Stress Less and Stop Wasting Time: Use a BuJo

First things first, I gotta say … I am perfectly smitten with my BuJo. For me, using a bullet journal has become a grounding, reassuring and entirely adaptable force of good in my life. My BuJo allows me structure and flexibility — all at once. It’s a brilliant life hack that allows me to capture, store and keep up with everything I need to do, give attention to and remember.

In fact, just yesterday, it literally saved my butt because it’s the only place I had written that I needed to pay the lease for our work studio! Whew. Tragedy averted.

I fully believe that anyone with a hectic life and a mind full of ideas can benefit from using a BuJo. It can change your life from being busy to being productive. In my opinion, it’s the absolute best planner humanly possible for the ADHD brain. Once you wrap your head around the moving parts, it’s incredibly easy to use.

Image of Imgy's Bullet Journal which is black with gold lettering that reads "trust your crazy ideas" and a pack of colorful pens.

What the Heck Is a BuJo? 

So, in case you’ve been living under a rock and haven’t hear the word, “BuJo,” I’m terribly excited to introduce you! BuJo is a really cute (ahem, … extremely macho), shortened nickname for the “Bullet Journal.” Imagine your planner, your journal, and your to-do list (heck, even your scrapbook and sketchbook, if you get real frisky) … all smushed together in one place — adapted ingeniously to suit your specific needs (and no one else’s). That’s a BuJo.

Image of collaged images including woman holding calendar page, woman using journal on her bed, close-up of to-do list in a notebook, and joyful woman standing with arms raising in joyful manner in front of the ocean with the words BuJo=Happiness!

Thank You Ryder!

Before I get much further, I have to say thanks to the developer of this elegantly simple, yet crazy-innovative organizational system. Bullet Journaling was devised by Ryder Carroll, a Brooklyn-based artistic director (who also happens to have ADHD). He needed a system flexible enough to handle whatever he threw at it and fast enough to not get in the way. To that end, he created an analog solution that bridges the gap between mindfulness and productivity, which can outperform just about any app available in our digital world.

Origin Stories Make Me Happy

Not only do I love great ideas but also how great ideas get discovered. And the BuJo is no different. The world gained access to the magic of the BuJo thanks to an observation made by a colleague of Ryder’s. She was frantically swimming in a table full of wedding plans when she noticed his notebook … and remarked how she could never be that organized. He replied that actually she could, because there was a method to his madness. After taking the time to explain his system to her, she stared with her mouth open. He worried she thought he was nuts. But, after a brief silence, she said “You have to share this with people.” And so it began. You can read more here.

How Do You BuJo?

I’m so glad you asked! For easy reference, I’ve added a few bullet lists below to explain all the moving parts and get your started! (See what I did there? … Bullet … lists?) Yep, that’s why my business card does not read “comedian,” boys and girls! An—y—way, … the list:

Getting Started: The Moving Parts + What You Need to Get Your BuJo On

What You Need:

  1. Your Tools
    Gather all two (2) of them. Seriously. You only need 2 things to get started! A pen and a notebook. Now, you can make your experience as rich as you’d like by adding different colored pens, pencils, stickers, GLITTER, etc. You can get creative and have fun color-coding and doodling for days, but really … you just need a regular old pen and paper. And as far as the type of paper in your notebook, enthusiasts really get into graph paper, but any paper will work… lined or not. It’s really all about what feels good to you!
  2. Numbered Pages
    This is not the most exciting step; this is true. But, it’s important because it gives you a physical address where you can find all the things in the future. Still sound excruciating? Stress not; there are notebooks already numbered available for purchase. Personally, I hand-number a few at a time … and it’s really no big deal.
  3. A Symbol Key
    Next, you’ll need a set of symbols to represent the types of info you tend to write down. (This will help you record information as fast as possible and keep it organized so you can read it later). Start with the essentials, and as you get used to Bullet Journaling, the number of symbols you use will grow and evolve naturally as you find new things you want to record.Image of hand-lettered examples of essential and creative symbols for use in your symbol key when creating a bullet journal.

