January is a month of hope, a time to wash away all that unfulfilled potential of the past year.
By February, I will have fallen off the resolutions wagon. By June, I will have forgotten them completely.
But in sweet, unadulterated January, anything is possible.
This is the year I'm finally going to get organized.
Over the last few weeks of December, the mounds of paper on my work-from-home desk were caving in on me. Kids' socks (never a pair, only unmated singles) were scattered across the floor. There was not one functioning pen in my pencil cup. I didn't sign up for those guitar lessons. Never got around to reorganizing the guest closet.
But I knew the shame of unfinished business would melt away — if I just had the right daily planner.
A few years ago, after reading a terrific trend story from my now-colleague Erica Pearson in this very newspaper, I started bullet journaling. This minimalist approach to planning is geared toward people who might need one page today and five pages tomorrow. All that's required is a blank notebook and a pen to jot down those to-do lists, and you're on your way to visualizing your future and living a life with purpose.
I fervently followed this method for a good year or so, denoting tasks with a dot and celebrating every completion with an X. What did me in was the absence of structure. When the pandemic hit and "getting by" seemed like an admirable life goal, I abandoned the journal for months. Resuming the habit was like trying to rekindle a friendship when too much time had passed. I felt guilty and adrift.
A few weeks ago, as I stayed up late one night researching the perfect planner for 2022, I knew I needed some guardrails. An actual calendar would help. So might some delightful bells and whistles that could motivate me to open the darned book and start producing those lists.
So, as a grown woman, did I purchase a planner that has a coloring page and stickers of bubble tea?
Yes. Yes, I did.
This spiralbound book also provides affirmations that say "You deserve a sticker!" and tells me when it's Dolly Parton's birthday, so it's pretty complete.
Even before January rolled around, I experienced the ready-for-success tingles. I penned in everything I was looking forward to in the coming year. Weekend road trips were neatly inscribed in calendar boxes adorned with iridescent washi tape. I plotted out priorities for the coming month.
My husband rolls my eyes every time I adopt a new system intended to help me take charge of my life. I've been doing it since I was a teenager, and I'm not alone. Despite smartphones, paper planners are a multimillion-dollar industry.
Back in the '90s, there was no bullet journal community. But there was something called the Franklin Planner. Even my working-class suburban mall had a FranklinCovey store. You can still buy one of its planners, even if it may not inspire the same mass following it did decades ago.
Back then, my mom had just gotten her first burgundy ringed binder and attended a Franklin Planner one-day seminar through her work. She came back evangelized and signed up my father, my brother and me to take the same training. As a high schooler, I had to be the youngest person in a suburban Chicago conference room eager to tap into the secret of productivity.
I imagined all the other attendees were white-collar workers with high hopes but chronic procrastination, underachieving in their cubicles — until one of the attendees piped up with a question.
"I like the planner. I'm gonna use it," the man said (and you absolutely must read his quotes in a southern Illinois drawl). "The problem is, I'm a farmer. My day starts at 4 a.m. when I'm milking the cows. I'm fixing the tractor by 5 a.m. and cleaning the barn by 9 a.m."
In other words, the farmer said, his day didn't mesh with the 8-to-5 appointment schedule so neatly laid out on the day-at-a-glance pages. How could he adapt the planner's preset times to his unconventional hours?
Lucky for him, the Franklin Planner could be customized, for a fee. He was told to buy a year's set of unmarked pages. The farmer could simply replace his pages with the blank ones and pencil in his own hours.
My brother had a similar experience at the seminar he attended. The person leading the workshop shared with the class that he used the planner's clear plastic zip-top pouch to store paper receipts for his business expenses. Immediately a hand went up.
"I like to use it to store stamps," said one woman in attendance. "Can I use it to store my stamps?"
"Yes, you can!" replied the instructor.
"I like to put paper clips in there," a man piped in. "Can I use mine for my paper clips?"
"Yes, you can!"
I think about these moments about a quarter-century later because now more than ever, we are trying to carve chaos into order. We are seeking a system that can heal us from the disruptions of the past two years. We are asking paper planners, and the pouches and stickers and accessories that come with them, to straighten up our lives so we can achieve all that we're capable of.
But I'm not putting all my eggs in the paper planner basket. For Christmas I asked for and received two life-changing gifts: a laundry sorter and a label maker.
2022, I am coming for you.