A Minimalist Bullet Journal – My Husband’s First Time
Articles may contain affiliate links.
I have years of experience with the bullet journal. Look through the eyes of my husband as he starts his minimalist bullet journal for the first time.
Starting My Minimalist Bullet Journal
My wife has been using a bullet journal for years now. At first, I thought she just found a new manifestation for her list-making obsession. Eventually, though, I realized that it was a little more complex than that. Around the time she started blogging, she asked me to proofread one of her first posts on how to start a bullet journal. I did my husbandly duties and scoured the post looking for mistakes, but I didn’t absorb any of the information. Soon enough, her blog got popular and I had to stop and ask: Why exactly do people like her journal? She told me all about Ryder Carroll, Boho Berry, Page Flutter, and many more blogs about the bullet journal, so she clearly wasn’t the first to write about this subject. So I went back and read that post again, but this time I saw something new.
I realized this system could be perfect for me. After reading her post and watching the original bullet journal video, it hit me that this system could do wonders for someone as disorganized as myself. Did I think the bullet journal would solve all of my problems? No. But I knew it could help put a dent in those problems.
So about three months ago, I told Shelby I was going to start a basic bullet journal. Needless to say, she was thrilled. I hopped on Amazon ready to buy a journal and get started. But then I chickened out. I simply could not do it. A Leuchtturm1917 sat in my cart ready to go, but the self-doubt crept into my head.
If you’re reading this, I’m sure you’ve seen my wife’s bullet journal. If you haven’t, go check out her monthly set up. It’s beautiful and that is a problem for me. I just knew that no matter how hard I tried I could never create a page as nice as that. I am severely dyslexic, so my handwriting has always ranged somewhere from chicken scratch to a hyper 8th grader. Frankly, I’m embarrassed by it. But facing my embarrassment brought me to a big aha moment.
Just Do It Already
Two weeks ago, with my second year of law school around the corner, I made the decision to get organized and improve my handwriting. I pulled up that beginner bullet journal post and ordered a Leuchtturm B5, some good felt tip pens, and a ruler to help me create some order. I choose the B5 instead of the A5 because I like how large it is and I feel like it can take a beating in my backpack. After all, I want a minimalist bullet journal, so I’m not too worried about the journal getting too scuffed up. I typically use Uniball pens for my daily writing, but I wanted a felt tip pen because I hoped that the thick black line would slightly mask the deficiencies in my handwriting.
When the package arrived, I was ready to start, but I was nervous. Lots of people get nervous when they start their first bullet journal, and I am no different. Like any good student, I procrastinated. Another week passed before I finally sucked it up and put pen to paper. I opened up my new journal, grabbed my ruler and pen, and immediately screwed up.
I almost quit right then and there. I knew no one was looking, but it felt like the world just let out one loud collective HA. Not knowing how to move forward, I posted online and asked for help. There was no single piece of revolutionary advice, but the words of encouragement helped me remember that this was a minimalist bullet journal and mistakes were allowed. This bullet journal isn’t going to hang in an art gallery, so I can ease off some of the self-imposed pressure.
Keep It Simple
I figured I would start with the easiest thing I could think of: the daily entry. I didn’t really use any guide for this. Instead, I just did what felt right. So I pulled out my little ruler, wrote out a header, and made a personal section and a business section. Three mistakes later, I had myself a daily entry. I decided that I would use dots for basic tasks, circles for somewhat important tasks, and triangles for very important tasks. Later I also decided to use squares to indicate an event, such as a meeting or appointment.
I’ve always struggled with eating a good breakfast (by which I mean I just skip it) so I decided to steal an idea from my wife’s dailies post and started tracking my meals each day. I figured seeing my failure staring me in the face every day would make me finally change it. So far, it’s actually helped. I’ve been eating breakfast more often since I started tracking it, which was exactly what I was hoping for.
The Fabled Monthly Spread
My “monthly spread” isn’t much of a month or a spread. Instead, it’s just several weeks pushed together. I was terrified of creating a monthly spread. Every picture I’ve seen shows the calendar or goals stretching across at least two pages, which is so intimidating. Instead of just skipping the monthly spread, I changed it to the simplest version I could imagine. I tend to think in week-long blocks, so I ignored the month layout and opted for three weeks with room for one more. It works for me, so I’m happy. We’ll see how it changes as I get more comfortable with my system.
