How a Cheap Blank Notebook Can Change Your Life


How do you keep up with all the little things that crowd your brain?

Things like:

  • Books you want to read
  • To-Do lists for the week (or day, or month)
  • Appointments and other scheduled items
  • Quotes you want to remember
  • Goals for the week, month, or year
  • Home projects to tackle

For me, the life-changing way to keep up with All The Things has been my bullet journal. Since I began this new system several months ago, my stuff is getting done. My brain is not crowded. I’m keeping track of little things – not just my To-Dos, but great quotes I hear or read and ideas that I have.

I’m a big fan of the digital life – I’m nerdy and techy. My undergraduate degree was in electrical engineering. I was an early adopter of the iPhone and iPad. I’ve built and rebuilt my blog a few times (and built websites for clients). I use Google everything – Gmail, Calendar, etc. – and am a devotee of Evernote. You’d think someone like me would balk at an analog system when I’m so comfortable with technology, but I don’t. In my opinion, paper simply can’t be replaced in every instance.

So what IS a bullet journal?

The short answer is that it’s a system for organizing your life and your thoughts – not another planner or calendar or to-do list, though (and goodness knows I’ve tried them all!). If you have an extra notebook and some pens lying around, you can create a bullet journal and it won’t cost you a thing. The post that was most helpful to me in starting my own bullet journal is this one from Kendra at The Lazy Genius Collective, and the way she set hers up is pretty close to the way Ive done mine. You can also find a good general overview of the idea at

FAIR WARNING: If you are: (A) not very crafty, (B) easily overwhelmed, and/or (C) have perfectionist tendencies, do not – I repeat, DO NOT – go to Pinterest for bullet journal information. I did that once and it almost made my head explode. 😉 If, however, you love colored pens and doodles and all manner of Pretty Things, you will find them on Pinterest when the day comes that you have embraced the bullet journal and want to make it beautiful.

Following is a brief summary with photos of my actual bullet journal. First, my signifiers (yes, my journal had to be taped up! I told you it was cheap.):


You can go nuts with the signifiers; I keep mine pretty basic:

  • Tasks to complete
  • Appointments
  • Things to remember or log (my most recent entry was noting the date that my daughter injured her knee, but it could be just about anything)
  • Quotes or sentiments that I found meaningful that day

Here’s an example of how I start each new week, with a two-page spread:


On the left, I listed all of the things that I needed to do in that week, each with a little box that I filled in as each task was completed. As you can see, I  ordered birthday treats for my son’s class and a cake for his birthday party, scheduled doctor’s appointments for both of us, etc. I had a few tasks on Monday and Tuesday that got shifted to the following day (indicated by the arrow through the box beside the task).

I keep a monthly “What I Learned” page and have an ongoing “Gratitude Journal” where I list 2–5 things each day that I’m thankful for (I’m still trying to decide whether the Gratitude items should be all together or included with each day’s log – right now I have them all together).

I also have a number of collections, including:

  • Books to Read (shown below)
  • Books Completed This Year
  • Meal Planning Favorites
  • Streaming Video Recommendations
  • Recipes to Try


The collections are quite personalized, as you can see – my love of books, TV, and food comes through in my collections – but that’s the beauty of the bullet journal. How often does someone recommend a show or a book and I say, “I’ll have to watch/read that!” and then I promptly walk away and forget the name of the show/book? All. The. Time. A lot of people use their bullet journal to track exercise, what they eat, etc., but I use Garmin, FitBit, and My Fitness Pal for that. As mom to two children with special needs, I do use it to keep track of doctor’s appointments, notes from school meetings, medications, etc.

What kind of notebook should I use?

Short answer: a cheap one to start. Really cheap. My first bullet journal notebook was $5.00 on sale at Target (shown in the photos). It’s 5” x 8.25” and hardbound, so it’s perfect to throw in my (not large) purse without getting bent, and I do carry it with me most of the time. Once I knew the system would work for me change my life I decided to upgrade to the Leuchtturm 1917 Hardcover Dotted A5 size – it has almost twice as many pages, a pre-printed index, the pages are already numbered, and my engineer brain prefers the dot grid over lines. The beautiful thing about the bullet journal, though, is that a cheap notebook works fine. Don’t go out and buy a fancy one until you get a feel for how you’ll bullet journal – you’ve probably got something in your desk drawer right now that’ll work.

My life is a lot different from yours. Will this work for me?

Yes, yes, yes, a million times yes! The bullet journal will work for anyone, no matter what your life stage, level of creativity, interests, what-have-you. My daughter is going to be an early adopter of virtual school for eighth graders in our school system this year, and we’ve talked this summer about how she can make it work for her now that she’ll be setting her own schedule for schoolwork. College student Amanda Krutsick posted a great video earlier this year about how she set up her bullet journal:

She uses a lot more supplies than I do (I don’t doodle, highlight, or color code), but I think her system is a good example of how flexible the system is, based on your needs and wishes. The original Bullet Journal blog includes feature “Show and Tell” articles illustrating how different people use their bullet journals.

If, like me, you’ve struggled to keep up with All The Things, or if none of the plethora of planner options on the market seems to quite fit the way you live, pick up a cheap blank notebook and a pen and try the bullet journal system!

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  1. I, too, have gone down the BuJo rabbit hole. I love it! Your post is a perfect, comprehensive intro – I wish I had found it at the beginning of my infatuation. There are several FB groups devoted to bullet journaling. What other bujo’ers do you follow on Insta or FB?

    1. I actually don’t follow very many – mostly just the ones I listed – because it can get so overwhelming!

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