How Bullet Journaling Has Made Me A Better Parent

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I’m now just over two months into my bullet journaling experiment. For those of you who’ve thought about bullet journaling – either to become more efficient and organized, or to help you juggle your competing to-do’s – yes, it’s made a huge difference in those areas.

But I’m also surprised to discover another upside: Bullet journaling has unquestionably made me a better parent.

I’m serious. Whether you’re a parent of small children or not, bear with me for a moment.

Imagine that instead of reading this post on a screen, you’re hearing me give a live presentation in a full conference hall. And then I ask for a show of hands: How many of you always have enough hours in your day, and never drop a ball at work or at home?

Look around the imaginary room. Not too many hands up, I’m guessing. (If yours is one of them, I’m jealous. And we should talk about you writing a guest post sometime.)

So if your hand’s not up for my imaginary poll, and if you’re always looking to improve your parenting game, it’s worth checking out what I’ve learned from my two-month experiment so far.

Bullet Journaling = Better Parenting? Really?

Bullet journaling, the “analog system for the digital age,” is the brainchild of Ryder Carroll. It’s designed to be a simple way to keep all your thoughts in one place – from shopping lists and daily to-do’s, to weekly and monthly tasks that need tracking, to long-term planning and notes on bigger projects. (For ideas on getting started, see here, here, or here.)

When I bought my first Northbooks dot-grid notebook in mid-January, I was hoping that bullet journaling would help restore a sense of order, control, and “I’m-on-top-of-things.” All things that, quite frankly, have eluded me since I first became a parent.

Don’t get me wrong: Bullet Journaling isn’t a magic bullet. It’s taken a conscious willingness to carve out the time to set up, use, and maintain it.

But the bullet journaling system has helped me rein in some of the chaos in my daily life. And that, in turn, has me feeling more competent at both life AND parenting than I have in years.

As I lamented in my last BuJo post, that elusive sense of being on top of things from my pre-parenthood days

  1. never really existed, let’s face it, and
  2. can never come back (not that I’d want to trade the present for the past, anyway!).

But as I think back on the past two months, it’s clear that there are at least

Three ways Bullet Journaling has made me a better parent:

1. More focus, less scatter

The thing I love most about bullet journaling is that everything truly IS in one place. And that one place is small, portable, and doesn’t rely on regularly being plugged in – or having access to WiFi or a cell signal.

Yes, I’m a long-time list-lover. But the best thing about this system so far is, it keeps all my lists together, within reach.

Say I’m trying to get through my daily to-do’s when

  1. I remember three things I need to add to the packing list for next week’s vacation AND
  2. Right after that, I get an idea for a blog post that’s perfect for three months from now.

In the past, this would have meant three separate lists, on three separate scraps of paper. Or more likely, a big notebook with blog inspirations, a legal pad with said packing list, and a long mental tally of to-do’s.

I’d need to lug all three with me everywhere in order to have instant access to all three. And because the daily to-do list never made it to paper most days, I’d regularly forget about half of it until bedtime.

Then there were the bigger weekly and monthly to-do lists. These would often start out as looseleaf sheets on the kitchen table. Great for storing on a clipboard; not so great for having with you on the go.

But with bullet journaling, I have a single compact place to store ALL my checklists and brainstorms. And that single place is a compact notebook that fits into my purse.

Moreover, as BuJo fan Jan Eppingstall observed, reminders and notes in my phone tend to get buried and lost. But for me, writing things down has greatly increased the chances they’ll see the light of day again.

2. Better organization and use of time

Having a portable solution for compiling lists, to-do’s, and ideas has definitely reduced the mental static and clutter of daily life. As a work-at-home parent, this is crucial. Before, long-term planning meant overcoming several obstacles:

  • Couldn’t find the physical time and/or space to sit down and make a list
  • Whenever time/space materialized, I didn’t have any “list-making” materials (big sheet of paper, clipboard, etc.) handy
  • Or the big list I’d already started was at home and I was in drop-off line or the doctor’s office
  • Or my brain was so overwhelmed with mental clutter that focusing on the bigger project was impossible

But bullet journaling’s single notebook erased those challenges. Bullet journaling’s flexibility – short action points coupled with the freedom to make more detailed notes as needed – is perfect.

