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The Commonplace Book: Part II

L.M. Montgomery, Ontario Red 2Continued from Part I.

The Commonplace Books (or just commonplaces) of old were series of books, stuffed with scraps, inspirations, snippets of information, sketches, clippings, photographs, poems, jokes, references, and anything else pertaining to the interest of the person (or group) who kept it. A common fixture in the homes of writers, professionals, artists and academics for many centuries, the notion has all but faded in this digital age of commodity data and instant searches. But there's no reason that we can't resurrect such a invaluable resource in this day and age. In fact, it could ultimately prove worthy not only for our daily work and pleasure, but also as a legacy to leave our children and grandchildren, a gathering of those pieces reflecting both the personality of its keeper and the happenings of a bygone day.

In Part I, we looked at the uses of commonplace books in history, and how they were used for gathering information and learning. In this article, we'll examine how a commonplace book works, and provide a few ideas towards starting and maintaining one of your own using modern supplies and methods. (Note that, while this article chiefly concerns keeping a paper-based version, many of the concepts work equally well using digital tools like DEVONthink Pro for Mac OS X.)

Steve's Extreme Planner

Steve's Extreme Planner

Greetings and welcome once again to Steve's Weekly Column of Insanity (tm), where we discuss all things related to Paper Based Planning. As I discussed last week (let's not go there again), I've recently come to see myself as a proponent of extreme planning, paper-based planning, on the edge as it were, and this week's topic explores another aspect of extreme planning. I was looking at Doug Johnston's post where he detailed the contents of his planner, as well as where others did likewise. There are indeed many different and very specific adaptations of the basic planner, and it made me think that I should share the contents of my own.

I believe that a person should be ready for anything, and so should their planner. In this crazy world, you never know what you might be called upon to do, and so you never can be sure what you might need. This being the case, I take just about everything a person could ever need. So, without further ado, I present my extreme planner.

Making Every Second Count

My Day Sheets
I spent a good chunk of my days, during my dayjob, dreaming of all the things I would do if I got the chance to stay at home for an unlimited amount of time. I prayed for that day when I could bid the daily grind goodbye and start hitting all the household projects, books and spiritual practices I neglected due to insane work hours, long commutes and stress. I vowed to get in shape, write more and become more artistic. And after spending 5 long years at a job that made me feel depleted at a company I liked, I finally got my chance last month. I quit.

And now, I have all the time in the world to focus on those vows and projects. Except, I find myself waffling on all those things I dreamt of filling my days with. Instead I find all these other little things to do. I did great on that first Monday I did not have to wake up at 5 a.m. and commute into work. I got the laundry in order, exercised, organized some items in my Studio and read half of a new book. It’s just somewhere between the second day and now where I lost motivation. For example, instead of reading books, I spend time online chatting to friends and family. Instead of writing my D*I*Y Planner articles earlier and stockpiling them up over time so I can have Doug read over them, I find ways to wait until the day before they are due. I feel overwhelmed and not sure how I got here. What happened to my carefully thought out new life? Where’d all my new projects go?

Four Planner Hacks for Paper-Based Productivity

While Matthew Cornell has been a NASA shuttle engineer, a research programmer specialising in artificial intelligence at the UMass Knowledge Discovery Lab, and an enthusiastic personal productivity coach aiming to change people's lives, no doubt history will record his greatest distinction as the person who left the very first comment on the very first post of this site. -DJ

Ever since learning about Douglas Johnston's D*I*Y Planner Hipster PDA Edition, I've really enjoyed my paper-based productivity implementation (what a mouthful). However, switching to a planner has caused some problems (finding incomplete to-do items, handling recurring tasks, etc.) To make my system work, I've adopted a few hacks that I'd like to share, along with some related issues that I'm still struggling with. Finally, for interested parties, I've included a description of how I've set up my planner.

Speaking in Seconds: How to Prepare for Public Speaking

Okay, maybe not seconds, but pretty close to it. Here's how you can quickly organize ideas into a coherent speech.

Apparently, the little-bits-of-paper-all-over-the-floor trick also works really well when you're preparing speeches. I needed to cram two speeches in less than seven days. "Procrastination" was my entry in the Toastmasters Humorously Speaking area-level contest last Thursday, and "Social bookmarking" was the talk I delivered today and yesterday. I've used this technique to prepare for talks in five minutes, too. =) Good stuff, and quite a lifesaver.

