Run the World (Squirrels)

Okay, I’m not quite prepared for world domination. But I am running things in my private kingdom (queendom?) better than I used to, and that’s something.

We’ve been talking about organization and how I’m getting in control of my flighty brain (Intro post, exercise, planners, if you need to catch up or refer back). On Monday I said that I’d finally found a planner that seemed to be working for me on every level.

If you follow me on Instagram, this is no mystery. I post a lot of pictures of my bullet journal. A lot of people do (check out #bulletjournal over there if you don’t believe me). They range from perfectly minimalist daily to-do lists to beautiful, hand-painted and gorgeously lettered spreads.

And this is possible because at its most basic, a bullet journal is a notebook that you make into whatever you need it to be.

There are no rules, but there is a system. Developed by Ryder… something (Sorry. I hear all about The Church of Ryder* all the time, but I’m bad with names), it’s a rapid-logging system to keep track of your planner stuff. Check out bulletjournal.com for the basics.

You’ve got your key in the front (a list of the notations that you use), your index (for logging what you’ve used your pages for), and then your “collections.” These could be your plans for the month, a page of quotes, your daily tasks, or literally anything else you want to draw or write in there. Want a collection where you track which episodes of The Golden Girls you’ve watched? Have at it. Want to throw weekly spreads into the mix? I do it, and so do lots of other people. Want to try out a different format for those planning pages, use a whole page for one day, or just cram a week onto one page and save paper? YOU GO FOR IT, SWEETIE.

And that’s why I love this thing. It’s streamlined and small and goes everywhere with me. It allows me to plan as far ahead as I want and to cram as many random pages in there as I needed to. By having my monthly and weekly pages and then just going one day at a time, I can put notes where they belong chronologically and then log them in the index so I can find them later.

And you can use any notebook you want! Right now I’m using a black moleskine hardcover notebook with grid paper, and the next one I have lined up to use is the very popular Leuchtturm1917 with dot grid paper. But when I was first testing out this system to see if it might work for me, I used lined paper notebooks I’d bought at Chapters (and I’m still using a similar system in those books for story notes, as they tuck so nicely into my Filofax). And they were fine. Use a spiral-bound composition book. Use a dollar store pocket-sized notebook with puppies on the cover. Your call. It will work.

So today we can take a quick look at how I use my bullet journal to organize my life, and if you have any questions, go right ahead and ask. I do recommend checking out the official site for the basics, and looking at all of the amazing bullet journalists on Instagram. You don’t have to make it pretty, but it sure is nice to look at. 🙂


The index gives you a pretty good idea of what I put in here (continues on the next page). Everything from planning books to gift ideas to daily planning. Some of these are things that looked cool but didn’t work out for me, like the mood and social media trackers. But that’s another nice aspect of this. Try something and don’t like it? Lesson learned. Just turn the page and leave it behind. You’re not stuck with anything that’s not good for you.


Sometimes my daily pages are a full page (usually), sometimes just half. Sometimes they have fancy headers and doodles, sometimes they’re basic lists. It changes to suit me, which is great (this one was while I was in the hospital with one of my kiddos this summer, doing some hard thinking about my stress levels and stalled productivity while he napped. And my journal accommodated that beautifully).


Welcoming a new month is a bit of a tradition for a lot of people. I liked it because I got to practice some doodles that @therevisionguide posted on Instagram, so I’ll probably do it again. Imagine the possibilities for Halloween and Christmas! 🙂


And here’s a look at a weekly page. This collection isn’t part of the original bullet journal system, but I need a weekly view for planning ahead in a little more detail than my monthly page allows for.

There are a ton of other pages in there, of course. I’ve been using this book for a month and a half and I’m on page 122. Some people can make one of these last a year by just putting a few items down as needed for each day. So flexible.

So how does this look for me in practice? How does it help me stay on track?

At the beginning of each month I look back at my Future Log page, where I’ll have any big events or appointments that I’ve scheduled listed. I’ll make my monthly page (which could look like a wall calendar or could have the dates on lines so I can just list things as needed. I prefer the former, myself, though it’s not the official system way to do it). And I’ll transfer items from the Future Log to the Monthly page. Then I’ll add other things, like  pay days, regular due dates for bills, and anything else that comes up for the month. I also use that page as a spot to set my goals and intentions for the month (jut my top three goals, nothing overwhelming, just to keep me focused. For example, in September they’re back to school, the sale on Bound, and the Romancing the Rock EXPOsed author event I’m doing this weekend). I’m experimenting with things like a bill tracker there so I can make sure I haven’t missed anything. And I’ll leave space to note down important things for next month (changes I want to try in my collections, date I need to get back to my doctor about a thing, etc).

