I started bullet journaling in the fall of 2015. It has impacted my life in countless positive ways, including localizing my professional and private tasks list, keeping all important info in one area for quick reference, and strengthening my memory through visual cues.

I pitch the awesomeness of the Bullet Journal to anyone who will listen. I’m in love and believe everyone should bullet journal. Sadly, I have found that many people freeze up at the thought of making their journal look clean and perfect. Some are also deathly afraid of needing to make it look artsy. So, they don’t even try… or they give up within a couple of weeks.

While some of my bullet journal is beautiful, many pages are not. My mantra is, “embrace the mess.” I use my journal to bring organization to my life. I’m a mother of two, an outside sales person calling on interior design firms in Dallas, the founder of a non-profit, a wife, a sister, an owner of three dogs (and one cat). But, most important, I’m human. Humans are messy and make mistakes.

Special thanks to Ryder Carroll for sharing his vision with the world and allowing me to voice my point of view. Also, an immeasurable thanks to my friend and personal English teacher, Tolly Salz, for helping write and edit this entry: it’s time to get over your fear and begin!

About Tammi Kollinger

  • Moriah Haefner

    I’m also hoping to embrace the mess because I am not very artistic and struggle to draw a straight line even with a ruler. I would love to see more of your bujo with “pretty” and “messy” days just to prepare myself and feel not alone.

    • canadian sadie

      This. So much yes. That picture up top gives me hope.

  • Sunshine

    Thank you for sharing. The daunting task of making my bullet journal “beautiful”, “artistic”, and “neat” has stopped me from even getting started. I draw inspiration for your photo – it can be messy – it can be me – messy,neat,creative,artistic,a billion ideas a day me. Thanks!

  • Susan White

    I think it’s great that you shared this since it will be inspiring to so many people in helping them to just dive into their Bullet Journaling experience without thinking that it has to be a work of art. I started my BuJo one year ago today and the first thing I wrote in it was “it doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to work”.

  • Amy E. Sparks

    Thank you! I stopped using my bullet journal because I felt like I had to keep it perfect. I’d see the beautiful examples online and feel like something was wrong with me because I couldn’t be like that. It’s like having a support group to find out that I’m not alone who makes messes.

  • Linda Drynan

    So happy to know I am not the only one that has been daunted by the artistic journal pages I have seen! I am now going to “embrass my mess” and get into my journal!! Thanks so much

  • Zai Eln

    I feel so much better about my own journal now. But hey, it works

  • LeatherCol

    Interesting, I think yours is the first messy journal I’ve seen. It just looks real to me! Well done. I’m neither messy nor artistic and aim to keep my bullet journal simple and minimal.

  • Barbara Roberts

    Thank you for this wonderful post. My bullit journey looks just like yours and it works for me.

  • Nancy Beale

    My BuJo is messy too but it works for me. Thanks for sharing yours!! Now I don’t feel so bad!!!

  • skipige

    Wow, thank you for giving me permission. 😉 And thank you to the rest of you who shared how intimidating it can be to get started/keeping going without the pressure to keep it perfect.

  • Maria

    I cannot tell you what a huge RELIEF it is to see a BuJo that is not clean, neat and beautifully arranged! I have ADD – organising is a challenge to start with without the pressure for it to look Pinterest-perfect. I would love to see more examples of people’s journals like this – items that work no matter what they look like.

  • I want to start bullet journaling and test it out, but I find the bullet journal daunting because it seems like a lot of work to put in and a lot of pages to create before you can even start using it! I’d pay extra for the Monthly/Weekly/Daily Logs to be already beautifully outlined. But I’ll admit that that’s also what’s so appealing about the BuJo method, that I get to design my own outline after my own habits. As most pre-outlined journals does not suit my needs :/

    However, the artsy journals doesn’t make me more excited to start bullet journaling. I do love to doodle, but all of the bullet journals I’ve seen so far seem to have put more time making a page look clean and beautiful than actually focusing on the tasks it’s suppose to contain. Or is it just me? How do they make the bullet journal not become or feel like a chore?

    • Emilee Marie Self

      The best thing about the Bullet Journal system is that you can craft and curate the information that goes into it! Have you checked out the start up video that Ryder posted? It’s a super clean and quick setup that may take you around 15-20 minutes to set up. https://youtu.be/fm15cmYU0IM

  • Rebecca

    Thank you!! It seems the only featured things are exactly the type that the Bullet Journal freed us from. This looks like my journal, and your journey sounds like my journey.

  • Thank you for the inspiration and affirmation! I almost gave up because of the pressure I was putting on myself in thinking I had to spend an inordinate amount of time making my bullet journal look artistic, neat, colorful, unusual, etc. Then I just decided to chuck those ideas. I wanted to see whether this could work for me because I was tired of what seemed like 100’s of post-it notes, scratch papers, and notes in my writing notebooks that were (sort of) strategically placed around my house, on my home office desk and on my desk at work. Yikes! I cross out things a lot, I am using color pencils and pens – just ’cause I like color – helps to offset what I look at through my work on the computer. I just need a journal that will work for me, whatever that turns out to be.

