A wanderer's travel notebook open to the center with two fountain pens, two markers, two binder clips and a bookmark shown

Figure 1: The Setup


a monolog or spoken improvisation, especially a humorous one, on a particular subject

or: break the rules and see if there is no spoon

Bullet Journals (BuJo)

The official Bullet Journal site (link) is a full, end to end system of organization. It’s been a huge hit in pen/paper circles for several years now. I read their documentation, tried “the system” and walked away with a bad taste in my mouth. I also was left in a bad spot organizationally.

I can see the value but it’s not for me. If I could call an analog system an epic fail, bullet journaling as officially described was one of mine.

If you’re reading this, Bullet Journaling in the official form may be one of yours too.

Keep reading if you’re interested in my take on the general idea. Hint: I cracked the code [for me].

Stop here if you are happy, don’t want ideas or are calling me a blasphemer already.

Cracking the Code

After my epic fail when using the official BuJo system I walked away from it for many months. Trouble was it kept popping up in my news feeds, social media and elsewhere. I felt like I was missing something.

Turns out I was missing something. I talked to others and they were missing the same thing.

That Something

the official approach is very adaptable and the “BuJo” now represents a broader ideal.

That “broader ideal” is basically any “daily”, “weekly”, “monthly”, “yearly”, etc. system that keeps you organized.

The Real System

BuJo today is just a fancy way of saying you looked at the official way and adopted it or adjusted it for your needs.


An analog system that keeps you on track.


My System

Concisely my daily setup consists of…

  • Wanderings “Regular” size notebook cover (link)
  • 1 grid refill for meeting notes (link)
  • 1 Free Daily Planner refill for tracking my daily to do list (link)
  • 1 grid refill for general notes and expansion of to do items (link)
  • 1 “Washable” Kraft Paper Folder insert (link)
  • 1 Felt business holder with zippered pocket insert (link)
  • 2 Copic Sketch markers to use as highlighters (link)
    • 1 is filled with Noodler’s Dragon Catfish Orange (link)
    • 1 is filled with Noodler’s Year of the Golden Pig (link)
  • 1 Pilot G2 pen in fine size for lending others in need of a pen
  • 2 Japanese Extra Fine fountain pens
    • 1 filled with Platinum Pigment Rose (link)
    • 1 filled with Platinum Pigment Blue (link)
  • 6 brass bookmarks
  • 2 1.5 inch (medium) “Lay Flat” binder clips (link)

Paper (Refill) Selection

I chose the refills for my setup based on how I think about my day to day needs and what I have done in the past to compartmentalize my “needs” while remaining productive. I also like a 5mm rule on my page to help me keep writing small and more legible.

The two grid refills allow me to take good notes while keeping meetings separate from my day to day mind mapping. If I need info in both places, I copy the info to both refills or cross reference.

To help my visual processing and to help me clue in on detail, I write in blue and edit in red. If I type, transpose or “clean” notes/pages from the refills I mark the upper, outside corner of the page with a red check. If a page has that check, I ignore it. I’ve addressed the content previously. This was a simple thing I discovered and helps a ton if you’re trying to find actionable materials. I use this check in both meeting notes and to do notes refills.

The free daily planner is where I keep a daily to do list. At the start of the day I copy forward any items from the day before and mark the previous day items with a ‘>’ to indicate it was copied forward.

I also go through and mark high and low priority items with ‘↑’ and ‘↓’ respectively. Anything not low or high priority is unmarked. As I go about my day I add any new items (including priority if high or low) and put a ‘✓’ next to any completed items. If I need additional info I add info to the ’to do notes’ grid refill and put a ‘>’ next to or after the to do item so I know there are additional notes for the item.

I put the refills in my Wanderings cover in the following order

  1. Meeting Notes
  2. Daily To Do
  3. To Do Notes

I used this order because it’s easiest for me to open a Wanderings to the center and I work off my to do refill the most. It also stays open to the middle best (more on this later). I also don’t have pockets at the back, so the rear refill tends to be easier to write on for me. I reference to do notes often and update them regularly. Having an easier time writing is helpful. The front most refill tends to be harder to write in for me, so I used that spot for meeting notes. I only take so many notes in a meeting and type them after. Given the limited utility and churn, I put the meeting notes in the least convenient location for me.

