I'll admit that I'm low-key obsessed with diaries. I know we've all got phones now and I know we don't technically need them, but there's something so satisfying about an old-school paper product with a no-fuss function: to tell you what the hell day/week/year it is (and provide some space for notes). My 2020 diary was probably my most-loved diary yet; thanks to the year's unexpected plot twists, flipping it open brought a certain groundedness and calm.
I'm so into diaries that I've pored over the intricate details of way too many brands – Moleskine (too ubiquitous), Muji (too boring), Leuchtturm (too German), Hobonichi (too fancy). Yup, name a brand and I'll probably have an opinion on it.
But as we find ourselves at the start of a new year, I have one diary opinion that eclipses all others: Fuck. Those. Goal. Setting. Planners. [slams down a single piece of paper]
Saunter among stationery tragics at the likes of Milligram, Dymocks or Kikki-K, and you'll notice that certain diaries have become less a space to document appointments, catch-ups and work stuff, and more a highly-regimented tool to further the 21st capitalist mores of productivity, self-tracking and self-improvement.
Don't know what I'm on about? Let's take MiGOALS, a diary brand that prides itself on providing "stationery for goal diggers". Founded by Melbourne locals Adam Jelic and Alex Kach in 2010, the company's staple product is probably their Goal Digger Weekly Action Diary. My god. Even the name gives me anxiety.
Basically, if your garden-variety Officeworks planner eloped with a very white yoga class, this would be their baby. This is a diary that every week, prompts you to write out a list of goals and habits, complete with a tickbox for each item, and every week, asks you to list three things you're grateful for. Awash in the Millennial aesthetic, it comes replete with quotes from the likes of Maya Angelou (a woman who almost certainly wouldn't care about some guy's 2021 goal of 'learning Japanese'). Oh, and every month, you're tasked with reviewing how you went with your long-term goals: a sort of performance appraisal you give yourself. For example: "How do I feel about the progress of my long-term goals this month?". I'll tell you how I feel, MiGOALS. Fucking miserable, thanks to you.
Don't get me wrong, I am not opposed to setting goals or improving your life, which are obviously valuable things to do. But it pains me to see something as innocent as a diary become subsumed by capitalist forces. Planners have gone from a place to write down your appointments, to one of self-quantification: a tool to track the progress of your goals, the extent of your productivity and your commitment toward self-improvement. And make no mistake, turning yourself into a self-monitoring machine; one that is never quite good enough, who can always be more productive, is extremely handy when it comes to creating better and more efficient workers.
"Think of it as your personal life coach that keeps you focused on your goals", MiGOALS boasts about their diary on their official website, insisting their product "empowers you to take action towards achieving your dreams". But what if my dream is not having to count how many of my measurable goals I achieved in a given day? In a given week? A given month? To not feel shame for not going to the gym one day? To resist the endless capitalist impulse to get shit done, lest I start to feel more like a machine than a human? What if the way I am now, was enough?