I spent a lot of time feeling shitty about not using my planners. It made no sense why I had so much trouble filling their pages — I love every notebook I pick up, slipping easy into the fantasy of recording Important Work and scrapbooking a Remarkable Life.

But then another year would pass with a Hobonichi Techo empty but for one week of pages. The stack of almost blank journals would inch higher. Rihanna’s cover of “Same Old Mistakes” would play as I browsed through Hobonichi’s updated line of Techos for the next year.

What kept me from using my planners was this belief that my pages had to be filled with content that was Important, Remarkable, or Beautiful. Seeing staged photos of others’ journals filled with meticulous notes and sketches from a practiced, delicate hand reinforced that idea. Like, there are people out here painting watercolor masterpieces in their notebooks, and I’m struggling to make my printed words legible lmao.

It’s like getting wrapped up in presenting perfect, curated lives on social media. I had to stop telling myself, mostly on an unconscious level, that whatever I wanted to put down had to be worthy of sharing or envy. It doesn’t make sense when this is just a personal diary, right? Who cares if, for the life of me, I can’t keep these letters straight on the line? I’m just trying to make sure I remember to drop off library books on the way home, or congratulate myself for not putting off my haircut and looking ragged for another week. It’s really not that serious.

I let go of a few habits that were in my way:

  • believing my pages needed to look like the dressed up and clean layouts other shared
  • dismissing the smallest goals as too trivial to merit ink
  • beating myself up if I missed a day or two, or if I didn’t get to cross out even those smallest goals I tried to commit to
  • caring about my penmanship or embarassing statements, as if the goal was to produce online content

I appreciated Hobonichi Techo’s Shigesato Itoi talking about his approach of just putting down whatever comes to mind, not feeling obligated to make it perfect:

Most of my entries are just things I’m thinking about. I keep my techo with me whenever I’m sitting and thinking. I don’t really sit and write an entry, but I stop and think a lot while I’m writing. Sometimes I skip the details. I don’t mind making mistakes, I just want to make sure to write things down so I can have it later.

So I set out to keep an imperfect planner, one that allowed me to write inane ideas, record unimpressive weightlifting numbers, and copy hackneyed motivational quotes. I still brought multi-colored pens, rubber stamps, and washi tape to decorate my words, but I almost never used them.

Instead I have a year’s worth of pages, most teeming with near-indecipherable notes in black ink, arrows zipping around to connect thoughts scribbled in different areas, some sentences curling into 90° angles after I ran out of room.

I’m finally using my planner, and even if the pages are messy, actually using it has made the rest of my life feel more intentional and organized, results that felt out of reach before. Even my old journals, I’ve started writing in those, too, since there’s no extra room in my current planner. Being from years past, they’re not effective as daily schedules, but I’m using them to write fiction and as scratch paper for projects like this Planner Club site. You know, Important Work.

Photo by Estée Janssens on Unsplash