March 21, 2019

Productivity Secrets: Bullet Journals and Planning — Guest: L. Penelope

Open journal on a desk with text: Planning for Success

I don’t know a single person who isn’t so busy that they struggle to get everything done. So I love hearing about different productivity methods and tips.

When I saw L. Penelope talking on Instagram about how she uses bullet journals to increase her productivity, I knew I had to bring her here. I’ve heard a lot about bullet journals for health and habits, but I loved her perspective of using them for planning our writing.

She highly recommends Sarra Cannon’s 3-Day Planning Bootcamp (which has a session starting today!). In fact, I signed up for the class because everything in the “tell me if this sounds familiar” introduction spoke to me. Deeply. *sigh*

Whether you want to check out the class or not, Leslye’s insights here of how she uses bullet journals can help us plan for success. She’s sharing her ideas on how bullet journaling can help us improve our productivity and keep our sanity.

Please welcome L. Penelope! *smile*


Plan Your Way to Productivity

By L. Penelope

I’m a list person. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved making lists. An affinity which grew into a love of spreadsheets and databases and organizing things. As an author who also runs a website development business, I have a ton of tasks to get through on any given day, and ruthlessly organizing my life has been the solution to keeping my sanity.

About two years ago, I discovered bullet journaling. Also known as BuJo, bullet journaling is a system created by author and designer Ryder Carroll to encourage focus and productivity. Basically, it’s a simple method to keep track of tasks, ideas, lists, and anything else you don’t want to forget.

What's bullet journaling? Check out these productivity tips from @leslyepenelope Click To TweetBut wait, you may ask… isn’t there an app for that? Well, yes, and journaling doesn’t mean that I don’t use my Google Calendar and associated iPhone apps religiously.

I’ve also tried all kinds of note taking and list-making programs, and still use some of them alongside my planning system (my current favorite is Notion), but for me there’s something truly satisfying about using good old-fashioned pen and paper to keep track of things. Writing down my tasks also helps them stick in my head, so my online tracking serves as a backup.

Getting Starting with Bullet Journaling

All you really need is a notebook and a pen to start your BuJo. Do a search on Pinterest or Instagram and you’ll find a nearly infinite number of inspiring bullet journal spreads and layouts, many beautifully designed and sadly out of reach for the non-artistic among us.

I accepted that mine would be more utilitarian than awe-inspiring, but I love the system for its simplicity. With a ruler and a felt-tip pen, I started creating simple and functional weekly layouts in an old Moleskine notebook I had laying around.

My first design was two horizontal lines across the two-page notebook spread. That gave me six rows, one each for Monday through Friday, and a split row for the weekend.

View of handwritten bullet journal schedule

(Note: Click on images to see larger size.
Newsletter readers: Click through to the post to see images.)

Figuring Out What Works…and What Doesn’t

That worked for a while, but one of the beauties of creating the layouts by hand, instead of having a pre-printed planner, is that you can customize everything to your needs.

How can we make bullet journaling work for us? @leslyepenelope shares tips Click To TweetI found other styles of weekly layouts and tried a few until I settled on the one I still use today—a vertical layout for the days of the week that adds in three to-do lists. One each for my work, writing, and personal tasks. I also include a habit tracker for accountability on things like exercise and meditation.

My Sunday night routine would include drawing my weekly layout and listing all the tasks and appointments I had, then sketching in a schedule for when I would get each thing done.

Making Bullet Journaling Work for You

Many people consider the time spent creating the layouts for a bullet journal to be meditative. I can definitely understand that, but after quite a while using the system, and feeling confident in my layouts, I wanted the efficiency of being able to print them en masse.

My search for a way to mimic my BuJo without all the drawing time led me down the very deep rabbit hole that is the planner community on YouTube. After watching many videos, I settled on building my own discbound planner.

This gave me the flexibility to design and print my own layouts using Adobe Illustrator and the ease of moving the printed pages around without having to open binder rings or be confined by a pre-printed spiral binder.

View of discbound planner

Using Bullet Journals to Plan — and Rest

Deciding to move to a planner system also coincided with my discovery of author Sarra Cannon’s HB90 planning method and 3-Day Planning Bootcamp (which starts today!). Her system includes a very simple, but transformative idea for me—to realistically look at the days I won’t be productive.

Whenever I estimate how long it’s going to take me to do a project, I often forget that if I think a task will take 30 days, there’s no way I’m going to work every single one of those 30 days. There are holidays, traveling days, illnesses, visits from friends or family, and days when I just don’t feel like writing.

And though I feel like I’m taking those things into account when I’m planning, wouldn’t it be better to actually put those days on a schedule? Or at least an estimate of those days?

Planning for Success

With writing deadlines that are set by a publisher, by the availability of my freelance editor or cover artist, or an Amazon pre-order that I don’t want to miss—I need to stay on track. So I create my schedule by working backward from the due date, but I hadn’t thought of actually marking off potential days when I won’t work to make my schedule much more realistic.

