Small Format Bullet Journal: Trial & Error

Small-format bullet journaling –

I've been bullet journaling for nearly three years, and over that time I've toyed with straying from the format, I've experimented with different layouts, and I've tried different kinds of notebooks.

Over the summer, my friend emailed me a link to a Kickstarter that combined two of my loves: notebooks and organizers. I backed the project immediately. I'd always used a medium-size notebook for my bujo, and hadn't considered ​using an infinitely more portable tiny notebook for the job. Nothing like a fancy/functional case to make me consider something new, eh?

Something else the campaign got me to consider was whether it might be helpful to keep a separate notebook for each of the major projects I work on. The PocketDoJo organizer is designed to hold three notebooks, see, and as it happens there are three major kinds of things I do: my work, client work, and advocacy work.


I was super excited when my PocketDoJo arrived, both because new notebooks are super exciting, and also because the organizer solves the problem I always have with pens. Pens are never attached to my notebook, which means I never quite have one on hand when I need it.

I set up each of the notebooks and got down to it.


You can see in the image above that the notebooks (now sold by the company formed after the Kickstarter ended: Efficiency Supply)​ are designed well for bullet journaling – no need to make your own checkboxes.

But there's something about the notebook design that, though totally functional, doesn't appeal to me. It's possible I've become a design snob while I wasn't paying attention. ​And also? There's simply no reason to keep a separate notebook for each project I do, because my bullet journal is mostly a notebook full of to-do lists.

Small-format bullet journaling with PocketDojo and Field Notes –

Though I intended to finish each of my three ​new notebooks before abandoning that system, I bailed after only a few weeks.

But two great things came out of this experiment:

  1. I do love the PocketDojo case. I always have my pen handy (even my fountain pen!), and the case can hold other things if I need it to, like additional pens, or business cards.
  2. I don't feel like I've sacrificed anything by using a small notebook instead of a much larger (heavier) one, so it's easier than ever to have my bullet journal with me at all times.
Small-format bullet journaling with PocketDojo and Field Notes –

Having discovered that size doesn't really matter, I've bitten the bullet (see what I did there?) and signed up for the Field Notes quarterly subscription. Their notebooks are exactly the right size for the PocketDojo, their design appeals to the snob that seems to have spawned inside me, and the stories behind their limited editions are awesome (I'm in love with the lunacy notebooks they made this fall – watch the video!).

Do you keep a bullet journal? What size notebook do you use? Do you find that bigger is better, or that smaller gets the job done just fine? Any tips for maximizing the small approach?​


(Here's what it looked like when I looked up from the bench where I took the photos of the notebooks for this post. I love Granville Island so much.)

Granville Island, Vancouver. Small-format bullet journaling with PocketDojo and Field Notes –

Small-format bullet journaling with PocketDojo and Field Notes –

Back to My Bullet Journal

Bullet Journal spread, and why I've come back to my BuJo after a break.

I started my first Bullet Journal two years ago, and it (finally) made me into a notebook-keeper. Which is good, because, being a writer, I was starting to feel like I was doing something wrong in my inability to stick with a notebook habit.

Like with many systems, though, I suppose I got a little antsy, or bored, and when the Get to Work Book came out last year, I thought that maybe its more structured design would enable me to be more structured, while still being flexible enough to accommodate some simple bullet journaling. So I ordered one and fell in love with it.

But the GTWB is big. Quite big. It’s not as easy to tote around as a plain-old notebook. So after a while I started looking around some more, and discovered the Hibonichi planner. Which is small. And lovely. With surprisingly solid, very thin paper my fountain pen wouldn’t bleed through.

And though I enjoyed adapting to the Hibonichi, and it’s just so fabulous, after a disappointingly short time I found myself longing for the less rigid structure of a plain-old notebook Bullet Journal again. The grass is always greener, people. The grass is always greener.

I wanted to be able to take notes wherever I wanted, and have a day’s to-do list be any length it needed to be. I wanted a notebook without much structure that I could just tote around everywhere, to hold all the thoughts, tasks, and notes I need to capture.


So I plucked a brand new notebook from my shelf (which I’d purchased right before the GTWB launched), and took a few minutes to set up a new Bullet Journal. And I felt like I had come home.

Now. In the years since I first came upon this delightfully simple system, bloggers have gone nuts showing off their own journals. I love me some journal eye candy. I love it so much.

But I do not produce an eye-candy journal. No, I most certainly do not. I do not colour-code. I do not adorn. I do not apply fancy hand-lettering to headings and titles. I don’t even try to keep my handwriting in check.

So I thought, though I’ve only been back at it for a week, that I’d show you a few spreads from my new BuJo (that’s what the kids call it these days).