I always forget everything- important, unimportant- it does not matter. I decided to do something about it, or at least give it a try. What I wanted was a place where I could go in a hurry to write something down without having to make a new spread. I decided to make a simple “Remember This” section for these loose notes. It is pretty similar to a brain dump, and for me, it is just a good place to store notes and goals that are too far in advance for my monthly spread.
I also decided to add in a basic textbook tracker (another idea stolen from my wife). Actually, decided is a strong word for what happened. Classes were starting in less than a week and I didn’t have books yet. Necessity made me do it.
It Was Terrifying, But Worth It
Starting my minimalist bullet journal was nerve-wracking, but I’m glad I did it. Am I more organized and productive then I was before? Maybe, maybe not. It’s hard to say at this point. But at least I am more conscious of my disorganization, which is important for fixing it. I have a long way to go before I am Mr. Organized. I’ve made lots of mistakes already: I missed days, I marked some tasks done that were only halfway finished, and some tasks I avoided altogether.
After a little over a week, I’m not sure that what I have is even a “real” bullet journal. Then again, I’m not sure there really is a true bullet journal; I guess that’s kinda the beauty of it. I have big plans for my minimalist bullet journal – I want to add a habit tracker and a finance spread, among other things. The only reason I haven’t already added these is my fear of screwing it up.
In fact, my fear is one of the main reasons I decided to share my experiences with you. Even with all of my wife’s bullet journal experience and help, I am not immune from the paralyzing fear that tells me how badly I will fail. The big lesson I have learned through my struggles and the thing that keeps me trying is the knowledge that it does not matter if your journal is beautiful, it just needs to be productive. It doesn’t even need to be very productive. Progress is progress, and we just have to keep on moving forward despite everything.
I hadn’t touched my “sad act” (my description of it) of a journal in several weeks or maybe even a couple of mines ………….I truly don’t know anymore, but this mans bravery in speaking out and showing us that it is more than ok to not get suckered in with all the hype and newness and then get put off of this activity by all of the hyper-creative “true” artists with beautiful handwriting and on-point artistic drawings and lettering, with their hyper expensive journal books and extra special expensive pens etc. (even though he did get a posh book for himself he has made me realise that my my choice of journaling materials is in no way the wrong way!) These “True” bullet journals guru’s really do make us mere mortals feel utterly inadequate…… Thank you Jon for inspiring me to try again – but this time for me to be more true to myself and my life, goals, dreams and anything else I decide to use this tool for! Deepest respect and love for your inspiring post!
It’s always worth remembering that your journal is YOURS and you get to decide how you want to use it. There isn’t a right way or wrong way, just your way! Good luck getting back into your journal 🙂 may it be everything you need it to be and more.
I was worried my chicken scratch bullet journal was a problem. I do use a ruler for straight lines, but the minimalist approach is definitely better for me. I tried to be fancy and have colour but… I’m too much of a perfectionist. Now, I just need my MUJI pens and a ruler and I’m good to go.
That’s awesome, Samantha! The most important thing with any bullet journal is that it works for you and makes you feel good. By the way, I used to struggle with being a perfectionist too — you might enjoy this post on how I got over it: Done Not Perfect – Inspiration for Defeating Procrastination in 2020
honestly as someone who is super intimidated by the beautiful artistic bullet journal my best friend has, and the meticulously organized one my (admittedly, clinically OCD) wife has, this was a godsend. Is it awful to say “oh mine doesn’t look so bad”? it’s not bc this is bad or anything just. it’s about the same as mine, more or less. a heading and a list and one color of pen and varying quality of handwriting and mistakes crossed out in pen.
this is very encouraging. i also don’t know if it’ll help me be more organized but hopefully it’ll help me be a little more aware of how disorganized i am.
