Of 43Folders, Structure and Choice

First, I just wanted to thank Merlin Mann over at 43 Folders. It was an honour and a privilege to contribute an article to the mothership of productivity fans, geeks and gurus.

However, there’s something I wanted to mention here that really didn’t fit into the article, especially since I’ve received quite a number of thoughtful emails on the subject: how the new D*I*Y Planner Hipster PDA Edition contrasts with the original concept. As Merlin conceived it, the power of the Hipster PDA was in its elegant simplicity: it was simply a few cards, a clip and a pen. Jot down your actions, your appointments, and a few notes. Done. And, lo — it was a thing of beauty. The only problem is that beauty is still very much in the eye of the beholder, even when it concerns a matter as mundane as time management.

Going back through the 300+ requests for this kit, I see two important (and yet beautiful) themes emerging: structure and choice.

I’ve mentioned structure already in the 43 Folders article. Some people like to have prompts for thinking and exploration (e.g., on the Project form, there’s a space for “Objective,” which tends to slip our minds all too frequently). Some people like everything to be in its proper and pre-defined place — think about how you organise your dresser, and what clothes go in which drawer and how you fold them. Some people experience life as a puzzle with ill-fitting pieces of chaos, and need to impose order to see the bigger picture. Part of the eternal quest of any productivity tweaker is in implementing structure, and many wish that this was inherent in the tools themselves.

But I see choice as the guiding principle behind all the D*I*Y Planner kits and templates. It is impossible for every person on earth to effectively use the same time management system. A “classic” D*I*Y Planner may work for you, or GTD using a Palm, or a set of index card boxes, or Outlook running DavidCo/Covey add-ons, or a large spinning wheel with tasks and prizes. My day, my life, is different from yours: why should I dictate the best way to organise your time?

The way I see it, the more choices we have, the better the chances of discovering one’s perfect system. True, some folks –perhaps most– could no doubt use the original Hipster PDA to its best effect. But the new ‘Planner kit is there simply to provide a wider array of choices to augment the system wherever necessary. One does not need to use the whole kit, and frankly I would be shocked if you did. But you might want to set up a monthly calendar, or a Next Actions list you can check off, or an Agenda for certain people and meetings, or a yearly calendar, or even a reference card (either GTD or Covey) to trigger an effective planning/review process. Any tweaker will soon discover the gaps in his or her system, and if there are cards to help eliminate those gaps, that’s great. This kit is meant to give you a few more options, ones that can be modified as necessary to suit your specific situation. One card might be handy, as could twenty. Or none at all.

To be honest, I began to create this new set simply because so many people asked me for it. In the end, though, I found that it provided me with more structure and choice for my own daily kit. Of course, I still carry around some blank cards and paper. That’s my choice, and a free-form (read: unstructured) option that works for me.

Your life will demand different structure, different choices. And that’s fine, too.

D*I*Y Planner Hipster PDA Edition

D*I*Y Planner Cards

Update : This set, and many more, are now available free at www.DIYPlanner.com. If you want the (much, much better) version 3 set, please jump directly to the D*I*Y Planner 3 Hipster PDA Edition.

The escape was carefully orchestrated. Congo made sure the coast was clear, Bonzo distracted me with his endearing rendition of Polonius’ farewell speech to Laertes, Pierre engaged my wife with the latest Daniel Smith artists’ catalogue, and Polly constructed the electromagnet that attracted the key to the cage from atop the bookshelf. They waited till after midnight, then opened the padlock and quietly crept to the Mac to get to work.

This morning I found the fruits of their labour, stacked neatly in a small pile atop the printer.

I’m hereby pleased to announce the release of the much-requested D*I*Y Planner 2 Hipster PDA Edition, a series of 34 organisational and planning templates designed for printing onto index cards (a.k.a., the Hipster PDA). These are a subset of the regular D*I*Y Planner forms, re-designed for the smaller size, and may be used either in conjunction with the full kit or as a stand-alone system. Although chiefly inspired by David Allen’s Getting Things Done, an emphasis has been placed upon tweakability and multiple methodologies. The package includes:

