habit shift: dot journaling.

September 5, 2017

dot journaling | reading my tea leavesI’ve said before that I’m no journaler. But list writer? Yes. Goal writer-downer? Definitely. Resolutions? Not-for-the-New-Year-only. Does the start of a new school year get me hankering to buy a fresh new notebook, just because? Yes it does.

I do most of my writing on the computer, but when it comes to the sweet satisfaction of crossing something off a list, I really get the appeal of putting pencil to paper. 
dot journaling | reading my tea leaves

Enter dot journaling. No worries if you’re not familiar. I wasn’t either. But as it turns out, dot journaling isn’t much different than the kind of low-key record keeping I’ve been doing for years. I have a small stack of filled-in Moleskin weekly planners inside the box where I keep other papery keepsakes like my wedding invitation, some family photos, love notes, etc. Inside those planners, in addition to my daily to-do’s, you’ll find small lists and accounts of other important life events and the occasional ticket stub, roughly taped nearby the corresponding date. I’m not sure I’ll keep the stack forevermore, but for the moment, they’re a compact physical reminder of what’s transpired in a given year. A dot journal—so named for the dot grid paper notebook that lots of dot journalers prefer to use—is meant to function as a calendar, a daily planner, a diary and, my personal favorite, a to-do list, all in one. [If you’re curious about the ins and outs of dot journaling, I’ll point you in the direction of Rachel Wilkerson Miller’s new book Dot Journaling: A Practical Guide. She convinced me to get cozy with dot paper and I’m sure she’s the only person who could get me comfortable with using journal as a verb. Page after page of sample dot journal spreads and prompts in her perfect penmanship helped. A straightforward explanation of what dot journaling is in the first place was even better.] [Editor’s Note: Since publishing this piece, a bunch of readers have also pointed me in the direction of the Bullet Journal site, which Rachel references in her introduction (previewed here). You can learn more about this style of journaling there too!]dot journaling | reading my tea leaves

I wasn’t ready to take the full leap into making one all-knowing handwritten account, but I was tempted by the idea of making a Reading My Tea Leaves-specific dot journal. And so, I did. The result is a spot where I can keep track of RMTL goals, or dreams, or milestones and where I can cross things off to my heart’s content.

Blame summertime ennui, but I was feeling a little bit stuck in a rut and starting to write things down on paper got my so-called wheels turning at a different kind of speed. Starting each week by cracking open the fresh pages of the notebook and updating lists of books read, or articles written, or rearranging post-its on a calendar has been a nice way to rethink about this space and a nice way to spend at least a little bit less of my workday stuck behind a screen.

Because I’m a control freak, I use pencil to write in my journal. Because I like order, I’ve color-coded page sections with washi tape. In case any one else is in need of a little back-to-school inspired habit shift, I thought I’d share. 

Other things:

+ My notebook is from Public Supply Company where 25% of profits from every sale are given to a teacher in a high-need classroom to support creative projects in public schools.

+ My washi tape is by MT Brand.

+ More on clips and clamps this way.

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  • Reply Diane September 5, 2017 at 11:23 am


    Is dot journaling similar to bullet journaling?


    • Reply ERIN BOYLE September 5, 2017 at 11:29 am

      Yeah, totally!

    • Reply Elizabeth September 6, 2017 at 12:46 pm

      I looked through the Amazon preview and it looks like an almost direct copy (is that the right word? It sounds harsh when I say it like that but it really does look like a straight-up copy) of Ryder Carrol’s bullet journal with a few added fancy spreads and little tid-bits about journaling. If you want to learn how to do this without buying a book about it, you can access the content Carrol has provided for free at the OG source: http://bulletjournal.com/

      Did I miss something? Does Miller’s book re-invent or build on the system in some way that I’m not aware of from the preview?

      • Reply ERIN BOYLE September 6, 2017 at 1:29 pm

        Thanks for sharing the link, Elizabeth! Looking forward to exploring more on the Bullet Journal site. You can read more about Rachel’s take on the subject in her introduction (linked in the comments above!).

