Dot journals, aka bullet journals, are definitely among the hottest trends of the year. Every where I turn, I see people talking about them. Pinterest is ripe with everything from layout tips to writing prompts. At first, I kind of skimmed over the whole trend. It seemed more complicated and ambiguous than genuinely helpful. Is it a journal for your deep thoughts? Is it a planner? A tracker? A doodle notebook? Turns out, it’s all of the above…but only if you want it to be.
It wasn’t until I read Rachel Wilkerson Miller’s take on the trend that it finally made some sense to me. I was getting hung up on and intimidated by the Pinterest-worthy details of the trend. It seemed like every bullet journalist had a crazy amount of artistic talent. I can’t draw a straight line even with the help of a ruler, so I just figured this was not the trend for me. After reading Miller’s take, I realized two things. First, a bullet journal (or dot journal, as she calls it) can be anything you want it to be. Second, who cares if mine turns out to be horribly ugly? It’s not like I have to show it to anyone, right? Armed with Miller’s new book Dot Journaling—A Practical Guide, I began my foray into the world of bullet journaling.
Getting Started with Dot Journaling—A Practical Guide
I received a complimentary Dot Journal: The Set to check out. This post also contains affiliate links.
Rachel Wilkerson Miller’s book, Dot Journaling—A Practical Guide, is exactly what it sounds like: a how-to book for simple guide book with step-by-step instructions for setting up your first dot journal. If you get the set like I did, you’ll even get a journal with easy grid pages to start with. Rachel doesn’t mess around with long-winded intros and flowery prose. She gets right to the point by first explaining what on earth a bullet journal is (and what the silly terms like “future log” really mean) before diving into the how-tos.
Throughout each chapter, she breaks down the most common layout types, including yearly, monthly, weekly, and daily calendar spreads, then gives plenty of examples so you can find the one that works for you. Me? I opt for the laziest approach to each section. I just want to organize my life, not create a work of art that I can pass down throughout the generations. There’s no shame in that. Your dot journal can be whatever you want it to be. If you have artistic talent and love to doodle, go for the more complicated spreads!
What should you put in your dot journal?
I will admit, as I read through Rachel’s book, I got a little overwhelmed and came close to ditching the whole journal idea. She gives you SO MANY ideas of what to put in your dot journal that I thought “that’s it, I’m way too boring to need one of these.” Then I remembered that I don’t HAVE to put all of those things in my book. I don’t HAVE to have a fitness tracker that will do nothing more than serve as a reminder that I’m not exactly the fittest person on the planet. I don’t HAVE to track my healthy habits and have it thrown in my face every day that I don’t drink enough water, still bite my nails, and skip breakfast way too often. I don’t even HAVE to make a section for my deep thoughts, only to realize that lately, my deepest thought revolves around whether I should have Caramel Macchiato or Salted Caramel Mocha creamer in my coffee.
I also realized that I don’t HAVE to create every single spread all at once. I can do one month at a time, maybe even one week at a time. That way, if I get bored with the whole dot journaling trend, I won’t feel like I wasted hours of my life making my grids for nothing. See, that’s the point of the bullet journal: it’s whatever you want it to be. So what am I putting in mine?
- Pain trackers: I suffer from chronic pain. Every day, some part of my body hurts. Usually my lower back, my head, or my wrists and hands. Tracking the location of my pain as well as the intensity not only makes it easier for me to explain it to my doctors, it helps me see patterns.
- Trigger trackers: No, not as in “oh, I’m feeling triggered.” I despise that term. I’m talking about things that trigger my pain. For most of my pain issues, the “trigger” is pretty obvious. I sit too long at the computer and my posture stinks. I’m tense all of the time and my muscles pay for it. I do have mystery abdominal pain, though, and I’m trying to figure out what causes it. So I will write down any new foods, or what I ate right before it came on. Whether I was stressed out or not (on the off chance that it is psychosomatic pain), etc. I’ve been trying to get this pain diagnosed for about 5 years now. Maybe, just maybe, this will finally help me find out where it’s coming from.
- Long-term plans: I’m not really bothering with daily to-do lists because, honestly, I’ll get bored with that after a day or so. Besides, I already have a system that works for my daily tasks. Why mess with a good thing, right? Instead, I’ll make long-term to-do lists and project planners. Things like ways to diversify my income, things I want to learn how to do, etc.
On my daily spreads, I have:
- An idea box to note down random blog posts ideas and what not that pop into my head. I actually have a “general idea” book with generic prompts written down across all of my categories. Things like “natural remedies” under health and ” I don’t like to put specific ideas in it, though, because then I have to cross them off once I use them and the book gets ugly. If I add specific ideas to my daily spread, I can keep my general book more organized. Plus, if I don’t use an idea this year, I can always go back to a specific date next year and use it, especially if it’s a holiday-themed or timely post idea.
- The good, the beautiful, the bad, and the ugly: I’ve never liked the saying “the good, the bad, and the ugly.” It implies that there is twice as much bad in the world as there is good. Think about it: it’s like saying, today, one good thing happened and two bad things happened, and one of those bad things was worse than the other. So I threw in “the beautiful,” to remind myself that the world may be ugly at times, but it’s just as important to focus on the beautiful little things that struggle to survive all of the madness.
- Recipes or other things that I tried and actually liked: Ever since I got a pressure cooker, I’ve been making more meals on my own (versus having my mom make them or eating convenience food). The problem? I print out a recipe, get gunk all over it, and toss it when I’m done. Then I can’t remember what I changed, if anything, and what recipes I actually liked. So if I make something that’s actually edible, I can use this little box to write down where I kept the original (example: “Pinterest, my secret meal planning board, garlic chicken” or “Yummly, complicated chicken board.”) as well as any changes (used white pepper instead of regular, olive oil not butter). I can also use that box for things like crafts, organizing ideas, etc that I came across, tried, and liked.
- Random Thoughts: I have A LOT of really random thoughts throughout the day. Some of them don’t really need to be recorded for prosperity. Am I going to care in 10 years that I wondered how my Kindle app knew where to put the dashes in words that continued on the next line? Probably not. Besides, my mom already told me (she formats books for a living, and you can tell the book to do it automatically, in case you’re wondering). Other random thoughts, though, could theoretically turn into something more concrete, like an idea for a blog post or a book, if I explore them deeper.
I’m sure I’ll come up with other things to add to bullet journal as I go along, but these are as good of places to start as any, right? If you have a busy life, you can totally add to-do lists and what not. I have a busy life, but it’s a fairly monotonous busy life. I don’t have a full social calendar so much as a full editorial calendar. I think the point is to put down things that you actually WANT to track. Check out other people’s ideas for inspiration, but don’t feel like you have to track the same things they are to be in the “dot journaling cool kids club.”
That’s really the message that Miller drives home, and that’s what makes her book so useful. She gives straight-forward, easy-to-follow tips on how to set up your book, but lets you ultimately decide what goes into it. If you’ve even thought about maybe giving bullet journals a try, I highly suggest picking up her book. Better yet, go for the set That way, you can put her how-tos into practice right away instead of procrastinating while you find just the right journal.