Organizational Systems and Trying Something New

Since I was in my teens, I’ve liked playing with organizational systems. FlyLady, Konmari, a budget book when I was first married, Everyday Systems… I’ve worked with lots of them.

At first, I thought I was looking for The Perfect System. But you know, I don’t think I am. I think what it comes down to is that I like playing with ways to structure life. Which, regarding Real Productivity, would be considered a waste of time. The focus should be more on organization and productivity, not the system, right?

I started to feel guilty about that, but then I thought, “Well, of all the weird hobbies or obsessions one could have, enjoying exploring productivity and organizational systems is hardly a bad one. You do have a clean house. Your bills are paid. Obviously, this is not subtracting from your enjoyment of life, nor from living effectively.”

Which is the point. Playing with systems and routines over the years has ultimately gotten me some things I actually want. Whether or not I stuck with a particular one doesn’t matter as much as the fact that the play and exploration itself has taught me things and I have gained rather than lost from it (I do still shine my sink and question whether or not a possession sparks joy). Is it a weirdly obsessive hobby? Yeah, it sure is.

This brings me to the Bullet Journal. Do I really need this, since I’ve got OneNote and Remember the Milk and a Household Notebook and… Well, you get the point.

No, I don’t need it. I could get along perfectly well without it. My life is pretty organized and has been for some decades. I am productive. My business makes a modest profit and at least pays for our groceries, even in a bad month. Still, when you watch a video on it, and your husband brings you home a blank notebook in which to try it, we’re talking about a hobby/experiment that’s cheaper than my knitting or the books I buy. Why not?

What is a Bullet Journal?

Ultimately, a Bullet Journal is on paper. This is for the Luddite. Normally, I’m all about technology and beepy reminders, so this is going to be a very different experiment.

It is set up in some basic modules that you then use to organize anything you care to, but ultimately your life. It is meant to be quick-n-dirty. In its original form, you don’t need to spend a lot of time doing the logging.

A warning: If you look up Bullet Journals in social media, you’ll see pretty calligraphy, drawings and all kinds of nifty stuff. This isn’t what you’ll see from me. My handwriting stinks. I can’t draw. This is going to be a lot more basic than how many people with considerably more calligraphic ability and artistic flair will use it. My stuff is only pretty when there’s the aid of a computer available!

How does the Bullet Journal Work?

The Modules

The Bullet Journal is broken down into several modules, but the basics are the Index, the Future Log, the Monthly Log and Collections. They work together so that you can integrate and update your work on the fly. This is meant to be dynamic and intuitive. I’ve already found it works well to organize the results of brainstorming.


The Index is exactly what it says on the label. A place to record information and where to find it. You list topics and then the page number of where you can find these topics in the Bullet Journal. The advantage here is that this can be a work in progress acknowledging you don’t know what the future will look like. If you need to add something, but there isn’t room, it’s easy enough to add and record where to find it in the Index.


Future Log

After you’ve created your index, you turn to the next two-page blank spread and create your Future Log. While you can break it down however you want, I’ve taken the advice of the Bullet Journal originator and chosen a six-month period for my spread. As I think of things I need to get done in the future, this is where I can record it for future reference. When the month approaches, I can then copy what’s necessary to my Monthly Log. Remember to write down the location of your Future Log in your Index!


Monthly Log

To create a monthly log, turn to the next two blank pages and begin. You’ll notice I did not do two blank pages for September. It’s almost over. When I get to October, I’ll do it properly.

On the left-hand side, you number the dates and then list the days of the week beside each date. For those of you who have packed days, THIS IS NOT A MEETING CALENDAR. You can adapt the Bullet Journal for that by adding a calendar module, and if you scan the Internet, you’ll see that many have. The point here is to record important, high-level highlights for your month.

On the right-hand side, you list the things you need to accomplish in the month. As you start to use the journal over time, if there are things from the previous month that you did not get done, you can migrate them to the new month. This sounds like a lot of tedious copying, but in fact is a feature rather than a bug. If you’ve postponed it month to month for a long time, is it really that important? Maybe you ought to cross it off your list. It’s a great way to evaluate what’s genuinely worth your time.


Daily Log

The Daily Log is where you focus on a day-to-day basis. Notice how you’re already encouraged to take a longer view, and then an increasingly more granular view of your time as you progress? This allows for both big picture planning as well as breaking this down into actionable items you can do on a daily basis. I really like how this works.



