What happens when you put pen to paper to track your goals, manage your time, and get it all done. 

By Ayn-Monique Klahre
Updated December 21, 2017
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In case you haven’t heard: Bullet journaling is a thing (it’s also known as bujo-ing or productivity journaling). The idea: Combine all your to-dos, calendar, goals and just about any list you can think of into one single, paper journal, with an index in the front so you can find each of those items when you need them. Then you’re encouraged to write everything down, track your goals, and generally externalize anything you may be thinking about (building up to a 5k, eating more veggies, getting the laundry done every Monday) and creating a visual reminder to stay on task. So, I tried it.

A little background: I’m a freelance writer who works from home, and I have two daughters in school/daycare during the day. We just moved into a new house. And I would say that managing all that—trying to limit work to business hours, logging quality time with my kids while still getting out the door or dinner on the table, and doing all the random stuff that comes with school and home—gets complicated sometimes. I felt a little in the weeds, and couldn’t figure out why.

So I started with a notebook, the Deluxe Law of Attraction Planner ($39), which I chose mainly because I liked the rose gold cover. This particular one has sections already written out for things like future goals, practicing gratitude, and figuring out a calendar. With a little more work, you could also buy a blank planner (like this pretty copper one) and create those templates yourself.

So two Sundays ago, I dutifully sat down to plan my week. This planner has 30-minute increments for each day, so I tried to assign each to what should be happening—getting the kids ready, working out, how many hours for each of my writing assignments. I filled out some short- and long-term goals and planned some meals.

One thing immediately became clear to me: The reason that almost every morning felt hectic and ended in tears on the way to drop-off was because I wasn’t giving us enough time in the morning. In an effort to let everyone sleep just a little more, I was trying to get the kids up, feed them breakfast, make lunch, and get them dressed and out the door in 30 minutes. As soon as I wrote it down, it was obvious. So I decided to get up 10 minutes earlier, just enough time to get myself ready and to give them some wiggle room to chitchat over their oatmeal. And like a charm, we’ve had zero morning tears in the last two weeks. Wow.

Same thing on the back end: My habit was to pick them up from school, then start making dinner as soon as they got home. Nobody felt like they were getting quality down time together. So I added a 30-minute “play with kids” time block into my calendar and committed to making 20-minute meals to gain that time. And it really has been nice to chat about their days and get them going on some fun activity before I launch into dinner mode.

By the end of the first day, a second thing became clear: I wasn’t giving myself near enough time to get my work done—every assignment took about twice as long as I expected. No wonder I was working nights and weekends! I went through my calendar again and reworked the timing, and rescheduled a few personal things out of work hours. And I made a point to ignore some of the household stuff during business hours, as tough as it is for me to work at the kitchen table with a sinkful of breakfast dishes behind me. I also needed to be giving myself more wiggle room for interruptions—greeting the gutter guy when he came to the house, checking in with my mother-in-law about an upcoming visit. Same as you would in a typical office, where staff meetings and swing-bys cut into your productivity.

And so continued the week: Every night I’d compare my hopes and expectations for the day and rewrite my schedule for the next day. I made a point of externalizing any distractions from work (like, thinking about our packing list for upcoming vacation) to help me focus—that worked! I gave myself checks for workout days and gratitude days and felt pretty darn proud of myself.

I certainly didn’t rebalance my life by the end of week one. But I liked it enough to start it again for week two. Writing everything down definitely made me more productive and focused, and identifying my priorities, being realistic about my workload, and consciously making time to be with my family raised my awareness of parts of my life that were (and still are) out of whack. I was already a list-writer and planner person, but giving myself a forum for some of the other mental to-dos really did help weed through the clutter and help me clarify my goals. So I’m going to keep it up. I’ll keep you posted.