After seven years of losing my soul to digital solutions, that beautiful thick white paper in the Passion Planner called to my desire to physically connect with my life. To be inside of it, not an onlooker, and certainly not a victim of the endless pelting of notifications about things I had forgotten. My planner journey had begun.
And the Passion Planner, the start of my planning journey, delivered all it promised.
I set a five minute timer and did the mind map exercise Angelia Trinidad recommends in the beginning of the planner. And five minutes later, I saw, not the life I had, not the life I was afraid would be mine, but the life I wanted.
“Pick one goal,” the Passion Planner recommends, “the one that will make the biggest difference to your life.”
Mostly solid advice, but as I have since learned about myself, focusing only on one thing feels like a prison to me.
However, the idea still got me moving, which is a testimony to the power of setting at least one goal. I thought about when my mind and body were the most aligned with my heart and goals, when my physical energy matched my mental energy.
So I had to get back to yoga. That’s all there was to it.
We no longer lived near a bikram yoga studio, so I improvised. I booked classes the nearest thing I could find.
It didn’t matter that it wasn’t perfect, or the “right” studio. What mattered is that, for the first time since my daughter was born, I was envisioning the life I wanted (which I needed to have to be the best Mom to her) and taking steps, however small, to get there.
(I still miss that mindmap, and have carried the concept and method with me through many styles of planning—anyone can draw a goals mind map once they know how).
Those stacked vertical weekly towers helped me reclaim my life as well. There was only one tower a day, and daylight hours were split among x amount of half hour slots. Once I put yoga at 4:30pm in a slot, nothing else could go there.
And those weekly lists! 14 spaces for personal and 14 for work. As a working mother, I needed this so badly. In the beginning, those 14 spaces were the perfect way to set boundaries in a workplace that was young and growing, and made many demands of my brain and time. I still contend that weekly lists are far superior to daily lists, though I use both. While daily lists keep my brain straight for the next few hours, it is only weekly lists that can keep me focused on the goals I have for my life. They were also good for rescuing me from overcomittment. Once they were full, they were full. I used to open my planner and say, “I’m sorry. There’s no more room this week, but you’ve got first dibs on next week.”
Now my planner people will know that lack of space can be the curse of paper planning. But as I am pointing out here, it can also be the blessing. More room can mean more chaos, more confusion, and not enough boundaries.
Since I worked demanding days, those 14 spaces often representing large projects, this provided peace for me, a division between personal and work that was desperately needed, and a better timeline of both kinds of projects.
On Fridays, I’d go through and see which tasks were completed (I relished coloring in the squares of completed tasks), and make a decision on which ones I would finish on that day, and which would be migrated to next week.
And then began my journey. It was twofold, one of being a good steward of my body and time, and eventually, of finding the perfect planner to help me accomplish those goals.
Along with many other Passion Planner users, I loved the weekly layouts, but longed for more. Sometimes I needed to brainstorm, and write, and make daily lists, and of course, I had to do that elsewhere. My physical connection to my Passion Planner was so strong that I couldn’t imagine leaving that one product.
Then the Passion Planner announced the arrival of a planner that included daily pages.
My heart stopped. The heavens parted. This was it. They were finally adding daily pages to their weekly planner. I donated to the kickstarter and waited for the perfect planner.
But when the four quarterly books came, which were aesthetically gorgeous, there were no weekly pages. I was devastated. I was actually shocked, since I thought that the Passion Planner method of planning was built on the foundation of weekly lists, or at least that it was integral to their process, which worked for me and so many others.
It took months for me to admit to myself that any planner without vertical weekly pages was not going to work for me.
While the Passion Planner remains the magic that started this all, I was officially on the hunt now.
I devoured “Dot Journaling, A Practical Guide,” by Rachel Wilkerson Miller, and “The Bullet Journal Method” by Ryder Caroll and a hundred seeds were planted. I adored the idea of making lists about anything and everything that crossed my mind, then organizing those lists into what I was actually going to focus on for immediate blocks of time. I loved the thought of turning a page mid week and being able to take notes on an idea I was having or a meeting at work. And the indexing! From that moment on, I never stopped being a bullet journaler, no matter where my planner journey took me. I was bit by the #bujo bug and would never turn back.
But this was to make my planner search more difficult.
I purchased my first bullet journal. It was a thin floppy B5, surprisingly hard to find. It had beautiful cream paper and a dot grid.
The jump from weekly planner to blank bullet journal proved to be too jarring of a jump. I love to explore, experiment, and try. Over the years, this has payed off, but for that first six months, there was too much change and migration of dates and calendars. I didn’t change because I got tired of my bullet journals or layout. I changed because I used up a bullet journal in six weeks. This began the search for books with many pages. 200 became my minimum. That would change. I am a writer and wrote a lot. Once I started writing a story in my bullet journal. This was a disaster, as all of a sudden, I came to the end of my notebook and needed to start again. I had to stay up late migrating calendars.
Six weeks later, I had to do it again.
