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Ideas for a minimalist bullet journal

After years of shunning new year’s resolutions, I’ve felt this time a dire need to steep more organisation into my daily life – simply because I work on many different projects at the same time and I need to keep track of all of them. In this spirit, I’ve updated the bullet journal I’ve been keeping for a few years with new features that may be of interest to readers and organisation-enthusiasts.

A notebook and four pens are laid out on a wooden surface. A dried flower is caught in the elastic of the notebook.

First of all, what is a bullet journal? It is a planner alternative for those of us who can never find a ready-made planner suited to their needs. You just need a notebook (lined, unlined, dotted, anything works) and a pen. The first pages of the notebook will be your table of contents. By adding page numbers yourself you make sure to always find what you’re looking for. Your notebook’s simplest feature is the list, hence the name “bullet”. Find out more on the website of Ryder Carroll, the inventor of the method (click).

I keep a minimalist bullet journal; decorating it would take me too much time and defeat the purpose of saving time by using a planner.

My first pages of the year are for finances (I try every year to keep track of where I spend money but usually forget about it. Fingers crossed 2021 is different), and for “moments”. I don’t keep a journal, so this is a place to write a few words to remember happy or moving things. For instance, what was the last time you cried with laughter? Mine was when my mum gifted me a very unexpected, small but oh-so-me gift.

An open notebook. The left page is titled "finances" and the right "moments". An illustrated bookmark and a compass are laid on the pages.
Bookmark by Lara Hacker @kieferngruen on Instagram

I then turn from personal pages to more professional content. The spread on the left here is simple tracker of my subscriber’s count on both Instagram & Twitter. I hardly used one line of each last year, but I like trackers. I put milestones in advance, and add below the date at which I reach them. Then I have a page for newsletter ideas. I created my newsletter in June 2020 and started planning it using a spreadsheet at the end of last year, but I’m trying to keep more things on paper. Here I should be able to take notes of ideas so that when the time comes to write my monthly email, I know what to put in.

An open notebook. On the left are written "instagram" and "twitter". The right page is entitled "newsletter" and is propped open by a small candle.
Candle by Gunn Dean Candle Company on Instagram

The next spread was directly inspired by my friend Kimberly, whose “Dream & Scheme” retreat has been instrumental in making want to get organised in the first place. She very generously offered the participants a peek at her own spreadsheet planner, and I liked the idea of having guidelines for the months ahead. I didn’t put the whole year because I was getting overwhelmed at the idea of 12 months ahead, so 6 months it is. I have space here to take notes of themes I want to focus on regarding my PhD work, my writing workshops, and my own writing. There’s also a central column with important dates, and I added a “focus” column in the spirit of a “Word of the year” but in a monthly version. It won’t be a surprise to you to know that my word for January is “plan”.

An open notebook. The spread is entitled "2021", written in roman numerals and in letters. A pen is laid on one page.

The next spread looks a little like the newsletter one, but is designed for my two blogs. There I can store ideas and – once again – plan so that I have regular content to upload. I’d been struggling with my PhD blog lately, but having a visual planner like this one made ideas pop up!

An open notebook. The left page is entitled "blog" and the right one "PhD blog". An art print showing cats is laid on the right page.
"Kitchen cats" art print by Lara Hacker @kieferngruen on Instagram

There comes my favourite spread – the bookish one. I’m a notorious mood reader, meaning that I always improvise when the time comes to pick a book to read. The problem is that I’ve been buying or picking books up here and there on a whim, and not reading them, so that my physical to-be-read pile has reached concerning heights. Another problem is that my reading lists are sadly very white and heteronormative. I am making a change in 2021, and to make sure I balance my reading choices over the months, I’m introducing *drumroll* actual TBR lists! Instead of actual book titles I start with themes. Each month, I want to read at least: one book by a non-white author, one LGBTQ+ book, one Tolkien-related book and one book from my physical TBR pile. So far so good, I’m excited to read more diversely while making a dent in the tower of volumes threatening to topple on my shelves.

And because my wishlist is rich of over 250 titles, I’ve added a list of books I want to prioritise buying during the year. Most of them are by BIPOC or queer authors and sound like future favourites. I did copy the idea of the open-book-layout from @doctorbooknerd on Instagram (click to visit her account).

An open notebook, with one page titled "books to buy" and the other "to be read". A ray of sunlight crosses the right page and falls on a bookmark.
Bookmark by Lara Hacker @kieferngruen on Instagram

Last but not least, I have a monthly spread for February that’s waiting for me to fill it with dates & events, as well as another tracker on the bottom because I like having a visual trace of what I’ve been focusing on during the month. Hidden behind the roses are themes: study, business, writing, but also home cooking and exercising, among others. That type of tracker helped me notice that I hadn’t been taking holidays at all in the second half of 2020, so I made sure to rest over the last weeks of December. Tracking your activities and your self-care might be a great way to introduce new habits into your routine!

An open notebook is laid out horizontally. The page in focus is entitled "février". A few dried roses hide part of the page.

I hope this blog post has been helpful, or at least fun. There are plenty of ideas to be found either on Instagram or on Pinterest. Again, I try not to spend too much time on thinking about planning and more on actually doing the thing, but here’s a tiny inspiration board for a minimalist bullet journal : BuJo Pinterest board.

Are you a planner? Do you wish you were one?

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