My Journey to a Functional Bullet Journal

I’ve not always been a lover of to-do lists. Lists, yes. To-do lists, no.

My earliest memories of useful lists come from my middle school and high school dance team years. Before every performance, we’d receive a checklist of what we needed to bring, what we needed to wear, and where we needed to be at what time. They were simple, straightforward, and kept me and my giant black dance bag organized.


Shout out to my friend and teammate Laney, who shared this list a couple of years ago on Facebook. Mine were never this clean.

Even though those lists were incredibly helpful, I didn’t always make lists of my own.

Though I did, notoriously, give my friends a similar sheet before prom my junior year. I’ve always been a little anal about prompt arrivals and overestimating travel time.

I used checklists to keep my grad apps organized when I applied for my master’s program in 2011.


But it wasn’t until I had received my master’s degree and was in my first full-time job that the to-do list bug hit me. I was teaching five classes a semester, with 2-3 different course preps. That’s a lot of assignments and due dates and lesson plans to remember. My to-do list started small, with just a schedule of grading. I found breaking down my grading to 5-10 essays a day was so much more manageable than waiting until the couple of days before my students’ next assignment was due to cram them all in.

The To-Do List grew from that grading schedule to helping me plan lessons a week in advance.

Then important reminders, like trips to my stylist and department dinners, got added in.

Now, I’m finding it miserably hard to believe that I never shared a single picture of these to-do lists on any social media. However, I may have to face reality: I have no documentation of these lists.

They’re nothing flashy: a weekly set up with bullet lists, typed every Monday morning on my office computer. Smartly, I always factored failure in. Tuesday’s list always began with “Complete any remaining Monday tasks,” Wednesday’s with “Complete any remaining Monday and Tuesday tasks” and so on and so forth.

There are many things I liked about this. I spent a good 20 minutes at the start of my week making a plan for how that week would go. It made everything much smoother, especially when I was facing an unusually busy week (like conferences) or a week with some odd scheduling (like conferences with online students). It was also so honest: The more I completed these to-do lists, the less ambitious I became. I realized how much work I could actually get done in a given day, and was able to plan accordingly. I no longer had Monday tasks hanging around on Friday because I was a lot smarter at planning my week.

When I started my PhD program last August, it no longer became practical to have a printed-out to-do list. The real downside of my teaching approach was that it didn’t leave me with a ton of flexibility. I left a few bullets for tasks or meetings that were added unexpectedly, but my list often ended up with a lot of scribbles between late additions and other notes and reminders I had not accounted for. Also, sometimes grocery lists or notes to myself or phrases I wanted to include in my PhD application materials.

Yes: the start of my personal statement was written on the back of a to-do list during a student work day in one of my first-year research writing courses.

Anyway, it was this summer when I thought about changing up my to-do list approach. I no longer had a consistent schedule. I knew I’d no longer be doing the exact same routine on Wednesday as I did on Monday or Friday. That’s when I found the Bullet Journal.

I don’t remember where, or how, I found the bullet journal. But it ended with my mindlessly watching Plan With Me videos from YouTube on my boyfriend’s couch and favoriting all kinds of planner stickers on Etsy. I lusted over a Plum Paper planner. I considered an Erin Condren, but even with discount codes from various bloggers these still seems like major investments for someone about to be an a graduate student stipend.

So, I moved to a Happy Planner with a coupon from Michael’s that let me get it for about 15 bucks. What a deal!

This lasted maybe a month. This planner still sits in my living room, underneath my coffee table. But it just did not work for me. I did not feel I had enough space to write.

After a month or so of cramming my life into the Happy Planner, I ordered a set of grid-paper Moleskine notebooks from Amazon and eagerly awaited their arrival.

It’s taken a long time for me come to layout that’s quick to put in place but also useful. I’ve had essentially three variations, and I’ve found that I really need two separate approaches: section for day-specific tasks and a section for tasks that need completely in a given week but are more flexible.

I had that balance of flexibility in my first layout, but it took up a lot of room, some of my space ended up unused when I didn’t have much to include, and drawing it out every week was a bit time consuming.


In my second layout, I tried to better plan my week by telling myself what day of the week I’d accomplish certain tasks, but this did not always work in my favor. I ended up with a lot of incompletes and migrated tasks.


In my final layout, the one I use when I’m not in vacation mode, I found a good balance of time to create and functionality. It’s simple and nothing fancy, but it works really well for my needs, and I sometimes have space left over to add notes or reminders that come up when I don’t have anything but my planner on me.


There are so many amazing bullet journals out there for inspiration! I can’t commit myself to practicing fancy lettering or too much doodling because that just becomes procrastination for work I actually *need* to get done. Maybe in the future. For now, I’ll stick with my simple designs and color coding.

What’s your favorite bullet journal layout? Have any good bullet journal tips for newbies? Leave them in the comments!

To Rebeginnings

I have an unhealthy obsession with beginnings.

Maybe this is because I dislike endings. Finales are so. . .final. Beginnings, well, they’re always there. I’m a terrible ghoster about many things, blogging included.

