Adventures in bullet journaling

A stack of Post-it Notes and a Sketchbook walk into a coffee shop. Barista says, “Planners are meeting in the back room.”

They order a couple of hot drinks, one skinny vanilla latte and a chai tea, sit at at table and then think, “What else do we have to do this afternoon?” They head toward the back of the shop, where a soft glow spills from beneath a set of swinging double doors…


In the back room, it’s meet and greet time. Several journals are chatting at the far end of the room. A couple of them open their covers to show off their different style pages. Lines, dots and grids are all visible. A huge group of pens are having a scribbling contest on a blank page lying on the floor. They each demonstrate their colors, their smooth flow. Once in awhile, a couple of them flip the page to see how the paper has handled their ink. Rolls of Washi tape are being engaged by a few journals, and, it seems, snubbed by a few others.

Drinks in hand, the Post-it Notes and Sketchbook make their way to the center of the room as the keynote speaker takes her place at what must be the front.

A roomful of office supplies, individually awesome, but often having their qualities overlooked, learn about the possibilities in coming together to build unique organizational systems for people. They know by listening to the inspiring presentation that the life they could have as part of one of these new systems is far better than what they have had – being stuck to computer monitors or tossed in a drawer with colored pencils, only looked at when something else in the drawer is needed. Oh, to be a part of a bullet journal.

*   *   *

OK, it was corny. But I have been seriously corny lately. Doesn’t hurt that in my corniness, I’m accomplishing a few things and playing with my creativity.

A couple of months ago, I ran across a pin on Pinterest that caught my eye. It described bullet journaling, taking a blank journal and creating the pages you need for your own style of planner. The bullet journal combines the ideas of calendar, planner, bulleted lists and doodling canvas in one personalized journal. This person shared her bullet journal pages and I was struck by the neatness, for one. The lettering was soothing to my eyes. Where it needed to be, it was simple, but where it could be, it was fancy. The pages were designed artfully, with headers and banners and framed, hand-lettered quotes. Extreme organization created a hierarchy of information she needed: year at a glance, a monthly spread and daily look. Her habit tracker was something I really liked, and, though I may not track the same habits she does, I took many ideas from hers. I was mesmerized by this woman’s bullet journal. Her name is Kara Benz, and, as it turns out, she is followed by many. Plus one.

During Christmas break, I explored more through Pinterest. I watched YouTube Videos, and I found Facebook groups. I began listing and sketching out ideas on a plain old yellow legal pad for what I wanted in mine. 

I scribbled down every idea I liked from other people’s bullet journals and added a few tweaks of my own. Then I began to storyboard, or plan out the spreads, so I’d know what order I wanted items in the beginning of my journal.

Moleskin and pens

And I ordered an Orchid Moleskin, soft-cover, dot-grid journal, some Sharpie fine line pens and American Crafts Precision pens, .05.

If you would like to take a look at my original inspiration, Kara has a website and several YouTube videos about her bullet journal. But I also found videos by Ryder Carroll. His style of bullet journaling is more functional, not artsy, but it shows that anyone can develop the basic idea in a way that suits him or her. Once YouTube knows what you’re looking for, it will offer up numerous suggestions – because the Cybergods are watching everything you do and often know what you want to look at before you do.

Amid all that nearly obsessive searching, scrolling and clicking, I also discovered a Facebook group: Bullet Journal Junkies member posts now pop up regularly on my feed and, at least for now in this honeymoon period, I’m looking at nearly every post.

I took what I liked of the other systems I saw and did a mashup for what works for me. The beauty is, I can always change it next month if I want. Here are a few of my own pages.

I saw two sets of bullets used in most journals, and I took what I liked in each, realized I wouldn’t use ALL of the ones I thought were cute, so I dropped a few. Still kept more than I’ll probably use. I like adding new pages to my index because that tells me I’m working my plan – or at least building pages about plans.

In most bujos, a full calendar, called Year-at-a-glance, graces beginning pages. I figured it would be handy to have, so I made one, too. Here is where the differences between lined, graphed and dot-grid likely come into play. I chose dot-grid because I want the hint of what I could use for aligning, without the distraction of actual lines. In good light, my 50+something eyes can see the dots, which help me line things up. On the right is the future log. If year-at-a-glance simply tells us what days the dates fall on, future log gives us space to post those dates we know of waaay ahead of time, like birthdays and anniversaries, vacations or business trips planned in advance – or yearbook deadlines, if that’s part of your business.


