It’s a Prosthetic for My Brain

I am not big into fads. Like really not into them. If something seems overly popular, I’m more likely to avoid it than to give it a fair chance. I’m stubborn that way.

But when I hear the same kind of report from a variety of sources, and from totally different areas of my life, from people with varying personalities, I finally give in and pay attention. Such was the case with the Bullet Journal fad.

Image for post
The author’s bullet journal as pictured June 2018 in all its messy glory.

And in the case of the Bullet Journal (which my accountability partner Luisa Perkins and I lovingly refer to as a BuJo), I’m so, so glad I did.

No, wait. Hear me out.

I was skeptical too. After all, I’m different from a lot of people. Okay, from most people. In addition to being stubborn, I have a good dose of ADHD, and therefore my brain works differently. I just don’t mesh with most people’s ideas of planners and calendars and trackers and just . . . blech.

On the other hand, since joining forces with Luisa as accountability partners several years ago, I had learned the value of breaking down goals into manageable pieces and in making actual lists.

But it took Luisa using a BuJo and insisting I try one, and my young adult daughter trying one to finally give it a shot.

Did I mention I’m so glad I did?

Image for post
Past Bullet Journals Belonging to the Author

Here’s why you should too: The BuJo is not just one thing. It’s anything you want it to be. It’s anything you personally need it to be.

If what you did on the last page isn’t working for you, no big deal! Turn the page and try something else. Seriously. It’s that easy.

I’ve seen videos and photos of hard-core BuJo-ers who spend hours upon hours creating pretty, artistic pages with stamps and ribbon and stickers and colors inks, and, for all I know, glitter and rainbows and bookmarks made of braided unicorn hair.

That is NOT what mine is like. It couldn’t be if I tried, to be honest; my ADHD brain brings with it handwriting that is best read by me, and legible by others only if I’m really, really trying to be legible for a short period.

The fanciest I get is using a straight edge to make lines. (Whoa. I know. Seriously high-tech and artistic, right? Um.)

I like having a straight edge to help contain what otherwise will be a mess so that I can actually read and use my BuJo easily.

Because EASE really is the point.

I’ve used up several volumes, and each one has evolved as I’ve added things, subtracted others, tweaked how I lay out another, and so on. How I use my BuJo will forever be an evolving process, and that’s one thing I love about it.

Here’s my BuJo system, such as it is, some of which will be familiar to the original idea, and much of which, well, isn’t.


I tend to lose and forget stuff, so I always have an index (rather, table of contents) that I can add to as I fill in a volume. Easy peasy. I leave about 4 pages for that.

Image for post
An Index Page from the Author’s Bullet Journal. The colors are repeated on the exterior pages so sections can be easily found.

Any time I create a new set of pages for the same purpose, I’ll add those page number to the index on the same entry. Such as “Notes” above, which started out on pages 113–132 and later had two more sections listed there too.

Future Log

This is supposed to be a quick overview of the upcoming year. To date, I’ve included one in all of my BuJos, but I won’t be when I start another. I simply don’t add to it as I should, and I don’t think to. I don’t check it. It’s just a waste of space for me.

I’ve tended to write stuff in my future log after it happens, so I guess that makes it a record, but those things are already on other pages.

So yeah, I’m bagging this for future volumes.

Month Overviews

This is a page (rather, two — basically a spread) where you list every day in a month and include calendar items for them. Very, very helpful. Mine tend to spill just a bit over one page onto the second side, and then I use the bottom of that second page to write goals and big to-do items that need to get done that month.

Image for post
A Past Month Overview from the Author’s Bullet Journal in All Its Messiness

I add a few blank pages after that so I can write down additional to-do items and notes as they come along. Sometimes I’ll separate them by page, so one page will have family stuff (a baby shower, kid’s birthday gift to buy, a field trip form to fill out), and another will have a list of professional items to knock out that month.

Those things are still around. But in my current BuJo, I’ve changed how I do my month overviews.

I used to have a month’s overview followed by that same month’s daily tasks pages, and then then I’d figure out how many pages, say, August would probably take up, then write out September’s overview.

That got a bit obnoxious, and I didn’t like having to guess how many pages a month to take up in advance.

I also didn’t like having to hunt for the overviews; turns out that I look at next month’s dates a lot during this month.

I wanted all of my month overviews to be together. So I put them together.

My current BuJo has all twelve monthly overviews one after the other. I include a few pages for each month’s reminders and to-dos and then list the next month’s overview, all back to back. I mark the current month with a big paperclip so I can turn right to it whenever I need to.

And to make things even easier, I grabbed a few colored pencils and colored the corners of each month’s pages with a different color. (Note the blue corner in the month overview above.)

Then, when I reach that month’s daily tasks in real life, and I’m actively living those days on their own pages, I color a bit of the outer edge of those pages in the same color.

Matching up any month’s overview with its daily tasks is a cinch. I also keep the current day with its tasks marked with Book Darts to keep it even easier.

The colored pencils have expanded to Sharpies and whatever else I have nearby, really, and I’ve started color coding the edge of pages for a bunch of different sections. Red marks the notes for planning my daughter’s wedding this summer, green indicates pages with financial notes, and brown is for miscellaneous notes, like things jotted down during a phone call.