It seems like every time I start something new, I want to start a blog. There was my short-lived knitting podcast/blog. A couple of long-loved blogs that are no longer active because they no longer “feel like me.” Several forgotten journals.

Beginnings also come with a sense of exclusivity. If I didn’t start a blog about starting yoga on the first day I did yoga, there’s no use blogging about my yoga journey. The beginning is over.

Maybe that’s the longitudinal researcher in me.

Winter break 2016-2017 has been an odd mix of productivity and laziness for me. I haven’t read a single academic thing. I haven’t even read a book for fun! I haven’t knit nearly as much as I usually do.

But I have played a lot of The Sims and Stardew Valley.

Indeed it is, Harvey. Indeed it is.

And I have taken up yoga.

And I have written a couple of manuscripts: one in the publication process and one I’m anxious to send out but need a few more days with.

So today, on this ninth day of 2017, I am restarting this blog. I don’t know with what aim. But with the goal of writing a little bit that isn’t required of me every week.

Linda Miles Coppen on Matilda Joslyn Gage on Religion

Little has been written about activist Matilda Joslyn Gage. I was presently surprised this evening when, looking for some books on feminism, I stumbled across Gage in the index of What American Women Did, 1789-1920 by Linda Miles Coppens. Okay, perhaps stumbled is disengunous. Frankly, I didn’t think I would find Gage there, but I looked anyway.

In the entry for 1893, religion, Coppens writes:

“Suffragist and writer Matilda Joslyn Gage, who lives in Fayetteville, New York, believes that Christian teachings are responsible for the slow progress in womens’ writes. She publishes Women, Church, and the State, a broad critique of Christian influence. She accuses church leaders and ministers of controlling women’s minds and bodies and of promoting society’s double standard. She insists that women are not inferior to men and rejects the concept of original sin. Although Gage is a churchgoing Baptist, she believes that reform must come from outside the church because attitudes about females are too deeply rooted in Christianity. Her book is widely read and harshly criticized by conservative Americans. Women have been critiquing Christianity for nearly seventeen hundred years, but because earlier studies are unknown, later scholars lack a general framework and must review the same arguments.” (144)

This is all she wrote. There is no mention of Gage’s contributions to suffrage, to her work with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. Stanton appears 9 times and Anthony appears 11 times in the index. Gage was not merely a contemporary but a collaborator and a critic of these women (especially Anthony’s willingness to team up with conservative Christians in order to pass a single issue, women’s suffrage).


Coppen, Linda Miles. What American Women Did: 1789-1920. McFarland & Co, 2001.


Perhaps this is a theory I should already understand, but for some reason I can never quite remember what it means. Reading in Booth’s The Rhetoric of Rhetoric, he discusses this many times. Booth says, “But reductive positivists persuaded more and more followers to believe that scientific proof was the only form of genuine reasoning. Scientists were on the path to genuine knowledge, while all other pursuers of knowledge depended on flimsy decorations” (30).


The name of is group of rhetorical scholars stems from sophistai, meaning “one who possesses wisdom.” They endeavored to show that there was no such thing as certainty, that knowledge was epistemic. Their timeline overlaps with the big names of Classical rhetoric; Aristotle, for example, was critical of the Sophists and their ideas. Based on the write up about them by Turner on the Catholic Encyclopedia, I wonder if the Sophists might be seen as constantly playing the devil’s advocate?

Noted Sophists include Protagoras, Gorgias, Hippias, and Prodicus.

Archetypal Drama

A term introduced by Kenneth Burke, used for analyzing how rhetoric works. Similar to master narratives. An example given by Aune is that political discourse commonly relies on the “rebirth” narrative of Christianity: “major ideological shifts in a mass audience appear to require a new narrative of a nation’s progress or decline, identifying key heroes and villains as well as a new savior to bring about complete rebirth” (99).

Kenneth Burke

Kenneth Burke is a Modernist who introduced ideas of drama into the rhetorical tradition. Specifically, he noted that all rhetorical interactions rely on the interplay of Act, Scene, Agent, Agency, and Purpose, which became known as the Dramatistic Pentad (Aune 99). Burke was rejected by his contemporaries because New Criticism was the leading literary theory, and his ideas about rhetoric did not align with the idea of a text being separated from its author. According to Aune, Burke “enlarge[d] the scope of rhetoric from its classical conception,” such as including the idea if implicit identification. The example given in Aune shows that this may closely align the symbolism, such as the president being viewed as a father figure (Aunt 98).

Biographical Details:

  • 1897-1993
  • Pennsylvania


Immanual Kant

Immanual Kant’s ideas might be seen as the inception of contemporary understandings of rhetoric. Aune details three rhetorical schools of thought that each react to Kant’s rejection of rhetoric. For Kant, rhetoric was persuasion, and persuasion was bad because it it could be seen as “an effort to subvert autonomy” (Aune 85). Kant’s definition of freedom put autonomous decision-making at the forefront, meaning that anything potentially persuasive was a threat to liberal democracy.

Biographical Details

  • 1724-1804
  • Prussian

Related Schools

  • Enlightenment