Frequently Asked Questions: Hipster PDA Edition

Hipster PDAs, made popular by Merlin Mann and 43 Folders, are a great way to make your planning lifestyle lighter and more portable. However, the notion of a pack of planning cards is not entirely devoid of sources of bewilderment. This FAQ attempts to answer some of the more popular questions Doug and the D*I*Y crew have had about the Hipster PDA Edition templates.

  1. How do I use these cards?

    That's an excellent question, but it all comes down to a matter of personal taste and a process of experimentation to find out what works best for you. If you use these in conjunction with the 'regular' D*I*Y Planner, you can read the handbook for usage advice, tips and various pointers on implementing David Allen's Getting Things Done methodology, much of which also applies to these cards. Otherwise, you might want to check out the excellent 43 Folders and its Google Group for plenty of advice on how to use a Hipster PDA, implement GTD, or explore plenty of other ways of staying organised. You can also find a tonne of cool hacks in the 43 Folders Wiki.

  2. What's the best way to guillotine the 4-up versions?

    I like to do top, right, bottom, left, centre horizontal, then centre vertical for each pair. That's just the fastest way I've personally found to do it, since I just keep rotating the paper in the same direction, taking a quick chop each time. You do get very fast with a little practice. If you don't have a vertical cutting guide, it also helps if there's a light source bouncing up from under the edge of the cutting edge, so you can line up the edge with the printed border. Whatever you do, be sure to hold the top edge of the paper against the wall at the top of the board (this keeps all cuts perpendicular), and don't cut yourself. I shall not be held legally responsible for the loss of any body part, finger or otherwise. (See the Beginner's Guide to Making a D*I*Y Planner for plenty of handy instructions with photographs.)

  3. What are those weird symbols at the top of the Finances grid?

    Those are my symbols for cash (dollar sign), debit card (down arrow), credit card (up arrow), and cheque (check mark.). Make a little line, x or dot in the correct column for the transaction. There's not much room on an index card, I know....

  4. Matrix? Bwahahahaha! The blue pill! The blue pill!

    Ahem, yes. The *Matrix* template serves a number of purposes that aren't immediately evident to the hard-core sci-fi fan. Some examples: diet log, exercise/fitness log, text/assignment grades, homebrew tracker, number of cars passing in front of your house (by colour, of course), etc.. It's like *Notes*, but for tabular data -- an analog spreadsheet.

  5. How do you carry these around?

    Carry them in whatever fits. People's choices range from zip-lock baggies to office-supply card cases to Levenger International Pocket Briefcases. To see what other folks are using, you can check out our Kit Photographs Gallery or our Kits & Equipment Forum.

  6. I don't need no stinking expensive corporate wallet! I'm a *do-it-yourselfer*!

    Then try making the gtdductster.

  7. Can you make me some red/blue/teal/polka-dot versions of the templates?

    I'm afraid not. However, you can certainly load up the graphics version of the Hipster PDA Edition in your favourite bitmap graphics program and make colour changes yourself. Likewise, you can change text, spacing, and anything else that really bugs you. (If you don't already have a graphics program, and want to download one for free, I'd suggest grabbing (and learning) The Gimp.

  8. Why did you make these cards?

    I received plenty of requests from frustrated people who were trying to squeeze down and contort the regular D*I*Y Planner templates to fit onto index cards. In short, pity. ;-) I've actually started using them myself, so it worked out well in the end.

  9. Aren't I creating a derivative work if I modify your graphics files?

    Technically yes, but I will waive this for personal usage. If you would like to offer your own creation online for public consumption, I ask that you check with me first. (That would be the 'permission' part in the licence.) The other option, of course, would be to use the Widget Kit to create your own cards, which is under a different license that allows derivatives.

