming so I wrote that too. As I continue to do this, it will be fun to compare year to year. For example last year was a very snowy winter and spring came late. This year the winter was very mild (although rainy) and things are blooming already.

This gives you a good idea of how I use my BuJo. I don't write my feelings. I did that in journals years ago and found the emotional dumping was not helpful and not anything I wanted to read again. This is just a record. I do write when I'm happy or excited about something, but again it's factual. There's no pontificating here, which I did endlessly in previous journals and did not like.

I also don't decorate my BuJo. You'll find no washi tape here. I'm not artistic, and I find decorations distracting (and time consuming) so I don't do them. But, when we are waiting somewhere (like at a restaurant) and my kids are bored, I hand them my book and colored pens and let them draw. It's fun to have my kids' art in my book, and years from now I know it will be great to see their little-kid drawings in my book and see what they were thinking alongside what we were doing that exact day.

All of this goes from the front of the book. Anything that happened today goes right on the page. Anything non-day-specific like my online orders tracking or list of stuff I need next time I go to Ikea goes in the back of the book. I don't index these, because it's easy to flip through the back pages to find what I'm looking for. When I first started Bullet Journaling, I mixed lists between daily pages and it was a nightmare to find anything, even with page indexing. This way is much easier for me: daily record from the front, lists from the back.

I carry my journal with me absolutely everywhere, so it's important that the book is light enough or else I tend to leave it at home. That was my downfall with a dated day per page diary last year, because I need the big A5 size page but the thickness of the daily book meant it was too heavy. I'm really enjoying the large Moleskine blank notebooks because the narrow book is lighter than other comparably-sized books and is relatively thin, and very streamlined.

This post turned out to be very long! And it might sound complicated, but it's actually very simple. I just write everything in my notebook, and take it with me everywhere.

If you have any other questions let me know in the comments and I'll be happy to answer!


  1. Do you still keep a ring binder somewhere with reference information like prescription numbers, medical history, veterinary records, vaccinations, model #s, all that? And how do you keep incidentals like outgoing mail, pens, coupons, bandaids etc. organized when you go out? Every time I try to go to bound books this is what hangs me up. How do you handle it?

    1. I just wrote a big long reply and then accidentally deleted it! Short answer: yes I keep this stuff in my Filofax, which stays at home, which I wrote about here: http://www.plannerisms.com/2014/02/organised-mum-pick-and-mix-filofax.html In my Filofax I have things that I don't need to carry around with me like household cleaning routines, car maintenance record, birthday and holiday planning, finances, etc. When we lived in Indonesia I had a medical Filofax for medical records and prescriptions, but here in Scotland medical records are computerized so every time I go to a new doctor they already have my medical history and prescriptions.

      I keep pens in a pocket of my bag, and things like bandaids in the inside zip pocket of my bag. I don't have much outgoing mail, but pending items are in a stack on my desk, and envelopes to go to the post office just go in my bag.

  2. I am really impressed that you are sticking with your system and filled a whole notebook! When yesterday's post had "changeover" in the title I thought maybe it wasn't working after all. I was out of town last week with all my time spent according to an imposed schedule so I didn't use either my planner or journal and I didn't have online access. Very interesting experience and I still feel a little disoriented, I think.

    1. My experience when I have no internet access for days on end is that I also feel disoriented, and cut off from the rest of the world. Funny how much I rely on the internet now, when not that long ago it wasn't part of my life at all!

  3. Laurie, thanks so much for responding to my inquiry so fully in this post! Wow, I'm really impressed. You've given me some great ideas on how I can modify the Bullet system to work for me (since it doesn't work for me in its original form). My own modifications will probably simplify even further, since I don't have a need to track as much as you do, but I really like that you have such a complete record separate from your forward planning system. I, too, have always kept my forward planning separate (and that part has always worked as is), but the record/journal/notebook/whatever has taken many forms, not all of which have been satisfying. Lots to think about now. Thanks again!

    - Tina

    1. You're very welcome Tina, glad it was useful! :)

  4. I think this is a wonderful post. Thank you so much for sharing these details of your life and your family with us. I know you normally keep your blog away from that kind of thing but I really appreciate it because the details help me to understand how your system works for you and so gives me ideas for what I might adopt.

