Introduction to the Handbook [Depreciate Febuary 11th 2006]

I'm not going to get into the whole cliché about how we're all different. Let it just suffice to say that the instructions and templates that I provide in these files are simply meant as a starting point to implementing a highly-customisable do-it-yourself planner system, based primarily on Getting Things Done.  Yes, you heard me right: a planner, with actual paper. (5.5"x8.5" paper, to be specific.)

So you're probably asking yourself, why is this person even advocating using paper in today's day and age, what with Palms, PocketPCs, TabletPCs, super-cellphones, groupware, wikis, Personal Information Managers such as Outlook, and every other digital data manipulation tool out there?

Well, there are a number of reasons to consider a paper-based planner, including:

  • You miss the quality of real writing using paper and pen.
  • You find it far easier to write down your thoughts or notes on paper, rather than struggling with PDA hand-writing recognition or typing.
  • You can't afford a portable digital organiser (such as a Palm or a laptop), or feel that it lacks a personal connection to you and your work.
  • You haven't come across a good digital workflow for getting your notes, your calendar, your contacts, your to-do's, and everything else to work seamlessly and intuitively for everything you do.
  • You're an organisational geek that thinks Day Runners were created by the gods, and toting around leather-bound collections of cool templates instills you with a profound sense of empowerment.
  • You're a disenfranchised techie who seeks to escape from the digital realm once in a while, and would even prefer stone-hewn tools to facing another machine. (How many virii or spyware programs have you been forced to eradicate from your clients' machines today?)
  • You find that the creative and technical halves of your brain don't always function as a team: handling technical work using a computer, while using paper for creative work, is a way of making peace between the two hemispheres, therefore increasing your effectiveness in both areas.
  • You're an organisational junkie constantly searching for new systems to tweak and play with.
  • You're "old-fashioned."
  • (Further thoughts on this topic can be found on my blog, especially the entry "Paper? Ain't that extinct?")

So if you fall within one of these categories (I've been all of these, at some point in time in the past year), you might want to consider giving pen-and-paper planners a try. In the efforts to give you a head-start, I've provided this handbook for building your own do-it-yourself planner, and a few PDF files containing the basic templates for most organisational activities.

This is not a primer on David Allen's Getting Things Done, sorry. If you visit organisational circles or productivity blogs, you've no doubt heard about this methodology a hundred times recently. Do yourself a favour, and buy the book -- see the Essential Links section to buy it from Read it thoroughly, then come back here and set up your planner. That being said, there are enough generic templates included with this system to get you started, even if you aren't familiar with the book.

First, a few disclaimers and notes:

  1. I take no credit for the Getting Things Done diagrams in the diyplanner2_gtd.pdf file. They were originally PDF files found on the DavidCo site (links: Basic Diagram and Advanced Diagram) that were simply resized, reoriented and included within this package purely for your convenience. For appropriate credits, please see the base of each diagram. (If the original copyright owners wish me to no longer include them, or wish to include any of their own notes within this document, they are free to contact me and I'll be happy to oblige either way.)
  2. I provide no guarantee that this system is in full accordance with GTD. In fact, there are quite a few things that you won't find in Allen's books. That includes a little bit of Covey sneaking in here and there, especially with objectives and goals (roughly analogous to the GTD notion of altitude), along with a number of "organisationally-agnostic" templates. I don't find these ideas in opposition to GTD, but rather supplemental to it. Just use whatever you require, and disregard everything else.
  3. My organisational needs are no doubt dissimilar to yours. For example, I have very little financial work to be concerned with, but often have a full slate of project planning and management tasks to perform. I also have very few appointments on my calendar, but very hefty to-do lists. You may be exactly the opposite. I've tried to consider as many circumstances as is feasible, but there is only so much I can do with limited time and resources.
  4. This document is filled with random thoughts, vague ideas, potentially dangerous procedures (you may lose a finger or two), and seeming contradictions. This is not meant as a user-friendly "be all and end all" guide to implementing a planner system. It's simply a starting point to push you in one of many directions. (One of which might actually be the right one for you. Or not.)
  5. The only instructions within this document for implementing GTD are those that pertain directly to the templates or my suggested planner layout, especially when something might prove ambiguous (or not obvious) to someone who already knows GTD. As such, don't expect to learn the GTD process here. Have a look at the Essential Links section to find out more information about David Allen's works, and how others have summarised his methods. (Yes, I know I'm being redundant about this. For good reason.)
  6. I encourage feedback. Don't be afraid of letting me know what you think, or sending along any ideas for these or other templates. Please feel free to drop me a line at my website ( -- I'd love to hear what you have to say.
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Any experience with Harvard Planners?

I have been using PDAs - both Palm and Pocket PC - and PC software to plan my time. And yet, I am returning to where I started years ago: paper0based planning. I have been exploring several systems and consider using a Harvard Planner.

Among you in this community, who has been using Harvard Planners? What model do you like? What are the good aspects about the model you use? What could be improved? And how did you work around the weaknesses?

Look forward to receiving your comments.