Jan spread

Week spreadI’ve seen the monthly spread in a couple different versions. Some like the block calendar layout, but I thought I’d give the numbers down the side and columns for parts of the day version a try. I note main dates to remember and can put in any of three columns, depending on whether it’s for morning, afternoon or evening.

On the far right, I can note tasks and goals I’d like to accomplish during the month. Getting my bullet journal up and running was first – and it is crossed off the list as done.

This weekend I’ve worked on another project, one where I tackle each room of the house, one per month, to declutter and reorganize. So I also noted on January to tackle kitchen that aren’t part of the regular routine.

The daily or weekly spreads really help me be mindful of completing tasks each day. This is what I’ve always thought of as a to-do list, but it’s easy to toss Post-it notes – hide the evidence. In the bujo, I feel more compelled to get things done and account for them. Even if that means migrating a task to further on in the week. I use two spreads for a week, with four days on one and three on the other. I made a mini-list of items I’d like to add to my closet when I can find them. I see students watch the clock and call out “11:11! Time to make a wish!”, so I figured a clock with that time posted would make a good graphic for a wish list. Unfortunately, I stuck the hands in the wrong place on my first go. So I just made another one. Learning to let go of perfection is another advantage of this form of planning.

I like having my lists in my bujo. I don’t know how many separate notebooks I have all over the place, never mind Post-it notes and index cards, with to-do lists for the day or week, lists of blog post ideas, or tasks I need to do for a bigger project. They get scattered, lost and forgotten. With a bujo, it’s not only a list, I’ve got tasks noted on monthly layouts or on specific days. There’s a PLAN.

But be careful, it’s also addictive if the bug catches you. I should have been satisfied with my journal and that first assortment of pens I got, but a recent shopping trip landed me at Hobby lobby and I added some more pens to experiment with.

A store clerk explained to me the differences between the wetter ink of the marker-type pens and gel pens. I picked up a three-pack of Micron black pens in three sizes: 01, 03 and 05 to add to my colored pencils I already had at home. These were the pens I kept seeing on the Facebook page and in other artsy forums, and I wanted to try them, wet ink or not. They do not bleed through my Moleskin pages, but they do “ghost”. I can see shadows of what’s on the previous page. But I plan to write on this one anyway, so it usually becomes less noticeable. Those three should have satisfied me, but like any junkie, I wanted more. I wanted a template for pretty circles, and I wanted a sketch book for doodling in. So online I went, and there were all these pretty pens, and there were YouTube videos about using these pens. And I just knew that if I had the pens, I, too, could become that artist, make beautiful videos and live in my pajamas if I chose. Not really, but I did want more pens. So I ordered more pens. Now I have too many pens. I’ll stop now.

Hearing terms like “layout” and “spread” is familiar because that’s the language of yearbook. We also like to talk about fonts and pairing plain ones with fancy ones. I have found myself looking at videos about hand-lettering, too. These are my people.

Take a look at what others are doing, and if this is a system you can get behind, try it out for a while in any notebook, with a pen or pencil – doesn’t matter. Just see if you think the ideas will work for you. Share your ideas and questions here. If you already bujo (we can make it a verb, too), share some of what you do in yours. We’re mostly visual here, so show us what you’ve got!


Evaluation as a means of measure

Because I’ve asked my students to evaluate the websites they are using for their passion projects, I am doing the same, even though, like them, I’m running a bit behind. Good thing I don’t deduct points for being late.

My project, as you know if you are reading my posts, is to try to write a novel first draft during November with participation and guidance of NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month. And they have a kick-butt website.

In fact the site is the machination of the whole endeavor. It is there that we register; it is there that we post a synopsis of our WIP (work in progress) and it is there that we post and update our word count. It’s also there that we can join forums, find people like ourselves, writing pieces similar to or vastly different from our own. Big projects are usually easier if you feel you have others in it with you. That’s what makes NaNo work so well, I think.

The site is run as a non-profit with a staff and a board of directors. The staff is 15-people big, including an Executive Director, Operations Officer and someone in charge of every aspect of NaNoWriMo. Reading their bios was fascinating – after all, they are writers, and they made it interesting.

The yearly project includes guest “coaches” – real writers who post affirming and motivating words. They also include a serious helping of how-to.

With all these professionals, I find the site quite professional, itself.

Turning the evaluation criteria on my own site, I feel mine is mostly professional, but there are things I could do if I wanted to up the ante.