(my journal is disc-bound so i can move pages around and frankly i’m psyched about that too – much like how i love taking notes on my tablet with a stylus where i can rearrange my handwritten notes on the fly, i like knowing i can organize pages after the fact)
Being able to make your journal your very own is one of the most beautiful benefits of bullet journaling. Enjoy yours for what it is Mags 😉
I went to purchase a new journal to begin and decided against it. I knew I had 1/2 used Moleskine at home and decided to “practice” with it. By experimenting with a few different layouts, habit trackers, lists etc. I found this relieved much of my OCD anxiety about creating the perfect bullet journal. I began thinking that only women with art degrees used a bullet journal! I was just looking for something to help me keep on track with things that needed to be done, a place to write down my ideas – that I knew were so inspired I would not forget – but I do! I too have found my handwriting has become increasingly hard to read. I found a font I like – have forced my self to slow down and put some effort into it and I might say it is looking quite nice. Most of all as I start this new journey I have found that there are a lot of ideas out there – but each person’s journal needs to be their own, doing what works best for them. It was refreshing to read that someone else was experiencing much of what I had felt! Thanks!
Good for you for jumping in and getting started. It sounds like you’ve been able to overcome 2 of the biggest hurdles that cause people to not make progress: get started and it will get better, and each person’s journal has to be their own. Enjoy the journey Greg!
Hello! Please tell Jon he is awesome for just “going for it”! My bullet journal is just as messy and has the same chicken scratch writing (and none of the fancy spreads). I noticed you mentioned in a comment that he isn’t using it every day (if he is even still using it so long after the original post). I had the same problem when I changed careers and was no longer at a desk all day. I have started using a pocket sized notebook that I literally keep in my pocket with a mini pencil. It is amazing, he should totally give it a shot! ?
That sounds like the perfect solution for you Shannon! I love it.
Well done. I have just written up my first bujo after weeks of reading about it. I am following the basic layouts and have added a couple of entries. K.i.s.s is going to be my inspiration for the time being. I also use a daily tracker for things like Meds that lives on my table next to where I sit as this is easier.
Simple is a great way to start and then as you learn you can get more fancy if you want to. If not, that is totally OK too!
Thank you for sharing this as those of us who get overwhelmed by all the crazy beautiful bullet journals out there this brings it home that it doesnt have to be fancy.
It can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be.
Thank you again for sharing!
YES! That’s the beauty of it, you can make it your own!
I love your honesty. I too use erasable pens. They have changed my life. Some days are planned to the nearest 15minutes – others are entirely random. Today I wrote nothing at all! I’ve started using a pristine set of coloured pencils I have been saving – but saving for what? Some pages have worked – some haven’t. Others I can’t imagine how I lived without them 🙂 One thought – have you tried using a blue felt tip. Or even a green one?
I don’t believe Jon has tried different colored felt tips, but I’ll sure pass that along! And I love that: “Saving for what?”. That’s a question I need to ask myself every time I start shying away from using any of my supplies because honestly, this is what it’s all for! Thanks so much for your thoughts, and I’m so glad you enjoyed the post, Mandy!
I love this post because it’s exactly what I recently did, starting from scratch with a black Leuchtturm. After 2 (orange and emerald) notebooks in 2016 that I filled out with fear and trying to be perfect day after day, I came back to a planner for 2017 because I didn’t want to stress myself. But then I found a great deal on Amazon and I decided to give it another chance obliging myself to not try to be artsy (since I’m not comfortable with it) and just scribble what I need on paper. It works much better now! This post encouraged me even more to just be myself and not try to copy what others do, thanks for sharing!
That’s fantastic to hear, Alice! Sometimes it takes a few tries to really figure out the best solution to a problem, but when you find it – boy it is satisfying 🙂
I love the minimalist setup. Even if it was done for fear of “ruining” something more ambitious, it has a simple beauty that I enjoy. Since this comment is nearly a year later, I hope you stuck with it! I tried to do a journal as part of the new year, but couldn’t decide on a color scheme, a lettering style, weather or not to do pictures, this page layout or that one yada-yada-yada.
So, in short, I never started. I never used it.
I’m going to grab a new fountain pen from Office Depot tonight because spending money always makes me put more effort into a thing. Then I’m going to go home make lines on paper and add words. <3
I will make sure to pass along your comments, he still uses it, but is still struggling to use it daily. It’s a process and he is sticking with it. I’m so glad you are jumping in and getting started! You can’t succeed until you start! 🙂
Thank you for sharing your minimalist journal. The point is not that it’s a work of art, but that it fits your needs and makes your life easier. In my journal, I’ve found that using erasable pens—Frixion is the brand I’ve tried—is magic. They come in fun colours and I can just rub out mistakes, which helps me concentrate on using the journal instead of second-guessing myself.
