Japanese Calendars, Taming My #WritersLife (& More)
Did I try the iconic Leuchtturm journal? Yes. Was I impressed? Nope. The paper despised as many pens as it liked. But my problems with that book ran much deeper than its surface. To put it Cliff Notes style, I despised the tedium of repetitive spread drawing. Monthly spreads. Weekly. I can rationalize such DIY chores in the ansence of worthy options. But once I discovered the magnificence of Japanese planners, I embarked on a revamp.
American planners found on Staples and Amazon shelves stick to traditional choices, boiling down to horizontal versus vertical week views. The lines used are invariably drawn in heavy ink, killing any thoughts of repurposing. The user’s left with a take it or leave it decision. I chose the latter.
In contrast, Japanese stationers specialize in providing delightful extras. I’m told Japanese folks personify pickiness when it comes to stationery. The fierce competition triggers innovation and superior quality in both materials and layout. Example: many people like to track daily mood and/or weather. The Jibun line responds to both, converting a handful of grid blocks into smiley/ frownie/ blank faces, as well as umbrella / cloud, and the like. If you want to exploit the golden nuggets, great. If not, simply write over them.
Unlike their American counterparts, Japanese calendars finesse a magic trick. They present structure, but in a manner intensely flexible. The easy ability to convert almost any page, in a manner addressing your specific needs, stands as THE feature propelling these cals to the top of the pack.
I alluded to quality. Between Tomoe River (TRP) and Kokuyo/Jibun MIO paper, I’m spoiled. The TRP’s claim to fame lies in its extreme thinness, making for ultra-svelte books. MIO paper, toothier and thicker, remains my fave, because I’ve yet to discover its downside.
While the explicit specs (57 gsm) suggest the same TRP appears within the covers of all Hobonichi products and the colorful Standard version of the Jibun, TRP feels different in the Hobonichi books. I don’t sense a coating with the Hobo, unlike the Jibun. Nor do I encounter the Jibun Standard’s watch ink dry syndrome in the Hobonichi. Don’t misread me. The Jibun Techo remains preferable to the Rhodias, etc of the “great-paper” world. But few things are perfect.
Any way you slice it, I’m destined to stick with Hobonichi and Kokuyo planning products. I started in 2016, continuing through 2018. 2019? Same. Translation: planner peace, in the form of a multi-book bullet journal system. These two stationers provide the backbone of that system.
Then versus Now
2017: Hobonichi Cousin Avec
When I wrote this post in May 2017, all-things-writing resided in an A5 Hobonichi Cousin Avec. That model duplicates the Cousin, but divides the year in half, yielding two slimmer books. As is typical of Japanese planners, every calendar view reflects a Monday start date. For the record, I won’t touch anything with a Sunday start. Simple reason: my brain has long treated Saturday and Sunday as “the weekend.” I demand my planners reflect that reality.
As the year progressed, I noticed overlap between the Cousin’s Daily pages and my Daily Log, the latter housed in another BuJo component. I treat overlap and duplication like vampires; they threaten to drain time in an unproductive manner. Hence, I played swap-it queen.
Late 2017 → 2018: Kokuyo Jibun Techo
To cure the overlap/dupes ill, I moved the bulk of my Writer’s BuJo into a Jibun Techo. The Jibun looses the entire (Hobo) Daily section, while offering a remarkably similar vertical Week view, as well as the standard month view. A companion “Idea” booklet, sized to tuck into the Jibun’s factory provided cover, presents blank 3.55mm grid Tomoe River paper. Perfection for Collections. The generous left margin gracing each page forms icing on the Jibun Idea’s delicious planner cake.
I continued using the Hobo’s unique year-at-a-glance section throughout 2017, comprised of monthly columns. Each column spans about 10 horizontal blocks, nailing perfection for logging daily writing endeavors. More recently, I realized that same view serves as a mighty fine Index to special notes otherwise hidden in the Daily pages,
2018 sees me in multiple Jibun Techo models: two Biz and one Standard. The lion’s share of the Writer’s component remains in A5 Idea books, with an assist from a Kokuyo MIO 6mm lined notebook (JetPens).
Inner Structure of my Writer’s Bullet Journal
While the external container of my Writer’s BuJo changes from time to time, the internal structure remains the same:
- WiP outlines, mindmaps, in-story timelines, & chapter summaries
- project timelines (e.g. Booty in chair to get ‘er done, Pam!)
- short story ideas
- 6 word stories (exercising my creativity muscle)
- overheard dialog piquing my interest
- outfits observed while out & about
- mannerisms catching my eye
- quotes & inspirational tidbits
- descriptive journaling
- mental workouts (e.g. copious descriptions of objects, large & small, finetuning that specific creativity muscle)
- cheatsheets (most in a dedicated Pinterest board; titles here to jog memory)
- pithy editing tips
- writing contests of potential interest
- submissions and queries
- character traits of such intrigue, I’m tempted to build a character to explore further
- comprehensive writing log
- memories inducing strong emotions
- techniques, encountered while reading, I adore
- struggles; wins
- research needed / completed notes
- competing books: reader comments of interest (schooling myself)
- WHY I write
Now, let’s scrutinize the respective sections of each Japanese planning book via a virtual tour.
