It’s Called a “Bullet Journal” Because You’ll Want to Shoot It

Earlier this week, ICMB writer Becky told us everything we need to know to start a Bullet Journal. If you’re like me, you may have heard about this trend in the blogosphere and had a mild curiosity about its potential to help organize your life. Becky loves her bullet journal! Good for Becky. Because I admire Becky for many reasons, not the least of which is her gorgeous head of naturally curly hair, I decided to give it a try.

Digital product designer Ryder Carroll is the madman inventor of the Bullet Journal. Nicknamed the “Bujo” by his loyal following, this journal is described as a personally-curated organizational system. The bullet journal promises to transform haphazard post-its, to-do lists, and personal musings into a sleek one-notebook system that, when you actually remember to carry it with you, can change your life.

I am a perfect Bujo candidate!

I chronicle my life through a series of lists. Grocery lists on the kitchen counter, spring cleaning projects on a list hanging on the refrigerator, a giant dry-erase calendar for our family appointments, a little pile of appointment cards on my desk for dates beyond the one-month calendar, a file cabinet for important documents, and myriad reflections, dreams, mom-guilt resolutions, and other ‘to-dos’ that live in my brain. And that’s just my personal life. I organize my work life via Outlook calendar, file folders, yellow lined note pads, and a to-do list that I refresh on a weekly basis.

I have tried various personal planner apps on my phone with little success. My reminders and lists must be in full view, not tucked away in my phone. I decided to give Bujo a try. I watched the sleek video, narrated by Carroll in his soothing baritone. Take all your tasks and put them in one place? Yes!  ‘Track the past, organize the present, plan for the future?’ Yes, please! His journal is a simple black book with grid pages. His tool is a super-fine black felt tip pen, and tasks are organized with an index and a short list of symbols to denote tasks and events. Finally, a system that understands me!

Carroll sells a version of the Bullet Journal on his website, but for some odd reason, I thought I could make my own.

This, from the same woman whose wedding photo album is almost finished nine years into our marriage. Nevertheless, as they say, I persisted. I picked up a simple black notebook with grid-style pages and stole a few felt tip pens from my daughter’s art box. I couldn’t remember the symbols that Carroll had outlined to track tasks (should have been my first red flag), and I also wondered what others had done to organize their books, so I went to Pinterest and searched “bullet journal”.

Pinterest is where simplicity goes to die.

I soon learned that simple lines and clean notebooks are for amateurs. Pinterest Bujo disciples use stencils, borders, color-coding, and word maps. They replicate popular fonts in their own handwriting.

Next thing I know, I’m driving downtown and staring at a wall of felt tip marker choices at the local art supply store, wondering what I’ve done with my life.

Armed with a couple of back-up journals (pencils with erasers are also for amateurs) and $40 worth of markers, I returned home determined to implement this system in my life. I am a smart woman with great ideas. People turn to me when they need catchy titles for programs or strategies to address challenges. Surely I could ‘personally curate my life’ in an 8×10 notebook.

I pulled up the how-to video and got started. Bullet Journal design features an index, a future log to view six months at-a-glance, a monthly page, and a daily log. Easy enough. I numbered all my pages and lined out a perfect year-at-a-glance spread. In different colors! Stepping back to admire my work I took a closer look and realized I forgot the month of May.

This will hereafter be known as the moment my Bullet Journal death spiral began.

Always a sucker for bright shiny things, I had fallen into the Pinterest rabbit hole and lost my way.

Two hours later, my daughter returned from a birthday party and found me blacked out in a pile of scratch paper, markers, handwriting samples, and a $25 leather-bound journal falling apart at the spine from ripping out so many pages. My husband, who could tell I was in a fragile state, gently asked with a wry smile, “How’s it going?”

And that is when the Bullet bough broke. I launched into a tirade born of frustration and felt-tip fumes.