I post about teaching and advising publications. But I also throw in a post about personal events occasionally. If I were to streamline my content to a more specific topic, it would be more professional.

As far as being an expert on the topic, I am a teacher and adviser, so I believe I am credible and taken as credible, since I’m posting about real experiences and I often link to anything I reference. In fact, I was asked recently by a friend in yearbook circles to make suggestions for an issue being encountered by someone else advising yearbook. I directed that person to my blog. Today I received thanks and compliments for what I’ve done with it. I’m glad it can be helpful to someone.

I love to read blogs, I love to write blog posts, I love to get others interested in blogging. And I may take a few blogs at face value, that is, until I run up against something that doesn’t seem quite right. To have an established format for evaluating sites is helpful in determining what you should and should not use if you, yourself, want to be taken seriously.

Passion Project Update No. 2

I guess this is where the proverbial rubber is supposed to be meeting the road, but to be truthful, I’ve skipped a couple opportunities to do some writing. I am disappointed in myself.

Over the weekend, I did have a small burst of activity and felt I was getting somewhere. I can’t seem to get away from backstory that I feel is somewhat boring, but I added a little, along with some personality insights I felt were needed, in the form of a prologue. I know some writers and editors absolutely abhor prologues, but I reminded myself that THIS IS A DRAFT. I can add, delete and fix later. Must get it down.

This added to my word count a little and made me feel some better about moving forward, too. I actually left it in a good place.

Then Sunday rolled around, and I had to get some school stuff done. At the end of the day, I actually wanted to break up with my laptop. We needed time apart.

Yesterday, Monday, I was actually home at a decent time, and I knew I should have been writing. I knew that once I started, I’d probably get into it, enjoy it, and feel challenged. But my defiant alter ego was hanging out in my conscience, saying, “No. Just wanna snack, chill and TV.” Even when the Powers That Be wouldn’t allow my Internet to work well enough for Netflix to continue without buffering, I didn’t take the hint. I kept trying to reload that episode of Glee. It was the one about a lock-down. Scary, seeing as how I work at a high school. Nevertheless, I didn’t get to finish the show.

What did I do? Did I say, “OK, Powers That Be, I’ll use this time to pursue my project, the one that I have chosen myself, the one that I am modeling for my students. The one where I write a novel in 30 days because I’ve always wanted to write a novel, and NaNoWriMo presents the perfect opportunity to try.”


Went to bed at 7:30 with a book.

A book that someone else wrote.

Getting back on track

It’s Sunday. A day of reflection and looking forward – sure, it’s that. But it’s also time to get my butt in gear because I spent yesterday doing home and family things.

Today is getting back to work.

So I’ve been reflecting. I feel bad that the last couple weeks haven’t been as productive in my classes as I would have liked, and it’s easy to blame never having enough time. I’ve had a medium case of “meh,” and it’s time to get over it.

Particularly in my mind is the fact that my digital communications class isn’t going the direction I wanted it to. Today’s Twitter #sunchat was about learning from mistakes. Teachers talked about modeling for their students how to learn from mistakes, admit when something wasn’t going as well as they’d like, even tossing a plan and starting over. I feel I need to back up and clarify a few things for my students to get the learning in that class heading the right way again.

I knew I was onto something when I re-read a couple chapters of “Crafting Digital Writing” by Troy Hicks, and experienced an “aha” moment.

Here’s the deal: Digital Communications is a COMMUNICATIONS class. And it’s lost its way. I teach a lesson and give an assignment to be completed during that week. Students, by and large, tend to simply address the minimum requirements of the assignment. It’s a laid-back class, and I am not holding them accountable for developing their communications skills. They post their responses to assignments on their blogs, but I am not seeing the kind of development I would like to see. Whose fault is this?

As I reflect, I realize that originally I required that they draft in Google Docs and share with me so that I could provide narrative feedback to help them improve. They did this at first, but began somewhere along the way to simply post their responses directly to the blog. I will not critique their assignments where they will be shared by a world-wide audience. I reminded them a few times that they were supposed to draft in Google and share first, but they still mostly did not. I gave up. I settled for providing occasional short narrative feedback via verbal comment or sticky note. This is not adequate. I have to address this, either by going back and making them understand why we need to draft in Google, or by coming up with another platform for providing the narrative feedback about what they have posted to the blog.