(You can see lots of colors in the first picture of my closed BuJo above.)

To help me remember what the colors mean, I include that color in the same item in my front index. But mostly, I can remember without having to flip back and forth.

Daily Tasks

These have undergone a lot of tweaks over the years, and likely will keep evolving, in part thanks to whatever size and shape my BuJo is at any given time.

Currently, I have one page per day, with the day and date across the top.

I then use my fancy (hah!) straight edge to divide the page in half vertically. Calendar items go on the right column. Tasks go on the left column. They often spill onto the right side, but for me, having the calendar stuff already there helps me keep things if not tidy, then a bit less messy.

Image for post
Past Daily Tasks Pages from the Author’s Bullet Journal (This is actually one of the tidier spreads, if you can believe it.)

If an item doesn’t get completed, and/or I know I need to move it to a different day for whatever reason, I circle it and draw an arrow to the right — but NOT until I’ve actually written it down on another day. Otherwise, it might not get reassigned, and it will be forgotten.

Habit Trackers

These are an element I added thanks to recommendations, and again, they’ve evolved too.

The idea behind a habit tracker is pretty much what it sounds like: you track how often you do various things you want to be regular features of your life.

My first HT (Habit Tracker/Hat Trick) chart tracked something like 13 items. That number eventually ballooned to somewhere around 20.

Image for post
An Early Habit Tracker (AKA Hat Trick Chart) of the Author’s. Yellow columns indicate days when all items were marked off — not that many.

While tracking certain items was good for me, not getting to cross off every item from the list, every single day (and with that many “habits,” a full chart didn’t happen often), it got discouraging, but I soldiered on.

However, flipping back and forth between the day’s tasks and the HT chart was a pain. I knew I’d be more likely to keep on track of my habits if they were right in front of me.

So for about a year, I made a mini HT chart on each day’s page, on the lower right, under the calendar items. I used a different color ink to set it apart (visible in the daily tasks picture above in purple).

That worked relatively well, especially when I’d deliberately not list something that simply wouldn’t be happening that day: a household chore when I was traveling, for example. Then I could count my day’s chart as done even if it had fewer items on it.

I recently decided to try something new (again, following Luisa’s example): reducing the number of HT items and marking them off differently.

Now I have only 7 items, and they’re all things I really want to be sure get done every single day. They’re also not things that I automatically find myself doing anyway, which I included before.

Instead of a big chart, I made a simple cross-off page, written up behind my current month overview (July didn’t need all of its to-do pages, apparently).

Each number corresponds to the date, and when I accomplish a task, I cross of the date’s number. (I created the chart below on the 3rd of the month, hence the brackets and box around the 1st and 2nd for the lower row.)

Image for post
New Habit Tracker Method: Close-up of 2 of the 7 Rows.

Now I have my August overview and my August HT next to each other, so I’m not flipping to three different places in the same book (month overview, HT chart, and daily tasks page).

Other Fun Stuff

When someone recommends a book, movie, or TV show, I write it down on pages devoted to those things. When I go to work conferences, I’ll take notes in my BuJo.

I have a page where I list books by title as I finish reading them. I have a section in my current BuJo where I’m planning a trip.

Another where I jot down story ideas for writing projects. And yet another where I list deep-cleaning and repair projects I need to get to around the house. Yet one more has gift ideas for various people as I come across them throughout the year.

Basically, anything I think I might forget and want to be able to recall and look at later goes into my BuJo.

And I know I’ll be able to find it later. That’s key.

The Real Joy of the BuJo

As an ADD-er, I have issues with the executive function part of my brain. That means I may totally forget about an appointment, or a deadline could fly right past me without my realizing it, or a hundred other things.

But using my BuJo, and keeping it updated as things happen, my executive function gets the help it needs.

Case in point:

At an extended family get together, a niece asked if our family could attend a performance of hers. Naturally, we were happy to say yes. And then we all pretty much forgot about it. That is, until one night I flipped the page of my BuJo to see that her performance was the following morning.

Without that note, made on the day my niece made the request, her performance would have come and gone, and we wouldn’t have remembered it at all.

My little family showed up entirely because I’d made a note in my BuJo almost a month earlier, and it made a little girl’s day.

A friend, who is a fellow ADD-er, described her BuJo (which she tried only after much coaxing) as her prosthetic executive function. Our BuJos step in where our brains are lacking.

I love that I can be messy, take notes, change my mind, try something new, remember — and reach — my goals, and more, all in a way that works with how I personally think.

It works because I invented my personal version of the BuJo. I love how productive I am with my BuJo. I’m lost without it now.

Give the Bullet Journal idea a shot. Watch this introductory video made by the guy credited with the concept. Take what works for you and leave the rest. Find BuJo ideas on YouTube and Pinterest, but take them with a grain of salt, especially if they’re pieces of art rather than practical system.

My version of a Bullet Journal might not work for you, but I’m betting you know your brain well enough to come up with a version that just might be exactly what you need.

Written by

USA Today bestselling & award-winning author of women’s fiction & romance. Word nerd. Chocoholic. Mom.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store