Organizing 2016

by Sunita

2016 planners

I was perusing my old blog to see what I’d written about planners and diaries and discovered that I had written organization posts in both 2014 and 2015. So it seems only right that I post about my 2016 planner setup. For the past four or five years I’ve been using only paper calendars, diaries, and task list systems, no electronic ones, and my class prep has stabilized into paper form as well (I’ve switched back and forth between paper and computer-based notes over the years).

For the third year in a row I’m switching up the type of planner I use. I really liked the bound weekly planner I used last year and I’d intended to use the 2016 version. But the one drawback was that even with 30-minute increments, sometimes I didn’t have quite enough room for all my appointments. My year is shaped by the academic calendar, so I have quite a bit of stuff to write down during the semesters and fewer routine engagements and meetings between them. Within the semesters, though, my administrative responsibilities bunch up in specific weeks, and I can have a dozen appointments in a day. Add to that having to change appointments because students or faculty (or I) suddenly can’t make a scheduled time, and the pages can get really messy and there’s not much room to rewrite in those slots.

I’d used a day-per-page diary in a Filofax a few years ago, but that format winds up being very bulky and you don’t get a good look at the week unless you add in a weekly diary (or it comes included). There are bound A5 diaries that come with monthly, weekly, and daily pages, but I find the A5 too big as a daily carry and again, they get thick and heavy. So I was really intrigued by the Hobonichi, a Japanese planner that comes in both A5 and A6 size, with the A6 also coming in an English version. It’s a daily format, but the paper is Tomoe River, which is very thin while still being fountain-pen friendly (another requirement of mine).

But I didn’t want to buy one sight unseen, and looking at pages and pages of Tumblr and Flickr photos and blog posts wasn’t enough. Then, when we were in London last fall, I chanced upon them in Foyle’s and was able to leaf through one and see the various covers available. After much agonizing, I decided not to get the Smythson Mayfair Diary again and picked up the Hobonichi instead, in the A6 English format. That was in November, but I had to wait until mid-December to use it. I hate delayed gratification! I had chosen the blue cover with green lining, and while I was waiting I ordered a plastic cover-on-cover from the Hobonichi site.


Eventually December 16 arrived, and I started in the Hobo. It provided a two-day-per-page format for the last two weeks of December and then a day per page starting January 1. In addition, there are monthly grid and list pages, a planning page at the beginning of each month, and a few memo paper sheets at the back.

I note down travel, major meetings, regular seminars, and class meeting times in the monthly grid and use the daily pages for the detailed information (e.g., flight info, seminar speakers, course details). So far I’m not missing having weekly pages, but the semester hasn’t started yet. I did buy a simple weekly 2016 planner to use at the office. I like having a “public” planner that I can leave open while still keeping a comprehensive public/personal one.

You’ll notice that I split the January daily pages vertically into two sections. I use the left side for appointments and to log in activities where they occur during the day, and I am using the right side for notes relevant to that particular day. I’m also trying to track my time visually, so I have a rectangle at the bottom of the page where I color in the boxes by activity. I thought about buying a stamp, but so far this is working and I want to make sure that time logging this way is truly useful for me before I buy more toys to do it with.

For task lists and notes (the latter is mostly my version of an inbox/capture system), I’m still using the Midori Traveler’s Notebook in the Passport size. I use a modified version of the Bullet Journal system to keep a daily task list. In addition, I’ve been writing up my Week in Review notes (my version of the GTD Weekly Review) on the daily Sunday pages in the Hobonichi, since there’s usually plenty of room. I used the page at the beginning of January’s daily pages there to write down the things that I want to or need to get done this month, and I’m planning to do that every month, adding to the list as the month goes along and moving tasks forward as necessary.

So far I’m really liking the Hobonichi. The paper is lovely; it does smear occasionally if you don’t give it enough time to dry (as you can see in the photos). But there’s no bleedthrough with fountain pens. I’m using a Japanese Fine point right now (that’s a Platinum Preppy stuck through the pen loops, which I am trying out because I’ve never had a Platinum). But I’ve used Japanese M points in it and they have worked well. I’ve also been using my colored Muji gel pens, carrying them in a pencil case as part of my everyday carry, and trying a bit of color coding, but it doesn’t come naturally to me. I usually just jot things down with the pen immediately at hand, which is either the one stuck in the Hobonichi or the Pilot Prera that clips onto my Midori. I like the idea of color coding more than the execution, I think!

And there you have it. The page size of the Hobonichi is smaller than the Smythson I used last year or the slimline Filofax the year before that, but the daily format gives me plenty of space, and the thin Tomoe River paper means it’s not as bulky as some day-per-page planners.

Let me close by talking a bit about planners more generally. There is a huge planner world out there, and you can fall into a lot of internet holes trying to figure out what you want. You can use a stripped-down Bullet Journal, or you can washi-up an already colorful and complicated Erin Condren/DIY Fish/pick your Etsy favorite. You can go with Filofax, or DayTimer, or Exaclair products, or one of the many small producers of ringed, bound, or rubberbanded systems. You can spend $5 or $500 or even more (and no, I’m not kidding about the range).

But here’s the thing. Nothing is going to make you productive on its own. What a good system does is make you realize what works for you and what helps you think more clearly and stress less. That’s the only secret. If writing down your motivations helps, get a planner that encourages and has a space for that. If you like doodling or making art while you draw up your ToDo lists and keep track of appointments, find one that has space for that (and get a cool pencil case and a bunch of colorful pens in various thicknesses). If you like crisp white pages and a monochromatic appearance, don’t get a planner that looks scrapbook-inspired and ignore the washi tape wizards. Get the most stripped-down, minimalist setup you can find which has sufficient space for what you do write.

There isn’t a single solution, but if you can get a handle on the way you think and write, you’ll eventually find one that works. If my links are helpful, great, and if anyone wants to talk about their planning methods or offer suggestions, I’d love to hear about them in the comments. My organizational system is a perpetual work in progress. 😉