Every Sunday I make the next week’s weekly spread, like the one up there ^. This could be one page or two, depending on whose style I thought it would be fun to try this week. I always have boxes for each day’s events and day-specific tasks, a meal planner for the week, room for the grocery list that flows from that, a weekly habit tracker, and “next week.” This gives me a bird’s eye view of the upcoming week, shows me where I might run into trouble (deadline looming when my husband is away and one of the kids has a project due? Might need to set aside some other tasks for now…). This page is a lot like the ones in my Erin Condren and Inkwell Press planners, and very valuable to me.

The more prepared I feel, the less anxious I am.
Then each day gets a page, and this is why I like this better than my other planners. Not everyone needs this, but I really do. I’ll set this up the evening before, unless I’m too exhausted.

These are the pages that really corral my pigeons (my flighty thoughts and attention, remember). I’ll pick my top three tasks for the day that I really need to get done. Usually they’re time-sensitive things like appointments, or (more importantly for me) the little steps that I HAVE to get done to help me toward larger goals. My natural inclination is to let these go until the last minute and then panic. But noting them here, I’m more likely to get them done.

What else goes on a typical daily page? Decorations. I might draw a Pokémon I caught with the kids, or a fancy cupcake if we’re celebrating a birthday. I keep a health tracker on every day’s page for the little routines I will absolutely forget if I’m not checking them off (stretching out my back, taking medications and vitamins, etc.). If I’m doing an instagram challenge or really need to share something on social media, I’ll add that. Things to pick up if I go by the store. Errands. Notations of bills I need to pay that day and the confirmation number for the transaction. Chores. Work tasks and goals. On a really busy day I might use some space to make a timed plan of when I need to be ready for things, because I have a horrible sense of how long it takes to get places and do things. If it’s on paper I’m less likely to assume I can spare another 5 minutes.

All day long I’m writing things in and checking them off. And between that I’m GETTING SHIT DONE.

Not everything I feel I should be doing. In many areas of my life, particularly in my creative/work life, I feel like an underachiever. My bedroom is always messy because I never have the mental energy to spare to tackle it after the more public parts of the house are done. I still probably put off the dishes for too long, too often.

But I’m getting there.

 

And between my daily pages, of course, I have EVERYTHING ELSE. Brain dumps for when my pigeons are going nuts and I need to pin them down to see them clearly, or for when a problem seems too huge and I need to break it down. Project notes for when I have story ideas at random times. Party plans. Notes from books I’m reading. New routines I want to try for the morning or after school. Quotes.

My brain on paper, where I can’t lose and forget everything.

Kind of cool.

I can’t recommend this system enough if you have needs like mine. Maybe start smaller if you’re not planning at all now, with a weekly system in a pre-printed planner. I never would have stuck with this if I’d jumped into bullet journaling right away, so I’m so glad I had my other planners to evolve from. They taught me good habits that I’m building on now.

Or heck, just jump right in here. Do what works for you.

Okay, next time (next Friday, I guess)… Oh. I have a note here on that! We’re going to talk about habits and routines. Sounds boring, but they’re so helpful. And then the nitty-gritty of trying to get through a work day.

Whew.

How do you keep track of your plans and thoughts? Is this even an issue for you? Let me know in the comments! And if you have more questions about the bullet journal thing, I’ll do my best to answer those, too.

BONUS:

I’m getting ready for my first big muli-author event (actually, my first live event of any kind that I’m attending specifically as an author). What do you think of this?

*I don’t think anyone literally worships him, but… you know. Celebrity worship. The mother ship. The founding father.

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About Kate Sparkes

Kate Sparkes was born in Hamilton, Ontario, but now resides in Newfoundland, where she tries not to talk too much about the dragons she sees in the fog. She lives with a Mountie, two kids who take turns playing Jeckyll and Hyde, two cats, an intentional boxer and an accidental chihuahua. She's the author of the bestselling Bound Trilogy (mature YA Fantasy). www.katesparkes.com View all posts by Kate Sparkes

3 responses to “Run the World (Squirrels)

  • kingmidget

    Will you be my life coach? Kind of sort of kidding. It’s interesting that you posted this today. This weekend I’m going on a short, over night backpacking trip. Hiking in five miles to a mountain lake. Once we get there and have set up camp, some of the others are going to hike around the lake. I’m thinking I’m going to hang back. I have a small notebook and I wanted to see if I could come up with something. Something. Something. Something that might help me categorize and organize and figure things out so that the squirrels stop their destructive work on my personal productivity.

    And along comes this post.

    Just odd how these things work some times.

  • Alana Terry

    Thanks for sharing Kate! This is helpful to have some visuals to go by.

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