The Framework + Moving Parts:

  1. Your Index

    The index is the back-bone of the system and where the magic begins. Start by writing INDEX at the top of the page, then list items as you include them in your BuJo (with respective page numbers) and you’ll be able to find them later! Use 2-4 pages for this.

  2. Your Future Log

    Title the next four (4) pages of your BuJo, FUTURE LOG. This is for things you don’t have to do immediately, but will eventually. Pinterest is loaded with beautiful creative ideas for layouts, but the simplest method involves dividing your pages in thirds and labeling your months (3 months per page). Then list your Future Log in your Index with your pages numbers.

  3. Your First Monthly Log

    After your Future Log is set, the next thing to do is start your first Monthly Log. I highly recommend starting with the minimalist method before getting fancy. To do this, write the name of the current month at the top of the left-hand side of a spread followed by listing the numerical days of the month along with the first letter of the corresponding day of the week. Then add in your appointments and important events. It’s so simple it’s kinda crazy. There’s not a lot of space here, but that’s a good thing. It’s kind of the point. It helps teach you time is a limited resource!

    Image of Imgy's Monthly BuJo Spread for April

    Next, on the right-hand side of the same spread, list your To-Do List for the month. I call this my Task Page, but you can refer to it however you like.You can see how busy you are on the left and how much you have to get done on the right all at once. This perspective can give a better view on whether you’ve overcommitted or not when new things come up.

  4. Your Daily Logs

    The standard way of handling this is to put the first letter of the day and date, underline it, and bullet list out events, to do’s, notes, whatever you want on the left, and then you can go into detail on the opposite page if you want. Just keep the bulleted items as short and to the point as you can. The idea is to help your brain focus on what needs to be done and not get bogged down with feelings and details.

    For me, I’ve not entirely adapted to doing it the way I just described it. I have a bad habit of making an entire page worth of to-do’s for myself in any given day. So, for me … my primary goal is to divide my page into 3 sections and try to fit a day’s worth of items in that 1/3 of a page. It’s all about creating a system that WORKS for you!

  5. Anything You Want!

    The next page or whatever page in between is your page to do whatever you want… FREEDOM! You are in complete control of keeping up with whatever, however you want! If you want to draw a picture of a cat dancing on the back of a unicorn surfing on a rainbow on page 85, doooo it!

The Secret Ingredient: MIGRATION

Migration is the cornerstone that really drives the magic behind this system and makes it work. Once you reach your second month, look back at last month. See unresolved, unmarked tasks? If they are irrelevant mark them out. Still need attention? Move them forward (migrate them) to the current month or reschedule them to a later month in your future log. Migrate things daily as you need to. Or use a Habit Tracker (keep reading to find out more about those). It may feel tedious to rewrite items over and over, but that’s intentional. It helps you pause and consider the importance of the task. That item will either get done eventually or you’ll realize it’s not important enough to keep around. Get rid of it!

Other Minor Miracles

  • Collections

    Sometimes you’ll have notes, tasks, ideas that are all related by a common theme or purpose. Rather than leaving these strewn about your world on post-its, random scraps of paper, old planners, calendars, or even throughout your BuJo … you can gravitate them all to live in one place or “collection” in your BuJo. Just turn to the next page and label it with your topic. Record it in your index! Now reading lists, projects, movies you’ve wanted to see, or a list of places you want to travel to, your bucket list, anything like this — can have a place to live and grow — and not get lost!

  • Habit Trackers

    Habit Trackers are a way you can keep from writing repetitive tasks in your BuJo over and over. It’s also a great tool for self assessment and reflection, and of course, it can help you build or improve on any habit you’d like. To create a habit tracker in its simplest form for anything you want to track or remember to do on a repeated basis: Find a page, title your tracker, list the thing or things you want to track on the left-hand side. Then above and across the top, number or abbreviate the days, months, or whatever period of time you are wanting to track, creating a grid-system for yourself that you can mark off as you go along.

Tips & Tricks

There are tons of do’s and don’ts out there on the net, which can quickly get overwhelming, so I’ve listed just a few here to get you started. When you are ready to dive in though, in addition to loads of practical advice, you’ll find many great ideas and examples of fun stuff out there to explore.

