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Do you love planners, until you buy one (together with nice pens and watercolour markers and washi tape and stickers) only to find you don’t really use it?
I loved the idea of a planner — the possibility of fixing all my time-management problems and maximising productivity just by choosing the right planner.
Every planner I’ve bought ended up half-used until I got a Hobonichi Cousin Avec planner. I went from feeling guilty about not using my planner to looking forward to using it every day. From the functional but flexible design to the soft, thin but durable paper, my Hobonichi 2023 is a delight to use.
While there is a learning curve as you adapt your planner to your needs, my journey in these first six months with my Hobonichi has been a fun one.
What is so great about Hobonichi? In this blog post, I want to share my love for the Hobonichi planners and why it’s worth considering if other planners have failed to meet your needs.
What are the Hobonichi planners?
Hobo Nikkan Itoi Shinbun (also known as Hobonichi) is a Japanese brand with a broad range of products for daily life, from apparel to stationery.
If you’re lucky enough to understand Japanese, you might already be familiar with the Hobonichi website, complete with its fun, insightful daily essays by the founder. But the rest of us know the brand for one thing—their gorgeous paper planners, which have gained quite a worldwide following since their debut in 2001.
Their Hobonichi Techo planner line features a diverse range for different needs in A5 and A6 sizes — weekly, daily dated and undated planners, a 5-year planner, and a luxurious hardcover planner. Keep in mind that some planners are only available in Japanese, but the most important bits like days and months are also in English, so you should still be able to use the planner even if you don’t know any Japanese.
The English website also offers pretty stationery and planner covers to complete your Hobonichi experience, as well as pouches and bags to keep your planner clean and safe on the go.
So, what’s the big deal with these planners, you ask? Well, we’re about to dive right into it. Get ready for planner heaven!
Why I love my Hobonichi planner
I chose the Hobonichi Cousin Avec A5. The Cousin Avec is a yearly planner split into two notebooks of six months each. This planner is in Japanese, but as I’ll show later, I can still use most of it.
The planner comes with a pouch and a multi-coloured pen.
Lightweight and Portable
In 2022 I used a black Moleskine yearly planner. And I liked it, but it was so, so bulky that I’d hardly ever take it to me when working somewhere else.
Going from this bulky planner to the lithe and portable Cousin Avec has been a breath of fresh air.
Aptly named “Avec,” meaning “together” in French, the Cousin Avec splits the year in two separate notebooks — a January-June book and a July-December book. They’re super light and compact, perfect to bring with you on the go. Especially if you’re already carrying around other things like a computer or books.
Beauty Meets Functionality
Raise your hand if you’ve ever been tempted by a beautiful planner, but it’s so pretty you feel bad about using it — especially if you don’t have the artistic skills to create aesthetic layouts, fancy lettering or cute doodles.
It’s a real letdown when you feel like you’re not living up to the planner’s aesthetic expectations. But fear not, because the Hobonichi Techo planners have cracked the code. They strike the perfect balance between a pleasing design and a functional planner.
The design encourages you to use its pages and unleash your creativity, while still being pretty enough for those of us using just black pen and pencil.
Personally, I find the design inviting as opposed to daunting. I don’t feel the need to decorate it, which is perfect for someone whose artistic skills peaked at kindergarten.
But the design isn’t just pretty. Every page is a versatile canvas, ready to be shaped and moulded according to your preferences and distinctive style.
The Hobonichi Cousin 2023 book has four different sections: yearly, monthly, weekly, and daily. You can make each section your own, and use them to plan projects, and class schedules, create content calendars, or track your time and goals.
Personally, what I use the most are the daily pages. They’re like my dashboard for the day. I’ve used several layouts in the last six months, depending on my needs.
On the left, the planner ingeniously employs a comprehensive 24-hour timetable to accommodate your schedule. Each hour is conveniently marked with a dot, and every half-hour interval is denoted by a line.
And let’s not overlook the subtle yet significant “Secret Line”: an inconspicuous vertical boundary that gracefully separates the left schedule from the right open memo pad. It has been printed faintly enough to grant you the freedom to disregard it when viewing the page as a whole.
This is my current layout: A quick timeline of what I plan to do for the day, my morning routine, and some room for notes.
The weekly pages use a 24-hour timetable for you to jot down your schedule.
That didn’t work for me, so instead I use it as a time tracker. At night, I write down what I did for the day, and at the end of the week, I have a quick glance at how I spent my time and what I need to change. I pair it with the Structured app to see how I planned my days and how I actually spent them.
