Why I’m Giving Up the Hobonichi for a Plotter Notebook

It’s a strange feeling going into a new calendar year without a transition to a new Hobonichi planner. I’ve been writing about Hobonichi use almost yearly when I switch to a new planner book for the new year. But this last year’s book now sits on a shelf, just half filled and I’m not in transition mode.

These Hobonichi Years

As I’ve written about before, the Hobonichi has served as a planner in the most literal sense. Most mornings, I record the day’s appointments and essential tasks to accomplish whether errands or work deadlines. In the spaces around the calendar, I take some notes or some observations as impromptu journaling. At this point, it’s been about 10 years of using the Hobonichi to organize my days, weeks and months.

Over the years, I’ve been troubled a bit using the standard, small A6 size Hobonichi. While the page is too small to hold notes in addition to calendar events, many of the pages remain blank because the usual routine has been interrupted by travel, holidays or other events. Sometimes I’d use those blank pages as journaling space, but mostly they were dead weight. In the same way, most of the pages from past and future months weren’t really relevant since my focus was on the day and the calendars which served as longer range planning tools. In general, the planner was used in the morning and only rarely consulted once the day’s planning was done. It was a case of planning the work but then getting into a calendar driven day, not a case of working the plan.

After I started a separate Bullet Journal, I saw the value of journaling the day’s activities. I included some longer form journaling including reading notes on. I eventually moved the reading notes to a separate notebook plus the Kindle Scribe.

Between the Hobonichi, Scribe and Bullet Journal, I was lacking a way to incorporate Getting Things Done style lists into the journals. I tried pages in the Bullet Journal, but flipping pages to find this list or that plan seemed awkward. I thought about upsizing my Hobonichi to the larger A5 size, but realized that would provide some room for brief notes, but not for other content such as lists and notes.

Moving to a Ring Binder

I realized the reason it was hard to integrate reference material into a Bullet Journal was the linear, bound character or a Journal. Whether the Hobonichi, Bullet Journal, or Reading Journal, these books seem destined to be filled from to back and browsed that way- flipping through the days to review recent events and planning for days to come. There are good work arounds with indexes and tabs to note where the

While I had never tried it, I recalled that one of the basic setups for GTD systems going way back to analog days is a ringed binder. It’s easy with a binder to move pages around, replace pages when updated or full, and create sections based on project or context. Prior to digital devices like the Palm Pilot, I used a Franklin Covey ringed binder as a planner. Even in Medical School, my “peripheral brain” was a binder filled with protocols, drug doses and medical reference.

Plotter Journal

I’d been intrigued by the Plotter Journals that had been introduced to the US a few years ago by Midori, a company whose paper products I’ve used in the past. These are upscale (that is to say pricy) binder and refills that come as 6 ring binders in sizes ranging from A5 to pocket size.

For the last six months I’ve used an A5 Plotter as my daily notebook for planning, basic bullet journaling and capturing GTD lists of Next Actions. The system is still under development since some note taking is clearly better suited for the linear journal that a bound notebook provides.

The plotter sits by my side while working, allowing me not only to plan, but to record against the plan so that I can see more clearly how I spend my time and how I can adjust to ensure that I use time productively.

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