Essential Web Sites

GTD Related links

Productivity Links

  • 43 Folders, an excellent productivity website from Merlin Mann
  •, a wonderful collection of daily links, readings and more concerning the world of productivity
  • 43 Folders Wiki, a great place to contribute your thoughts, tools and experiences
  • A summary of Covey's Seven Habits from
  • A great site that's devoted to streamlining all aspects of your life, from digital to analog, and personal to professional

Getting Organised

Miscellaneous Links


Successful Planning Tips

This is a vague collection of tips to help you become successful in using your D*I*Y Planner and chosen methodology.

  • Carry your planner everywhere. This is your outboard brain. You wouldn't want to leave home without your brain, would you?
  • Make sure you fill out the Profile form at the beginning of the planner. If you lost your mind, wouldn't you like somebody to return it?
  • There are so many possibilities for using the templates in this package that the sheer number of options can be intimidating, even paralysing. My best advice: start small, and build up your planner as needed.
  • Put aside a few hours of dedicated time to 'move in' before you start to seriously use your planner. Enter birthdays, main contacts and the next month of appointments. Fill your zip pouch with stamps, paper clips, blank tab labels and quarters. Create a few personal lists, like 'To Buy' or 'Old friends to locate'. Refresh yourself on each project by filling out the pertinent project, goals or objectives forms. Make a Checklist of 'Things to put in my planner' and keep it in the Misc Lists tab; as you come up with each new thing you want, jot it down. Whenever you have spare time, move more contacts, appointments and reference lists into the planner until you have everything you need on a daily basis.
  • Planners, especially paper-based ones, aren't just for planning. They're also for dreaming. Sketch ideas, keep a journal, make doodles of people and brainstorm about your perfect life. Who knows where your next project will come from? Keep a yellow-dot tab for Ideas if you need to.
  • Stick to your reviews religiously. Check your red-dot tabs (Actions, etc.) at least once every single day, preferably first thing in the morning; refresh at the end of day. Ensure that projects won't stall: always write down the next action or two and keep the momentum going. Green-dot tabs should be reviewed weekly, and your Actions sheets should be populated appropriately. Yellow-dot tabs should be reviewed at least once per month, or whenever you have some spare time and are feeling creative. Blue-dot tabs are for reference, and should be reviewed when you need to find filed-away information.
  • Keep Actions small, doable, and short-term. Putting anything too big or too vague (like 'Plan for wedding', 'Paint a masterpiece', or 'Do website') will stick on your list forever and only inspire fear and procrastination. What is the first small step I need to do to keep this project moving forward? Got it? Good! Write it down.
  • Avoid bulk at all costs. Each extra ounce is another reason not to carry your planner. Resist the urge to fill it with all kinds of templates that you won't use. This may be your biggest challenge if you're just getting started with this system.
  • Write down everything of note into the pages of your Inbox if you're not sure where else to put it. Move it into the correct section as soon as possible, rewriting or summarising as necessary
  • Keep your Inbox empty. This is one of the hardest, but most productive, disciplines to master.
  • The first of every month, clear out all the information and projects you no longer need. File them away for safe-keeping and later reference.
  • Everybody is different; this system is only a recommendation and not set in stone. You shouldn't feel afraid to customise your planner when the need arises. After all, if it doesn't serve your purposes, you won't use it. It should be in a continual state of evolution, adapting to your environment and shedding unused features. Think thoroughly about any modifications, though, just in case there's a risk of lessening your productivity.
  • If you're a disciple of David Allen, read a section of the book (Getting Things Done) every week. Not only will this provide you with more organisational tips and inspiration, it'll help keep GTD methods in the front of your mind.

Setting Up Your Planner

The D*I*Y Planner system was created to be highly tweakable and organisationally agnostic, so feel free to build and fill your planner however you want. That being said, it can be rather difficult to jump in and come up with a productivity system from scratch, so to get you started with a very basic GTD implementation, we'd suggest the following as a base for your planner. (If index cards are more your thing, then pop on over to Setting Up a GTD-Based Hipster PDA.)