I have also decided that this week’s lesson needs to be re-enforcing the differences between basic written work like they do in other classes and the digitally enhanced written work they should be trying to accomplish in my class.

If an English or history teacher is asking for an essay on a topic within the scope of a particular lesson and expects planning, some research, organization, good writing with well developed ideas, good sentence structure and word choice, proper usage and punctuation, then I certainly expect the same. However, I want them to explore possibilities granted by the digital world: links to more information (definitions, articles, biography pages, books), images, video, info-graphics and other things I’ve shown them or that they’ve gone out and discovered for themselves.

What I’m often getting is straight-forward answers to questions I’ve posed, with no “writing”, little research, very few links, unless I’ve specifically asked for them.

If they do not understand what it is that I’m wanting from them, it’s on me, and it’s time to make that clear. If my instructions are not clear, I need for them to let me know that. Although, each week, I provide written instructions, often with images and links and videos (I’m modeling what I want them to do), on the class blog, and I provide verbal instructions as well.

Ironically, this message was relayed to me by one of those students when she shared the following video on Facebook this afternoon (Thanks, Kenz.)

My goal this week is to make things more clear for them and to allow them an opportunity to let me know what they need from me. I will put this in the form of a written, digitally enhanced, assignment.

Wish us all luck and wisdom.

Passion Project Update No. 1

In the last week, I have done the easy part of my project, mostly. It’s the part I don’t mind doing. It’s the part I use to procrastinate on the part that’s hard.

I’ve been reading about writing.

Pinterest is my ultimate sandbox of buried treasure. I can look at my regular feed, which is a mix of recipes, teaching tools – mostly digital – and articles about writing. If I want to feel like I’m being productive, I put writing in the search bar and get such suggestions as writing ideas, writing tips, writing inspiration, writing prompts, and writing process. I can go on from there to look at blog posts, articles and graphic illustrations on anything from writing great villains to plotting to how to handle that first chapter. I pinned a few articles. I read a few that didn’t rate pinning.

One of the more interesting articles was about figuring out where to start your story. My plan is to start over on a project I did for NaNo last year. I had plotted it out, first in a notebook, just jotting down scenes as I saw them, then I moved them onto a Google spreadsheet. This allowed me to lump them into chapters, which were then lumped into three sections of the book. Since I’m playing with alternating narrator points of view, I have a column for the POV character, too. I had a column for links to articles that were helpful when I developed that scene.

But last year I only got to, like, 4400 words, and the goal is 50,000. Over the year, I tried to get enthused about working on it, even starting over – don’t remember why I thought that was a good thing. What I eventually figured out was that I was mired in the beginning of the story, which I thought was necessary, but it was really those scenes later on that I was interested in delving into.

That recent article I read gave me permission to start the story in a later scene and allow my protagonist to slowly relate the “backstory” as it becomes necessary. Said it would give a little “mystery” to the character, and I liked that idea.

But then I had to figure out which scene to start with. After several evenings of torturing myself, I realized there wasn’t an absolutely right answer, and no matter where I started, I just needed to start. I can always revise later. So I started. I may have only gotten 453 words, but considering I’ll need about 12,500 words per week, I knew I needed a head start. After all, I have this day job thing going on.

Teacher see, teacher do

NaNo screenshot

Anyone who follows my posts knows that more often than not, if I give an assignment, I do the assignment. Maybe that comes from proving it’s do-able; maybe it comes from all those years in my childhood of forcing my little brother to play school. I just like both sides of school – the teaching and the learning.

Passion Projects provide the perfect opportunity for both, and my DigiComm students have just chosen their projects and will be posting, researching and learning in earnest this week. During the couple of days of brainstorming and solidifying our projects, someone asked what my project was going to be. Believe it or not, I told them, I’d actually been thinking about it the previous few days. I’d considered learning about world religions and providing some sort of report and presentation comparing the ones I chose (and had time) to learn about. But then I realized that would take time away from something I’d planned to do with my November – something I’d attempted last November and hadn’t been totally successful. That’s when I realized I could make NaNoWriMo my Passion Project.

NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month and it excites and inspires official and could-be novelists from all over every November. You sign up at the NaNoWriMo website and join thousands of others who are lining up at the starting gate. NaNo offers motivational emails, badges for accomplishments, forums where like-minded writers can share ideas (and lose time they could be writing), as well as writing buddies – someone to hold accountable and help hold you accountable, if everyone is doing their job. Last year I had two writing buddies, one from Oklahoma City and one from somewhere in Great Britain. We had a few email convos, but in the end, we were all busy, and it didn’t work out the way I’d imagined.