Up at the top of the post is something new I’m trying out this time around: a Calendex; it’s like the love child of an index and a yearly calendar. As you can see, I haven’t actually used it yet. But I do have some things coming up later in the year, so I anticipate I’ll end up using it. Even if I don’t, it sure is pretty. And it’s the first time I took a ruler to my journal. Fancy.

Month & Day Spread

Bullet Journal month and day spread, and why I've come back to my BuJo after a break.

Above is the spread with my February task list on the left, and some daily to-do lists on the right. I didn’t keep a monthly task list in my last journal, but I think I’ll stick with it in this one. It felt pretty good to mark all the February tasks as completed at the end of the month, and it helped to see them all in one place.

For daily to-dos, well. This is why I fell in love with this system in the first place (this, and the whole index idea). It’s second nature to me to make lists this way now (not that it’s terribly different from any other kind of to-do list.) I’ve also added a daily tracker bit in the top-right corner of each day’s list. I’m using this to keep up with exercising and my daily art/craft making habit. In the past, I’ve kept track of my daily making on a dedicated spread, but I’ve come to accept that I don’t end up using dedicated spreads very much, but I do use a daily list. So this is my solution.

(Yes, I totally did end up scoring a pair of Paul Simon tickets on the 24th. Thirteenth Row, Centre. Holy smokes.)

Day & Notes Spread

Bullet Journal spread, and why I've come back to my BuJo after a break.

Heh. So, yeah, I turned the page and totally didn’t do the daily tracking thing on the next few days. I’m back to it now, though.

What I really want to highlight here is that my journal is not tidy. There’s loads of Bullet Journal pr0n around, you guys, and I gotta say it all strikes me as pretty fictional. You can keep a meticulous journal if you write things down after the fact, but there’s just no way that a work-in-progress can be perfect. It’s fiction. So here’s my reality.

On the left, you can see some messy notes. On the right, you can see some very rough notes I started making in pencil, because I knew I’d have to erase things and really mess around.

You might notice that these photos do not feature my beloved fountain pen. I discovered many years ago that two things allow me to keep my handwriting legible: small ruled lines or grids (I was a college-rule student all the way; no wide-ruled paper for me!), and a pen that allows for some friction. In fact, the only time I’m truly happy with my handwriting is when I write in pencil. The friction is ace.

Fountain pens are lovely to write with, and I certainly haven’t given mine up, but they’re just so smooth! Too smooth. I’ve taken to using a Micron pen in this journal, and it’s for sure the right choice.


Do you keep a Bullet Journal? What are your favourite modules and hacks? And is your journal super neat and tidy, or more of a mess like mine?


Bullet Journal spreads, and why I've come back to my BuJo after a break.

Bullet Journal Update, One Year In

bullet journal and fountain pen

Last January, the Bullet Journal started making the rounds on Twitter, and along with loads of other people, I thought this is amazing. I finally understood how always keeping a notebook with me – the oft-cited single-most-important thing for a writer to do – could actually be useful. And useful it has been. A year later, I’m well into my second notebook, and since my first blog post about using this system quickly became one of the most popular blog posts I’ve ever written, I thought another follow-up would be a good idea.

I’ve never been fancy about how I use my bullet journal, though I did use it as an excuse to buy a nice fountain pen. I use it mostly for daily to-do lists, and I capture things like social events and other milestones in those lists, too, since this is the only kind of diary I keep, so why not.


Since I keep track of pretty much every time/date-related event in Google calendars, I don’t use the monthly spreads, but I do use two so-called collections: one for my 2015 #yearofmaking (this takes the place of the daily log worksheet in the ebook), and one for books I’ve read (even though I also keep track of this on Goodreads; for some reason, the redundancy seems to make sense).

year of making daily log

Though I did a fair bit of doodling in my first bullet journal, I’ve fallen out of the habit, preferring to doodle in sketchbooks instead. But I did finally become comfortable making random notes in my journal. For example, we’re planning a five-week camping trip for the late spring. When Greg and I started hammering out our itinerary, I made a mess of lists over a spread in my journal. It’s the kind of thing I would ordinarily use scrap paper for, but I’m really glad I didn’t, because I’ve referred back to that mess a few times already, and I’m sure I’ll need to look at it more as we start finalizing our plans. See that? What would have been treated as disposable and, eventually, missed, ended up usable because I scrawled it in my bullet journal. Immensely useful.

I also make lots of notes about soap-making and other skin-care recipes. So much so that it all became a bit unwieldy, and I decided to dedicate a separate notebook to those. Once I finalize a recipe through various iterations in my bullet journal, I transfer it to the separate notebook. This way I don’t have to sift through all the versions, even if they are marked down in the index, and if I happen to get sticky or oily stuff on the notebook, well, at least I don’t have to then go and put it in my bag after.

