My family and friends have always thought I’m super organized. They think I have it all together. That I miraculously remember everything.
What they haven’t seen behind the scenes, is the graveyard of sticky notes scattered across my desk, the stack of journals and notebooks I scribble to-do lists in, and the 1381 lists in my iPhone notes app. (That’s the real number of notes on my phone.)
The reality is for my entire adult life I’ve been a highly functioning disorganized person.
Sure, I’m a natural at planning and project management, but I’ve never actually been good at the organization part. I survived by templates and digital project management tools.
The problem is every time a shiny new tool came along I had to try it. Maybe it would be the one to rule all others. I haven’t found that magical unicorn yet. Instead, I’ve adopted dozens of organizing tools and systems. But I’m more disorganized than ever.
I’m a complete mess. Ever since having kids, I can hardly remember to take a shower if I don’t write it down.
I’m sure you’re thinking, get a planner, lady. But I’ve never been a planner person.I’ve tried to be one of those people that take their planner everywhere, but I always abandon them after a month.
Planners don’t work for me. There’s never enough space. They try to force me into a tiny box — a system someone else designed that doesn’t fit my life.
But the jumbled notes and scraps of paper don’t work either. I was desperate for some structure and a designated place for everything in my brain.
I’ve joked in the past that Evernote is my digital brain. Or Trello. Or my notes app. Or my calendar. What a scatterbrain I am!!
I’ve finally found the solution. One place, perfectly customized to me to keep everything in my life organized.
It’s my Brainbook.
In October, my friend Kalyn sent me an advanced copy of her new book Brainbook: Bullet Journaling Your Way to a More Organized Life. As soon as I finished reading BrainBook, I couldn’t wait to create my own. (Now I’m a proud affiliate of Kalyn’s book because it’s changed my life and made me the organized person I always wanted to be.)
I’d heard of bullet journaling and admired pictures of pretty hand-drawn planners on Instagram, but I never realized how practical and functional it is to create your own planner. Without Kalyn’s guidance and inspiration, I never would have tried bullet journaling.
In Brainbook, Kalyn explained step by step how to create and maintain my planning journal. She teaches all the basics and beyond. I’ve stopped using post-it notes, random journals, and the notes apps on my phone to track ideas and to do lists. Now, I keep everything in one place in my Brainbook. It’s my external brain!
Earlier this year I discovered the healing power of adult coloring books and learning hand lettering for relaxation – two hobbies I now love. I also have used hand-written trackers and reminders for years to develop new habits.
Now, Brainbook brings all those activities (and more!) together to keep me organized, build good habits, and to relax and have a creative outlet.
I’ve never been into journaling, and I’ve always felt a little guilty about it. I think it’d be cool to have a daily log of my life, but I don’t have the patience to write it. But now I have my BrainBook. In addition to being a planner, it becomes a beautiful record of life’s events, my interests at the time, and important memories.
Here’s a look at my Brainbook:
Are you rolling your eyes at the screen right now? Think you could never create a bullet journal like this? I get it. I felt that way at first too.
A couple of my girlfriends saw inside my Brainbook the other day and made remarks like, “I’m not that detailed,” “I can’t draw,” or “I wouldn’t have time for that.”
I have to admit I was a little defensive because I know none of that is true and partly because I feel like my Brainbook is now an extension of me. I’m lost without it.
I didn’t think I could do this either. But Kalyn makes it easy to set up your Brainbook and to make it your own. If doodling isn’t your thing, you can have a doodle-free bullet journal. You don’t even have to use colorful pens. It’s up to you.
If you love doodles, but can’t draw, Brainbook Starter Package comes with a bonus guide called Doable Designs. You can print and trace the doodles if you need to. Kalyn also shares some quick tips on hand-lettering (along with full alphabet examples), seasonal doodles, frames, and dividers. The header lettering and doodles on my weekly spread are straight out of the Doable Designs companion guide.
So I explained to my girlfriends that I don’t spend a lot of time on my Brainbook compared to what I was doing before. In fact, I probably wasted more time before trying to find my notes and to-do lists in random notebooks and digital files. Add to that the time I was already spending, 10-15 minutes a day, enjoying adult coloring books or hand-lettering for relaxation.
Now it’s like I’ve combined the not so fun task of planning with fun hobbies like coloring and lettering. The result is better than a colored picture or hand-lettered quote; it’s a customized planner that makes my life run more smoothly.
As a side benefit, I still get to relax and experience mindfulness while I fill out my Brainbook.
I only spend about an hour a week making my weekly spread and any other lists I want to add. Then I spend just 5-10 minutes a day filling out my daily tasks and events and crossing them off when they’re complete.
A little bit of time here and there quickly adds up to a beautiful planner that makes me feel put together and becomes a record of my life. I feel like it’s time well spent.