I wanted to personally curate my life with this new system, and instead, I have forgotten the months of the year! This journal was supposed to make my life easier, and it’s reduced me to a pile of scratch paper! Of course it was designed by a dude who doesn’t have anything messy in his life. His index probably never needs revised! Furthermore, what is this guy’s problem with erasable writing tools? Not to mention all the tons of other women on Pinterest who have made these beautiful journals with fancy handwriting and borders and lists and…

My husband intervened the only way he knew how. He took me by the hand and asked if I wanted to go for coffee. I gave the markers to my daughter and walked away.

Because I’m a self-reflection enthusiast, I returned to the pile of Bujo failure later that night. I realized that I would like a place to make portable lists, see a year at-a-glance (with May included), and even write reflections and gratitude. I just didn’t want to do it in color or DIY handwritten fonts. Always a sucker for bright shiny things, I had fallen into the Pinterest rabbit hole and lost my way. I went to the Bullet Journal site and bought the original, sleek version that had lured me in the first place.  My simple black Bujo should arrive next week. Until then, I’ll be the mom at Costco with a post-it list stuck to her purse.


Sherri is a transplant from Oregon who came to be a Hawkeye in 2006 and stayed for the sweet corn...and for the Iowa boy she met along the way! She and her husband (Kyle) have a 9 year-old daughter, Aissa. Sherri earned her Ph.D. in Higher Education and Student Affairs at The University of Iowa and works for Ruffalo Noel Levitz as an Enrollment Marketing Consultant for colleges and universities. When she's not working, you can find her with her family, enjoying Iowa City and cheering on the Hawkeyes.


  1. Oh honey!

    I do mine in pencil and then go over it with marker. I also have left out weeks, mislabeled days, and otherwise done it “wrong”. I really hope it works out for you because it’s a lot of fun! But please STAY OFF PINTEREST!

    If you want to see mine, search #jessicaplans on Instagram. I started with a used composition notebook because I didn’t know if I would stick with it, but “planning/my planner” has become one of my favorite hobbies! Some weeks I decorate some weeks I leave it in pencil. Make it work for you! All the best

  2. I have found it fantastic but I can’t draw and I am not creative and I honestly don’t have time for that. I use it just to keep myself organised and I stay off Pinterest and don’t get intimidated by other people’s creativity. Make it whatever you need it to be for you. Good luck.

  3. Oh my, I am crying from laughing so hard…totally feel your pain. Everyone makes it look so easy. I spent the better half of a week just getting my damned bujo started and don’t even get me started on pinterest…it’s terrible…I have 3 young ones too..clearly an excellent use of my time… I use mine…when I remember but Ive missed weeks at a time. It’s great for a go to grocery list though 🙂 I bought a hi-tec coletto multipen with 4 colors in one, you know like when you were a kid. My teenager told me about it. No markers or fancy stuff just 4 pens and pencil (need the eraser) in one. It’s pretty great, hang in there 🙂

  4. Oh my word, we are kindred spirits!! I actually just now heard of these bullet journals for the first time because of this post. I think a homeschooling page I follow posted the link. I am with you on Pinterest being the place simplicity goes to die! God forbid I look for a simple craft about the Mayflower or something — I come back with 4,173,204 ways to build a boat out of popcicle sticks that had to have been assembled by some master Popsicle stick craftsman somewhere. I can’t go there without winding up feeling woefully inadequate.

    Anyway – I’m about to buy a bullet journal but I am taking what you’ve learned and bypassing any “great ideas!” I might have about this and keeping it simple. Avoiding Pinterest at all costs. I still might buy some pretty colored pens because I will cling to any reason I have to justify new pens.

    Here’s hoping this works for us both. 😀

  5. I found this post because I googled”bullet journal for real life” and I promptly ran to the bathroom I was laughing so hard. This is so me! Thank you for this. I want my journal/planner/bullet journal whatever to be pretty but I have a real life. I don’t have the time to get things actually done let alone draw and color code and and and. These fancy bujo folks make my head spin. It’s nice to know that there are others like me left in the world LOL.

  6. Hahaha, I hear you. It’s crazy how much time some people seem to spend on their BuJo – it’s taken over their lives, surely! (Perhaps what we don’t see is that their lists are all just about spending time on primping their Bullet Journals?) Seriously, it’s about making lists. You need a pen and a notepad to make it work, period 🙂


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.