  • A cover: preferably of high-quality card stock (varnished, if you have it), with a Profile form on the opposite side. Don't forget to fill it out! Laminate this to make it last longer. This could be followed by a GTD reference chart or two, printed on card stock. The dual-sided Important Numbers form should be the last part of the first section of your planner.

  • Contacts tab: use your purchased forms and tabs for this section. 'Move in' to your planner by writing down the most important personal and business contacts. Use pencil, if possible, as contact information changes a lot. (Note: since the contacts pages change far less often than the actions and projects, it's better to keep the latter two nearer the centre of the planner as it is easier to add and remove pages when they are closer to where the rings open.) Use adhesive tabs to divide the contacts alphabetically for fast referencing.

  • A Calendar tab: Mark your current date with a'Today' clip-in or a Satellite Action Card. Transfer all birthdays, anniversaries and personal dates into your calendar. Create a list using a Notes sheet with all the important dates so you can populate each new set of calendars with it. The Internet can provide a list of all the holidays according to your country’s calendar.

    You have a lot of choices within this kit when choosing which type of calendar to use. To start, think about how much you need to accomplish, how many appointments you will have, and where you would like to store your actions.
    For example, you can keep a monthly calendar in your Calendar tab, and Actions/etc. in your Actions tab. Some possibilities:

    • Day Keeper on each page
    • Day Keeper (Extended Day) opposite Combined Actions
    • A two-page Weekly Planning as a page spread
    • A one-page Weekly Planning opposite Combined Actions
    • A Monthly Planning spread
  • Actions tab: populate this section with:

    • Actions for each context(Office, Home, Errands, On-line, etc.)
    • Waiting For for each context
    • Agendas
  • Note: If you have a lot of Waiting For and Agendas
    forms, you may wish to create other tabs for them. Mark all these tabs with red dots, which signify immediate review (think red = hot).

  • Project tabs: create tabs for each major project or project category. Populate with:

    • Project Details
    • Project Outline
    • Project Notes
    • To Do List (future Next Items, etc.).
    • Optional: Objectives, Contact Log, Grid, Checklist, Goal Planning, To Buy, Notes

    Mark these tabs with green dots, signifying weekly review.

  • Potentials tab: fill with a handful of Potentials Quicklist and Potential Projects sheets. Mark with yellow dot (occasional review).

  • Read/Review tab: a few Checklist forms with appropriate headers ('Websites to Review', 'Articles to Read', 'Reports/Proposals', etc.). Mark with yellow dot (occasional review.).

  • Reference tab: for now, put a few Notes sheets in here. Mark tab with blue dot (for reference materials). Any major reference categories should
    probably get their own tabs. For example, I have a Ref:Tech
    tab that contains things like Emacs cheat-sheets, software registration serials, Internet account info (sans passwords), Python notes, etc.

  • Misc Lists tab: off-the-cuff lists that you wouldn't consider serious enough to call 'reference'. Use the
    Notes, To Buy,
    Checklist or other generic forms. A few selections from mine:

    • Shopping: Groceries
    • Shopping: Dollar Store/Pound Shop: I'm notorious for going to dollar stores, picking up a hundred things I don't need, and leaving without the items I actually went in for
    • To Buy:Books : ones I'd like to purchase, but which I can't remember when I'm actually in a bookstore
    • To Buy: Music : albums I'm trying to hunt down
    • Checklist: Software to Try
    • Notes: Books/Articles to Read
    • Checklist: Gifts : list of potential Christmas and birthday gifts for people

  • Templates tab: Keep a few spares of each form here that you're likely to need. Replenish each week, or whenever you're using a lot of sheets.

  • Any other tabs you'd use frequently, such as Timesheets,
    Finances, etc.

  • Inbox tab: keep regular cheap note paper here. This is your scratch pad. Move finished thoughts and materials out of here as soon as possible to the correct section of your planner. If the phone rings or someone wants to talk with you about something, open this section up immediately. (For more about this, see Using a Paper Planner Inbox.)

