How to start a minimalist bullet journal for college

Bullet journaling completely changed my life. Nowadays, my minimalist bullet journal and I are pretty inseparable. I honestly have no idea why it took me so long to finally try this amazing system.

I was always a pretty organized person. I started using a planner in elementary school and kept doing it all the way through university. What I started noticing during my first semester was that a regular planner was very restricting and it didn’t really work well with my new semester structure. Then, I discovered bullet journals.

How to start a minimalist bullet journal for college

I was introduced to bullet journals on Pinterest. I kept seeing all these pretty spreads with the tag #bujo, so I started looking into it. I thought about the pros and cons of keeping a bullet journal for a long time before starting my own. I thought bullet journaling would take a lot of work and time. In addition, it was the middle of the year and, at the time, it did not make sense to me to stop using my weekly Moleskine and start using another notebook. So, I decided to start implementing the bullet journal system in my weekly planner. It worked so well that it got me converted for life.

I started my first real bullet journal in January 2017. I’ve been in love with it since day 1 and I’m currently setting up a new bullet journal for 2018. I wanted to share my progress to give you some inspiration and tips to start your own.

Why I love the bullet journal system

  1. It is a very customizable system. You build your planner around your lifestyle and your needs (for example, if you’re moving abroad you can list all the things you have to do before and after arrival in your destination). If your routine changes, you just need to flip the page and experiment with a new layout.
  2. It makes you less stressed. Because you are now writing everything down in the same place, you won’t have to worry about forgetting things and appointments anymore. Also, you won’t have to check three different notebooks and your electronic calendar to be sure you’re not forgetting anything.

What is a minimalist bullet journal

I am part of a Facebook group dedicated specifically to minimalist bullet journaling. If everyone agrees on what a bullet journal is, I’ve noticed that every single person has their own definition of minimalist bullet journal. To me, a minimalist bullet journal is a functional bullet journal. A journal that won’t take me hours to set up. One that I will actually use to organize every aspect of my life.

Other things that might characterize a minimalist bullet journal are: using just a black pen, using just stationary that you already have, no doodling, not really caring about aesthetic, no trackers or spread but just plain old lists, sticking to the original bullet journal system.

Before you start

So what do you need to start a minimalist bullet journal? Not too much: a notebook and a pen. Whatever notebook you have and whatever pen you already own will work. If you want, you can also consider buying a new cute notebook (some favourites in the bullet journal community are Leuchtrum and Moleskine). You might also want to get a new set of coloured pens, in case you’re planning to use a colour code system.

Personally, I am a fan of Moleskine. Last year they launched an Harry Potter collection, so of course I had to buy that one. My first bullet journal was on a ruled notebook. I wasn’t sure at the beginning, given that most people use dotted paper. With time, I got used to it and since I don’t doodle that much in my bullet journal, it worked well for me. For 2018, I am going to try graph paper and see which one I prefer better.

First pages

The good thing about the bullet journal system is that it is extremely flexible and it can be tailored to your specific needs. One thing that every single person agrees with is that, no matter what you’re using your bullet journal for, you should start with a key and an index. The key will help you using symbols and colours in a consistent way. The index is particularly important so you can find your spreads and collections without having to flip every single page.

Other things that I like to put in the first few pages are: year at a glance, future log, birthdays and holidays collection. I also have pages dedicated to books I’ve read, movies and tv shows I’ve watched, and concerts I’ve attended during that year. Finally, at the beginning of my minimalist bullet journal, I have a mood tracker, level 10 life, and goals I want to achieve.

Monthlies, weeklies, and dailies

After the first few pages and collections, which are the ones that I refer to at least once a day, I start with the actual planner. There are people that start every month with a very decorated cover page. I usually start just with a monthly calendar, as I like to have a comprehensive view of the month ahead of me. I do not list everything in my monthlies. I use my colour code system to note just holidays, travel plans, birthdays, and due dates for assignments.

For specific events or appointments, I use my weeklies. In addition, I copy in my weeklies everything that I have on the monthly view. Sometimes I also include a meal plan for the week and/or a habit tracker. I don’t usually have dailies, but I have space in my weeklies to include to-do lists for those days when I am particularly busy.

School-related spreads

My bullet journal is extremely helpful to keep track of everything school related. My semester spreads include: overview of the semester, due dates and other important dates, schedule, list of assignments and grades. Last semester I completed my first field placement, so I also included a hours tracker.