  5. Thank you, Laurie! Ling possts are good (for us!)

  6. Very interesting, Laurie. Thanks for sharing. I've actually been thinking about trying a notebook for my to-do lists. Nothing I've been trying has worked.

  7. I enjoyed reading about your bullet journal. I also keep my bullet journal as forward only and keep my daily planning in a separate planner. I don't keep my bullet journal with me all day, it remains on my desk at home. I'm using a standard composition book for mine. I hadn't considered a moleskine, but might look into that for future notebooks. Thanks for the great post!

  8. Hi Laurie,
    I always check your site when I am having planner issues and I am so thankful for your bullet journal idea. I have incorporated a similar system and it has been working for a solid 3 weeks (which doesn't sound like a lot but for me it is!) I have a very heavy travel and task-oriented job, and a hectic home life with 2 kids and a husband with busy sports schedules and I constantly struggle with balancing it all in a way where something doesn't get missed. I also struggle with my love for bound planner books (there's just something so nice about having the year in one solid book). I purchased a day per page medium sized (8x5.5) 2014 diary from Graphic Image because it had nice month at a glance pages as well in the beginning of the book. I was so excited that I got it on sale and it's beautiful with gold edged pages!! I'm using that as my bullet journal. The month at a glance pages are used strictly for my work travel schedule and my kids and husband's activities where we have to be somewhere at a certain time (I use color coded dots for each of us which is great for a quick glance). My daily work schedule goes on the day per page along with the tasks that MUST be done that day. I uses boxes for tasks, circles for actual appointments, strike the box,circle out when completed. If it doesn't get done, I either move it to the next day IF IT has to be done that day, or I move it to my MASTER TASK BOOK which is a small filofax. I also log with a triangle incoming tasks on the day they came in. If i get them done great, if not, they get moved (using an special symbol) to either the next day (>), or to the master task book (>@T). If i run out of room on a day (which sometimes happens but not often) I place a large sticky note on top of it and keep writing. I also use the Martha Stewart teardrop stickers for recurring tasks/appts that can be moved around if needed (my son's spelling test for instance is always on day 5). My master task book is divided into sections (i love that it is small, can fit anywhere) URGENT, FAMILY, NOT URGENT W/DEADLINE, and NOT URGENT NO DEADLINE. I Use small yellow stickies at the top of each daily page for my menu. My small filofax has empty note pages for jotting things as well (but I use Evernote for all my work notes online). So far so good.....I haven't missed anything in 3 weeks, but I think I really love the bullet system. And I am surprising myself by stepping away from a weekly view. I haven't tried that in years, we'll see! (I do however use sticky notes as reminders on Sundays for things that need to happen that week as a catch-all). Thanks for the bullet journal idea!

    1. Wow Dea, it's great to see how you manage such a busy schedule!!

  9. I am coming to this post a little late, but I wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed it. I have been using a classic size Franklin Covey planner but I am back in college and it added a LOT of weight to the backpack. I recently bought a large Moleskine to carry with me as it's so light. I've always loved the flexibility of a binder to add things, print out pretty pages I find on Etsy, etc, but in addition to the weight, I found that life in a backpack was beginning to damage the corners of my lovely leather binder. So, I jumped into a bound book, with some hesitation, but In the past few weeks I found I really like it a lot! The system you outline above has given me some great ideas - I especially love what you said about keeping a record of things that happen but not a 'feelings' type journal. I just never got into that either :) I am surprised at how much I am enjoying a thin, bound planner and am inspired to add the little details of my day (and kids and hubby) too. Thanks for the inspiration!

  10. I came across this a couple years after you wrote it, but it's very helpful. There are some things I like about preprinted planner pages, like seeing all the days of the week vertically and not having to handwrite all the days myself.

    I also "visualize" time more easily in a more traditional calendar format rather than just listed in a vertical line with numbers and letters as the BuJo does.

    But I also like the freedom and collections concept of the bullet journal. Also, because the days don't have a predefined column or square, it fits my schedule, which may involve just one big project one day, lots of little things another day.

    Your post gives me some inspiration for combing the two ideas.

    Probably a good compromise for me would be the Arc system from Staples, and I have one of their notebooks. You can insert and remove separate blank pages in between two dated pages. However, the spiral in the middle makes it hard to write on both sides and adds heft. Also, the blank page covers the dated page behind it. So it's not quite working for me.

    Thanks for sharing what works for you!


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