The Monk Manual: A Coronavirus Tale


Dear reader, I originally started writing this post back in March or April of 2020, those halcyon days.

Like many other people, I felt a strong need to "be productive" during the lockdown--you know, learn some languages, work out 2 hours a day, read more books, and watch more online courses, all while doing my day job (remotely).

I work at a school, and at the time, though we had just finished up our big fundraiser (my baby) we were lagging behind the prior year in admissions, and, along with the rest of the world, we were tasked with bringing school online. We also had to figure out how to manage all that work and the employees remotely.

There was a lot to do and not much precedent for what we had to do.

For a melancholic like me, though, it was the best Christmas ever, because I love working from home, I love technology, and I think precedents make work boring. I didn't feel disconnected or depressed. And I got to walk my dog at lunch.

However, given all I had to do, I knew it would need to be very intentional about my time and make sure I had the right tools, including a good planner, to take on the challenges of the day. And, despite the fact that I already had a billion planners, I naturally took to the internets to find something just right.

My Thoughts on the Monk Manual from April 2020

When I first saw the beautiful cover of the Monk Manual on an Instagram ad, I knew I would have to buy it. (And not just for using on my Instagram, but it really does add a certain warmth to pictures.)

The Monk Manual was a constant companion during the first lockdown.

I finally hit "order" after reading the recommendation of Julia Hogan. Also, a trustworthy friend I know, who is a long-time journaler and organizer, called it life-changing. On top of all that, my boss bought Monk Manuals for her whole family.

Given all that, and despite the fact that I just bought a new copy of my go-to, the O.G., my go-to, Full Focus Planner (Ode to the amazing FFP coming soon), I bought a Monk Manual.

After about two weeks of using it, I would definitely recommend it. The prompts are helpful and urge you to think more intentionally about how you are spending your time.

On the practical level, I am enjoying the quality of the paper as well. Nothing bleeds through from the Sharpie pen I usually use, to highlighters and markers as well. Mind you, I'm not super picky about paper or the thickness of the paper. (Though if I had to choose, I actually prefer thinner paper.)

Here's why I wouldn't make it my go-to daily planner: It gives you everything you need on the daily pages, but not enough of what I use the most.

For instance, I wish there were more free space because I find I usually have a need for room for note-taking and quick tasks that come up. On top of that, there aren't--in my opinion--enough pages for taking notes in the back for 3 months either.

One of my frustrations with some planners is that in trying to push you to focus on a top 3 things or fewer tasks, they actually just take away space you might need if you use a planner as a real dashboard for the day. That's not realistic because even if you are able to focus on those big rocks of your day, there will inevitably be little things you need to tick off the list during the day, and you need a place to keep them. Or, perhaps you just might even just want more space so you can put personal tasks in one place separate from work tasks.

The following is a relatively minor point, but one that will convince you that perhaps I have used too many planners: I don't love the opacity of the lines in the schedule. That was something I really liked about the Hobonichi Techo (oh, you didn't think I'd go that deep, did you?) and the Full Focus Planner: thinner lines.  

One thing I really loved about the daily schedule was the fact that it gave you a few lines before 6 a.m. (Most planners start at 6 or even 7 a.m.)

An example of a page from the Monk Manual.
On behalf of all early birds, thank you, Monk Manual for letting us calendar the sweet, sweet darkness of the early morning.

Postscript from January 2021

I totally take back what I said about the Monk Manual not giving you enough of what you need. Clearly I am brimming with pride about what I think I am able to accomplish in a day.

That is a valuable lesson, Monk Manual. Well played.