It took me awhile to nail down this paper setup, but it has served me well for over a year now. I can say this is a winner for me. There are some subtleties to the setup, but they make a big difference. If you’re setting up a BuJo (or tweaking an existing one) I would recommend paying attention to how often you use a section and if it’s annoying to use. Sometimes reordering refills is the only tweak needed to make the setup a winner. For me it was the difference between daily use and rarely used. And I’m someone who requires a BuJo (or similar) to function daily.

Notebook Selection

So… There are many notebooks, covers, refills and more for forming the basis of a BuJo (or a riff on one). I bought several refills in various sizes and wrote out a to do list and a page of notes (my fundamental needs) in each. Once I did that I had a good idea the Traveler’s Regular size was going to be a win for me. I bought 2 more refills and used rubber bands to hold them together. I used this setup for a week, loved the layout and started looking at covers. The Wanderings cover is cheap, nice and holds Traveler’s Regular sized refills. I bought one and haven’t looked back.

Try more than one refill, use the one that ‘feels right" for a week or a month and then go all in. A5 and Traveler’s Regular are common sizes and carry easily. If you’re not sure where to start, A5 and Traveler’s Regular are a good choice.

Finding writing supplies was probably the easiest part of the riff process for me. I love fountain pens and like writing small (5mm rule small). I snagged 2 Japanese pens in Extra Fine and loaded them up with waterproof ink (Platinum Carbon series). I used waterproof inks because some days I’m spill prone and don’t want to lose any notes or my current to do list. I used blue and red inks, so I can inline edit using universal colors that won’t surprise people in business.

I also keep a Pilot G2 pen in black in my BuJo. I did this after someone insisted on borrowing my (cheap, thankfully) fountain pen and ruined the nib. People will ask to borrow your pen and can get very upset if you withhold. Get a cheap, common pen and keep it handy for those moments if you go with a “fancy” pen.

I also have 2 Copic Sketch markers I use as highlighters. Orange and yellow, common colors and helpful when you need more than one color to accent, call attention or similar. I don’t use them much, but they are indispensable when needed. I chose the Copic Sketch (buy them empty and load with your preferred inks) because they won’t dry out, the nibs last forever, they can be refilled, and the nibs are cheap if you need a replacement. I tried far too many highlighters and markers before I found the Copic Sketch markers. I’ve been using them for a year on the original fill I did with Noodler’s inks without issue. All others crapped up on me within a couple/few months. Get these if you minimally highlight. Consider them if you’re a heavy highlighter user too. Refillable, non-dried out highlighters are awesome.

One final thought on ink selections: make sure they are waterproof (at least resistant) with your chosen pens/highlighters/markers. Spills happen, and you don’t want to lose your notes or to do lists. Also make sure your highlighter(s) (inks) won’t cause massive smear problems with your chosen pen(s) (inks). Both situations can easily ruin a day.


What BuJo would be complete without a few accessories and additions to make life easier? For me the accessories are all about making the organization process easy and painless. I also have learned to loathe plastic over the years. As such you won’t find plastic accessories in my setup. However, some of what I use is available in plastic and/or cheaper.

Right up front I’d suggest a “Kraft Pocket Insert” (link) or equivalent. I went with a “Washable” form of this accessory I found on Etsy (see above for link). It’s more durable than the standard ones. It is a little more expensive, but I think it’s worth it. Both work. This accessory is great for holding notes, receipts, business cards and other stuff that is collected during daily life.

Another big accessory I strongly recommend is the PVC Zippered Pocket Insert (link). I found an Etsy seller making them from felt and went that direction for myself (see above for link). I did start with the “standard” PVC insert and tracked down the felt one after I realized it was a big winner for me. I use the zippered section for pens, markers, etc. The additional pockets at the front are great for holding longer term scraps, notes, business cards and the like.