Top 5 Hobonichi Cousin Features
✧︎︎︎1️⃣✧︎︎︎ Monthly View, as Columns
Main Area → Writing-Process Tracking
10 horizontal blocks space each adjacent monthly column. Six months span facing pages, yielding a half-year-at-a-glance view—on steroids. Headers welcome insertion of category signifiers. The tiny blocks comprising the grid (3.5mm, I believe, rather than the standard 5mm) rest on Tomoe River paper, the BFF of fountain pen lovers. Because I use this view for tracking, I create alternating colored vertical columns using a yellow highlighter. The colorful addition keeps my retinas within the targeted checklist column.
The contents of this tracker reflect the various phases of my writing process, whether blog article, book in progress, legal document, or article for submission to a publication:
- Admin (numerical codes assignment/Articles Log, organizing, etc)
- Word Count (spanning last 3 blocks of each month column)
The first letter of each forms the category signifier within the header area. My rule: GirlFriend, there better be at least one checkmark EVERY dang day. Exception: 5 “me” days monthly; an orange highlighter marks those “off” days. Punishment for failure to indulge some aspect of writing on a particular day: no photo shoot (my Xanax) for a week. My reward for compliance: shave a few hours off my (self-employed) work day for play time! 🤗
A solo work status carries multiple perks, but hazards lurk in that ‘hood. Tracking serves as my neighborhood watch. Serial checkmarks heighten motivation, while serial blank checkboxes thunder the need to regroup. Either way, I remain on top of my writing game, primed to celebrate or adjust as circumstance dictates.
● Space under Monthly Index Columns’ Main Area → WiP: Work(s) in Progress
Books I’ve started, or living only in my mind’s eye, grace this subsection. Succinct chapter numbers present milestones to conquer during the month.
● 2018 Update
The described tracking habit has since embedded in my being. This affords the freedom of shortcut tracking. Rather than indulge checkmarks per day, I now use the last row of the month view’s dated blocks. The abbreviated note begins with an initial, as described. “D”rafting days witness a trailing word count.
● Jibun Techo
The Jibun offers no comparable section.
✧︎︎︎2️⃣✧︎︎︎ Standard Month View → Blog Editorial Calendar
The screenshot reflects my exploitation of the multiple posting formats (e.g. image, quote, audio, video, standard) provided by the WordPress blogging system. I color-code to remind myself of the type of post published. My framework approach: I assign certain post types to certain days, e.g. Wednesday / photography.
Because the Jibun presents a comparable month section, it’s easy to feed that calendar in the manner outlined re the Hobonichi Cousin.
✧︎︎︎3️⃣✧︎︎︎ Weekly View: 7 evenly spaced days as columns, spanning facing pages
Several aspects of this writer’s life fall into this section.
● Twitter’s #5amWritersClub: This predawn daily riser knows: when the toes get ta tappin’, ain’t no more nappin’. My body’s natural rhythm awakens me between 4-4:15a.m. The ensuing fight involves leaving the cozy covers. As my peepers rotate to the open position, I instruct Alexa to play a specific Motown-era tune, selected as part of the previous day’s Evening Routine. Because the tune guarantees a fun start to my day, I share it with club members from around the world, each joining me in a 5a.m. hour of focused writing.
I insert the tune—song title with name of artist—as the first item under the date-numbered rows.
By the way, if Mr. Inner Critic pops up later that day intent on harassing me, I mentally sing that song, in repeat fashion, until I chase his sorry a$$ right back to Hades.
July 2018 update: I rigged IFTTT to shoot a copy of every tweet to an “SM” Google calendar. Since the logging is now automated, these tunes-focused Twitter notes vamoosed from my analog world.
● Book in focus: Writing a book involves nitty gritty work likely to chase away all but the most determined. Outlining. Brainstorming. Research. Oh my! Reading competing books and studying associated reader comments gift markers for improving my approach. All this and more form the #WritersLife as it pertains to crafting/drafting a book. Related notes litter this view, pinpointing nuances of various chapter segments on the drawing board for the week.
● Specific items to investigate: These entries may concern the blog, some other aspect of social media, or a late-breaking idea for a new article/book. The memory nudges remind me to dig into a certain subject. When I do so, I simply checkmark the related hand-drawn checkbox, knowing the details can be found in the companion Daily page.
