The video begins with an overhead shot of a woman’s impeccably manicured hands hovering above a spiral-bound notebook. “Today,” a voice announces, “I am going to do another daily plan-with-me.” For the next fifteen minutes, the camera remains fixed on this notebook (a Plum Paper Daily Planner, if you must know) as the hands decorate the page for April 2nd with stickers and the disembodied voice narrates the process. On today’s to-do list: planning an Easter meal, putting in a grocery order, and mopping the floor. Family dinner is scheduled for 7pm, and family movie night for 8pm. As of this writing, this video of a pretty uneventful day in one woman’s life has already received 3100 views.
Welcome to the oddly fascinating world of the Planner Moms. These women are a subset of a broader internet subculture that fetishizes paper planners. (You may have heard of their cousins, the Bullet Journalers.) Across various social media platforms, the Planner Moms collect and review an endless array of pastel-colored planners sprinkled with inspirational quotes like “You are on your way” and “Your future is brighter than you’ll ever know!” They share photos of their planner “spreads” (i.e., layouts) and plan-with-me videos where they write in and decorate their planners in real time. As far as I can tell, the decorating takes up proportionally more time than the actual planning. These women LOVE stickers.
You can tell a lot about a person from their to-do list, and I am nosy as hell. But this only explains a small portion of my fascination with the Planner Moms. I’m obsessed because this niche community so colorfully illustrates some key differences between contemporary motherhood and fatherhood.
There are no Planner Dads, at least as far as I can tell. The absence of men from this subculture makes sense given what my own and others’ research has shown about household management. It is overwhelmingly women (in different-gender couples) who manage schedules and social obligations, anticipate upcoming to-dos, and plan special activities and events for their children. Planner Dads may not exist, then, because they simply don’t have as much to plan as their female partners. Men may be responsible for executing some portion of whatever their female partner has planned, but they will rarely be responsible for making sure those plans are made in the first place.
There are exceptions to the rule that it is mothers who plan, of course. Plenty of single fathers run households, and tasks like long-term financial planning and home/car maintenance are often male responsibilities. Why isn’t there a branch of the planner community for this?
Here we need to move away from the realm of empirical fact (i.e., moms do more household labor) to the realm of cultural ideal. Sociologist Mary Blair-Loy identified two competing “schemas,” or socially sanctioned patterns of behavior: devotion to work and devotion to family. Historically, devotion to work has been a prized characteristic of men, and devotion to family has been a prized characteristic of women.
This neat division has admittedly been scrambled over the past few decades, as women are increasingly expected to work for pay and men to (help) care for children. But the relative importance of motherhood to a woman’s identity remains stronger, in the cultural imagination, than the importance of fatherhood to a man’s identity. For a man to spend a large chunk of his time and attention on calendaring family movie nights would be decidedly nontraditional. That doesn’t mean men aren’t doing this, just that it’s not yet the kind of thing they are likely to advertise via a YouTube channel.
A further problem is that there are no products geared to dads who plan, and product reviews are a staple of the Planner genre. (I did find a product called the DadPad, but this is really for Planner Moms: “Pare down your crazy week onto a page that makes sense to your man! He doesn’t want to thumb through your packed planner any more than you want him to!” exclaims the marketing copy.) If a planner is going to include room for shopping lists and birthday reminders, chances are high it will also be covered in a floral motif.
If there’s a male equivalent of the Planner Moms, it’s probably the tech bro or quantified self devotee. They track their runs on Strava, plow through their professional task list on Trello, and swap tips for automating administrative work on Reddit. The underlying impulse to plan, track, and optimize unites the Planner Moms and the Tech Bros. Neither gender is inherently more organized and Type-A than the other. The question is which aspects of life that impulse to plan gets channeled toward: professional growth or family organization? Personal fitness or children’s development?
One of my (male) interviewees, a physician, unwittingly summarized the problem. When he comes home from work, he explained, he is usually too “intellectually exhausted” to think about upcoming childcare needs or make other family plans. His wife, who spends her work hours writing a dissertation, does not get that excuse.
For your consideration:
In the course of my explorations of the Planner Moms, I learned about the Pen Enthusiasts (there is actually a podcast with this very name). While I am not quite at that level, I wholeheartedly recommend upgrading your pen situation if you are still relying on those free pens you got at that one conference five years ago. JetPens is an excellent resource. Two of my latest favorites are the Uniball Jetstream in .5mm and the Uniball Signo in .38mm. Writing by hand is almost a joy now.
Do you have questions you’d like me to answer or topics for me to explore? Tell me about it in the comments, or respond to this email if you prefer to keep your thoughts on the DL. I’d love to hear from you!