Using the Hobonichi Planner as a Commonplace Book

Hobonichi commonplace book

In an earlier blog post we wrote about keeping a commonplace book, a compilation of facts, quotations, and other information that is personally meaningful to the compiler. Unlike a journal where you write your own thoughts, a commonplace book is filled with information gleaned from other sources. It’s a collection of knowledge, a personal reference book, like a dictionary or textbook filled only with the knowledge you find useful or compelling. A commonplace book is a powerful tool to help you organize and recall the things that interest you.

One challenge of keeping a commonplace book is setting up an indexing system that makes it easy to reference what you’ve recorded. The index in a commonplace book is critical to helping you look up information, but it can also be a source of confusion. How many pages should you set aside for it? How should the topics be organized? Some notebooks come with a blank table of contents, but these are usually only a page or two long, limiting how you can use them.

Today we’d like to share a great tool for commonplacing that helps solve the index problem: the Hobonichi Techo. A dated daily planner that’s popular for its flexible page format and abundance of useful details, the Hobonichi has an unusual index that makes it surprisingly well suited for commonplacing. Today we’ll be looking at how to use a Hobonichi Techo as a commonplace book.

Commonplacing with a Hobonichi Techo

The Hobonichi Techo makes a great commonplace book because of its yearly index, which spans eight pages and includes a space for each day of the year, corresponding to the daily pages of the planner. This index gives you space to write the topic of each entry in your commonplace book, with an easy way to reference its location.

Note that when you’re commonplacing in a Hobonichi, the dates of the planner don’t matter. You’ll be using them in lieu of page numbers to help you look up information, but you can use an out-of-date planner, and there’s no need to write in your commonplace book every day to keep up with the printed dates.

There are two main ways to organize your Hobonichi commonplace book: using chronological entries or dividing by subject.

Chronological entries

The classic method for organizing a commonplace book is to use chronological entries: you write each new entry on the next available page in the book, recording the subject in the index. This way, you make the most of the space in your notebook and never end up with blank pages.
You’ll write your entries in the planner’s daily pages. Write your first entry on the page for January 1 (or April 1, if you’re using an April-start planner). It’s okay if your entry is longer than a single page. After you’ve finished, write the topic of that entry in the index space for January 1. If your entry runs across two or more pages, simply leave the following dates in the index blank, to indicate they belong to the topic above. When you need to look up an entry later, you’ll find the topic in the index and then look for the corresponding daily page.
To make it easier to reference information quickly, you can color-code your entries by subject. To do this, create a color key next to your index, and mark the corresponding index entries with the color that corresponds to each subject. For example, if you mark all entries related to gardening with a green highlighter, you can quickly find a particular bit of gardening information by looking in the index for any entries with a green mark. You can color-code with highlighters, colored pencils, sticky dots in different colors, or anything else you have available. For added ease of reference, color in the “date” box on the corresponding entry page.

If you tend to gather information about a wide variety of subjects and a color key isn’t practical, the index is still very effective without color-coding. For quick reference, consider writing key words in your index listings. For instance, an entry about growing sunflowers could be indexed as “GARDENING—sunflowers.” A quote about experiencing a flow state while making art might be indexed as “CREATIVITY—flow.” Key words like these will make it quicker for you to look up entries in the index later.

Note that the first column of the Hobonichi’s index does not have corresponding daily pages (it’s devoted to the last month of the previous year), so this column will not be part of your index. If you’re using a color key, this is a great place to put it.

Dividing by subject

The daily pages of the Hobonichi Techo are divided into monthly sections, with colored tabs along the edge of the pages to help you quickly find each section. If you’re recording information about only a few topics, dividing your commonplace book by subject may be an effective method for you, and the monthly sections will create a natural division.

Say you’re writing a book, and you’re using your commonplace book to record your research about a few related topics. Or perhaps you want to use your commonplace book to keep a reading journal, a recipe log, and notes on your new birding hobby. You can devote each monthly section of your Hobonichi to a single subject, and each corresponding column in your index will be related to that subject. The advantage of this method is easy reference: you can quickly open your commonplace book to the topic you’re interested in and flip through all your notes.

This method works best if you’re only focusing on a few subjects—say, three or four—because it’s likely that you won’t end up with an equal number of entries for each subject. Instead of trying to guess how much space you’ll need, just start with one monthly section for each topic. Once you’ve filled up a section, you can start a new section for that topic in the next available month. You may end up with more sections on one topic than another, but they’ll be easy to find in your index.

A Note about the Extra Pages

As a planner, the Hobonichi Techo wasn’t designed specifically with commonplacing in mind, and it contains some additional pages that don’t ostensibly fit the purpose. The A6 Original planner has calendar pages for each month of the year, and the larger A5 Cousin size also includes a number of pages with columns for a weekly schedule.

While these pages don’t have a place in a traditional commonplace book, a little creativity can make them a useful addition! They can be a great place to keep reference lists of information you refer to frequently, or lists of books you’ve read (or those you refer to in your commonplace book), or an overview of the subjects you’ve covered in your commonplace book: anything you might want to refer to or record that doesn’t need to be organized within your indexing system.

Have you tried keeping a commonplace book? How do you use the index of your Hobonichi planner? Let us know in the comments!

Read our first blog post about commonplace books here.

And read our next post, about how to turn any kind of notebook into a commonplace book, here.


  • Cheryll

    I remember keeping books like these when I was in high school. Didn’t know at the time that there was a name for it. I was just pretending to be a magazine editor and writing down everything 😁 Now I really like the idea of using the hobonichi as a commonplace planner. That’s an excellent idea!

  • Jane Miller

    I really like the idea of a common place book. I wish I had heard about it years ago, as I am always writing down things of interest in a variety of different subjects then misplacing where my scraps of paper are that I wrote on..even gum wrappers. I guess it’s not too late to start afresh. Thanks for the idea and explanations.

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