Bullet journal semester spread

Other spreads

Other spreads I have at the back of my bullet journal are: weather tracker, Lush collection with product rating, best of the month, job hunting, blog ideas, packing list, shift schedule, cleaning schedule, seasonal bucket list, expenses, etc.

Tips I’ve heard but never used

  • Start with a practice journal. I hate this one. To me, a bullet journal is just like another planner, just better. You don’t really need to practice how to use it. You just start and then, with time, you’ll figure out what you need and what you don’t really use. The good news is that every single time you flip the page you kind of start new.
  • Sketch in pencil. Really, who has time for that? If you are into doodling a lot and being all artsy in your bullet journal, then go ahead. But if you want to keep it minimalist, you don’t need to sketch anything. I usually use a ruler to keep lines straight and everything symmetrical. But you shouldn’t spend 2 hours planning a very complicated new layout that might not even be functional.
  • You must use dotted paper. I feel like I am the only person in the bullet journal community that hates dotted paper. I tried it before: I didn’t like how my writing looked on it and the overall feeling of using it. You don’t need to use what everyone else is using, you have to pick what works best for you.
  • Habit trackers and gratitude trackers. Sure, bullet journals are a great tool for self-reflection and personal development. You can still do that without having to track every single aspect of your life, if that isn’t your thing. Monthly habit trackers might be very overwhelming, so I personally prefer weekly habit tracker. Not only you can focus on different aspects of your life every single week, instead of having to checkmark 20 different habits. But also, say you’re tracking running outdoor and then you go on holiday for some days or there is a snowstorm, you won’t have to worry about having all those days without a checkmark.

Do you use a planner for school or work? Have you ever tried the bullet journal system?

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  • Erin Jimenez

    I have not tried bullet journal, but I do have a journal that I literally write EVERYTHING in. it has my grocery lists, blog ideas, kids medication and temperature tracking when they are sick… everything is dated, and organized.

    • That’s nice. I used to have a similar journal and then I was using my weekly planner for appointments. Now I love that I have everything in the same place. Do you use a planner on the side as well?

  • Anissa Watkins

    I think that this is a great idea and a good way to stay on task without feeling overwhelmed. I may use this idea for my upcoming exam. I need to be organized while studying. Thank you for sharing.

    • I love to schedule study sessions for finals in my bullet journal. I don’t always actually follow the plan but at least I try to look organized and on top of things.

  • Living Family Dreams

    What a great idea I’m really gonna have to look into this further and see how we can put this into practice for our travels

    • I love to use my bullet journal for travelling, from writing down a packing list to drafting an itinerary or a bucket list of all the places I’d love to visit.

  • Jeanne Ward

    I just got a bullet journal for my birthday and I am so excited to use it! I also love seeing other people’s bullet journals for inspiration!

    • That’s so exciting! Have fun with it!

  • laurence

    oooh, this is nice. I usually just write down my to do’s in a piece of paper and stick it at my wall. At least here, I can backtrack and put percentage of completion.

    • That’s exactly what I used to do, until I got overwhelmed by the amount of to-do lists I had all over my desk.

  • Meg For It

    This would have been JUST what I needed in college. I love embracing the minimalism in this next generation.

  • Melanie

    Great post! I’d love to try out a bullet journal for work someday.

    • Thank you, Melanie!

  • Estefania

    Just got introduced to this concept but had no idea what it was your how it works. I do know now. Thanks!

    • You’re welcome 🙂

  • I’ve heard so much about Bullet Journals recently. They seem to be really efficient and a great way to stay organized – especially for college!

    • They are the best thing ever! Bullet journals are great for college, but then you can tweak it to make it perfect for work or personal life as well.

  • Beth

    I keep a written journal, but I’m totally intrigued by this minimalist bullet journal. It seems so neat and orderly. You gave a great breakdown of what it is and how to do it.

    Beth ||

    • Yes, I try to keep it as neat as possible because that is the only way I’ll actually use it. Let me know if you’ll try it!

  • I am not in college but I have been experimenting with bullet journaling. I would like to start but wasn’t sure what to include. I like your tips!

    • At the beginning, I wasn’t sure either. So I just included all the lists I’ve seen on pinterest. With time, I figured out what I was actually using and what I didn’t need.