I’m a bullet journal drop-out. Here’s what I’m using to organize my 2021.
It’s January, which means that we’re all resolving to be better versions of ourselves: thinner, kinder, or at least more organized. The promise to Get One’s Shit Together is a familiar one to me. After all, it’s how I started every school year from 2nd grade on. Every year I told myself that this year, maybe, I would buy the right style of notebook, be it a trapper keeper or a five star. This year, perhaps, I would use LABELS and TABS and color-coded means to keep my life in order. This fucking year, I would actually put my god damned homework in the folder of the subject it was assigned, rather than shoving it down into my backpack, only to feel super pissed at myself later when I smushed an open granola bar into it. This year I would not get a D on my notebook check in Geography, this year I would not feel red-faced shame when the teacher chewed out Phil Martens over his overstuffed desk, knowing I was not the messiest in my class if only by virtue of Phil’s presence, this year, this year, life would be different.
The revelation at age thirty-four that I had undiagnosed (and fairly severe) ADHD-I was not, therefore, a complete surprise — in fact, I felt validated. Of course there was no magic bullet notebook. Of course I quickly ignored any organizational system I built. Of course my papers were crumpled, torn, lost or forgotten — my papers done last minute, unless it was on a topic that fascinated me. The problem wasn’t my notebook. It was my brain, and it’s complete inability to executively . . . function.
A stimulant prescription has been life-changing for me. But it hasn’t eliminated the necessity, or the intoxicating allure, of Getting Organized. If anything, my new, more capable brain has helped me take on new responsibilities (like leading a Girl Scout troop, on top of my paid, deadline-oriented work as a young adult author). Just like the rest of you, I’ve still spent the last few years determined to start each January with a new page in a new planner, certain that some elusive System would help me finally tackle the general beautiful mess that was my office — and my life.
Enter the Bullet Journal.
Unless you’ve lived under a rock for the last few years, you’ve probably seen someone on your facebook feed or instagram utter breathless words of devotion to their “#BuJo.” Maybe you’ve seen myriad, hand-drawn and lettered layouts in curling script. These friends will tell you that Bullet Journaling is the secret to unlocking a more organized life. “You just need to watch a few youtube tutorials!” they assure you — but, least you get overwhelmed, they might also mention that the system is flexible and customizable and can be squeezed into any notebook. As a fan of pretty notebooks, particularly ones that look like they might contain maps to Fillory or further, I found this prospect appealing. Even if I didn’t get organized, at least I could buy a pretty book.
Which I did. In January of 2017, 2018, and 2019. But take a quick guess at how long these bullet journals lasted.
If you guessed “roughly as long as your dutifully organized notebooks in 1994,” then you’d be right.
For three years in a row, I carefully set up an index, started a reading log, drew a calendar, and started making lists of shit I had to do every single day. And it would start promising — but then quickly unravel. For one thing, I would write “vacuum” at the top of my list every single day, and then not do it. I would draw some wavy line with an arrow, carrying the task to the next day like some vlogger had told me to do in 2017 every single day. Blame my ADHD-induced Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria, but this meant that every single day, I started out my list feeling like a failure at both general cleanliness and life, which made tackling the rest of the list a little daunting.
Or sometimes I would make some kind of spelling error and try to “artfully” cross off my mistake with a fancy pen, wondering shamefully why I wasn’t the type of person who kept washi tape at home. I’d try to write nicely, but my handwriting would devolve into its usual mess, and rather than feeling like a fun artistic expression/organizational system, I just felt . . . well, like my usual mess. Or I’d grab the notebook for a phone call so I could take notes and end up using up half a page, and then my page numbers would be off, or I’d forget to sit down on a Sunday and write out the next week’s days and just . . . continue to never write out the next week’s days, much less ever get to that loopy rejoinder to “vacuum.”
I never kept the habit longer than two months.
Call me a Bullet Journal drop-out, a failure. Let’s just say the BuJo was a big BuNO for me.
Cue 2020: weeks into quarantine, suddenly homeschooling a bright six-year-old, and under a series of tight deadlines for my 2021 book release, it became obvious that my previous “system” of Gcal deadlines and failed Bullet Journals wasn’t going to work. I needed — well, if not a plan, then at least a planner. I asked my Facebook friends for help, and was adamant that I did not want advice about bullet journaling, no way, no how.
What I ended up with, instead, is a Planner Pad.
Ignore the basic name. Or, actually, don’t. Because the Planner Pad is basic — unfussy, practical, and especially recommended for folks like me with executive functioning issues. It uses a special funneling system of major and minor tasks, which, yes, like the Bullet Journal, you can watch youtube videos to learn more about. But you don’t need to do that, because it is, at its essence, a simple planner. You know, like the one that ended up in the bottom of your backpack in high school (no? Just me?) I grabbed one in executive size, because I like feeling like a boss, and even added my last name in gold leaf to the front cover. It might not be a magic book, but I can still look like a god damned wizard.
It was September when I dove in — the start of a COVID-strained season of Girl Scouting. On top of my (substantial) deadlines and my kid’s Outschool schedule, I had to keep track of ordering supplies (whose delivery might be delayed), scheduling speakers, and wrangling volunteers. All this, while still getting my work done and making sure every member of my household was clothed, fed and (mostly) decent. The top section of my Planner Pad was perfect for this — a space for divided, topical lists. I even added a “life” section, to which I dutifully add, every week, that old nemesis of mine: “vacuum.”
But there’s a major difference here between my Bullet Journal and my planner pad: when I delegate a task by day in the middle section of my planner, I generally complete that task. Items occasionally move down a day or two, but because the major unit of this planner is a week, rather than a day, there’s a sense of forward momentum and habit forming. In the bottom section, I add my appointments — a skype with my editor, a Girl Scout meeting, picking up my daughter from daycare (yes, my ADHD is really that bad.)
There is even an expansive section for notes, so if I need to jot something down in the middle of a phone call, there isn’t the sense that I’ve ruined a beautiful, calculated, and composted Pinterest-worthy layout. It’s fine. No, my weekly spread of tasks is not necessarily beautiful. In fact, it’s often disorganized, with occasional errors. And no, I am not tracking every book I read, television show I watch, or quote I enjoy.
And yet with my Planner Pad, I’m not going to go off the rails because I forget to write a list one morning, or somehow screw up my layout and start spiraling because I need to start over. I don’t need to worry about my planner’s layout because it already has one. Yes, there are some quirks — it took me a few weeks to get used to the fact that theirs start on Monday — but the only preparation necessary is to jot down a few lists on Sunday night. It stays on my desk, where I can refer to it or add to it. The only daily reflection is to cross things off that I’ve finished, if I want to. And there has not been a single week when I didn’t cross off “vacuum.”
I’m four months in with my Planner Pad — twice the length of time that I’ve lasted with any Bullet Journal — which makes it an easy habit to roll into 2021. And honestly, I can’t imagine tackling this strange, busy world (and Girl Scout cookie season!) without it. I don’t need to make Get Organized my New Year’s resolution because I’ve already tackled that beast, in 2020. And no, you won’t see my weekly spreads on instagram — they’re not pretty enough. And yet it doesn’t bother me at all because I am getting shit done, instead.