The last time we talked, I explained to you that I explored dot journaling last fall as a way to keep the many moving pieces of my life together. I suggested some items to search, gave you a basic tools list, and reminded you that dot journal or no, you’re doing great. This time, let’s try talking how to actually do the darn thing.
To get your head into the right spot, think of a dot journal as a master of all trades. Since it’s a blank notebook, you can make it work however you like. Let me show you how I use my journal most: to keep track of daily tasks and projects and visualize my upcoming weeks and months.
Ideally, you’ll start each year (or quarter, or six month period, or whatever) with a future log of some kind. You can use it to make a large big-picture spread of the months to come. I can’t show you one of those because I haven’t found a style that works well for me. I’ll make the excuse that I started doing this in the fall, so I haven’t seen the top of the year until… well, now. Guess I’m on the hook.
Here’s what I have been doing. At the top of every month, I make a monthly spread. Here, I try to lay out the primary events and projects that are coming up. My basic set-up looks like this:
Essentially, I have a small calendar in the upper corner, a space to write “dates” (holidays, birthdays, days of note), “life events” (appointments and gatherings for my daily life), “to-do” (major tasks in my daily life), “work” (upcoming meetings and projects for work), and “next month” (things to watch on the horizon). I use this spread to reference as I’m planning my weeks to make sure I’m not losing track of anything. My husband and I share a Google calendar, so I scroll through that while I try to compile everything.
And yes, I do still keep a calendar on my phone. It’s what I use most quickly to enter an appointment or check my schedule. But at the end of each day, I return to my dot journal. It helps me stay grounded and intentional. Now on to the spreads that help me do that…
From here, I move to a weekly spread. This is where I look at the upcoming week and try to portion out my to-do list, add any projects and events that have come up and try to keep my days from getting overloaded. Here’s a weekly spread:
Since I work on Sundays, I like to start my week on Monday. But you could start your week whenever makes sense for you. You’re making the calendar, after all. This is where my ruler comes in really handy as I measure out columns. (With a proper dot journal, you’d just use your grid of dots to make your borders.) On the left-hand page, I sort out tasks for home life, work life, and things for next week. On the right-hand page, I give a spot for each day’s major appointments and events, whether at home or work.
You’ll note that I don’t use any fancy handwriting, special art, or geometric layouts. You can if you want; I just don’t have the time or talent for it. I use some washi tape for borders, colored pens to highlight or add interest, and basically do the same layout every week. You’ll also note that while I made up all the appointments and names (because, hi, you don’t need to know who I’m seeing on Tuesday) I otherwise kept it pretty true to form, right down to smudged ink and sloppy writing. I am decidedly unfussy.
Then there’s my daily log, where the real magic happens:
This is where I just make each day work. I pull from my monthly or weekly spreads and compile a list of what I think I might feasibly be able to accomplish on each day. I don’t make lists for each day in advance. I just make a list for that day. I sit down the night before, or sometimes the morning of, and plan my day. I’ve learned to be very conservative with my list because I prefer actually accomplishing everything for the day rather than transferring over a job.
Ah yes, transferring. This is where starry-eyed bujo lovers will hit you with a series of bullets meant to code a task. You can look them up if you want; I use only three. I make a simple dot at the beginning of each list item. If I complete it, I put an X through the point. If I need to move it to the next day, I put a > over the point. If it turns out I don’t need to do something, I put a line through the whole item. Things stay clean and I can look back at what I’ve done if I need reminding. If I keep bumping something down day after day, I have to face the truth that I either can’t do it or really don’t want to do it.
Sometimes my daily logs get scribble notes on them, like in the above picture. My daily logs get sloppy. It’s where I’ll take notes on meetings, scratch down a thought before I lose it, and slip myself reminders. You don’t have to do that if it gives you hives. You might want to set down separate pages for those kinds of things. Some people use pages as “brain dumps” where they just occasionally write down stuff they’re thinking about to later be transferred to more meaningful places.
I’d suggest that if you have lists you intend to keep going back to you might put it in the back of your book. It makes them a little easier to reference. For now, I have stuff like a list of the last time I cleaned stuff or a list of life goals right alongside my daily logs. Which is fine, and totally how a dot journal works, but it makes it hard for me to find sometimes. A dot journal serves whatever purpose you need from it, but you can lose information in it. I like to tab pages with washi tape. I also just got a little tin of bronze book darts that I’m looking forward to using for major pages. However, it’s also why you might want to make an index:
A few tips for your index. First, don’t make my mistake – set aside several pages for an index. I set aside one and am already out of space. You can always use extra blank pages for random lists (movies to watch! books to read! celebrities to loathe!), but it’s hard to make an index for your indexes. Second, you’ll have to number your pages. Don’t do it all in one go! Maybe just number ten pages or so at a time so you don’t get bored. Also, try actually using your index. I’m so far behind on mine that making an index sounds like a chore, and I might lose things in the meantime. It’s not the worst thing, but I’ll have to fix it eventually.
Another tip evident from my index: do not; I mean DO NOT cut pages out of your journal. It’s hard to explain, but no matter how careful you are with an Exacto knife it somehow mangles the spine. If you biff a page, just leave it. Or cover it with washi tape. Or let your kid do some coloring on it. It’s okay. Trust me:
I have lots of pages in my journal like this one. I tried to figure out other layouts that didn’t work for me. I started out with my journal before I quite understood what I was doing. My first chunk of pages is a real mess. But that’s okay. It shows my progress and I can appreciate that. I just flipped to the next page and tried again. You can do the same. Just turn the page. It’s a new page! It’s a new day! It’s a new world!
And that’s it. No, seriously: that’s it. Carry a notebook and write in it. Done.
Maybe this will be your jam. Feel free to ask me questions if you want; I’m no expert, but we can learn from each other. Maybe you’re still limping along your Palm Pilot (is that even still possible?). Maybe you live a very successful life completely devoid of any meaningful organization. That’s okay. Mama, do what works. I hope this helps, but if it doesn’t, can I have your washi tape? I’m kind of getting addicted to that stuff.