      • Reply Ronny September 11, 2017 at 12:29 am

        A lot of people discuss this at the Facebook Bullet Journal group. I just read Rachel’s explanation of her getting inspired by bullet journaling. To me, Ryder’s system is the start of Bullet Journal and Boho Berry took it to the next level by adding calligraphy and drawings and created the habit tracker system. Dot journaling definitely came after that.

  • Reply Kim September 5, 2017 at 11:53 am

    Welcome back Erin. From the looks of Instagram, the family had a fantastic trip! I speak as a life long lister when I say: thanks for the interesting post.

  • Reply Natalie September 5, 2017 at 11:54 am

    Oh goodness, these photos are stunning. I love stationary and this makes me really want to pick up those moleskins that you have and start my record keeping!

  • Reply kristin September 5, 2017 at 12:11 pm

    oh my gosh, I love this! thanks for the idea! <3

  • Reply ellen September 5, 2017 at 1:27 pm

    Could you do a full post about how you handle childcare in your family? You’ve talked about it in various posts a lot, but curious how you plan for and hire childcare help, the cost (if you are willing to share!), etc. My husband and I are expecting our first child this winter in a major US city, will both continue to work, will co-parent as an equal partnership, and we’re not millionaires. It’s shocking how rare this situation actually is, now that I’m in it myself!

    Appreciate any insights you have. Or even a post on things that have surprised you or things to watch out for when juggling child care. All of your other baby posts have been immensely helpful.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE September 5, 2017 at 1:37 pm

      Hi Ellen, I’ve started and stopped a post about childcare about a hundred times. It’s a complicated topic and one that varies so much depending on individual needs and budgets. It’s also been something of a moving target for us—and I suspect it’s that way for a lot of families. Something that works well for awhile might need revision. I’m not sure if I’ll ever publish a full post on the topic, but I do think it’s helpful to say that right now James and I have about 36 hours/week of babysitting for our kids. We’ve found our sitters mostly through word of mouth and friends of friends and we’ve had a ton of different scenarios for drop-off and pick-up to make it work as equitably for our family as possible!

  • Reply Emily crittenden September 5, 2017 at 1:34 pm

    Your timing is always impeccable. I literally just bought a dot journal and started Monday!! Love list journaling/planners way more than stereotypical journals.

  • Reply Nicole September 5, 2017 at 1:56 pm

    I’ve been following your blog for a while and love all your recommendations, so I took a peek at the Dot Journal book that you linked. However I was disappointed to learn that the author actually just repackaged methods taken from the Bullet Journal community to sell. I wouldn’t take issue with this if she was offering the content for free like Caroll, but charging for content lifted from the community for free and then changing the name to avoid copyright feels very unethical. Please reconsider linking her work.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE September 5, 2017 at 2:04 pm

      Hi Nicole, Rachel’s book is a funny, approachable guide to journaling! I don’t think there’s anything nefarious or unethical going on here at all!

    • Reply Megan September 5, 2017 at 2:43 pm

      I have to agree with Nicole on this one. Erin, I love your blog, I was brought here after falling in love with your book.
      I just went through the introduction of the Dot Journaling book as compared with all the previously published Bullet Journal work, and it feels dirty. I have been an avid Bullet Journal for over a year and have read nearly every post and poured over hundreds (probably thousands) of BJ posts. It is as close as someone starting up and profiting from a blog:
      “Reading my Coffee Beans” that regularly wrote posts about their journey living a purposeful approach to a simple, sustainable life.

      • Reply ERIN BOYLE September 5, 2017 at 2:54 pm

        Hi Megan! This is admittedly a new world to me and I won’t pretend to fully understand it all, but I really don’t think there’s anything unethical at play with Rachel’s book. She talks openly about bullet journaling in her book and hers is an attempt to distill a complicated process through her own creative lens!