I fell out of love with purist bullet journaling.
Six weeks? The physical disconnect and emotional disconnect between me and my planners was creating a distance between my life and me again. I hated saying goodbye to a planner in six weeks because I ran out of paper. I hated redrawing all the calendars and weeklies again and I hated migrating appointments so much that my brain stopped believing those dates and appointments mattered. If they mattered, why didn’t they stay in one place? Why did the handwriting and color of ink keep changing? That wasn’t dependable.
I even opened a shop on etsy for timebar stickers called, “I Hate To Bullet Journal.” I sold three orders, but when the biggest order took too long to fulfill, I doubled the price just to stop the orders. Looking back, I realize how funny this all was.
More paper, that’s what I needed. I needed weeklies, dailies, and monthlies all in one book, and I also needed enough paper to last at least three months.
I tried The Amplify Planner, which still has a place in my heart. It was a relief to get away from bullet journaling, back to something structured, but this time with daily pages!
It provided routine, quiet, and peace for awhile. I remember my morning coffee routine and I can see the ink on the page, similar to my experience with The Passion Planner. Clearly, I longed for both structure and freedom. A weekly only planner was too limited and a bullet journal was too open. The Amplify Planner was a little bulky and (no additional blank pages), but it created an oasis of peace for awhile. It’s fun and comes in pretty new colors all the time. The ladies who own the shop are amazing.
Around this time, I read Atomic Habits, another life-changing book. I also read Soundtracks, by Jon Acuff. If you can, read these two books together, and you’ll see some surprising similarities.
This book brought some calm to my planner and journal journey. I could now focus, not on a break-neck pace of pursuing goals, but on tiny habits that would shape me into who I wanted to become, identities which matched my goals (a writer, a healthy person, a loving mother and wife). I scaled back a bit into a pace that I could handle. My quiet time habit was always back and forth, so I shortened the time, got a meditation app, included keto coffee and writing three things for which I was grateful every morning.
Somehow, this habit started to become a keystone of my days, even shaping the way I interacted with my bullet journals and planners.
This was incredibly restful after goal-pursuing. It’s not that I stopped pursuing goals. Just the opposite.
“Habits are simply, reliable solutions to recurring problems in our environment.” James Cleary writes. And that sums up the power of a book I can’t recommend enough.
I realize typing this that as I had been raised in a way that encouraged me to be an automaton, a cookie-cutter of someone else’s idea of what God wanted for my life, all these books and stacks of blank paper were encouraging me to realize self-authoring, where you decide who to be and then make one small change in that direction. All quotes about personal goals and purpose that are true contain this element of hope and inspiration. “Adults devise a plan and follow it. Children do what feels good.” While this quote is about self-discipline, it is also about resisting the path of least resistance, and there is perhaps no path of lesser resistance than that of legalism.
Then something happened that changed everything.
I discovered Japanese paper. Specifically, Tomoe River Paper.
I say that because I believe that is the force and magic of the Hobonichi Cousin. Yes, the vertical layouts made my heart sing (and I keep coming back to them, so passion-planneresque!). Yes, the fact that it had daily pages was unheard of. Yes, the layout was minimalist and beautiful, but the fact that the Hobonichi Cousin was thinner than the Passion Planner even though it contained a year (and one that’s six months) of paper mesmerized me was because of Tomoe River Paper.
The Paper of the gods. It is made for ink, fountain pen, watercolor, frixion pens, Tombow markers, and so much more. It’s so thin that it’s translucent, and yet there’s no bleeding through. There are whole reddits and discords and quoras dedicated to the wonders of Tomoe River Paper, TRP layouts, and the pens and markers you can use on them.
This felt like joy again.
And while the part of me that loved the wide open spaces and endless paper, I realized in one brief outing that I had …. no. blank. paper. Everything was dedicated to a day or a week or a month.
How could I have not known by now that this would be a problem?
It was, and I wasted time trying to pretend that my Hobonichi Cousin Spring was all I needed.
It wasn’t. I needed a notebook.
I set my Cousin Spring aside and got a Cousin Avec for my birthday.
Now we’re getting much closer, I thought. Now it’s so thin I can put it in one side of a leather cover and get a Hobonichi or Stalogy A5 for the other side.
I did this for awhile and it worked. I liked it and I called it my LifeBook, inspired by Japanese paper culture. It worked really well and I took lots of pictures, because that’s what I do when I’m finally okay with something.
It was the closest I came to having everything I needed in one place, the closest to balancing fun and passion, joy and discipline, function with form.
This planner setup worked for awhile, but by pure chance I discovered something that worked even better.
A beautiful cover I had been looking for, (Ryoji Arai / I don’t think anyone knows, but I’m always singing), popped up at original price on Ebay and I grabbed it. I knew I had to have it, and once I had it, I knew I had to use it. And so I had to buy an A6 notebook just to use it. This is what it looked like and it made me so happy.