  • Robert Dašek

    What a great and needed post for all of us who use the bullet journal as a tool to greater productivity, rather than creativity. Thank you!

  • Eric Kimball

    Finally, a bullet journal for the common. . . .man? . . .well, okay, the rest of us mortals. It’s lovely. It illustrates a level of intensity that careful organization masks. In 50 years, when someone opens my past bullet journals and looks at my daily grind, they’ll get a feel for my life. And yours as well. You done good kiddo. I love it.

  • Kenneth Solomon

    I needed to hear this. I am in no way artsy. I get embarrassed by all the beautiful journals on Instagram. BUJO is a great tool for me. I will embrace the mess!

  • Joe Barnett

    I agree and thank you for sharing the “mess”. I too am not gifted in the visual arts but have enjoyed greatly the process of writing down thoughts, ideas, and future plans. I have worked in the IT industry for over two decades and got my start on planning/journaling in college with the Franklin system. This system carried me though the first several years of my career until I became fully digital and oddly less connected to my future plans, projects, and task lists. I have recently discovered the bullet journaling process and found some similarities to the Franklin system with several huge advantages. First of all it is much more flexible than the Franklin system allowing additional space as needed without the guilt of wasted pre printed information. The start up costs are a fraction of the Franklin system with no need for additional training beyond the concise getting started video (thank you Ryder Carroll)! I got started with the Leuchtturm1917 A5 in Army green with dotted background. I like the numbered pages and high quality paper. After a couple of weeks into the system, I briefly toyed with the Hobonichi Techo Cousin Avec because of the yearly, monthly, weekly and daily spreads. The preprinted dates was the main draw. Upon arrival I found the paper to be very high quality and the layout and design are well thought out. I used it for a few days only to find the structure was limiting, no numbered pages, and you need a cover to make it really work well. The Hobonichi system is hugely popular in Japan but just too limiting to work well with the BuJo system. I picked back up my Leuchtturm and discovered another advantage to the Bullet Journaling design. You can ignore and neglect it for a period of time and start again easily. Finally, in the IT industry, you are constantly changing focus, discussing different projects, and incrementally progressing through tasks multiple times per day, or even per hour. The BuJo process works very well in this environment. I look forward to many years of productivity represented physically by full, well worn notebooks!

  • Bravo, Tammi. Some of the show and tell postings here make me wonder how many tries it took to make those two pages look so perfect. My journal has unstructured variability, lots of things crossed out, wobbly arrows linking things with bold circles around them and random changes in ink and style as the mood strikes me.

    I also note that your notebook is simple with hand-numbered pages and no pre-printed headings.

    THIS is what a busy person’s journal really looks like.

  • Suzi Mac

    Agree with everyone else about the pleasure of seeing a journal that doesn’t look like a show-home! But I have one question – you mention that bullet journaling localized “my professional and private tasks list” – what do you mean by that? I am bullet journaling at work but not sure how (or if) to allow it to cross into personal life so that both are in the one journal…

    • Maria Noah

      I, personally, have EVERYTHING in one notebook simply because I have ADHD and the more compartmentalized my world is the more likely I am to FORGET SOMETHING EXISTS because it’s not in my face all the time. I don’t know if that helps you, Suzi Mac, but I hope so. I doubt Ryder will make a bullet journal law banning what I call The Unification of My Worlds, let alone form a posse to hunt those of us down that do keep everything in one place <3 (He's too cool for that sort of silliness, I hear). The only REAL rule to keep in mind is "it doesn't have to meet any expectation, what it has to do is WORK for YOU." So if you have one at home and one at home and one in your messenger back for when you're at university to track that stuff, then it's all good IFFFFF it works for you that way. <3 Be you, Epic Suzi Mac! You rock!

  • Fier Luciano

    This is the most beautiful BuJo page I ever seen! Very inspirational!

  • Thanks very much Tammi. As a guy I freeze up looking at artsy BuJo on Youtube. This is a great post.

  • Lisa Cordasco

    Thank you for the reminder Tammi!
    My BuJo started out like Tammi’s in 2015. And I embraced my mess.
    I loved my mess on paper because it was no longer floating around in my head, on random scraps of paper, half used organizers and various electronic devices. It was all in one completely adaptable place.
    Over time, my BuJo has become more organized, neater and with fewer abandoned pages, as my mind clears the clutter into my BuJo on a regular basis.
    As I look through past Journals, I see my thoughts become more structured and my real goals become easier to discover.
    That’s the real beauty of a BuJo!

  • David Dyer

    My BuJo has me looking deeply into perfectionism (in a positive way).

  • ann

    i just finished my first month of journalling and my first migration, and I have to agree that there is pressure to make it look nice, so many images online of beautiful pages. My focus is to stay organized so i am just keeping it simple and neat (working on this part!).