My time tracking on the planner isn’t precise on purpose. My goal is not to keep track of every single minute. Instead, I want to have a rough idea of what my day actually looked like beyond the planning — the dead spaces, the shifting of tasks, and what took longer than expected. This helps me plan my time better.
In another post, I talked about my belief in flow instead of resistance. Sometimes we try to brute force our way into changing when we could be adapting many things about our life to the way we work naturally. So by observing how I work, I can plan my time around the way I work, instead of trying to change how I work.
Here’s a layout for the week.
The monthly view is a calendar view with space for you to write down important dates and appointments. Again, this didn’t work for me, so I use it as a very short-form journal. On each day, I write down something I want to remember — a movie I watched, a quote, an important event or if the day was particularly bad.
That’s the coolest thing about the Hobonichi planners — the design provides a template that’s pretty but unintrusive, allowing you to stick to it, modify it, or ignore it altogether. So, customise away!
The real secret of the Hobonichi planners is its paper, called Tomoe River paper. This paper variety has amassed its own devoted following. It’s soft and delicate, but also sturdy enough to resist bleedthrough and feathering, accommodating a diverse range of inks. Oh, and it’s also acid-free.
Because I use pencil a lot when designing new layouts I end up erasing several times before I get it right, and the pages take it like a champ. No waving or fibres is coming off.
The pages’ thinness contributes to the reduced bulk and weight of the planners, making them more portable.
Even if you’re not a paper nerd, writing on your Hobonichi is a joy, and I think it’s a big factor in why I love using it so much.
What I’m still working on
Too many Layouts
While the Hobonichi Techo is packed with additional pages for different purposes, at first it can be daunting to figure out how to make the most of them.
For example, in my case, it took me almost six months to figure out uses for the monthly and yearly views. Keeping these pages blank made me feel like I was wasting important planner real estate.
My suggestion is to keep using these in different ways and read use cases from other people to get ideas. The English Hobonichi store has lots of articles with useful ideas, and there’s also a Hobonichi Techo subreddit with users sharing their spreads.
One way to start is by asking yourself what you use your planner for — is it work, for school, to keep track of personal projects or hobbies? Is it a commonplace book or an art journal?
Also, I recommend just starting to use it and noting what you use the most. Personally, I noticed I hardly ever go back and forth from the daily page to the yearly and monthly views, so creating calendars and timetables there didn’t work for me.
Instead, I use the yearly view to track the people I talk to and meet every day, the weekly view to track my time and the monthly view as a short-form journal with things I did or saw that day I want to remember. These are pages I check once at the start or the end of the day, while I keep the daily pages the focus of my day-to-day work.
Not Yet Fully Available in English
The Japanese planners come with a lot of extra pages at the back that won’t be of much use if you don’t read Japanese or live in Japan. For example, lovely illustrated pages with Solar terms from the traditional East Asian lunisolar calendars, a date conversion table and conversation tips.
Though it’s not a deal breaker, it would be fantastic to have all of the planner’s content accessible to English-speaking users. Nonetheless, the core functionality and benefits of the Hobonichi Techo transcend language barriers. The names of the months and days are in English, so you can use all the main sections of the planner without issues.
Where to get your Hobonichi?
The planners are available on several websites, but if you’re outside of Japan, shipping costs and time will be a big consideration.
I bought mine from the official Hobonichi website. The item was shipped quickly, but in my case transit and delivery times were affected by the parcel forwarding services from Japan to the UAE. Also, I ordered in late December, so shipping was affected by New Year’s.
You can also find them on Amazon, of course.
If you’re searching for a planner that combines practicality, aesthetics, and flexibility, look no further than the Hobonichi Techo. Its lightweight design, usability, and top-notch paper quality make it a standout choice for planner enthusiasts.
Choosing the right planner for you can be a bit of a challenge. Hobonichi offers a broad range of planners — from day-free notebooks to 5-year journals. Taking the time to think about what you want to use the planner for, where you’ll be using it, and what you want to capture in it will give you some pointers. The Hobonichi website offers a thorough comparison of each planner and a lot of tips to guide you.
Embrace the joy of organizing your life and share your Hobonichi tips and tricks with others in the comments below or on social media.
Share your Hobonichi experiences and tips by commenting on this post and spreading the word on social media. Let’s inspire others to discover the wonders of the Hobonichi planner!
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