bullet journal

How To Set Up A Minimal Bullet Journal & Spread Ideas

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I think it wouldn’t be too dramatic to say I’d be lost without my bullet journal. It’s the thing which keeps me on track and reminds me where and what I’m supposed to be doing on any given day. Over the years I’ve tried getting creative with my bullet journal, trying lots of ways to add colour and make it look visually interesting. But the way my bullet journal works best for me is when I prioritise function over creativity.

I love my minimal bullet journal, and in a world of perfectly created bullet journal pages. I think it’s important to highlight that your bullet journal doesn’t have to look pretty, or be heavily decorated. There are ways of using a minimalistic bullet journal without sacrificing the creative elements which can make bullet journaling fun.

So today I want to share some tips on how to set up a minimalistic bullet journal. And also share some bullet journal spreads which have worked well for me.

Notebook open to page showing a minimal bullet journal spread.

Why Use A Minimal Bullet Journal

I think it could be helpful to define what I mean by a minimal bullet journal. Either it is the pairing down of the bullet journal method to the mere essentials. Or it is a more aesthetic take where you’ve added your touches to the bullet journal method but visually there is a minimal aesthetic.

I began my minimal bullet journal style after reading The Bullet Journal Method by Ryder Carroll. This book is not required reading, you can learn everything you need to know just from the website. But it forced me to go back to the very basics of what a bullet journal is.

I stopped making fancy spreads and habit trackers. I stopped planning out my bullet journal in advance. Instead, I began with a monthly overview and each morning the first thing I’d do is make my daily log. I know that seems to be pretty obvious, but bullet journaling has turned into a whole thing. And I’m not saying that decorated spreads are bad in any way, there’s just so much to it now compared to the original bullet journal method.

Minimal bullet journal spread on a white background.

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One of the great things about using a more minimal bullet journal style is that you don’t need to be artistic to create something nice to look at. Because, yes, a minimal bullet journal can still be aesthetically pleasing.

What I’d recommend for any person wanting to try a more minimal style. Or who has become overwhelmed by the many decorative options and spreads. Is to go back to the very basics of what a bullet journal is. It doesn’t have to be a new notebook but set up an entirely new bullet journal system following the original rules and use it the way it was meant to be used.

Once you’ve got the hang of that you can start incorporating more into your bullet journal. Maybe you add a bit of long-form journaling to the end of a daily log. Or maybe you have a sticker or a piece of washi tape you could add to a page. The important part is figuring out how to make the system work for you. Don’t feel like you need to copy what everyone else is doing just because it’s popular.

Bullet Journal Supplies

Pens and mechanical pencil on white background.

I want to share some suggestions of the types of supplies you could use with your minimal bullet journal. But I’m also a big advocate of using what you have before buying more. These supplies were not bought specifically for my bullet journal. I work as a calligrapher so these items tend to be my most used stationery supplies.

I also have a small collection of washi tapes and small stationery bits such as stickers and stamps which I will use in my bullet journal. I’ve spent a long time figuring out which stickers I like using in my bullet journal. However, for the most part, I don’t go out specifically looking for stationery items to use in my bullet journal. If there is a certain type of sticker I want (such as the foil shapes and letters) I’ve gotten into the habit of making these using my Silhouette Cameo.

Additionally, if you want to give a special gift to those who are also interested in bullet journals, custom
pens
can be a great choice. Be it ink pens, gel pens, ballpoint pens, or pencils, you can get custom
designs and a variety of textures at Custompens.com. They would be great companions to your bullet
journal.

Tips For Keeping A Minimal Bullet Journal:

  1. White space is your friend.
    White space is more of a design term, really it just means having space around the elements of your design. When bullet journaling this means spreading out the elements of your monthly, weekly, or daily spreads. You could think of this as don’t feel like every page in your notebook needs to be crammed full of stuff.
  2. The functional bits matter.
    There are some parts of the bullet journal which are important. If you’re drawing a monthly (or weekly) layout, you might have to fill a whole page or two in your notebook. But you can still give this a minimal look depending on how you do it. The important part is making sure all of your essential pieces of information are there. If you’re drawing a monthly calendar you have to show the dates in the month. But could there maybe be elements you miss out on so it still looks minimal?