How I Use my Brainbook to Stay Organized
I’ve been using my Brainbook for over a month now. I’ve filled the first 33 pages of my journal in one month. I LOVE it. I feel more put together than ever, and I enjoy working on my Brainbook. Here’s how I use it on a monthly, weekly, and daily basis:
The week before new month starts, I create a monthly title page with the name of the month and my goals for the month in two lists; home goals and work goals.
Then, I create a two-page monthly spread. It looks just like a calendar. I use it to record events for the upcoming month. I also got into doodling little designs to commemorate each event, like drawing the Wonder logo when I got to chaperone a field trip to see the movie.
I leave space to the side of the calendar for a monthly tracker – a few things I want to track every day of the month. If I do them, I make an X for the day. Throughout the month I try not to break the chain of Xs. For November I tracked working out, cleaning, laundry, no eating out, and using my Brainbook.
One thing I love about Brainbook is the opportunity to learn about our own habits. I thought I wanted to be one of those people that does a little laundry and a little cleaning every day, but it’s clear from this tracker that I gravitate toward a once a week rhythm. I could continue tracking daily and try to change that habit, or I could change it up next month and only track those things weekly.
At the bottom of my monthly calendar, I have a small notes section to log important dates for the upcoming month. When I get ready to set up next month’s calendar, I can refer to the events I’ve already noted here.
Every Sunday, I spend about an hour on my Brainbook. I create my weekly layout and fill in any tasks or events I’m planning for the week. It took me a few weeks to discover a layout I liked, but now I just make minor changes to the set up each week. On my weekly spread, I include a cleaning tracker, a water tracker, and our dinner menu for the week.
When my weekly spread is ready if I have extra time I refer to my list ideas and see if there are any new lists I want to create in my journal. Last Sunday I decided to add a “Binge-Worthy” list to track the TV shows my husband and I watch together – there are lots of new seasons coming out soon.
Lists are my favorite part of the Brainbook system. Lists (also called Collections) are unlike anything I’ve ever had in a planner. You can make lists for anything – tv shows to watch, books to read, a travel packing list, a bill tracker, Christmas gift ideas, and so on. Those are just a few of the lists I created in my first month using my Brainbook.
The cool thing is lists are not specific to a month, week, or day. You can refer back to them anytime, and many of these I will continue to use and reference throughout the next year and beyond. Next year, I’ll be able to look back and see what I got so-and-so for Christmas. In addition to keeping all my ideas in one place, I’m excited to have these lists to look back on years down the road. It will be a neat time capsule of our lives.
Day to day, I keep my Brainbook open to my weekly spread. I add tasks, check off completed tasks, and keep any scheduled events or appointments front and center.
There are very few things in my business that I have to do at a set time of day, so I don’t use a block schedule – one of the reasons I don’t like some daily planners. Instead, I make a list of the essential tasks I need to do for the day, and the goal is to check everything off by the end of the day. This process leaves me the flexibility to work on the tasks in any order I want.
If your day revolves around meetings or set appointment times, you could add time blocks to your Brainbook weekly spread. That’s the beauty of this system; you can tailor it to your needs.
On my weekly spread, I include a water tracker and cleaning tracker, as well as plan our dinner menu for the week. The cleaning tracker helps me remember to do my chores throughout the week. The dinner menu helps me plan my grocery shopping and each day I can see at a glance if there’s anything I need to prepare ahead of time for dinner.
Why You Should Start a Brainbook
- I think you’re more likely to use your Brainbook than any other planner because you created it just for you. There’s a sense of pride that comes from planning your weekly layout and then using it to manage your days. You want to cross things off, fill in your habit trackers, and record your memories.
- You won’t ever be locked into an inflexible planning system ever again. If you try a layout in your Brainbook and it doesn’t work out, you can try something different the next week without buying a new planner.
- It’s a fun way to practice hand-lettering and doodling, even if you’re not good at either one. It’s a reason to keep trying. Each page is a new opportunity to create a different header, play with drawing fonts, and try a new color scheme. And no one has to see it but you.
- Not only will a Brainbook keep you more organized, but it becomes a beautiful record and keepsake of your day to day life. It’s part planner, part diary, part journal. My kids love peeking inside my Brainbook – looking at the monthly spread and remembering the fun things we did, as well as looking at the lists where we’re tracking favorite meal ideas and Christmas gift ideas.
Kalyn’s book explains what to do step by step and includes a lot of inspiration pictures and ideas for personalizing your Brainbook. With her help, you can set up your bullet journal in 15 minutes or less.
I recommend the Brainbook Starter Package which includes three extra resources to help you start and maintain your bullet journal:
- Doable Designs companion guide – all the creative doodle, lettering, and header ideas you need to start your Brainbook. You can print this off and trace the designs if you want.
- Access to an exclusive Brainbook Facebook group where you can ask questions, chat with other bullet journalers and share your Brainbook pages (or get inspired by other people’s layouts)
- 11 printable Brainbook layouts sized to fit in your journal – this includes all the layouts you need to start your first bullet journal without having to draw your own layouts. Huge time-saver!