This year, I have a local buddy, someone I work with on occasion, and we will be able to share progress, even though we’re writing in different genres.

By way of demonstration as well as to get myself organized, I used the graphic organizer I had created and noted a couple of driving questions: Can I draft a novel (50,000 words) in a month? and What can I learn in this process? I noted what research I needed, some of which I’ll admit that I already have. I pin a lot of writing articles and blogs on Pinterest. In the mentor section, I listed the co-worker and that I would try to hook up with writing buddies through NaNo, as well as try to find real mentors, possibly beta readers at some point, through Twitter. I listed the steps to my goal as I saw them at that time. Heck, everything is subject to change – just like in the first draft of this novel. But you have to start somewhere, right?

We will all, including myself, post weekly updates on our progress, and we will each present – TEDTalks style – at the end of the semester. I have lots of examples from teachers who have gone before me.

What I hope to learn and to teach my students is that we are all in charge of our own learning, ultimately. We can’t passively sit at a desk and wait for teachers and professors to feed us our education. Sure, some of that is required in order to get that coveted piece of paper at the end of the trail and to get that nice GPA that tells those we love that we were compliant when it counted (but tells our future bosses or clients absolutely nothing about our skills, knowledge or capabilities). We have to know what we want and go after it. Learning is a lifelong endeavor, and we must be active in pursuing knowledge and knowing from where and from whom to gain the best education.

If you could take 20 percent of your week to learn anything you wanted or to create a project to do some good in your community, what would you do?

Connecting with students through books

In the last year and a half I’ve probably read 25 novels in addition to seven or eight teaching or other non-fiction books. Hey, for someone who puts in as many hours teaching, planning and reading about teaching and planning as I do, that’s pretty good. Earlier in my career, I treated reading fiction like dessert. You know, “No dessert until you’ve cleaned your plate!” In teaching, there’s almost no way to “clean your plate.” There’s always another stack of papers to grade or give feedback on; there’s always another lesson to plan or tweak. As a yearbook and newspaper adviser, there’s always a late night or work Saturday to prepare for, a glitch in the production system to work out, a computer that won’t load InDesign correctly or a camera with an error code. There is always Something.  Thus, I rarely read a book for the fun of it.

However, since I was a little girl I wanted to be a writer, the kind whose name appears on the cover of novels. I decided that reading the kind of writing I wanted to do was simply homework. Last year I began to read at bedtime, and as I got further into the book, it would take more and more of my time. When I finished it, I’d have another – and another. I overheard students talking about certain books, and I’d be able to say, “Oh, that’s a good book. Hey have you read ——-?” I remember hanging out with a couple of my news staffers talking about books for over an hour after school one day. We daydreamed about my sponsoring a book club. But, really, none of us had the time. We all felt that connection, though.

Even in my other classes where I didn’t know the kids as well, I’d be able to walk by a desk, flip a cover up, and say, “Mmmm, good book.” They’d look up at me in surprise. Sometimes I’d recommend another similar book. I had yearbook staffers loan me books – like “Perks of Being a Wallflower.” I had kids in class who enjoyed reading while I was teaching. Of course, this is a no-no, and I’d have to tell them to put it away, but after class I’d ask them about their book and we’d chat a bit. I’d see them in the hall the next year and ask if they’d read any good books and we’d have a quick book chat. What a way to connect, huh?

My news staff did a feature double truck on reading last year, and they let me do a guest book review. I wrote it over Jandy Nelson’s “I’ll Give You the Sun.” Great book. The editor reviewed “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.” She wrote it so well that I was curious enough to read it over the summer.

This year, a couple weeks before schools started, I was given a new class to teach: Reading for Fun. For the most part, I have kids who read at all different levels, enjoying several different genres. I ask them to keep a reading log in Google Docs and note their progress a couple times a week. Then, at the end of the book, they can write a review, analyze a character, sketch a scene, create a vocabulary list. There is a huge list to choose from that I gathered from sites provided by my PLN. A couple of the kids came up with ideas of their own. One designed a book cover in PhotoShop for a piece of fan fiction he read. Another wrote a script for one of the scenes in her book. She and a couple other students are considering finding an audio recording app so they can record them reading it, then save it as a file.

I love reading and lots of students do too. It’s one way I connect. When that doesn’t work, there is always chocolate or that last stick of gum.