I thought I was a die-hard leather person, but when I realized that that light little notebook plus my Hobonichi Cousin Avec in a Hobonichi cover were lighter than an A5 plus an A5 in leather had been, and so beautiful, I was surprised by joy, lightness, and color. I used this method for longer than anything else before. Sometimes I even (gasp) was able to leave my planner on my desk while I took just my A6 Hobonichi out with me. It was near perfect. I could jot notes, write story ideas, keep shopping lists, and write reminders of what I needed to check or do when I got home. And it was so tiny it fit into EVERY bag I had. But still…I was drawing last minute monthly spreads because I really wanted my planner with me…I did. I really did.
One year, me and others waited with baited breath hoping that 2022 would be the year that Hobonichi would release an A6 size that had vertical weeklies or a Cousin A5 that had undated pages or a smaller version of the Cousin, but no such thing happened.
Always trying to get everything into one thing, the next thing I tried was a Wonderland222. It was a B6, a size I had not tried before just in between the A6 and A5. Portable, yet roomy.
It was perfect.
And almost perfect in other ways, too.
The 2022 version of Wonderland had monthlies, weeklies, and dailies….but only 78 dailies.
That was such a weird number to me. (They have since updated to 90 so you can use the Wonderland as a quarterly if you want).
I could use the monthlies and weeklies (full year in all books), as bullet journaling pages. I ignored how messy this looked because I was just so happy to have the extra paper.
But with only 78 daily pages, I was again stuck with migrating journals every 78 days.
Oh, Wonderland, how you did mock me with your near perfection!
I continued sketches of the perfect planner that I had started in 2020. I didn’t know why it was so difficult for planner companies to realize how many of their target audience needed monthlies, weeklies, and dailies all in one book plus some blank pages. I knew it had nothing to do with not being able to make a notebook that thick. There are many notebooks that are thicker.
I might have continued on in this way forever. Forever giving my heart to other people’s planners even when I knew they weren’t the one I was designing in my head.
There would be one more planner purchase. And it would be the most life-changing for me.
Someone released a B6, like Wonderland, but with more blank pages, enough for a six-month if you used one page per day. (No additional blanks, though).
This was really cool, I thought. The planner I’ve been designing. Well, not quite. Because just like the Cousin, it had no additional blank pages.
Writing this all out, I’m not sure why I waited so long to realize that would never work. Maybe it’s because I let my emotions get in the way of things I knew for sure. Maybe it’s because I really loved supporting people who love planners.
But this last planner experience effectively ended that, maybe forever. After an online interaction in which I attempted to be enthusiastic and supportive and ended up feeling belittled, I realized something.
They don’t care as much as I do.
I’m giving all my planner passion and money to other people’s planner designs.
They didn’t care how much I loved their product or how long I waited for it or how enthusiastic I was online about how much I loved it. They didn’t care about how many people I pointed to their products.
And that’s fine.
But that was the end for me.
Of investing in other people’s dreams and not my own.
Of investing in other people’s designs and not my own.
Of thinking that my love and support for planners actually mattered to the companies I was purchasing from.
And it was the end of staring at the design in my hard drive, one that is made for Tomoe River Paper, has monthlies, weeklies, and dailies, plus lots of…
(Dot grid paper).
I needed it so badly.
Just as much as I need structured, predrawn monthlies and weeklies.
This is the best of the bullet journaling and planning worlds for me.
So I spent several weeks perfecting my design and finally finished my search for a printer, which I had been working on for awhile.
One of the reasons the process for finding a printer for Tomoe River Paper is so expensive and difficult because they have to be able to access Tomoe River Paper, which is hard to source, and they have to print on a Heidelberg, which takes great skill and experience, and means a metal stamp of each page must be made, like they used to do hundreds of years ago, because you cannot put Tomoe River Paper through a roller.
And after an afternoon of drawing logos for the gold foil, and many revisions of the design, staring at grids and typography and getting the weekly page to look exactly like what I’ve fallen asleep dreaming about for years, and getting as many blank pages into a beautiful bullet journal as I dare without it getting as thick as a traditional full year, I finally sent the design to the printer.
I was finally waiting for the beautiful B6 sample with monthlies, weeklies, dailies and blank pages.
It’s not like I could just grab Tomoe River Paper and run it through my printer to test my print. So you can imagine how nervous I was waiting for the planner to come.
I didn’t know if it would fit in my favorite planner covers, since it had more pages than any other half year.
I didn’t know if the grid would be too dark or too light.
But when it came, it was all perfect. I was like it all fell into place and I finally held my prototype in my hands, the result of four years of designing and searching.
Everything I learned from each stage of my journey. The vertical weekly pages, the weekly lists, the goal mind maps, the daily pages, and the bullet journal pages. All in one book small enough to bring with me everywhere.
And if you’ve made is this far, you’re a planner or bullet journal person or both. And maybe one with a journey similar to mine.
And you almost definitely want to sign up for notifications to be notified about all things Nightowl, like when you can preorder and more.
Introducing the Nightowl Journal, the perfect blend between bullet journal and planner.
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