These are the two most important accessories for me. They contain the mess of my daily life and help keep it reasonably organized. Especially for the BuJo I use at work. These two also prevent me from needing “sticker pockets” (link). I started out with sticker pockets and they didn’t last long for me. I’m particularly hard on my notebook and quickly destroyed the sticker pockets I was able to find. The sticker pockets should be OK for daily wear but if you’re hard on your notebooks, I’d recommend looking at alternatives.

The only other accessories I use are bookmarks and binder clips. I use “small” bookmarks, so I can find my place in my inserts easily. Currently I use 5 bookmarks across my 3 refills. I maxed out at 6 in use at one time. I have many things I need to focus on over the course of a day/week/month. The bookmarks are the only thing I’ve found that help me keep track of these things.

For binder clips I use “lay flat (medium)” binder clips. Before I found the lay flat ones, I used 1.5 inch binder clips. I’ve found the lay flat variety are easier to manage when writing but aren’t strictly necessary. Binder clips show up often when looking at BuJo setups, but I rarely see the “why” posted online.

Simply put: it holds the damn BuJo open to the current page/spread. Particularly useful if you’ve opened to your to do list or daily spread. They also help if you’re working on notes in a meeting. You can chunk off the previous pages and a majority of the following pages so you’re only fighting with a small number of refill pages as you write. This took me the better part of a year to figure out. If you’ve ever wondered “why binder clips”, this is why.

There are 2 more accessories that deserve mention: shitake writing boards and washi tape. I don’t use either at present, but I’ve tried both in the past. Writing boards are great if you’re using thin / light paper in your refills. They improve your writing surface and they help with ink bleed through to the following page. If I start using lightweight papers, I’ll be using a writing board. Especially for Tamoe River papers.

Washi tape is a type/style of paper friendly tape. Think masking tape for notebooks instead of walls. It pops up a lot for bookmarking/flagging pages, creating page “sections” and accents. I personally prefer to just use a different colored pen or highlighter in conjunction with a bookmark for these purposes. Not using washi tape also helps me stay on point by reducing my “options” and forcing me to “keep it simple stupid”. If I have too many options or ever decide to be ‘fancy" or “artistic” all hell breaks loose in my mind and I can’t stay organized on point. I recommend giving it a try though. Given how often I see washi tape in example setups I know it can help people stay organized. It’s just not for me. I tried and failed. Others have much better success.

Now What?

Now that I’ve laid out my approach to BuJo I think it’s time to reinforce a subtle but very important point: I’ve used digital (GTD, mind mapping, etc) and analog (BuJo, pre-made planners, etc.) methods to organization and task management on and off for many years. The setup I described above is what works for me. I spent all kinds of time scouring Etsy (search for Fauxdori), Pinterest, etc. for inspiration and ideas. 20 years ago, I went digital with an early PDA and quickly developed a hybrid system to make things “easy”. Over the last 15 years I have slowly come back to the analog world. The last 2 years I’ve been focused on dropping the last remnants of digital from my non-calendar needs (I need a shared, digital calendar for ‘reasons’). The digital options always felt awkward to me and after trying a Fauxdori with BuJo inspired setup I knew I was on the right path.

6 months after I put my first Faudori/BuJo setup together and it became a system that is automatic, easy to scan visually for cues and built into my daily muscle memory. I also get to “slow down” as I write for better processing, understanding and retention. This is especially helpful when taking notes during a meeting, presentation or simply working through a problem.

If you start down the BuJo path, please know it may take time to fully “click”. I spent a long time honing my approach. Pen and paper will feel natural (or not! that’s ok too!) but the “system” may feel like it’s “too much” or “not right”. Don’t despair! This is perfectly normal. We are all different with different needs. Poke about for ideas, give the ones that look good a shot and evolve your setup accordingly. If it works, keep it up, if it doesn’t: think about why or how you’d tweak the approach to make it easier to use and better for you.

If it works for you and you like it, it’s a good system. Don’t let some random opinion or jerk dissuade you from a working approach. They just want to feel superior.

Make analog and BuJo yours 😉

See you on the other side!

See also