Monday, January 18, 2016

Starting Out 2016 With a New Way to Keep Organized: The Bullet Planner

Happy New Year and Welcome to 2016! 

My goal this year is to post in these pages at least once a week. The challenge to that goal is that my new, post-retirement freelance writing career is taking off with a bang in 2016 and I am busier than ever!

And that got me to wondering how I am going manage the organization of everything I need/want to do in 2016?  

I am a big idea person, not “get-er done” type. I make lists and forget where I put them—or even that I made them.  I have paper lists, lists on my laptop, and lists on my phone.  I use a phone calendar and a print calendar both. I have a memory like a flea (as opposed to an elephant). Clutter is my nemesis. 

 I am forever trying to get myself organized.  And 2016 is looking overwhelming to say the least. 

But in the final weeks of 2015 I happened upon a system that some freelancers in a Facebook group I belong to have been touting. 

It’s called the Bullet Journal.  I call mine the Bullet Planner.  But it’s the same idea.

The Bullet Journal/Bullet Planner

The Bullet Journal was devised by a blogger who goes by the name Ryder.  He calls it “an analog system to track the past, organize the present, and plan for the future.”  Check out his video and webpage. He considers it a journal because one of its purposes is to be kept for future reference even after it is filled, the way you would a journal.  I will do that, but right now my focus is on planning.

What I love about Ryder’s system is its simplicity, its flexibility, and that all the information I need and want to collect is stored in one place that can travel with me. 

And I didn’t need to buy an expensive, pre-made, heavy “planner” to accomplish it. In fact, I found an Office Depot business notebook with a stiff cover and 80 narrow-ruled lined pages on sale for $4.  There were two sizes available; I chose the smaller one: 7.25” x 9.5”.  

A lot of the freelancers I communicate with opt for moleskin journals or ones with inspirational covers. I opted for plain black, lightweight, and cheap.  If you're into inspirational, there are lots of options at Amazon.

How to Organize a Bullet Planner

As I said, the beauty of the Bullet Journal or Planner is its simplicity paired with flexibility.  

You start with an Index page up front.  This is actually a two page spread.  Its purpose is to keep track of what you include in the planner and is a handy reference tool.  

As you work through the planner you number the pages consecutively then record them in the Index as needed. That way you don’t have to worry about where you put your lists within the notebook. 

When you need to create a new list for any purpose, you put it on the next blank page and jot its page number into the Index.

The second two-page spread is what Ryder calls the Future Log

It’s basically a grid of the twelve months of the year, providing a year-at-a-glance type calendar. Mine is a simple line grid. 

If you Google “Bullet Journal Future Log” you’ll see lots of different ways that people represent their Future Logs. I list birthdays, appointments and important events in my Future Log. Once you’ve gotten a Future Log sketched out, list it on the Index page.

The next two-page spread is the Monthly Log.  This is the birds-eye view of the month you are in. 

On the left-hand side of the left page you list all the dates of the current month vertically, and next to them the first letter of each day of the week.  

You’ll find yourself quickly filling this in with appointments, meetings, events, whatever.  

On the right-hand page you create your bulleted to-do list for the month.  Mine filled up within five minutes of starting this page. (Note to self: write small; I might want to leave room for a second column of to-do’s on this page!).  

You’ll create each month’s Monthly Log when you get to that month.  Once it is created, list it on the Index page.

Finally, in the organizational portion of the Bullet Planner, you begin your Daily Log.  This is the workhorse of the planning system, your daily do-to lists. Each day’s entries take up as much or as little space as needed, and flow such that a single page could potentially hold multiple days. 

BIG TIP from Ryder: Don’t set up a sequence of daily logs ahead of time.  Create them as you go since you don’t know how much space you’ll need for each day. However, I do find myself building the next day’s log throughout the current day.  

And keep the entries brief. Ryder calls it Rapid Logging. Truly, just bullet-point words and phrases.  He has a simple system of bullet notation that I won’t go into here.  

But the main thing is to check off items you accomplish and migrate those you don’t to the next day, or line them out if you decide they don’t need to be done after all. Again, his system is simple, easy to remember, and quick, so it’s worth taking a look at his website.

List Building in the Bullet Journal/Bullet Planner

So the ultimate flexibility of this system lies in the indexing. You don’t have to keep your Monthly or Daily Logs on consecutive pages. They can be interrupted by whatever lists you feel the need to create, because everything is indexed for reference. My January daily to-do lists start on page 8 but might also be on page 9, 12, and 13. In the Index it will look like: January Daily Log: 8, 9, 12, 13 and will grow as needed.

So! The lists. What are they? Well they can be anything:
  • Books you want to read or have read;
  • Gift ideas;
  • Your Bucket List;
  • Movies to see;
  • Wish lists of things to buy;
  • Household projects you want to get to;
  • Business mileage. 
My sister-in-law, Mary Joy, who is also my On the Road… mystery book co-writer, is constantly on the road. And I go crazy trying to keep track of where she’s going, when she’s leaving, when she’s coming back. So one of the first lists I created was “M. J.’s Travels.”  Now I don’t have to keep bugging her to find out what her availability is for writing or book promotion events or even to invite her over for dinner. When she tells me of an upcoming trip, I immediately put the information onto page 10 of my Bullet Planner and forever after have it at my fingertips.

What you include in this centralized planner is limited only by your imagination—okay, and maybe the page count.  I don’t know yet if one notebook will work for an entire year.  Some freelancers say that when they fill up one notebook they simply start another, sometimes using three or four during the course of a year.  It doesn’t bother them to migrate the informational lists to a new notebook/journal, because they like using that time to weed out the old lists, re-evaluate what they want to do or save (maybe you’d decided not to read that best-selling romance novel after all), and re-prioritize their lists.

Saving Time with a Bullet Journal/Bullet Planner

Does this all take a long time to set up? It didn’t for me. I spent more time shopping for the “perfect notebook” than I did setting up my initial pages. And that’s just because I was looking for something to inspire me. It turns out that simple, black, lightweight, and cheap was all the inspiration I needed.  

As for setting up my Index, Future Log, January Monthly Log, and Daily Log, all that took me less than an hour.  

And just doing it helped relieved the anxiety I was experiencing after a lengthy phone conference with a client, worrying that I had overextended myself. By focusing on a simple year-long overview, the current month, and the current day, I was able to take a deep breath, sit back, and reassure myself that I can handle my commitments, not just to my freelance work, but to my family and life as a (supposed) retiree.  

So bring it on 2016!  I’m eager to get to work and I’m hopeful that my new Bullet Planner system will help me keep it all organized.

What’s your system? Please  leave a comment and let me know what lies ahead for you in 2016 and how you plan to keep it all together and “get-er done!” 


  1. I have been looking in to bullet journalling, it looks amazing if you have the time to put into it each day. I hope it works really well for you!

    1. Thanks for your comment, Jessica. I am actually surprised by how little time I put into my Bullet Planner each day. It's just something that keeps me on track and provides a handy reference for my notes.

  2. I stumbled upon this system a couple months ago. I really like the rapid journal and the daily list. Instead of a physical book, I have set mine up in OneNote. I can get to it anytime, anywhere on my phone, tablet and desktop.

    By the way, It's good to know I'm not the only one that looses track of everything. Thanks for the article Peggy.

    1. You're welcome, Terry. The suggestion of using OneNote for those that like to use their devices on the go is a good one. Thanks for the comment!