  • Pick a notebook size that works for you. Because making short lists is a challenge for me, I started with a larger notebook to give myself more space. Eventually I want to work toward a smaller size as I’m able to simplify and streamline my tasks.
  • Keep it simple! It’s easy to get carried away when we start new things, so start with the basics and go minimal until using your BuJo becomes second nature.
  • After you get comfortable, get creative! Remember that half the joy in Bullet Journaling is that YOU make the rules. Whatever makes the most sense to YOUR brain is the only way to do it!
  • Don’t stress about it being perfect. Mess it up! This system is built for freedom.
  • Don’t forget to Migrate! Simply add a note on the last day of each month to migrate your to-do’s to the next month.
  • Decide on a special place to keep your BuJo and a time when you’ll check in with it.
  • Add a visible note in the front in case you misplace your BuJo. Add contact info (but not your home address) — and maybe even include a cash reward!

Image of hand drawn note from front of a bullet journal giving instructions on how to return notebook to the owner if lost and found.

  • Although your BuJo is all about getting personal, don’t keep crucial info like passwords or your home address in your BuJo, unless you want that stuff to be public knowledge.
  • Even though the system works brilliantly completely analog and on it’s own, … yes, there IS a companion app. It doesn’t replace your notebook, but works as a companion to your notebook to help you go deeper and get a more meaningful experience from your BuJo. You can learn all about it here.

For more tips and tricks to get you started, definitely check out bulletjournal.com.

So Much More than Productivity

All things considered, Bullet Journaling is definitely a breath of fresh air to anyone with a complex mind living in a complicated world — especially those of us with ADHD. But more importantly, if you really let yourself lean into Bullet Journaling, it becomes so much more than a productivity tool. The real advantage the BuJo holds over a standard planner is that it connects meaning and heart to the equation. By functioning like a planner with the depth of a diary … it gives you more time to focus on the happy things that are rich and dear … the things that MATTER.

5 thoughts on “Stress Less and Stop Wasting Time: Use a BuJo

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    1. I hear you. It hasn’t been easy. I think the key for me has been keeping it as minimally as possible, not getting fancy with it and letting go of perfection. For that alone it’s been a break for me. I don’t have any of those beautifully artful spreads to drool over like you see across Pinterest and so many blogs about bullet journaling. Mine’s quite the hot mess … but it’s become a new best friend. And I’ve been able to stick with it! I’ve always been a list-maker though. I learned early on I couldn’t survive otherwise (way before I knew I had ADHD). It’s been wonderful for so many of my lists to live in one place … and not all over the house … and my purse … and the back door … and did someone say something about cheese?

  1. Ignore my last post about how to actually write the bujo post ahha. YOU DID IT! 😀

    I have always seen people’s bujo’s and how they love them so much. I can’t see myself actually being able to use one 🙁 I feel like my perfection will get in my way and I will spend SO MUCH TIME setting it up and making myself a structure. I feel so overwhelmed reading your post. How do you decide what rules to use?! And also what you even want to write! AH!

    1. This is definitely why it was a bit of a challenge to figure out how to write about it. I wanted to be able to break it down and simplify it in a way that wasn’t overwhelming. Maybe I’ll give-it-a-go someday and nutshell it further in another post. The main thing that I would say perhaps over and over is to keep it as simple as possible until the habit sticks. Mostly I use mine as a central location for all my daily to-do lists … and just things I don’t want to forget. If I can just muster the nerve to get the “thing” into the BuJo … then it’s not lost forever and I can find it again. And that alone is reassuring.

      The magic pieces are the index, creating your own symbols for things – that make sense to you, and the system of migration, so those things you still haven’t done yet … keep showing up until you pay attention to them.

      It’s definitely also a tool that is slowly teaching me about time and how much stuff I can or can’t jam into it. And yes, it’s a challenge against perfectionism. You have to let go – or at least I do – of having it look “pretty.” I really don’t let myself look at those examples on Pinterest. I want my BuJo to function for me more than I want it look beautiful. I might have a random attractive page ever 30 pages and that’s just fine. The rest look like messes … but they help me relax a little and give me a reliable hub to come back to again and again.

What are your thoughts?

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