Here's how you can use paper to quickly brainstorm and memorize a speech:

The Commonplace Book: Part I

Milton's Commonplace BookOver at the PigPog Blog is a great post about Storing Nuggets of Information, calling for ideas. This is something I've been struggling with for many years myself, and have only lately been making any sort of headway. When I think about all the years of WordPerfect files, text files, photos stuck between pages of books, MS Office files, sundry (often ancient) forms of databases, scraps of paper in drawers, JPGs, PSDs, PCXs, shoeboxes of articles, OOo files, CorelDRAW illustrations, Commodore 64 Paperclip files, and so on, it's a wonder I have any sort of retention at all except for memory. Half of the files I've gathered over the years are locked in obsolete proprietary formats gathering dust on 5.25" or 3.5" floppies, probably never to be seen again. (For the record, none of my current computers even have a floppy drive). I've had to face the fact that many of these potentially valuable scraps of information have been lost forever.

There is a possible solution for this dilemma, though, and one that comes from a bygone age. For many centuries, it was one kept faithfully by the learned, the artistic, the scholarly, and even the merely curious. I'm referring to the Commonplace Book.

Fetish Checklist Template

[Disclaimer: For those people of delicate constitution who turn ablush or swoon at the glimpse of a bare ankle, may I suggest that you read yesterday's post about Ben Franklin's virtue chart instead? Don't say I didn't warn you.... -DJ]

My picture nameGreetings all, Steve here. I’ll be your MC today and I’d like to hereby welcome you to the first day of the rest of your weekend. When we started this little venture, Doug Johnston, chief cook and bottle-washer of this operation, asked me if I could write something humorous every Friday about paper-based planning. I hesitated. 'That doesn’t sound like an innately humorous subject,' I noted with some dismay. It seemed that it would be easier if Doug was to start a site about a troupe of acrobat plumbers or dyslexic cashiers or some topic that promised to lend itself well to humour. 'That may be very difficult, finding something funny every week,' I said, 'but I'll give it a shot.' Three weeks later they put me on LifeHacker.com for my suggestion of using the movie storyboarding templates to organize your life. Since then, my feelings about my role in this site have been gradually shifting. It seems that there is nothing I can suggest, no crazy idea I can come up with, from storyboarding your day to singing your schedule to an old Elvis Presley tune, that one of the relentlessly, violently practical people who frequent this site will not successfully use to actually organise themselves. This shocks no one more than me. In this light, I have started to see myself less as a humorist per se and more as a proponent of what might be called extreme planning, or planning on the edge, if you will. This brings me to today’s topic, for all of you embracing an alternative lifestyle: a fetish checklist planner template.

Franklin Virtue Chart

Franklin's Virtues: IndustryI've been looking for a nice lightweight way to jump into using the release candidate of OpenOffice.org 2 Draw (I'm not quite ready to tackle the Widget Kit yet), and inspiration came from the forums where Anonymous Ed requested an hPDA template of Benjamin Franklin's virtues chart, dating all the way back to 1726. I'm a sucker for historical methods of tracking information, as well as a fan of dear old Ben, so this series of fascinating charts seemed like the perfect opportunity to try my hand. (For more information about them, check out the FlameBright page on Ben's virtues and a short 43 Folders discussion about it. )

This template is a bit of an anomoly, since it doesn't follow the D*I*Y Planner look and feel, but rather a semi-historical one. (Click on the image at right for a larger view.) It includes:

  • Charts containing all thirteen of Benjamin Franklin's virtues and descriptions (at least, according to the FlameBright site)
  • A completely blank template, with only days of the week (this is suitable for more than tracking virtues, of course -- e.g., exercises): you can print these up and write in your own "virtues" and descriptions
  • A blank template with text, so you can click on the text in OpenOffice.org and change it to something else

I've included the OOo2 source file so you can modify the templates as you see fit, or you can use this as a base for different sizes and configurations (such as 4-up or 4"x6"). The font used is the nice old-fashioned Century Schoolbook, as installed via OOo2.

Good luck on Ch. ;-)


A Recipe of Colors

Dark PumpkinPainting is an art form I haven’t mastered yet. Thanks to having some time free to explore my more artistic endeavors, I’ve decided to dabble in watercolors. Watercolor crayons, that is. One of the things that have always intrigued me about painting and painters is how they blend and mix primary colors with one another to make all those other colors. I’ve always wondered how painters mix their colors to get the precise colors that dazzle their paintings. Therefore, it's time for an experiment.

I whipped out my planner and pulled out a few blank index cards. Need something to paint on, now don’t I? I prefer grid-ruled index cards to make "straight" lines but any old card will do. Next, I grabbed my watercolor crayons and a paintbrush. I was going to learn how to be a mastah color mixer. Now, what to color? In honor of October and all things Halloween, I decide a nice pumpkin orange will do nicely.