I love the start of a new year. Even though we no longer stay up until midnight on New Year’s Eve (I can’t even remember the last time we did), there is still a sense of a change, of a new start. The turning of a year, much like the start of a school year, always reminds me of breaking in new shoes, and each time I am reminded of how lucky we are to have a chance to begin again.
In the run up to every New Year, I feel a certain urgency to brush away the fallen pines, pack away the decorations and untangle the fairy lights as we pull them out the plug. It must be done, and quickly at that. There are other kinds of urgencies too. The need for wooden floors to be mopped with almond soap so that they glow; for bright windows to sparkle in the still icy air; for uncluttered cupboards to be rearranged just so. Even if this semblance of order does not last for long (though I’m always hopeful it might), the good intentions alone are deeply satisfying. I like to apply these same good intentions to the way I organise my year too, from work to family, with a little simple planning and organising to see me through.
Last year, I wrote that I had already purchased my 2019 planner as early as October. I had begun filling it in back in autumn, spending a while with it each week to mark out weekends and term dates and course dates. But - and here’s the thing - I soon realised that my planner, pretty though it may have been, wasn’t really enough for my needs. I shall spare you my detailed analysis of it (which, with hindsight, I truly ought to have considered before committing to buy), but there simply wasn’t enough room. I am forever writing lists and taking notes and I also need to quickly scribble down what I need to do or where I need to be on a particular day; this planner had long, narrow columns split by the hour which felt superfluous for my needs but also restrictive, for it didn’t give me enough room to write freely either.
So, then, I deliberated for longer than necessary on what to do. I felt a little like a schmuck for I had written so smugly of my habit of planning ahead (that’ll teach me!), and yet here I was about to waste it all (and this wastefulness bothered me too). I briefly deliberated switching to a bullet journal but realised the very time-consuming nature of it with no monthly structure to speak of would leave me falling short. In the end, I realised that my problem was trying to plan everything (my writing, my freelance work, my home life, the boys’ home life, the boys’ school life, our family life) all in one place, when they deserved distinct spaces of their own.
After that, my decision was easy. I resorted to what I always used to do for years when I worked full-time: a very simple planning system that had always served me well but that I had let go of when I stopped work. Then, I used a notebook for work in which to brainstorm article ideas, pitches and keep my interviewee notes (I shunned the free flow of reporter spiral pads in the newsroom and chose to buy my own Kraft notebooks instead) and for everything else that required remembering times, dates and deadlines, I used a small and practical Moleskin diary in black, a weekly one with space for practical to-do lists on each spread.
I remember having stacks of these diaries when I worked full time and for a short while, it was a habit of mine to keep them (although I haven’t done that in a long time). These diaries from my single days were always full; scheduled interviews for articles I was writing, meetings with PR people keen to push some story into my hands, hair appointments, the occasional film premiere courtesy of my press pass, dinners with university friends and after-work coffees with potential suitors thrust into my direction by friends of friends of friends of my mother. I remember very distinctly checking my diary to see if and when I was free. Oh, but honestly! Those diaries don’t have a patch on my diary of today, which is already full of weekends booked by four and five -year-old’s birthday parties throughout the year and more hair appointments for my kids than for myself.
I digress; my point is that this system - a diary for dates and practical things, a notebook for work, ideas and free-flowing notes - worked for me then and so, now that I am writing again, I am hopeful it will work for me now.
My Moleskin weekly diary is unassuming and small yet it has more weekly writing space than my previous, pretty planner allowed. On one side, there are dates; on the other, note-taking space (this week’s contains a back-to-school reminder list and an optimistic meal plan). It may not have quotes on mindfulness or positive thinking printed on its pages but I think, now, I prefer to do without the excess. There is some pleasing about just how understated and practical it is.
As for everything else; well, as a writer I simply need space to write and brainstorm ideas and a simple lined notebook serves this purpose. I once tried organising this through a spreadsheet, but I found the process dull and stifling. I still much prefer to plan longhand and to let my ideas flow in a freer and, for me at least, more creative way.
Last year I didn’t really plan my blog in advance, other than occasionally scribble down some ideas and remember I had committed to publish something every week; mostly I carried my to-do list for Our Story Time in my head. This year, I’m keen to do better so I have pencilled in tentative schedules for my blog and for my subscriber letters too.
It feels good to know that it doesn’t matter if I make mistakes; I can simply scrub my pencil marks away. It’s a simple and encouraging way to forgive my own mistakes as I set out with a set of new plans for a brand new year.