    The tools you use can also play a part in this. A pencil line is going to look smaller on the page compared to a line drawn in black ink. You can use this to your advantage. Drawing essential forms in pencil so it visually draws less attention. I try to keep all the functional parts of my bullet journal in black and grey. However, I still add colour where I feel necessary. Colour coding your bullet journal is a whole post in itself, the important part, is don’t be afraid to use colour with your minimal aesthetic.
  1. Find your visual language.
    Your bullet journal is yours so it can look how you want it to. Minimal bullet journals can still have a unique personality to them. You can do this by figuring out your own set of visual motifs which you can reuse throughout your bullet journal as functional or decorative elements.

    For me, this shows through my daily log and my customised icons. My headers all start with the same grey highlight. And in previous journals the way I’ve used doodled elements and a combination of washi and stickers to create a set of recurring decorative elements throughout my notebook.

Monthly Logs

The “proper” way to do a monthly spread is to line the days of the week down the left-hand page and use the right as a task list for the month. If you’re going back to basics I’d highly recommend following this method. You can use highlighters to define each week if your monthly overview is too much.

I’ve started favouring a more traditional calendar view. I’ve found over time this is how my brain sees a calendar. It’s easier to think of time when the weeks are laid in that way. However, it does have some downsides. Your main task list is a huge part of the bullet journal method. The aim is that you migrate these tasks to your daily logs and then either complete or move those tasks as needed.

Minimal monthly bullet journal spread on white background.

However, this calendar view doesn’t allow much space to add a task list. I find having a task overview can be useful because I’ll have things which I know I want/ need to do in a certain month, but not when. At the moment I’ll either write my tasks on a post-it note or squeeze them into the side of my calendar.

I think this is part of what you need to learn about the bullet journal method, it’s a work in progress. I’m still figuring out how I like my information laid out and that’s okay. Just the same with you, you’ll figure out what works best as you go along.

Weekly Logs

When I was in university I got into the habit of doing a small weekly overview. This was right around the time when lockdown started and the point of it was to see what was happening that week. I would do these weekly overviews around, or as part of a daily log, so they weren’t anything fancy, it was mostly just to see at-a-glance if anything important was happening on a specific day.

Notebook open to page showing minimal bullet journal spread.

You can do more complex weekly logs if you find you need them. The weekly layout I’ve come to favour is still quite minimal. Showing a small overview of the week, with space underneath for a task list. The advantage of something like this is that you can change the layout depending on what you need more. The example I use has equal space for the overview and task list. However, you could do a smaller weekly overview, or have a larger space for your tasks. The great thing about creating your bullet journal as you go is that it can change as your needs change.

Daily Logs

The daily logs, simply by their nature, should be quite minimal. The whole point of this section is to migrate tasks from previous logs and add in any new tasks. From there you can add more as you feel. Some people like to do a small amount of long-form journaling in this section. I tend not to do that, however, if you do choose to try it. It can be a really interesting form of memory keeping.

Minimal bullet journal spread on white background.

Daily logs work best if they are created on the day you plan to use them. This way they can be as big as you need them to be. Again, this makes it handy as a way to organise everything in your notebook as all your notes will automatically be organised by date. This part of the bullet journal tends to be quite minimal, simply because you’re only recording the things you deem necessary. But it is possible to go back in and add decorations. I tend to do this part at a later date. Sometimes I’ll add doodles or a few stickers, or even cut things from magazines. It just depends on what I’m working on.

Finally

I feel like there is so much more to minimal bullet journals which I could have mentioned. The important part is you shouldn’t feel like your bullet journal should look a certain way just because others do. Bullet journaling isn’t about posting pictures online. Always remember the bullet journal is just a tool you’re using to help you achieve some other goal. Maybe it’s being better organised, or to be a record of what you’re doing.

No matter what, your bullet journal should be yours to use as you please.

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