How can planning ahead help us plan for success? Tips from @leslyepenelope Click To TweetFor instance, if I think that I can complete a first draft of my next fantasy novel in two months, I’ll need to allot at least another two weeks for unexpected events (like my recent bout with the flu) and also set aside time for the days I just want to binge read a PNR series my critique partner recommended. Filling the well is important too 🙂

These days, my planning includes this scheduled down time from the beginning instead of as a begrudging afterthought. Quarterly planning, weekly planning, and daily planning are what work for me and allow me to juggle all of my responsibilities and avoid burnout. It may seem extreme for some, but it’s done a world of good for my peace of mind and productivity.


L. Penelope headshotL. Penelope has been writing since she could hold a pen and loves getting lost in the worlds in her head. She is an award-winning fantasy and paranormal romance author who lives in Maryland with her husband and their furry dependents.

Sign up for new release information, updates, and giveaways on her website.

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Song of Blood & Stone (Earthsinger Chronicles, Book 1) is available now. The special edition paperback with all new scenes is available for preorder and will release July 16.

Amazon | BN | Indiebound | Apple Books

A Time Magazine Best Fantasy Book of 2018

L. Penelope’s Song of Blood & Stone is a treacherous, thrilling, epic fantasy about an outcast drawn into a war between two powerful rulers.

The kingdoms of Elsira and Lagrimar have been separated for centuries by the Mantle, a magical veil that has enforced a tremulous peace between the two lands. But now, the Mantle is cracking and the True Father, ruler of Lagrimar and the most powerful Earthsinger in the world, finally sees a way into Elsira to seize power.

All Jasminda ever wanted was to live quietly on her farm, away from the prying eyes of those in the nearby town. Branded an outcast by the color of her skin and her gift of Earthsong, she’s been shunned all her life and has learned to steer clear from the townsfolk…until a group of Lagrimari soldiers wander into her valley with an Elsiran spy, believing they are still in Lagrimar.

Through Jack, the spy, Jasminda learns that the Mantle is weakening, allowing people to slip through without notice. And even more troubling: Lagrimar is mobilizing, and if no one finds a way to restore the Mantle, it might be too late for Elsira. Their only hope lies in uncovering the secrets of the Queen Who Sleeps and Jasminda’s Earthsong is the key to unravel them.

Thrust into a hostile society and a world she doesn’t know, Jasminda and Jack race to unveil an ancient mystery that might offer salvation.


Thank you, Leslye! I’m inspired by the flexibility you’ve found with bullet journaling and love your approach to printing out custom sheets.

(Like you, all that drawing didn’t appeal to me, so I never thought bullet journaling would work for me. Now, I’m looking at your planner sheets and thinking they look pretty close to perfect. *grin*)

I know I’m more likely to get things done if I formalize a to-do list, so planning ahead is always good. Yet at the same time, we don’t want to cause more stress with impossible lists, so planning for good days and bad days can definitely help us be more successful. Being deliberate about scheduling in bad days can also reduce our feelings of guilt when we take a much-needed day off.

Strict systems can feel limiting and end up hurting us more than they help. So Leslye’s insights about being flexible and figuring out what works for us might be just what we need to find the right balance of productivity and sanity. *smile*

Have you heard of bullet journaling before? Have you tried bullet journals? If so, how did they work—or not work—for you? Do any of Leslye’s tips give you ideas to try? Do you have any questions for Leslye about planning or bullet journaling?

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Bran Ayres
Bran Ayres

Love this! I’ve tried and failed to keep up with bullet journaling. Though now I’m thinking that I was confining myself too much to a perceived *must do* framework. I love the idea of planning for ‘off’ days. With my MI, I cannot know for certain which days I’ll be able to stay on task and when I won’t be up to it, so this is a great way to cut myself some slack but still stay on target.
Thanks for a great post!

L. Penelope

Thanks! I’ve found that it works so much better when you keep it flexible. And keeping in mind that your schedule should still allow you to be gentle with yourself has helped me a lot!

Clare O'Beara
Clare O'Beara

Thanks, making lists is essential. I now need one on the computer for each area of work; and one for each section of my life on the phone memos.

L. Penelope

I could do a whole other post on apps! LOL! But I’m really enjoying the free program Notion which I can use in a browser, on desktop and on the phone — it syncs everywhere. It’s perfect for list making and I’ve incorporated it into my “on the computer” planning system.


[…] write better! Writers are always seeking the Holy Grail of productivity. L. Penelope advises bullet journals and planning, Janice Hardy tells us the secret of how to get an extra novel written in a year, Dale Berning Sawa […]


Great story telling 🙂 I consider myself as a list person too. This post will be on my “posts to go back and read again” list. haha.

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