I now crave those few minutes before bed when I list tomorrow’s to-dos, and check progress on weekly goals. But I also know that if I have a morning doctor’s appointment and am up late working on a deadline, I can save most of my bigger list-making for the next day, while killing time in the waiting room.

Likewise, I no longer have to worry about feeling like I’m wasting time if I’m sitting in a school pick-up line. Chances are good that one of my to-do lists contains a five-minute task I can knock off while I wait.

And if not, I can use the time to jot down ideas for future blog posts, even if I’m not at my computer or don’t have a writing notebook handy. More importantly, all those ideas will be in a single place, at my fingertips, when I’m ready to access them.

3. More time, less stress

So while Bullet Journaling hasn’t magically added hours to my day, it’s helped me make subtle but significant shifts in how I use my time. And that, in turn, has made me a less stressed person.

Which translates into a less stressed parent, who’s better able to live in the moment when the girls are around.

An afternoon at the playground no longer means feeling torn between the girls having fun and me meeting my deadlines. Instead, I have my choice of knocking off little projects, doing long-term planning, or taking notes on my next post – because I’ve got a list of options always at the ready.

And whenever I hit a midday slump, I take a break for a few minutes to check progress on that day’s list and that week’s goals. That pause not only refreshes me (yes, I AM getting something done!), but also helps me refocus on what’s next.

Finally, having my brain emptied of so many “must-get-done’s” has been a huge help when it comes to being there for my kiddos. I’m a longtime fan of Crystal Paine’s life-organization tips for parents, including her solid advice on automating routines. (And if you’ve read my blog for awhile, you know how much I love routines.)

But it’s amazing how much having all that mental static gone has helped me actually carry out those daily routines! At bedtime, I can focus on getting the girls to bed. In the morning, I can sleep later and be more effective in getting their day started, because I’ve already planned out my own workday. And once they’re on the bus, I’m able to dive right in and hit the ground running.

A few caveats:

1. You need to use it.

Bullet journaling only works if you use it. I’ve fallen behind on those daily to-do lists a few times in the past two months.

  • Mostly, it was no biggie; I was under a major deadline, and met the deadline with the help of the longer-term lists I’d made myself of steps-to-deadline.
  • But on one occasion, neglecting to set up next day’s schedule meant I missed an important appointment with one of the girl’s teachers – not good.
  • In each case, jumping right back in to using my bullet journal ASAP helped me get right back on track.
sample bullet journal cleaning log
If a chart like this cleaning log (from another participant in my first BuJo workshop) is enough to scare you off, don’t let it! Everyone’s BuJo is unique – one of the beautiful things about this system.

2. It’s not just for list-makers.

Just because I love BuJo’s ability to hold lists together, doesn’t mean that non-list-makers won’t like it. Plenty of other get-your-life-together gurus advocate variations on this theme, from artist notebooks to home binders.

  • If you’ve tried one or more of these and love it, great. If not, ask yourself why not. Perhaps (like me) the massive scope of such a project, including setup and maintenance, was holding you back.
  • If this rings true, bullet journaling may work for you instead. You won’t know unless you try it, but give it several months before you decide whether it’s working – or how you can tweak it to make it work better for you.
sample bullet journaling weekly log layout
At first, I found sample layouts filled with pretty boxes/labels/colors so intimidating that I was tempted not to even start a bullet journal. My weekly logs aren’t nearly as fancy as this one, but they’re faster to set up and they work for me.

3. It doesn’t have to be artsy or beautiful.

The biggest hump you’ll need to overcome when starting out is the same pressure we all face most days: feeling as if your efforts need to measure up.

  • There are thousands of examples of beautiful, artistic Bullet Journal pages out there. Don’t let them intimidate you into paralysis.
  • Even trained artists like Susan Spansy (another BuJo for Parents fan) have bullet journals that are short on artistic embellishments. If you want and need a place to doodle, use your Bullet Journal if you like. But if not, that’s OK too.
  • My bullet journal is much more messy than artistic. Many people at the local BuJo workshop I attended in January would find my pages too cluttered. But honestly, they work for me, and that’s all that matters.

Your turn: Have you tried Bullet Journaling? (Or an artist’s notebook, home binder, or other system for organizing your to-dos and/or brainstorms?) Which system do you like best? What about that system works well for you?


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