Creating a Cover

While there are a couple of pre-built covers in this package ready to print (see the diyp_cover files in the Cover Package), we realise that part of creating a custom planner means selecting a cover that's meaningful to you: a picture of your child, a photograph you took during a vacation, a logo for your company, a particularly good sketch you made of your dog, a painting with a quote from your favourite writer, or an inspiring image that reminds you of what you are and what you do.

To this end, we have provided a simple (OOo) template to create your own personalised cover. Why We chose this application because it's Open Source (read: free), it's cross-platform (Windows, Mac and Linux), it creates excellent PDF files natively, and it has a rather powerful and intuitive drawing program.

Note: the provided template was designed for 2.0.x. If you have an older version of the suite, it may not work. The new version is worthwhile obtaining anyway, since its drawing program is much improved since the 1.x versions.

Although exact instructions will vary from application to application, version to version, you should be able to create your own cover using the 2 Draw template by following these simple steps:

  1. In Photoshop or another graphical application (The GIMP is free to download and use), resize or crop your photograph for the template. I'd recommend using dimensions of 1500 pixels high by 1000 pixels wide. You can certainly use larger or smaller images, but try to keep the 2:3 ratio.

  2. If you don't have, it's a free (albeit hefty) download from their website.

  3. In the Cover Package, you'll find either coverkit_ooo2_cl.odg (for 5.5" x 8.5" paper) or coverkit_ooo2_a5.odg (for A5.). Open this file, and you will notice three thumbnails at the left of the screen. Large Picture Cover has a placeholder for a large image, Small Picture Cover has a placeholder for a small image, and Blank Cover has no placeholder. Click on whichever layout you prefer for your image.

  4. There should be some dotted lines spanning your layout vertically and horizontally. This are guidelines to help you position your photograph. If they aren't there, unhide them by selecting from the menu: View -> Guides -> Display Guides. A checkmark should then appear by this item, and the guidelines should appear in the layout.

  5. From the menu, select Insert -> Picture -> From File.... Choose your photograph.

  6. Your photograph may be very large. Hover your cursor over a corner handle, and it will turn into a "corner resize" cursor. Click, and while keeping the SHIFT key down (which keeps the correct ratio), resize the image to fit the placeholder. You can move the image by clicking on it and dragging. The guidelines will also help you position the image. (If you're new to graphic applications, you may wish to get someone to help you with this step.)

  7. If you are using the Large Picture Cover layout, your picture will probably be on top of the logo. Select the logo, and then right-click. Choose Arrange -> Bring to Front. The logo should now be overlapping the top of your image.

  8. Although you are of course under no obligation, I would prefer you keep the 'attribution' footer at the base of the image. It lets other people know where to find this kit, it reinforces the D*I*Y Planner copyright (and hard work), and it makes the designer feel very important. ;-)

  9. From the menu, select File -> Save As.... Give it a name. Congratulations, you're done!

  10. You can either print this file directly, or use OOo's excellent PDF export facility to create a file to share with others. To export the PDF, simply select File -> Export as PDF... and then give it a name to save. (If you've created something you think is worth sharing, please consider submitting the template or the image to our site.).

  11. You may wish to print the Profile template on the other side of the cover, fill it out, and laminate the page before punching the holes and adding it to your planner.

Printing the Forms

Before you begin printing, please read this document carefully first. It'll fix many of your problems before you know you have them.

There are many different PDF files included within the D*I*Y Planner system. Most are designed to be printed on 5.5"x8.5" (half letter size) or A5 paper, while the receipts template should be printed on regular letter-size or A4 paper. If you don't have 5.5"x8.5" or A5 paper, you can always use a guillotine (a.k.a., a paper trimmer or chopper) to cut regular letter-size or A4 paper in half.

These templates are created for Adobe
6.0 and up. We cannot guarantee that they'll work in anything older, or in other PDF-aware applications.

