Analog / Digital

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:

Drowning in Data

How on earth am I going to keep track of all the information I need for my thesis? Not only do I have to read hundreds of papers, but I also have to make sure I properly cite any ideas I use in my work. I spent all of last week trying to figure out how to make blogs and wikis some kind of research notebook, but they don't quite fit--and my research supervisor's starting to suspect that I'm procrastinating. ;)

"Paper? Ain't that extinct?"

Another of the half-dozen pieces from the million monkeys archives that I want to move into, from February 7, 2005.

Pen and paperIt comes as no surprise to anyone following the whole 43folders-style quest for life tweaks that there seems to be a resurgence in paper-based organisational products. See Merlin's canonical Introducing the Hipster PDA (follow-up), my own DIY Planner, Scott "Jerry" Lawrence's Hipster designs, Moleskine notebooks (link & link), and now Mark Berstein's Tinderbox Cards (he would be the so-intelligent- he-must-be- an-alien-lifeform creator of Eastgate's wonderful Tinderbox information management tool).

I have to wonder about what might be the reasons for the current infatuation with paper, especially those pieces of paper with semi-structured forms for inputting your information....

The Beginner's Mind

From time to time, I'll be moving some of the more relevant posts from a million monkeys typing over to this blog. This is one of them. In a way, it's what led to

Search for the bullOften we must come full circle --to return to the very beginning-- in the efforts to renew ourselves. To do this, the years of rubbish accumulating in our minds need to be emptied periodically, lest we find ourselves with little room to move and breathe.

This is a little post about Zen. I'm not talking about the clichéd trend of recent years to denote every little amusing bit of human nature as Zen, nor the smug satisfaction of thinking one's excellence in a particular area is Zen, nor am I referring to the misconception tied to the existential angst of nothingness and futility as Zen. These are ridiculous, and only demonstrate one's ignorance of the philosophy. While I don't wish to define Zen here (and it defies verbal description anyway), I want to mention an important way it can help folks whose minds are cluttered by years of intellectual analysis. (Well, it helped me.) I'm talking here about the beginner's mind.

Digital Fountain Pen, Anyone?

Our second guest post is by Australian professional business communicator Lee Hopkins, a guy well-attuned to entrepreneurship, marketing, organisational theory, information technology, and getting his point across. (No small feat, in the same guy.) The reason for asking Lee to contribute is thus self-evident: he has a really cool accent. - DJ

Ditch your digital PDA...I'm no different from any other entrepreneur - at any moment I need access to a diverse range of information: phone numbers, email addresses, website urls, project notes, timesheet logs, and so on. The lovely thing about either a digital or paper-based PDA is that you do have access to such knowledge relatively easily.

But there the similarities cease.

Until recently I enjoyed the luxury of an ancient and crusty Palm III. But somehow, at a party, I misplaced it and its loss has been my pain. This forced me to dig out my trusty old leather A4 paper planner and look around on the web for a suitable set of pages.

Contact Log for Hipster PDA

Keep track of contact information and notes using the Hipster PDA Contact Log.

Usage advice: 

Based on the Contact Log form in the D*I*Y Planner Classic kit, this template makes it easier for you to keep track of conversations or action items related to a person.

Paper size: 
Index Card (3 x 5)
Creative Commons
Applications required: 
PNG displayer (browser, etc)

Design Your Own D*I*Y Planner Templates

One of the most popular requests I've received over the lifetime of the D*I*Y Planner project is for "source files." Now, I don't release the actual Illustrator and InDesign Files, since there are literally thousands of potentially confusing layers involved, a true nightmare for anyone unfamiliar with my methods, and there is also a history of an earlier version being misused for commericial purposes, which I'd prefer not to repeat.

That being said, there is no reason why this should prevent people from making their own templates, keeping to the look and feel if they wish. In that spirit, I am releasing a few files and tutorials to help budding designers along their way. Most files are in format, since this office suite is free to download and use, and contains a quite decent drawing application. Feedback is certainly encouraged, as I'd like to evolve this project into something that meets users' needs.

(You may also be interested in the OOo-based Kit ID and the Cover template included with the Classic/A5 kits.)

A Lesson from Disneyland

Even Wednesday is a special article by an invited guest. This is our very first such post, and we're honoured to have Chris Parsons, a UK-based consultant and programmer who created the SVG Planner templates using open standards. That he did this entirely within the Emacs text editor is a testament to both his brilliance and his patience. I know it still amazes me. -- DJ

Monsanto House of the FutureWith every new technology, there’s a cascade of excitement and flurry of inappropriate use. We’re bowled over by our own creative genius and then attempt to use the new technology for everything, even when previous solutions worked perfectly well. The digital revolution is no exception to this.

An interesting example of this phenomenon can be found within the walls of Disneyland, California. In 1957, a new attraction opened there, entitled the “Monsanto House of the Future”. Designed by scientists at MIT, this was the best 1950’s guess at the way people would live in an impossibly distant future (that is, 1987). It was constructed entirely of plastic.