All the BuJo tips you need to go forth and make stuff.

Do you like making stuff? Are you a writer, painter, knitter, woodworker, or underwater basket weaver?

Whether it’s your profession, side gig, or hobby, it can get complicated to track everything you need to do for your art.

In this month’s BuJoy, we’re going to explore the glamorous topic of effectively managing your creative pursuits. Like all things bullet journal (BuJo), I promise this is more fun than it sounds.

Many restless, housebound folks picked up a new hobby during the pandemic. And if you haven’t, that’s OK! This unprecedented global crisis has been hard on us all, and it’s understandable if you don’t feel especially motivated or creative.

Still, it’s never too late. If you’re feeling lockdown cabin fever, picking up a new hobby might be the pick-me-up your weary brain needs.

I took up cross stitching about 6 months ago and quickly became obsessed. I soon realized there’s a lot to keep track of: patterns, embroidery floss colors, needles, and aida cloth, to name a few.

Luckily, I have my trusty BuJo to help me manage it all. Read on to learn how.

Ah, deadlines. I love them. I hate them. They motivate me. They hold me back.

My ambivalence notwithstanding, deadlines are a necessity in my life as a freelance writer. Since writing pays my bills, I quite literally can’t afford to miss deadlines.

Currently, that means keeping track of due dates for five different editors at three different publications. It’s easy to get mixed up, and it’s imperative that I don’t.

My phone’s calendar helps remind me of upcoming due dates, but I like to also see all the upcoming deadlines for the coming months. That’s why I made a deadline tracker in my BuJo. I like to think of it as an analog spreadsheet. Google Sheets is lovely, but I prefer the tactile satisfaction of crossing off a finished piece, preferably in colorful gel pen.

If you’re a professional creative person — writer, photographer, portrait artist, woodworker — you probably have deadlines. If your creative pursuits are non-paying hobbies, you might have deadlines, like gifts or commissions for friends.

If you don’t have deadlines yet, you could try setting some just for you. Picking a due date can help you push past feelings of stagnation and motivate you to get making.

What unstarted or unfinished project do you have sitting in your home, taunting you with its incompleteness? No judgment: In my living room sits a cool thrifted desk that I am 75 percent done painting… and it’s been sitting there for 2 months.

If you have a project you just can’t quite finish, try motivating yourself by picking a due date.

Start your deadline tracker by figuring out the relevant info to include. For me, it’s:

  • due date
  • article name
  • editor name
  • whether it’s done (See the illustration above for an example)

Keep it simple so it’s readable. Save the detailed notes for a different page.

Model your tracker after traditional spreadsheets. Label each column in a row across the top of the page (e.g., date, title), then fill in each row with the details of each deadline.

Add pretty borders, write in multiple colors, and add washi tape if you prefer a colorful BuJo. Whether your style is minimalist or maximalist, make sure the details are clear, legible, and easy to reference.

Planning and making lists can be satisfying, and, if you’re a dork like me, they’re kinda fun. But the most important part is actually following through on those lists.

You know what you need to do, and now it’s time to do it.

Setting goals is a helpful way to keep yourself on track and not neglect your hobbies, art, or work. I like the SMART goals framework, which sets goals around being:

  • specific
  • measurable
  • achievable
  • relevant
  • time-bound

Here are some ideas for goals around various arts and crafts:

Writers

  • Pitch one article per month to a new publication.
  • Write one rough draft per week.

Embroiderers and cross-stitchers

  • Complete one project each quarter.
  • Learn how to create patterns by next year.
  • Learn one embroidery technique per month.

Visual artists

  • Do a daily 5-minute sketching session.
  • Try one new medium per month, like pastels, charcoal, or oils.

My last BuJoy piece was all about tackling to-do lists.

Lists are a straightforward way to organize various creative needs. You can keep track of the supplies you need, project ideas for the future, projects you’ve completed, and more. You get it, you’ve heard of lists.

Here are some ideas for creative-themed lists:

  • supplies needed
  • inventory, or supplies already on hand
  • supplies wish list or fancy stuff
  • best art supply stores and websites
  • favorite Etsy shops
  • classes you want to take
  • techniques to try or techniques you know

“Inspiration station” is a cheesy phrase I just made up. It’s a space for you to keep track of things that inspire you.

As a list fanatic, I obsessively log things that inspire me, like movies I watch, top 10 lists of horror movies, sitcoms, desert island albums, and favorite writers.

What inspires you? What motivates you to create things? Write down anything you find inspiring, intriguing, or mind-blowing.

You can also try a BuJo-style mood board. Most bullet journaling is words because it’s, ya know, journaling. Many creative types are visual thinkers and learners, so this is an opportunity to focus on images.

With BuJo mood boards, you can take inspiration with you everywhere. Dedicate a two-page spread to images that make you feel big feelings. You can cut these images out of magazines, use stickers, draw them yourself, or press flowers or leaves into the pages.

Your inspiration station is purely for you, so make it appealing and exciting, however that looks for you.

  • Know when to say when. The BuJo isn’t right for everything. For example, I initially tried to track my cross stitch thread colors in my BuJo. But now I have 100+ colors and counting. It’s unwieldy and impractical to keep track of so many items in a journal, so I switched to an app called Thready. If tracking something in your BuJo isn’t working for you, stop tracking it there.
  • Be realistic. To quote “Parentheses” by The Blow, you fear that you can’t do it all, and you’re right. Art projects often take longer than we anticipate, and we have to balance our creative pursuits with the obligations of work, family, household, etc. You won’t finish everything you want to at the exact time you want to, and that’s OK. Try not to get so caught up in making plans that you neglect to take action. Something is always better than nothing.
  • Trim the fat. It’s OK to change your mind about that landscape you intended to paint for the last 5 years. With exceptions for paid work, making things should feel pleasurable and worthwhile for you. That doesn’t mean it won’t also be challenging, frustrating, or boring at times. But it shouldn’t be soul-sucking or torturous. Know when to stop. Don’t fall victim to the sunk cost fallacy.

A bullet journal’s potential uses are endless. It’s why I love the little gridded notebook so.

I also find it to be particularly satisfying for artistic types: You get to tap into your creativity and treat your BuJo as its own art project. Creation requires inspiration and skill, but it also needs planning, dedication, and labor.

Happy bullet journaling, and happy stitching, painting, writing, sketching, welding, building, and underwater basket weaving.

And, if you are an underwater basket weaver, I’d love for you to explain to me what that actually means!

Now go forth, and make stuff. You got this.

Ash Fisher is a writer and comedian living in Portland, Oregon. The light of her life is her corgi Vincent. Learn more about her on her website.