Template Design Contest about to close

Just a friendly little reminder that out first template design contest is about to close tomorrow --Thursday-- about midnight(ish). Yes, we do have a lot of time zones represented here, so we'll collect the month o' submissions early the next morning.

So if you've been holding back a submission, now's the time to get it in. Remember to include a thumbnail if possible, since the final vote will go to our members, and everybody likes to see thumbnails.

The prize, as if we had to remind you, is a cool Levenger wallet writer and Walletini pen. Good luck!

Mind Mapping a Project from Start to Finish

Last week I introduced you to the concepts of mind mapping and all the ways that it can help you brainstorm ideas. Hopefully, you've given mind mapping a try and have seen just how many new ideas or connections you can make in a relatively short amount of time. This week we're going to put mapping techniques to the test by taking a project idea and seeing just how many ways we can apply mapping techniques throughout your project from initial brainstorm stage to the final wrap up.

Now I know that my focus tends to be more "writerly" based (only because I spend most of my days writing and designing technical documents for various audiences) so I've decided to try and pick a project that could be more fun... like website redesign. So imagine you are a web designer working on a website redesign for a client. They have given you free reign on the project and unlimited budget. However, they want it to pop and wow visitors and need it within two weeks time. What are you going to do? Ideas swim in your head but nothing seems to jump out at you. Your stomach sinks and you wish you were in back in bed, daydreaming the answer. Seeing that you just arrived at work, and cannot really go home to dream more... you grab a large blank paper and write down the word website in the middle and circle it. It's time to make a website.

Creating a Web of Ideas: An Intro to Mind Maps

Every now and then I get an itch to redesign my personal website domain. Usually this gets spurred when I see some new eye catching web design and I go, "Oooh, shiny." and then wish I could apply more modern designs and graphics to my own home online. I end up breaking out graph paper and project cards and start listing new site structures and what things need to go into my site. Of course, every time I do this, I don't get any further than that. However, a few weeks ago, I saw yet another spiffy design, and out came the hipster. This time, instead of grabbing more than one card, I pulled a single card out and gave it a title. Then, I wrote down SOM (the nickname for my domain) and circled it. From there, I listed sections, tools, colors and anything else I wanted to put into my web space. I successfully created a mind map; the first one I've done since high school.

For the next three weeks, I'm going to discuss mind mapping and how you can apply it to almost every aspect of your life. This article briefly introduces the mind mapping concept, how to make one, and when to use them to get the most bang for your buck. Since I enjoy practical learning experiences, next week we'll go into the details of how you can use and create mind maps throughout an entire project from inception to publication. In the last installment I'll get into online and offline tools and some good book resources to help you jump-start mapping your life.

D*I*Y Planner's First Great Template Contest

We're going to try something new here at the homestead. We have quite a burgeoning number of template designers among us, and so many have demonstrated a creativity that goes far beyond the simple "to do list on steroids". We like that. We want to encourage that. And so, I'm happy to announce our first template design contest.

We've procured a great little set of products from fan-fave Levenger that almost any self-respecting productivity junkie would love.

Levenger Card Wallet Writer

Levenger Walletini Pen

First up is a black Levenger Card Wallet Writer. It's like a small leather business card wallet that sports a thin outside pocket, a spacious one inside for a stack, and (this is neat) a card holder to keep cards ready for writing. It's like an ultra-small version of their index card briefcase.

Of course, you'll need a pen to go along with the small size, and so accompanying it will be a shiny new Walletini Pen. We're also including a small stack of fancy cards to get you started: they have lines on one side, and a grid on the other. The prize package goes for a retail cost of $76 USD.

The prize goes to the best template submitted from February 15th to March 15th. Read on for the rules.

Setting Up a Circa System, D*I*Y Planner Style

Levenger FolioLook through the forums and comments on this site, and you'll see folks with an all-too-common problem. This problem is not relegated to paper productivity fans, but high-tech gadget users as well -- the chief distinction often being the amount of money spent, and the technical ability required. I'm sure you've suffered from it yourself. You've wandered the aisles at your local office mega-store, browsing the shelves and looking in vain for the perfect solution for your productivity crises or creativity ailments. You're convinced it's there somewhere, probably covered in rich leather, sporting multiple pockets that miraculously organise your clutter, holding sumptuous paper that just inspires you to write all the right things. You don't know what size it is: it might be tiny, it might be large. It might consist of index cards, it might be loose paper on rings, it might be fixed pages in a special journal. It may have forms with all the right prompts, it may be blank and free-form. You've tried multiple products and approaches, and none have stood the test of time, and now all you have is a mass of half-written pages of different sizes and shapes and methods and mappings. Still, you think, it's out there: the perfect solution. The Grail quest continues, and like Galahad, you plod wearily onwards and blindly follow the next vision, taking home the next item on the shelves.

Well, the solution is out there. I can assure you of that much. But it's likely your problem lies not in your gear, but in its fluidity. Is your structure too rigid, to the point of caging you and reducing your freedoms? Or is it too loose, where nothing has a place, and nothing is assured? The key is adopting a system that is as fluid as you need it to be, and no more. The system must be crafted to your needs, but be flexible enough to change as you need it, even on a daily basis. It isn't easy, but I believe it can come from the merging of two core products: a powerful but tightly-constructed set of forms, and gear that's flexible enough to be used in many different circumstances. The former may be the D*I*Y Planner, and the latter may be the Levenger Circa line.