I’ll make sure to pass that along to Jon! He’ll definitely appreciate it, thank you!
I stumbled on your site from pinterest and have enjoyed wandering around it. Seeing your husbands take on the bullet journal really helped me to overcome the roadblock I hit everytime I tried to start of making something that looked nice rather than simply functional. I do a little doodling and add in some washi tape dividers for a little color, but seeing a bare bones, made to get a job done set up was really nice.
I’m so happy that it helped! I’ll be sure to pass that along to Jon. Sometimes it is intimidating to begin when you feel like your bullet journal won’t stack up to someone else’s. I totally get it. It’s nice to get a reminder that it is a productivity tool above all else 🙂
Correction tape is our friend!
I’ve definitely used it once or twice 😀
Another minimalist! I write mine in pencil because it makes my writing a bit easier for me to read! And you can rub out mistakes.
Being able to erase mistakes is awesome! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve made a mistake in pen and had to cross it out.
I would love to see future updates and how he is adapting the bullet journal as he grows more comfortable with the system. I am finishing up my first month bullet journaling and it’s been really great; glad to see others taking a bare bones approach too.
Thank you so much! I’ll be sure to ask him to share again!
Minimalist female bullet journaller here. I don’t doodle or make fancy graphs or anything. Just write lists and notes. Glad to see I’m not the only one. The only color in my journal is blue from my frixion exrra fune point erasable pen. I am left handed so most pens leave ink on my hand and smudges on my page. I also don’t like scribbles so this pen, because it actually erases really well, is , my perfect solution. I’ve started with a dollar store spiral bound notebook and figure this is my “practice” book. Maybe I’ll get a fancier book down the road but, for now, I’m experimenting in my cheapie 🙂
Nice! That’s how I started, too. I was so intimidated by fancy hardcover notebooks! I bought something cheap and abused it so thoroughly. Being a minimalist is freakin’ awesome, and there are definitely times I wish I could create such clean lines. I’m glad you found a system that works great for you and I hope you have a grand time finishing out your experimentation journal!
I am almost finished with my first bullet journal. It is messy and I made a lot of “mistakes”. I hate my handwriting but when I started this bullet journaling my one goal was to finish one full notebook. It did not matter what I put in there only that I finish my 1st ever journal. I loved your article because it confirmed what I have been doing simple undecorated basic journaling. I look forward to more of your thoughts and pictures.
Jon and I both appreciate you commenting and sharing your thoughts! Getting through the first journal is a huge accomplishment, so congrats 😀 It felt so monumental when I overcame my first one and I learned so much, and I bet you feel likewise. I hope you enjoy starting your second journal and beginning a whole new journey!
This is so inspiring! I struggled with the same feelings and I’m so happy your husband decided to share this with us.
I linked to your post on my new blog (https://minorexpert.wordpress.com/2016/09/16/bullet-journal-and-many-right-ways-to-do-it/), I hope you guys don’t mind :)?
Not at all! Thank you for sharing!
I would like to give Jon a big-sister type hug. First, I can identify with forgetting things. I forget everything too. I have ADD something bad and it’s a challenge. I wish I had taken my ADD more seriously when I was in law school. Second, I too have had ‘planner paralysis.’ There is simply *so much* out there – Filofaxes! Erin Condren! Hobonichi! Stickers! Washi! Color coding! – that I start thinking about it but feel I’m stuck in cement.
I do own a red Filofax in A5 size that is beautiful but I think I am going to give up on traditional daily inserts, get some grid paper and just bullet journal. Why not? The acquisition of paper is cheap, and what can be more freeing than a blank page?
One ruler, some colored pens, and I can slap in one of my motivational stickers if I really want to. It sounds like a plan.
Good luck with your studies and career.
It’s so cool to meet another person in the law profession who uses the bullet journal! I’m glad you figured out a plan of action to help get over your planner paralysis – sometimes it can be super overwhelming! Jon and I both appreciate your comment and hope you enjoy building and growing your planning method. Thanks!