        • Reply ERIN BOYLE September 5, 2017 at 3:38 pm

          Hi there: Chiming in again to say you can actually read the intro to Rachel’s book here, where Rachel talks a bit about bullet journaling and her inspiration to create her own take on it.

          • Jess September 6, 2017 at 11:26 am

            I wonder if it’s a bit of a case of “hive mind” and the timing gap of the publishing world that makes it seem “dirty” to avid bullet journal practitioners? I don’t think anyone invented open layout journal methods, and it does seem like Rachel is crediting bullet journaling so it doesn’t strike me as sneaky or ill intentioned. Personally, I’ve been using the bullet journal framework for about a year, but I still don’t feel like I’ve really got the hang of it, and I get both easily overwhelmed by and very particular with all the internet resources on the subject, so a book seems helpful. I appreciate your thoughtfulness and aesthetic choices as always, Erin.
            This is the video that got me started and is still my favorite: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y0EKi7taoxc
            Unsolicited input: I’ve been using the Shinola grid paper notebook and I adore it (made in the USA, beautifully crafted, probably the only thing I can afford there, etc. :))

          • ERIN BOYLE September 6, 2017 at 1:14 pm

            Thanks for your note Jess! Agreed entirely! I really liked Rachel’s take on the subject, especially the idea that it’s a model that can be near endlessly tweaked to work for the individual! Surely some folks wouldn’t approve of my very liberal interpretation of the medium, but it’s been fun for me! Thanks so much for sharing the video that got you started! And for the Shinola grid tip!

        • Reply Cee September 5, 2017 at 10:20 pm

          There are a lot of people who already do this Erin, for free. Many users on Instagram as well as BohoBerry and Tiny Ray of Sunshine who walk people through specific ideas. That is the entire spirit of it – that the community shares for free so people can learn and experiment. I’m afraid I have to agree with the others who have mentioned it and state that I am disappointed to see you supporting this woman who is trying to make money off of what is available for free and was created in that spirit.

          • ERIN BOYLE September 6, 2017 at 10:46 am

            So sorry to hear that. It wasn’t at all my intention to ruffle any feathers here. Rachel’s book is inspiring and beautiful and it was my personal introduction to the practice of bullet or dot journaling, so I thought I’d point folks there. Happy to know there are so many other resources available to folks who are interested in giving this a try. If you’d like to provide links so that folks can find those resources, too, I’d be glad to point folks toward the larger community. This is a whole new world to me!

  • Reply Stephanie September 5, 2017 at 2:05 pm

    Journal as a verb … NOOOOOOOOO.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE September 5, 2017 at 2:37 pm


  • Reply Stephanie September 5, 2017 at 2:07 pm

    But journals as notebooks: lovely.

  • Reply Diane September 5, 2017 at 2:38 pm

    There are definitely a ton of free bullet journal resources online. Blogs, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube, etc.




  • Reply Zsuzsa September 5, 2017 at 3:03 pm

    Hi – I love the little kraft paper pocket in your journal. Could you include a link to the source? Thanks!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE September 5, 2017 at 3:09 pm

      No idea the source! I bought a little stack of them years ago and this is one of the last ones I have!

  • Reply Asaake September 5, 2017 at 3:04 pm

    I think this is what we call bullet journaling here? I love bullet journals!

  • Reply sarah September 5, 2017 at 8:06 pm

    Agree with the posts about this idea being lifted from Ryder, creator of the Bullet Journal, who has offered up so many resources to millions of Bujo fans for free. It would be nice if his originality had at least been credited in your post.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE September 5, 2017 at 8:43 pm

      Hi Sarah: Admitted newbie here and didn’t mean any kind of harm by not referencing bullet journaling in my post!