Review: The Levenger Circa System, Part II

Levenger FolioA little more than a decade ago, I was scouting out some venture capital for a possible multimedia project, and made arrangements to meet with a retired paint manufacturer at a cafe. Wanting to appear as professional as possible, I wore my best suit and tie, got a hair cut, and filled my slick black vinyl day planner with all the requisite calendars, to-do lists, expense sheets, project planning forms and special notecards that I thought might convey a good impression. I therefore felt a little awkward when he hobbled in through the door wearing a t-shirt and long shorts that barely skirted the top his knobby knees, toting a worn leather planner that looked like it might have been subjected to World War II. In fact, it had been: he had used the same planner for over five decades, spanning a wartime stint in the navy to the present day, and it was now a rich but scarred ochre brown, replete with years of yellowing papers brimming with ideas, random numbers, and a legacy of tasks undertaken and completed. During the conversation --not much was to come out of it-- I was at first amused, and then transfixed by the rustic nature and longevity of both the man and his queer little "catch-all," as he called it.

The necessity of quality workmanship was made all the more plain when the following month --while trying to stuff too many papers into my own planner-- the cover split along the spine from an errant stitch, and I sliced my finger open. By contrast, I can today hold all of my father’s 50-year-old gear from his army days, from notebooks to sliderules to map cases, mostly still in excellent condition, and the value of investing in quality starts to really hit home.

In my last article, I looked at some items in the Levenger Circa line, and wondered if it crossed the boundary from form into function. Since I’ve already covered the system in general, this article will review the basic core of any planning or notetaking solution: the notebooks and folios that bring all the papers, forms, writing tools and techniques together. And then the big question: is the quality worth the price?

Review: The Levenger Circa System, Part I

Levenger FolioDon't get me wrong: I love art. I'm married to an artist, and I've suffered my own artistic yearnings over the years. But the reason most often cited for purchasing many of the expensive products created by upscale manufacturers is that the objects are art in themselves, and not meant to be used seriously in any practical application. In other words, form does not always follow function. (Would one take a family trip in a Ferrari, or tote a $10K Prada handbag to a day-job?) Things precious to us, and dear to our wallets, can be merely a symbol that screams out, yes, I have arrived.

Time for some perspective. I'm definitely not the sort to pose in a Ferrari, nor in any other vehicular objet d'art. Neither am I a man of any great pretension, nor significant financial position. Give me a hefty, boxy, unergonomic, kidney-busting Jeep any day. If it's utilitarian, I'm quite happy. (Woe to my fashion-conscious wife with the delicate internal organs.)

Which brings me to Levenger. I've been watching the forums and comments with some interest, musing on the possibilities of the Levenger Circa notebook and folio line-up. But --as I said-- function is usually more important to me than form, and Levenger is widely known for insisting on a certain upscale aesthetic quality in their products, along with price tags that might prove intimidating to those folks overly familiar with the office supply section of Wal-Mart. True, Levenger does produce some beautiful gear --everything from Oxford bookcases to leather Quincy Winger recliners in russet-- and there's barely an item in their catalogue that doesn't awaken something in me akin to lust, but how much of it would prove useful on a day-to-day basis? And what of the costs? Are they really worth it?

I decided on a little experiment.

The PagePacker

PagePackerThanks to all the folks who emailed me about today's big D*I*Y Planner spotting: the uber-cool PocketMod-style Mac application called PagePacker, programmed by one of my personal OS X programming heroes, Aaron Hillegass. In case you haven't noticed the buzz on or, this is a sweet little layout program that allows you to drag and drop any of the Hipster PDA Edition (index card) templates into an eight-section grid, then print it out onto any letter-size sheet of paper to create a little folding book. It essentially creates a little portable, disposable planner. Bonus points are awarded for allowing other graphics to be dropped in as well.

A hearty welcome is extended to all the folks coming over from Big Nerd Ranch, LifeHacker, and all the other sites mentioning today. While you're here, please take a moment to look at our other free offerings, including the full Hipster PDA Edition (for printing onto index cards), the Classic/A5 Edition (for 5.5x8.5 or A5 sheets), and the many other templates created by our community, found in the Templates Directory.

By the way, don't forget that all our official templates (and many of the unofficial ones) will always be free for downloading and printing, as long as it's not mass-produced for commercial use. (See the licenses on the pages for more information.)

A Special Invitation to Template Developers

There's something going on behind the scenes at DIYPlanner that many folks may not know about, and it concerns the vast array of talent possessed by our members. It seems like every day I receive at least one email (sometimes up to a dozen) from eager folks that ask for advice or feedback regarding their template creations. Some folks are learning how to cobble together their first attempts in Draw, others have laid out a slick series of forms in professional graphics applications, and yet others are creating software applications (in online scripting languages, databases, or even stand-alone cross-platform apps) to dynamically create calendars, to-do lists, or specialty forms. It seems a pity not to bring these folks together so they can benefit from each other.

And so, today, I'm announcing a new Google Group called "DIYPlanner Template Development" (diyplanner-tmpl) for that very purpose.