  • A cover, including an “if lost, please return to” form
  • A Getting Things Done Quick Reference Card, including a flow chart, a weekly review list, and a list of “Stuff” (TM, patent pending)
  • A Covey Planning Quick Reference Card, including salient summaries from First Things First
  • Yearly calendars for 2005 and 2006
  • Three variations on the monthly calendar, both horizontal and vertical
  • A weekly calendar
  • Day Keeper, a daily time management form, with timed and untimed versions
  • More Day Keeper forms, with areas for actions
  • A “GTD All-In-One” with Next Actions, Waiting For and Notes areas
  • Separate full-size Next Actions and Waiting For templates
  • Agenda cards for people or meetings
  • Someday/Maybe project and quick-list forms
  • Single- and double-line ToDo forms
  • Covey Roles and Covey Quadrant, for the top-down fans
  • Basic Project and Checklist templates
  • Shopping and Finances forms
  • Notes templates in lined and grid versions
  • Matrix, a form for writing or tracking tabular data (exercise/fitness logs, calorie counting, grades, borrowed library books, budget items, etc.)
  • A basic Contacts template, four to a sheet
  • Instructions for printing, cutting, modifying, troubleshooting, etc.

This edition is available in three different packages. Please read the descriptions to determine which one you need.

1-Up Version
This PDF package is for printing directly onto index cards. You will need the correct size and weight paper, as well as a printer that can handle 1/8 inch margins. (Many printers only have 1/4 inch margins, and will clip the edges of the forms.)
4-Up Version
This PDF package is for printing four adjacent cards onto regular letter-size (or A4) card stock, then cut using a guillotine or scissors. If you can’t print onto regular index cards without clipping, this is probably your best option. (This is the package I personally use, and it works perfectly with a decent guillotine.)
Graphics Version
This package contains all 34 templates as graphic files (8-bit PNGs, to be exact). Choose this version if you want to use your own layout program, if you want to modify the forms in any way (including changing colours, margins or text), if you want to use your own preforated forms, or if you experience problems using the above PDF files with your printer. The graphics may be edited in any standard graphics application, like Photoshop or The Gimp (which is free), and layout can be done in OpenOffice Draw (free), Adobe InDesign, Microsoft Publisher, CorelDRAW or any number of other publishing programs. (See the accompanying instruction file for tips and license details.)

I would ask that you read the accompanying documentation before sending along any questions or complaints: I’ve tried to address most formatting and printing-related issues therein.

Many thanks go out to all the D*I*Y Planner users who have provided valuable feedback over the past year, as well as to the uber-productivity mavens of the 43 Folders Google Group, whose advice has been beyond compare.

Feedback, as always, is much appreciated.

Update 1: Photo Release Kit add-on

Update 2: Job Tracker add-on

New GTD Diagram in Process

GTD Diagram (thumbnail)One of the things I wanted for the hipsterPDA Edition of the D*I*Y Planner kit is a nice little GTD diagram that fits on a “Quick Reference” index card. Unfortunately, the original is almost completely unreadable when shrunk down to that size, unless you possess a very good printer and happen to be a gerbil.

Although there are quite a few Getting Thing Done flowcharts floating around, I decided to produce one of my own, since I can then control the sizing of all the elements –including the text– and I don’t have to worry about dealing with multiple layers of intellectual property (one is enough).

You can click on the thumbnail at right to see a larger version of the reference card I’m working on. It’s not finished yet, but it gives you an idea of where I’m going. I’m trying to get away from the whole “intricate flow chart” concept, and stay a little more with the spirit of the original –hence some of the comfortable but cheesy design elements. The one thing I did fix up was the flow around “What’s the next action?” since the book’s version has always been bothersome to me. (Those items should be or processes, not a series of then.)

Any GTD gurus out there care to send along any feedback, suggestions or complaints?

PS: Before anyone asks, this template will also be made available in other sizes, like 5.5×8.5 and A5.

Update : A polished version of this is available in the Hipster PDA Edition, and now contains a weekly review list and a prompts for emptying your brain. Which is nowhere as painful as it sounds.


As of this weekend past, the downloads of the D*I*Y Planner kits have reached 200,000 (40,000 for version 1 and 160,000 for version 2). I’m still reeling from those numbers. Who would have thought that do-it-yourself paper planner templates would be so popular in this day and age?

Another milestone is on the way, and should be ready for next weekend: the D*I*Y Planner hipsterPDA Edition, which is a set of templates suitable for printing onto 3×5″ index cards. There will be a subset of about 30 forms altogether, designed for the much smaller format; most will take their cues from their big brother kit, and the two can be used hand-in-hand if you wish. (For those who don’t know what a HipsterPDA is, see the HipsterPDA post at 43folders.)