A (Draft) Notebook Set-up for 2021: Planners, Journals, and Blank Pages

It’s December (…how?) and after a year that deviated from plans more than anyone could have anticipated, apparently I still feel compelled to “plan” for the upcoming year.

I say apparently because it wasn’t until earlier this week that I realized I had five different notebooks that I intended to continue using in the new year or purchased specifically for the purpose of using in 2021.

I say “plan” because I am using the term in its broadest and loosest possible sense. If 2020 has taught me anything, it’s the need to develop systems that are resilient. And for me personally, resilient systems must at their core be flexible.

However, there is a very thin line that separates flexibility from chaos. So, even though I may look back and laugh in six months, I grabbed my stack of notebooks and spent some time reflecting on the possible use cases of each one.

William Hannah: the notebook I’m already using

I was gifted a William Hannah a couple of months ago, and I’ve been using it almost every day since. The official William Hannah paper is outstanding even for fountain pens, and I usually have a few pages of that paper in one section of the notebook. The rest of the book, however, is filled with all types of different papers. Inspired by Jesi’s previous post, I have primarily been punching my own refills with an Atoma punch.

This allows me to have Tomoe River, Clairefontaine, Cosmo Air Light, Bank Paper, Col-0-ring paper, and other sketchbook papers all in the same tiny notebook. I use whatever paper I’m feeling in the moment, and take the page out and move it to the back of the notebook when I’m finished. At the end of the day, I review the pages I’ve used- transfer important tasks or items to another notebook or a digital system, hold on to the pages or sketches that I want to keep and get rid of the rest. Each day I’m starting with a new, fresh notebook.  I never thought a ring-based system would work for me, but if the last couple of months are any indication, I couldn’t have been more wrong.

In previous years, I may have a notebook that’s planned to be catch-all for any “exceptions” or things that didn’t belong in the other yearly planners and journals. But after using the William Hannah for a couple of months, I think that mindset was backward. This notebook is the catch-all where nearly everything begins. All the other planners and journals are the “exceptions” meant for specific use cases.

I may jot down a quote here and write more about it later in my journal. I may write notes from a meeting here and retain the tasks by adding them to my planner later. But anything and everything belongs here. It may end up somewhere else in the end (and that’s the beauty of a ring-based system with removable pages), but I never feel like I need to grab any other notebook before I write something down or sketch something or doodle or test an ink. Just get it down on paper, and figure out what to do with it later.

Hobonichi Techo Weeks: the only planner I used at all in 2020

When March rolled around I stopped using all planners for a while in favor of a single Musubi notebook. I wrote about that experience here. But once I finished that notebook, the Hobonichi Weeks is the planner that I picked back up. There’s a large section of months in the middle that went unused, but that doesn’t bother me. The format of the Weeks is the only planner format that seems to actually make sense to my brain for planning purposes.

I tend to use it on Sunday nights or Monday mornings to plan for the upcoming week, and when I do so I find it immeasurably helpful. Will I use every page in 2021? Probably not. But will I get more value from the notebook than I invested in it? Absolutely. Because I’ve used it for the same purpose repeatedly over time- I have a strong mental association with this format. Productivity, when it exists, comes to life for me on the pages of this notebook.

Musubi Folio Notebook- A5: the stockpiled staple

I mentioned I finished an entire Musubi notebook during early quarantine months because I was using it for every single thing I was writing down. While I don’t plan to do that this year, I still love Musubi notebooks. So when the old Tomoe River paper was getting scarce, I purchased a small stockpile of the Musubi folio notebooks.
 This is the notebook that would come with me to pen shows. If productivity lives in the weeks, creativity lives in the Musubi. When I want to spatter ink all over the page, this is the notebook where that happens. If I want to retain a sketch or quote from the William Hannah- I either re-write it or literally wasabi tape it into this notebook. I don’t use it every day, and it’s something I want to use more in 2021.


Hobonichi Techo- A6: the notebook I can’t NOT buy

This is where things admittedly start to get ridiculous. The above three notebooks are more than enough to meet my needs for 1) writing down literally everything, 2) productivity and planning, and 3) creativity and reflection. Those are the main analog spaces I need in my life. But when I go to buy a Hobonochi Weeks, somehow the original A6 Techo always ends up in my cart. Every.single.year.

If I am completely honest, I don’t use it nearly enough to justify it. I want it to be a beautiful tiny art journal with perfect sketched summaries of my day. That is probably never going to happen.

