Productivity for the Hopelessly Unproductive

I am hopelessly unorganized. Not just the typical level of lax organization either. I am scatterbrained and easily distracted, so I have trouble remembering things I need to remember to do. Or pick up at the store. Or. Well, anything I have to remember, really.

There isn’t a productivity system out there that I haven’t tried. They just don’t work for me. While writing things down does help with the Remembering part, anything that is too structured just doesn’t work in my mostly unstructured existence.

“Too structured” seems to be the most common flaw in the productivity systems I have tried, until I finally settled on one that I seem to be able to keep up with. I already have a journaling habit, being a writer. I already carry about a small notebook in which to jot down ideas as they come to me, so that I don’t forget them.

So when I stumbled upon bullet journaling, it seemed like an expansion on what I already do. One journal to rule them all. One journal to . . .


I’ve been bullet journaling since late last year, and so far I’ve been able to stick with it where I haven’t managed to stick with any other productivity system I’ve tried.

WTF is this Bullet Journal Thing?

Basically? It’s a notebook with an index. You write down the things you need to remember – whatever they are – in the notebook and catalog them with the index so you can find them later. You can use any notebook, any pen, any style of making your notes. At its most basic, the only thing it is is a notebook with an index. You can read more about starting one here:

But isn’t that just a to-do list?

Yes. And no. A bullet journal can be a calendar, an appointment book, a to do list, a shopping list, a brain dump notebook, a doodle repository, a tracker of anything you might want to track, and a journal all in one, which makes it great for creative professionals like me. Part of the key to this is the ability to migrate notes and tasks as you need to, and to key notes according to a legend you set up. Some people use symbols. Some people use colors. The key can be any system you set up, but my basic one is based loosely on the main BuJo system:

•   Task
X  Task Complete
>  Task Migrated
<  Task Scheduled
–  Note
!   Event

camerazoom-20170224123115055A bullet journal thrives on overlap and migrating notes.  As calendar pages, you can have a yearly page, a six month Future Log, a Month Log, and Weekly and Daily logs. (I actually mildly combine the latter two as I don’t need that much overlap.)
My Year at a Glance Future Log is nothing more than a basic 12 month calendar with important dates highlighted:

The broader the time period, the less detail required. The six month and month logs each have somewhat more detail about important dates, with the weekly/daily logs have the most detail, as an example here is the weekly log I have settled on after trying several:


This one includes time-boxing – I use the “clock” underneath each date to block off how much time I spend doing different things, according to a key at the bottom of the page – room for a to-do list and a “daily review.” I only do a daily page when I need more room for my journaling, but for most days this provides plenty of space for a small journal entry below the to-dos.

You will often see these layouts called “Spreads” – a Spread is nothing more than a way a person decides to layout that particular log. You can look on Pinterest for plenty of ideas on spreads and try them out to find one that works for you.

What is a collection?

Collections are where bullet journaling really get their power for a creative professional like me. A collection can be anything that doesn’t go on one of those logs mentioned above. Among my collections, I have a list of books I have read since the beginning of the year, a mood tracker set up for the whole year, a brain dump spot for story ideas, and a submissions tracker for my short stories. I also have collections for research notes for current writing projects. A “collection” is nothing more than a topic header that is indexed in your notebook’s index.  It can be anything at all that you want it to be. You can even have a “collection” for your doodles!

Ok, so why does this work for you, you bundle of disorganization, you?

  • It’s creative. You can lay out your spreads in any manner you want to, and include any manner of things you want to include in them. Want to track how many cats you pet each day? Put a cat-petting tracker on that baby. Feel like today really needs a creepy alien sticker on it? Well, what day doesn’t?
  • It’s just structured enough to work at keeping me organized, while still being flexible enough to change as my needs or my whims change.
  • I can put anything I want in it, and find it again if I need to, all I have to do is stick it in the index. This is awesome for those days when I really need a list of famous internet cats. Or to test a new ink for my fountain pens. Or to write that Flash/Cold fanfic I’ve had roaming about my head lately. Whatever! Indexes are GREAT.

I know you said I could use any pen or notebook I want, but what do you use! I’m an office supply geek and I must know!


Here’s what I’m using for my current BuJo:


  • Leuchtturm1917 Dot Grid Notebook: This is sort of the “official” BuJo notebook. I like the dot-grid one. It has pre-numbered pages and an index already, no need to DIY it. It’s also got fountain-pen friendly paper.
  • TWSBI Diamond 580 Fountain Pen: This is my go-to pen for most of my writing needs. I have two and love them both, as I write my first drafts longhand and they both hold tons of ink, write beautifully, and don’t cause much hand fatigue. That’s what I usually use for my journal entries in my BuJo, as well.
  • Staedtler Triplus Fineliner Pens: I use these for coloring too, so I already had a good color assortment. They’re great for making the fine lines in charts and spreads.
  • Zebra Mildliner Highlighters: For when I want a little color/highlighting but don’t want to burn my eyes out with super bright fluorescents.
  • An assortment of stickers, washi tapes, glitter pens and stencils collected from various sources for making things pretty.

(Previously published on my old website in February of 2017.)