How a permission slip to myself made bullet journaling work for me

by Holly Marsh March 01, 2021

I used to be a "Planner Person."

I used to wait until the launch of my planner of choice for the upcoming year and snatch it up, excited to fill in birthdays, events, and add accessories for the year ahead.

Only each year I started to notice a pattern.

Around October of each year, the planner would be filled in less frequently, if at all. Which is not ideal during the busy holiday season as a business owner.  

I also had notebooks stashed throughout my studio (and in other parts of the house...), all for different subjects/ideas. Sometimes when I had an idea, I didn't have quick access to the notebook that corresponded to it, and guess what happened?

By the time I got to that notebook, the idea had fluttered away like an absent-minded butterfly. 

A few years ago I stumbled upon this YouTube channel when I was researching ADHD regarding my youngest son. I LOVE her videos and so many (oddly) made so much sense to me and how my brain functions. This was obviously before my own ADHD diagnosis. Her videos helped push me into doing some more research and then eventually working to be evaluated for ADHD myself.

After a big hyperfocus session watching a bunch of her videos, I came across this one about bullet journals:


It was SO eye opening and I had never considered a bullet journal would be a much better fit for me and my struggles with productivity. I thought bullet journals were either a journal/diary and more for memory-keeping, and I was so wrong about that.

Basically, you treat ONE notebook for your calendar/notes/ideas, and to organize what could be just a jumbled bunch of random pages, a bullet journal incorporates the Index at the first few pages of the notebook to log what each following page contains. Those pages can be a calendar, a to-do list, a brain dump, ideas, notes, anything.

This was perfect for my productivity and brain. When using notebooks in a typical way, I would get anxious about flipping to a new page to jot down something new if the preceding pages weren't quite "done," and I would worry about being able to circle back to it later when I had already filled the next page with something unlreated.

I don't experience that anxiety anymore! If I do some character brainstorming for my Dungeons & Dragons character on pages 10-12, then take notes during a webinar about S-Corps on pages 13-14, I can continue writing about my character on any pages after that- I just need to make sure I'm numbering the page AND adding it to the index as 10-12, 15. 

SO much better.

Now it was time to select a notebook for my ONE notebook/bullet journal. While my stack of new notebooks that I had acquired over time didn't meet my notebook criteria,* I had snagged this notebook from Designworks Ink while on a random trip to Paper Source when I was traveling (of course, this was pre-pandemic and pre-cancer):

image of closed standard issue notebook from designworks ink on a black grid background

*YES, I have "criteria" for what I prefer in a notebook/bullet journal. I had the same requirements with planners. I prefer them to be spiral bound, approximately 7" x 9" and to have a flexible cover. It's odd, I know, but I like what I like!

I used this style of notebook for about a year and a half. They didn't quite meet my criteria for the perfect notebook due to the lack of flexible cover and non-spiral binding, but they worked for me.

I even bought some double-ended pens and tried creating monthly spreads- where, at the beginning of a new month, I'd draw an illustration that corresponded with the season or a theme. 

Then my cancer diagnosis and treatment hit....and then the pandemic.

And then I was right back to where I would be in October of any given year with a lack of motivation to actually use this tool. I didn't have the time or the energy to continue making it pretty, or even adding stickers.

As I started to emerge from the hell that is TCHP chemo (basically the chemo that made me sicker than hell and made me lose all my hair), I started to generate ideas and thoughts again. 

I wasn't going to go back to a dated planner, especially in the midst of a pandemic. 

I liked the concept of bullet journaling, but I realized I needed to re-frame it in my mind to work for ME.

Then I discovered Erin Condren, the company I purchased dated planners from in years past, launched their coiled notebooks and it was EXACTLY what I was looking for.

They're basically just like their LifePlanners, only no dates inside. Just empty pages waiting for your ideas.

PLUS, they had flexible, customizable covers I could make my own and had designs like Hello Kitty and Wonder Woman.

image of two Erin Condren coiled notebooks with Wonder Woman designs on their covers on a dark grid background

WINNER WINNER BUJO DINNER!

After the notebooks arrived, I also gave myself a permission slip. 

My bullet journal did NOT need to be "pretty."

I did not need to make monthly spreads, especially since I started putting all dated things/meetings in Google Calendar.

I did NOT need stickers to adorn pages and the added layer of anxiety of carving out time to choose and place said stickers. 

I'm working while my kids are home 24/7, in a pandemic, and I was still in cancer treatment at the time.

That permission slip basically said, "you don't have to make this pretty- make it work for you"

And that's exactly what I did. I got a big pack of my favorite pens (another item that has "criteria," lol) in various colors, and THAT was my way of making it look fun but without extra time or thought.

Holly's bullet journal, open to the Index section on a dark grid background


I tape my Lara Casey's tending sheets to the front inside cover, make sure I'm numbering my pages and adding to my index, and YAY I can find everything I need, continue adding pages to a particular topic, and I don't have a gazillion notebooks strewn throughout the house. 



This method may not work for everyone, but it works for me. If you've been bullet-journal-curious, here's a permission slip for you:

illustration of a hand-drawn permission slip

If you have a different method for organizing your calendar and ideas/notes in an analog fashion, I'd love to hear it!


LEVEL UP!