So recently, I’ve been using it at the very end of each workday. I review the William Hannah pages for the day and condense the most important notes and tasks for that day onto a single page of the Hobonichi. The repetition seems to help me retain the things that matter, and the summary sets me up well for the next day. We will see if this practice sticks in 2021, and if my success or failure relates in any way to whether or not I choose to purchase the Techo again in 2022.


Fleurir lab 2021 purana sérénité- A6: the new kid on the block

After hearing about the Fleurir lab notebook several times on The Stationery Cafe podcast, I couldn’t resist checking it out for 2021. It’s similar to the Hobonichi Techo, in that it has a one-page-per-day format. But the details of the book are a little different. I just got it in hand this week, but what I can already say is that the notebook is absolutely beautiful and extremely well made. It’s the kind of product that inspires you when you hold it in your hands. But what will I do with it? Honestly, before I started thinking about all these notebooks I had literally no idea. But as I’ve been “thinking out loud” through the writing of this post, I think I have a bit of a hypothesis about why some of my notebooks tend to get used and some tend to sit empty.

 In the past, I’ve sometimes limited notebooks to specific use cases. Planning goes in a certain notebook, journaling goes into a separate book, meeting notes go into another. What happens if I want to journal, but I’m away from my desk and my “journaling” notebook? And what happens if I sit down with my “journaling” notebook, and don’t really feel like journaling and suddenly feel more like sketching or feel the need to get planning out of my head before I can journal about anything else? I think limiting a notebook to one specific use-case can be what keeps me from using them. 

So maybe a time-based system instead of a use-case-based system would be less limiting and more flexible (and thus, resilient) for me. On Sunday evenings when I plan for the week, I use the Hobonichi Weeks. At the very beginning of the day, I use the Hobonichi Techo, and at the very end of the day, I use the Fleurir lab. On the weekends, days off, vacations, and trips I use the Musubi. And literally any and every other time I use the William Hannah. Whatever I need the notebook for at that specific time is how it gets used. 

The downfall of this particular system is the potential for the “Where did I write that down?” conundrum. But most notes that I would need to find again would end up in the catch-all William Hannah, and I already have a system that’s working for reviewing those notes and putting them in their proper home. I still need to mull this over a little more, but that kind of system seems to work for where my brain is at the end of this crazy year we’ve all been through. I will have to follow-up on this later in the year so we can all laugh together about my ambitious “plans.”

How did 2020 change how you used your analog tools, and do you have any “plans” about how you will use them in 2021?

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11 comments / Add your comment below

  1. Weeks became my stand-by: with me everywhere for work/family/personal things. My A6 Hobo became my plague book, with daily state stats written and other bits and bobs as a journal of time. There are stretches I dropped, but would keep up and realized that I can always write something down on a post-it and just washi-tape when I’m at home. (The Weeks ports the post-its.) So, Weeks and A6 purchased again, with an increase to Weeks Mega, as I’m taking more work notes in the back and need some additional pages.

    I have another journal that I will sometimes just write while watching TV shows (quotes, summaries, etc.) or movies.

  2. 2020: Weeks was the Queen of the notebooks, for planning and lists, as usual (more or less).
    All other notebook use condensed into a series of A5 spiral top bounds, on my tiny home desk, for work and whatever else. The one place to keep and look for everything.
    Everything except Animal Crossing notes, which went into a series of Field Notes. I wish I had a creativity notebook, but I’m not creative enough!

    1. Oh, and maybe I should add that I use a lot of 3×5 notecards. If I have a lot to do on a given day, I’ve always got a long to-do list on a card. And what goes in the Weeks are major items or items with imminent deadlines. And the notecard is even more portable than the Weeks!

  3. Thanks for sharing your thinking aloud — it all makes sense, and you have some beautiful books to look forward to. I especially like the looseleaf system. I wish I had a use for one, because I’d be tempted to get one just to fill it with lots of different kinds of papers. In 2020 I joyously used a Leuchtturm weekly planner — until I had to cross everything out (and then leave most of it empty). But I’m going to be optimistic about 2021, and I already bought another.

  4. I’m jealous! The William Hannah has been a long time grail notebook for me. Having tried disc notebooks I’ve never found a method that works. I really liked your description of how you’ve made it work. Now, I just need to go for a WH!

  5. I actually wanted to read about the experience of using a single Musubi notebook, but the link that is the word “here” is actually a double of the Hobo Weeks link you have further on the same line. 🙁 Could you fix the link please?

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