Sometimes you’re working on something that’s more properly a project and should be organized in a single place. This is where you can record your ideas, tasks you need to accomplish, any brainstorming or notes about the project. When you create tasks, you can migrate these to your daily tasks, thus keeping a daily to-do list pretty organized. More about migrating tasks under Bullets.

I decided to make a Collection to organize for the holidays this year. It’s a decent enough project and should be a good experiment.


The Bullets

The bullets are symbols or signifiers indicating what the entry actually is. You’ll start by listing tasks with dots. Then it is easy to change these symbols as you need to reschedule a task, or need to indicate it’s important, or just about anything else.

  • Task (Just a dot)
  • * = High priority task
  • X = Completed task
  • < = Migrated to Future Log
  • > = Migrated to Monthly/Daily Log
  • 0 = Event
  • – = Note
  • ! = Inspiration
  • = Explore/Needs research



In playing with the system for a day, I do find it kind of fun. It’s not yet ten in the morning, and you can see I’ve already completed a few items on today’s list as well as written this article. Over time as it becomes more mundane, I’ll do another article to report on how much I liked it, what works, what doesn’t and if I want to keep up with this.

The Key to Frugality: Where’s the Thrill?

I was doing the family books this morning and noticed an  expenditure that looked kind of excessive. I talked to my husband about it, laughed and commented, “You know, we could stop doing that, put the money we’d normally spend on it in a savings account each month, then go on a cruise.”

Yeah, I know, I tagged the post “frugality”, and here I am talking cruises.

There’s a reason for that.

Once your basic needs are met (and yes, being good with money can help with that), being careful with your money is about living deliberately – making sure you actually have what you want to have, and thinking carefully about what that is.

Here’s one: Coffee. I love a good coffee. Do I go out to the coffee store chain and buy it?

Only if I am traveling. I have a Chemex and do my own pour-overs. Shoot, I even used to make them at work rather than buy the coffee available at the café. I’m not getting a lesser thing or doing without something I love. Rather the opposite! What I love is really good coffee, and I know how to make it, so I do.

If what I loved was the experience of the coffee shop, then buying the coffee in the shop would be the better choice.

The thing is, you can’t know where the thrill is until you know where the money is going.

If you want to save money, record every penny you spend

While I do use financial software (I run a small business), a free Google Docs spreadsheet would work just fine. Both my father and my son use a spreadsheet, and it works for them. There are lots of free financial tracking apps available if you have a smartphone. When my husband and I were first married, we didn’t have a computer, and this record was kept on paper. It doesn’t matter what format you use. The point is to write down everything you buy.

Doughnut? Write it down. Classify it as Food. If you really want to get granular, you can break it down as Groceries and Restaurants, but you don’t necessarily have to when you get started.

Maserati tune-up? Write it down. Classify it as Auto. Again, if you’re going for granularity, you could classify it as Auto: Service, but when getting started, you probably don’t need to take it that far.

You can make up classifications that make sense to you but don’t go too crazy with it. The important thing is to make it relatively easy to make this a habit.

At first, it’s not going to seem particularly useful. There will be expenses where you’ll say, “Yeah, but I don’t exactly replace the tires every month. This month was an exception.”

The thing is, after you keep this up over a period of about a year, patterns emerge. You find out that you go out to dinner every two weeks on payday. This is actually neither good nor bad. While we all know that eating out is much more expensive than cooking your own meals, the point isn’t that you should only make the cheap choices.

The point is, are you following a general habit that isn’t really providing a kick for you, or are you doing something you truly and consciously love to do?

You might look at those meals out and say to yourself, “Sure I enjoy it, but I don’t get $200 a month’s worth of enjoyment out of it! I think I’m going to cut back to once a month.”

You might look at those meals out and say, “Oh man, dinner out just makes me smile every time I think about it. I love doing that having people around me and being waited on. In fact, I’m cutting back on buying yarn for knitting, because this is something that’s really worth my time and money to do.”

You might look at those meals out and say, “The thing that gives me a kick for those dinners is the candlelight, the well-presented meal, and the nice place setting.” You’re also a good cook, have a tablecloth, candlesticks, and nice china, so you decide that you’re going to make fancy meals for yourself more often and buy those high-end knitting needles you’ve had your eye on, or put it in savings because what you really want is the security of knowing that if an emergency comes up, you have it covered.

Notice that the different ways of looking at it. In each case, it’s the combination of knowing what you’re doing and what you’re spending plus knowing what it is about it that’s giving you the thrill. In each case, you can make a conscious choice to get the best value out of your money by spending wisely.