✧︎︎︎4️⃣✧︎︎︎ Daily, 1pp → (as it unfolds) Activity Notes
While replaced in October 2017, at which time I moved into my 2018 Jibun Techo scheme, I’ve kept this view in my heart.
Before that 2018 move, I entered notes on the right as the day’s activities unfolded. The left held my dual time blocking.
✧︎︎︎5️⃣✧︎︎︎ “Remember This” Page, preceding each month of Daily Pages
Each Weekly Review session instigates focus on a series of projects, tasks, & milestones on the path to goal achievement. This page nods to that reality, encouraging mindmaps or listings of the month’s designated primary concerns. In other words, everywhere I turn within Hobo pages, I’m greeted with a mechanism designed to assist in my increase-productivity quest.
July 2018 Update: Annual, monthly, and weekly reviews now live in a separate container which stays on my desk. I consider it part of my BuJo system in terms of necessity. But I carry this component nowhere. It serves as my laucnhpad, from which I devise an overall plan, broken down by milestone dates.
Top 5 Jibun Techo Features
✧︎︎︎1️⃣✧︎︎︎ The Monthly Gantt Chart → tracking delight
Despite enjoying this spread for well over a year, it still amazes. Each day’s space provides 4 slots. That allows easy hydration checking, e.g. 2 checkmarks per box = I met my daily goal.
Any habit I’m determined to cement begins life in this spread.
Mid 2018 Update: Discovery. Each chart contains 24 rows. Each single-space row provides a double-slot per day. Read: a perfect sleep tracker! Hours down the far left column. If one awakens or falls asleep during the second half-hour, color that block as well as hour blocks reflecting sleep time.
✧︎︎︎2️⃣✧︎︎︎ Week View
This section mimics the Hobo, adding a few extras. I’m a checkbox fanatic, so the preprinted checkboxes float my productivity boat. It’s hard to beat the deep satisfaction of a checkmark, and Jibun feeds that addiction in admirable fashion (as does the Hobonichi).
2018 update: The month view has its perks, space for notes not among them. For that reason, this Week view hosts my blog and social media posting planning. Having ALL associated notes within the SAME view killed flip-flopping among sections. The enhanced efficiency proves a friend.
✧︎︎︎3️⃣✧︎︎︎ Standard Month view
Like its Week view, Jibun tosses a few amenities into the month-cal mix. Ignore or embrace as you prefer.
✧︎︎︎4️⃣✧︎︎︎ Assorted Forms
I’ve detailed the forms elsewhere, along with my repurposing of some. Suffice to say, what may seem irrelevant at first glance may prove to be just what you need when a new concern arises. Just add a bit of elbow grease, and you have a form (re-)tailored to address that concern.
✧︎︎︎5️⃣✧︎︎︎ The Jibun Biz models (A5 Slim, B6 Slim): MIO paper
If I lived in I Dream of Jeannie world, one quick head nod would transform all non-Hobonichi paper within my reach to MIO. I can not conjure one hint of a complaint about this stellar paper. Tomoe River paper’s thinness leads to rampant ghosting when the TRP is coated by the planner manufacturer. Further, erasures tend to reveal the underlying threading of the paper. Ink loves to sit atop the paper, long enough to induce smearing. I’ve encountered none of that with the MIO paper. Notably, those complaints arise only from my use of Jibun’s colorful Standard model —those hassles elude the Hobonichi.
● A Quick Word About Artistic Flourishes
The one thing you will not find, anywhere, within my system: artwork. What some find a relaxing endeavor morphs into tedium in my hands. My choice of bullet journal receptacles flows from my umbrella enhance-productivity goal. End result: I indulge only flourishes with a productivity-aware purpose.
Example: As I complete various stages of book writing, or tic the last open box on a Daily Log page, I apply a stamp at the page bottom. Among those stamps is a self-inking red thumbs up stamp. The absence of that particular stamp tells me there’s something on that page I find problematic. The red thumbs up sign instead tells me to move on, all done.
The act of reaching for and applying the stamp (1) reaffirms my commitment to my better self; (2) provides an encouraging pat on my back; and, (3) serves as a preemptive strike against my nemesis, Poindexter the critic. Read: I did it; I’m done. Next! THAT, I find relaxing.
From grade- through grad-school, I dedicated one book to each subject. It worked so well I never gave it a second thought—then. The more recent aha! recognition smacked me while mulling over potential curative steps, for a 2016 bullet journal triggering more gloom than boom. The life lesson, once absorbed, coerced a revamp of my manage-me system. I tossed my one-book Leuchtturm bullet journal, replacing it with multiple books—each assigned a “home” tray on my home office desk area.
The most difficult part of constructing the reworked system concerned the writing category, so I tackled it first. My chosen receptacle, a Japanese planner, offers structure but with an unique level of flexibility. Of monumental importance: the structure works with me, rather than against me, always bending to my will.
More about these Stellar Japanese Planners