  • In Acrobat, do not tell its printing dialog to rotate, center or resize. If you do, the templates probably won't print right. Also, don't worry about the margins: an effort was made to ensure that there is enough 'safety space' around the templates so that nothing important is lost. (Most printers made in the past few years can easily print to within 1/4" [6mm] of the edge.)

  • For the receipts envelope file, follow the instructions printed on the side of the page. Again, don't scale or worry about the margins (although rotating and centering should be fine). Once printed, enough of the straight lines should remain that you can figure out where to cut. I advise using a slightly stiffer paper for the envelope, as well as a dry glue stick: anything else, and you will probably warp the receipts envelope. Scotch "Magic" Tape should work fine if you don't have a glue stick.

  • All odd pages in the master file are for the right side of the planner rings (the 'fronts'), while even pages are the left side (the 'backs'). Consequently page 1 is backed by page 2, page 3 is backed by page 4, and so forth. If you have a fancy duplex printer and print the entire booklet, everything will work out perfectly.

  • Experiment with your printer to verify orientation and print faces before printing any great number of them. For example, I print the odd side (front) of a form, flip the paper horizontally, insert it again, and print the even side (back). Some printers will require flipping or rotating pages in a different direction to print on the back.

  • To get started, I'd advise printing one form at
    a time --front, then back-- until you get the knack. Double-check to make sure things line up, and that holes can be punched right. Once you have that down, I advise only printing a batch of the same templates at one time; for example, print off a batch of Actions odd, backed by Next Actions even, before you print another template.

  • If you look at the margins, it should be obvious where you should use your hole punch (that is, the widest margin). Double-check the flip side of your page: if it looks as though the hole will be punched in a space that isn't white, you've made a mistake in printing.

  • Feel free to mix and match templates fronts and backs. For example, you may find that you prefer a two-week spread (Weekly Planning on both sides), rather than facing each week with a Combined Actions. Many templates are offered in this package as both odd and even pages, so go ahead and experiment and see what works best for you.

  • Another problem you may encounter is that most drivers disable the black ink when printing graphics. This allows smoother grey gradients but it uses a lot of colour ink. I have therefore optimised the tones over the past year for use with the 'forced greyscale' setting.

  • We suggest creating a black-ink-only printer profile called 'DIY Planner' and selecting this whenever you print a template. This saves a lot of pointing and clicking and prevents you from inadvertently using up all of the colour ink.

The Templates

By this time, you've no doubt downloaded and looked through the D*I*Y Planner template files. You've also probably gone through the stages of denial (I don't believe there's over 200 pages!), anger (How the #$%&*! do they expect me to figure all this out?), bargaining (Darling, how about you figure out how to make this, and I'll go make supper for the kids?), depression (There's no way I'm going to be able to sort this stuff out! To heck with it... I'll just sit here, get nothing done, and sulk) and acceptance (Okay, it's probably not so bad; let's go read the handbook thing).

Having accepted that there are a lot of templates included, and many ways to use them all, you've come here --rather courageously, I might add-- to start rummaging through our little chapter of summaries and hints. Read on, fearless productivity seeker!

Basic Supplies

One of the primary goals of the D*I*Y Planner project is to save your money. Consequently, you should be able to go out to your favourite office supply store (or department store) and pick up a lot of the basic supplies without shelling out too many of your hard-earned dollars (or Euros, or Yen, or...). Here's a little list to get you started.