  • Reply M September 6, 2017 at 7:29 am

    Love this idea! I purchased Rachel’s book and a Leuchtturm notebook today to give it a try. Also, I am really enjoying your book Simple Matters as well as your older posts on Gardenista – so many great ideas! In one post on Gardenista – https://www.gardenista.com/posts/diy-a-dried-fruit-garland-for-the-holidays/ – you mentioned how your family celebrated a Victorian Christmas. Would you please consider elaborating on this in a future post on RMTL? My interest is piqued – I may need to implement this idea in my household this year. Thank you!

  • Reply Martha September 7, 2017 at 5:07 am

    To reply to one question above, the kraft envelope is Midori and available on Amazon. My question: did you make the muslin sleeve/bag for your journal or is it available somewhere? Thanks foe the beautiful spread.

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE September 7, 2017 at 8:25 am

      Ah! Thanks for the id on the envelope! The journal came wrapped in the little muslin bag! Similar bags are also available at places like Amazon, but usually in pretty large quantities!

  • Reply Rusty September 7, 2017 at 8:00 am

    Can we all just calm down about the whole dot vs. bullet journal thing? I, too, initially felt the dot journal was just a new take on the bullet journal, which I’ve been using and loving for almost a year. But, so what? I recently bought a wonderful little book about embroidery – something I used to do as a child and have an interest in doing again. Are there internet resources and pinterest boards about embroidering pillowcases? Yes! Are there FREE resources available? Yes! Did the author of my new book rip anyone off by creating her own spin on embroidery or claim that she invented the craft? Of course not. Kudos to Rachel for publishing a book and to Erin for sharing it.

    • Reply Katharine September 7, 2017 at 10:43 am

      Thank you for your calm, common sense reply, Rusty! There are millions of books out there about crafts, projects, journaling, sports, and all sorts of activities that the authors did not invent. People publish books about topics they want to share. Other people can find those books helpful or not. No need to get up in arms about it all.

      Erin, thank you for sharing your new habit! I’ve been totally confused about the whole dot/bullet journal thing, and now that I finally get it (thanks to you AND Rachel’s book) I think I might love it. I’m a big fan of paper record keeping (what else are future historians going to look through, after all?) and this seems like a particularly charming method!

  • Reply Alix September 7, 2017 at 5:43 pm

    I’m baffled — why can’t a lined journal be used as a diary/planner/calendar just as well? I seem to be missing something obvious, but I don’t know what!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE September 7, 2017 at 6:45 pm

      It can be! Totally! That’s what I loved so much about Rachel’s book. It’s a no-rules approach to a fun style of record-keeping!

  • Reply Anon September 7, 2017 at 6:13 pm

    Ah. Critical thinking and compassion prevail. What a sweet relief.

  • Reply Cleo September 7, 2017 at 11:25 pm

    Hi Erin, thanks for the post! I’ve been writing in a journal/notebook for years, but it’s great to see there is a simpler and ‘cleaner’ way to keep track of everything. I’m just curious though: how do you use your washi tape in your dot journal?

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE September 8, 2017 at 10:46 am

      I use it to mark the pages, especially for pages that I come back to, like a list of books I’ve read, etc.!

  • Reply SEM September 11, 2017 at 9:56 am

    I’ve wanted to try this for a while now and in the spirit of buying less and avoiding mimicking another’s style too much, I’ve hesitated ordering a ‘how to’ book. So… I wait, perfectionist that I am, bc I’d like guidance on the order/structure. Do you recommend a page for the key and index, and plotting out the yearly calendar in the front and then completing monthly and daily logs as you go along? I am interested in keeping different lists too…do you reserve pages in the back for those? Or do you do them up front, as you go along? My concern is wanting it to be an organic process but not boxing myself in if I don’t anticipate space/pages correctly. See, total basket case!

    • Reply ERIN BOYLE September 11, 2017 at 2:57 pm

      Ha! Right now I have only monthly and quarterly calendar pages, which I’m actually filling in retroactively to get a sense of the year. For day to day work stuff, I’m still using a digital document, since that changes so frequently! I’d see if you can request a copy of Rachel’s book through your local library! Lots of inspiration!


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