Another Hobonichi Year

It’s the beginning of a new calendar year and that means transition to a brand new Hobonichi. I’ve used this Japanese yearly planning calendar for the last 5 years. In previous years, I’ve discussed how I use the Hobonichi (here and here). In short, the Hobonichi is my day planner. I use it every morning to figure out my strategy for using my day, since the allotment of time I’ve been granted each day is never enough for everything I want to get done.

For this pandemic year, my usage hasn’t really changed. Of course there’s been no travel since March, so I haven’t had to deal with the question of whether to take the Hobonichi with me on trips. In general, I leave the Hobonichi at home when traveling because I don’t need to do the kind of planning that’s required to be efficient when working from home. Or maybe I don’t care about the efficiency so much when I’m traveling so I can just enjoy the place I’m in. Also, I’d hate to leave the Hobonichi behind at a hotel or airport, since my jet lagged self is often pretty inattentive. I’ve found it better to use a travel notebook to plan and record my trips, with a more portable small notebook.

The Hobonichi is always open first thing in the morning. I review the hard landscape of my day (meetings and calls) and figure out how I’m going to fit in my highest priority activities that day.

The first free 30 minute block will go toward writing the ODB manuscript unless there is some very pressing issue at work that needs review and email replies. In the timeline half of the daily page of the Hobonichi, I’ll block out the meetings and the writing block time, at least 30 minutes, usually an hour if I can.

My next big block is fitness, these days almost exclusively bicycle riding. According to Strava1 I rode 6,460.5 miles in 2020 with 510 hours on the bike. I put more miles on the bike than I did on my car this year.

That’s usually it- scheduled calls, meetings and proposed times to write and ride. The open side of the page gets a few notes about errands that are pressing or tasks that I’ve been putting off but seem suited for today. But this is just a minor morning mind sweep in the spirit of GTD2 Since my Hobonichi is not with me all day, it acts as an inbox and brainstorming device, not a trusted system for tasks and appointments. Those live in small text files on my phone.

I still tape small prints of my photographs from time to time if I’m incubating ideas and want reminding, but I’ve found that the Hobonichi pages just don’t get reviewed all that often. If the images are there, though, I will page back and review my thinking to plan how to move forward. Some days I’ll block out time to capture images if I’ve been remiss in taking a camera out. Some days I’ll block out time for processing or printing.

The new idea I’ve had this year is to use all of the blank space in the planner to dump thoughts that occur in the morning as I start my day. It’s a way of clearing my mind and preparing to work. I’ll think a bit about what I accomplished or got stuck on the previous day to provide some momentum. A list of events or a note about a problem gets recorded. Because it’s the morning and I’m writing about the previous day, I’ll use the blank space on the page for the day before. And if that’s not enough, there’s blank paper in other days preceding the most recent. I’m never without someplace to take a few notes. It complete violates the sense of timed notes that dated pages imply, but that’s easy enough to get over. In my first Hobonichi post, I see I was writing Morning Pages3 which is three pages of undirected writing. While I enjoyed for a while, I found that simply opening up Ulysses and getting 250 words of manuscript typed was a better use of my time. I don’t need much ritual to get into writing hyperfocus.

Looking back over the completed 2020 Hobonichi, I’m gratified that there’s more filled space in the book than in years past. Over the next few weeks, I’l go through it page by page and capture the notes I want to have available to refer to in the future. Last year, I just transcribed everything into on big text file with sections separated by month. I’ll probably start there, but since I’ve got this big writing project going, I’ll want to make sure that the notes are feeding the writing in a useful way.


  1. Strava is a tracking and performance analysis site for cyclists and runners. It has a social component that connects users by sharing activities in your feed. I get to see not only the rides of my fellow Baltimore Bicycling Club members but I follow a number of pro cyclists, getting a real insight into how they train and race performance. 

  2. Getting Things Done of course. 

  3. From Julia Cameron’s lovely book The Artist’s Way: 25th Anniversary Edition 

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