Someone mentioned on Twitter a while back that they’ve taken to wrapping washi tape along the edge of pages they want to mark in their bullet journal. I wish I could find who that was (speak up if you’re reading! it was fallenpeach!), because it’s such a brilliant idea. I’ve marked my year of making log in washi tape so it’s really easy to find (you can see it in the photo, above), and I’ve marked my books list with a different colour.


To sum up, I’m still using this system, I’m still doing it the way that works for me (which means jettisoning quite a bit of what the original website lays out), and I’m still very pleased with it.

Over the last year, I’ve grown to trust that I always have my journal with me, and I’ve delighted in only rarely losing some or another important note I wanted to keep track of. That’s a huge change for me, and one that never stops feeling pretty spectacular.

Do you keep a bullet journal? Chime in with your own update in the comments!


Bullet Journal Update

Remember back around New Year’s when I was all, Whoa, check out this genius bullet journal idea, and you were all, whoa, that looks amazing?

Well, I’ve been using mine daily for over a month, and an exchange with some folks on Twitter today reminded me that I’ve been meaning to blog about it for a while.

Bullet journal on desk

The most important thing I have to say about the bullet journal is that I use it. Unlike pretty much every other productivity system I’ve tried, and I’ve tried a lot.


Because I was fairly confident I wouldn’t stick with it, I decided not to go out and buy a new journal and fancy pen. Instead, I picked up one of several nearly empty journals I’ve collected over the years. I clipped off the handful of used pages, and got going. This book doesn’t have gridded pages, and though I think I’d like my next bullet journal to have that feature, I don’t mind using unlined pages. Also, around the time I started the journal I came across an old, cheap fountain pen and some ink, so I’ve been using that. It feels very special. So, how do I use it? Well, I use it pretty much as directed.

to-do lists

I manage my to-do lists in it, every single day, and I keep a master monthly list. You can see some little arrows that push an unfinished item to the following day. I do that all the time. It’s not like the bullet journal has made me do more stuff, after all, it just holds the lists of all the stuff I have to do.

travel planning in bullet journal

I’m using it to collect all the info and notes I have related to travel. For example, it’s going to be a pain in the ass to get to Craftcation. I’m super excited about that conference (are you going? you should go), but it involves a flight, a bus and a train to get to. I’ll have all my documents printed out and with me while I schlep Mighty Ugly materials from one vehicle to the next, but I’ve also listed all the info and connection times in my bullet journal as a backup, because I’ve come to know that this journal will always be with me. Also, I like occasionally using my red marker in it.


And I’ve been doodling in it. One of the things I’m really loving about #YearOfMaking (more on that in another post, soon) is that I’ve been doodling more (or, really, at all). The way a bullet journal is organized allows for all these different uses, which, to be perfectly honest, makes my heart sing. One book FOR ALL THE THINGS.

I know a fair number of you were as jacked up about this idea last month as I was.

Have you made a bullet journal? Are you still using it? If the idea is new to you, fire away with questions. This book has changed my life. For real.


Get to Work Book & Bullet Journaling: First Impressions

Get To Work Book & Bullet Journaling_ First Impressions

When Elise Blaha Cripe announced her new Get to Work Book, I nearly leaped through my computer screen to grab it.

Elise is a craft blogger, but unlike many products created by craft bloggers for their audience, the Get to Work Book has no colour in it. No trendy flourescent pops of pizzazz, no doodads to add to the feeling of it all. No assumption that we creative women need everything around us, including our tools, to be bedazzled and awash in rainbows in order for us to tolerate getting to work.

No. The wire-bound book is printed in greyscale, sandwiched between thick, matte kraft-board covers. Will I take some paint to it someday? Maybe. But I love the no-nonsense feel of the thing. It’s not about making work palatable, as if anyone who decides to create a job for themselves is disinclined to do the tedious bits; it’s about getting shit done.

And it is quite possibly the most expensive non-leather-bound day-planner I’ve ever seen. I forked over my cash, plus shipping to Canada from the U.S., without hesitation.

The book arrived just in time for its start date of July 1st, and since yesterday was Canada Day and I spent the day splitting my time between lounging on the beach and doing house chores, I finally cracked it open this morning. And I do believe I am in love.

The book marries the open-endedness of a bullet-journal notebook with the structure of my favourite academic planners from back in the day.

I’ll write more after I’ve used it for a while for a more detailed look, but for now, I’m confident I’m going to love this book. I think I’m going to love it hard. It’s possible I already do.

Did you get a Get to Work Book? What do you think of it? Are you using it as a bullet journal? Any tips or hacks?

PS It looks like the July-start books have sold out (congratulations, Elise!), but they’re taking pre-orders for the January-start version.

PPS Though I once moderated a panel Elise was on, I’m not affiliated with this product in any way. All gushing is entirely due to notebook nerdery.