This was awesome to read because when I started I though ‘Well let’s begin with a quote!’
Then I made a mistake…
ON THE FIRST PAGE.
And I have made many more since then. Sometimes I put something on it but most of the time I can’t be bothered.
To me a bullet journal is an inside in how I/my brain works, and I/my brain make lots of mistakes.
On every page.
Ouch, that’s rough! But that’s the bullet journal for you 🙂 it’s beautiful when you learn to just let it go and move on to the next page. That’s a fantastic mentality to have, especially when dealing with the fickle brain!
Jon, thank you so much for this post and sharing your pages with us. I just started by bujo a couple of weeks ago after much stalling and am still getting stuck between wanting to work with it as I go and wanting it to look like the other lovely journals I see online. You are so right that our journals are about what works for us – it does not have to be beautiful to be productive!
I’m so glad you enjoyed Jon’s post, and I know he’ll love your comment! Stick with it and I’m sure you’ll find the balance between pretty pages and a wicked productive planner.
I was in the same “afraid to start because I’ll just screw it up” boat. I did a few test runs of spread ideas on scrap paper till I found what I liked. Then when I was ready to start the actual bullet journal part I went about 2/3 of the way down the page and wrote the words “I give you permission” then signed my name. It was very freeing. The first 20 pages or so are messy, scratched out, smudged, but they are mine. I’ve also found what really helped me was leaving room on those pages for me to write out what I want to do differently the next time. That way I’m motivated to do an actual “next time”. My biggest obstacle was looking at all these very beautiful and artistic spreads online and on blogs and telling myself that I’d never be good enough to do things like that in my journal. But once I realized that my journal is just for me anyway, then I started to not care what it looked like or how many pages I took up because no one was going to see it anyway! Good for you, keep it up, and Cheers!!
Giving yourself formal permission is a fantastic idea! It’s like a ribbon cutting ceremony for your delightfully messy bullet journal. That’s a really lovely mentality to hold about your journal, and leaving room to make notes for the next time is a smart way to tackle self doubt and mistakes. Thank you for sharing and I will be sure to read this to Jon! 🙂
Thank you so much for sharing your journal. We all say that mistakes don’matter but when we see the artistic Pinterest ready bujos, it is very intimidating. Yours is much closer to Ryder Carroll’s original version, and it is great to see you step out of your comfort zone too. You encourage all of us. And I bet it helps with law school organization as well,
Thank you so much for commenting! I will pass that along to Jon. I’m sure that will make his day!
I was scared the first time I started my bullet journal too. That’s a good reminder about it being “productive” not just beautiful. I tend to get hung up in my perfectionism instead of the usefulness of my layout. I feel like I have also had to learn to just to keep on moving forward, despite mistakes. Nicely done and nicely written!
It is intimidating staring at that blank page! Why on earth do we put such pressure on ourselves? It is definitely a ongoing struggle, for Jon and for me. I’m glad that you enjoyed the post and I will pass that along to Jon! Thanks 🙂
Hi, I LOVE your blog and even started my own Habit Tracker because of your blog! But one thing is, I’m not sure where to start on a bullet journal. I’d love to start one but I want it to be perfect, and I’m not sure where to start. If you could help me, that would be awesome! Thanks!
I totally understand that feeling, Renae! I’d suggest you start here to help you deal with making your journal perfect (http://littlecoffeefox.com/2017/01/02/done-not-perfect-2017/), then read up this page (http://littlecoffeefox.com/ultimate-bullet-journal-guide/) to help you with everything else. I hope that helps!
Very awesome!! I wish I could get MY husband to jump on the bandwagon.
There are so many personality types…every bujo gets to be different…isn’t it magical?
Jon – your honesty is awesome and you’re doing great! I’m so proud of you for stepping past your fears! I jsut started a bullet journal recently too. Know that you’re not alone in those fears. Because every journal before the bullet journal, I’d torn out all the pages I’d written on! Your minimalism looks super effective and you’re adapting the system quickly to meet your needs. You go!
I am so encouraged by this post. The most intimidating thing I face is that there are so many beautiful pages. Ive tried to “force” some creativity but I have just decided that I need to stick to what works for me. Thank you for baring your soul to those of us who feel the same way.