  • The planner. Purchase a planner that takes 5.5"x8.5" or A5 pages. There are plenty of generic planners available at department stores for about $10-20 USD: usually the price is an indication of quality in both cover and contents. The planner you choose should take into consideration your personal style, the intended use, availability and cost.
  • A pen and a mechanical pencil. Get a good pen that writes smoothly and fits well in your hand. Some people prefer using an expensive fountain pen, but a very popular alternative is the Pilot G-2, which is easy to grip, writes fluidly, and is cheap. Many claim that the 0.5mm Pilot G-2 pen has just the right balance of smoothness and line thickness. Pick up a decent mechanical pencil for writing things that are likely to change, such as addresses or brainstorming diagrams. If you don't, your planner will likely get messy fast.
  • Optional: a calculator. There are two main choices for a calculator. First is a clip-in solar calculator/ruler that's both thin and functional, and can generally be found in the Day-Timer and Day Runner catalogues, among other places. You can also get an inexpensive credit-card sized calculator that will adhere to the inside cover or slip into a business card slot.
  • A zipper pouch insert (like a heavy zip-lock baggie) and some business card pages. Fill the former with stamps, paper clips, quarters, extra labels, etc., for convenience and emergencies. The latter should fill itself over time.
  • A guillotine Most of the provided templates print onto 5.5"x8.5" or A5 paper. If you can't find these sizes, you can cut letter-sized or A4 paper in half. You can buy a decent guillotine from department stores for about $20-30 USD, and you'll no doubt find it handy for a million other things over the years. Avoid 'rotary trimmers' and get one with a self-sharpening chopper arm if possible. For an example, see the GBC GT II Series Trimmer, 15in., which is a great investment for a fairly low price, and you'll probably be passing it on to your grandchildren.
  • A hole-punch. Find one that can punch the holes in the right places to match your planner; this is not as easy as you might think. Your best bet is to get a specialised hole punch from an office supply store, or one that can be adjusted to conform to different numbers of holes and spacing. Many of the cheap ones do have sliding punches, but you might have to examine them carefully before you buy, as sometimes the boxes aren't very informative. (At a local office supply store, the designer found a perfect Acco #50505-74003 with adjustable punches for less than $7 CDN, or about $5 USD.). Some of the inexpensive ones don't have adjustable paper guides, but you can always mark the top and bottom with liquid paper or a white china marker. If you are so inclined, Day-Timer, Filofax and Day Runner sell clip-in hole punches, but they only punch a page or two at a time and do not function as well as larger versions. If you have a six or seven ring planner like the Day-Timer 'Desk' or Filofax A5 size, it gets more complicated. You can purchase clip-in punches (about $10 USD) and full-size ones (about $35 USD) from, Franklin-Covey North American, European and Filofax or their respective catalogues.
  • Optional: tabbed dividers You can buy some, or you can make your own. If you choose the latter, we can recommend 100-120 lb (220 - 260gsm) card stock and Avery self-adhesive Shield Tabs, such as the clear ones (37107) which retail for about $1.50 USD.
  • If you like colour-coding, grab some Avery Colour-Coding Labels (44021), which are actually just red, blue, green and yellow dots ($1.50 USD).
  • Pads of lined and blank note paper, pre-punched for your planner, will save you some work and printer ink in the long run, but even the more inexpensive ones could far prove more costly than printing the forms. Some graph paper may come in handy, too. Make sure the pads are really 5.5"x8.5" (or A5), or you're wasting your money. Take care, as there are slightly smaller and larger pads which you could pick up by mistake.
  • Sticky notes. Just because you'll always need them, no matter how organised you are, pick up some sticky notes. Many people keep two pads, one small and one medium-sized, on the inside front of their planners.
  • If your planner doesn't come with a 'Today' plastic clip-in ruler insert, we recommend getting one so that you can find today's month (or week, or day) at a moment's notice. If you can't find one, look for a flexible plastic ruler (the type that doesn't snap if you bend it): line it up against one of your punched sheets, and punch holes to match. Cut a slit from each hole to the edge so you can insert it into your binder, and then round the edges of the slit slightly to make it easier to snap on the rings. Make sure that the top extends above the page by a tab's length, and then round the corners slightly so it won't cut you. Voila! Another option is to use the Satellite Action Cards, which clip right into your planner and double as both a Today tab and a set of action lists.
  • Optional goodies: cheque book holder, floppy holder, CD-ROM holder, photograph holder, file pockets, clip-in wallet, page magnifier, and more. Remember: carry only what you need or you won't be carrying your bulky planner anywhere.

Introduction to the Handbook

Welcome to the D*I*Y Planner. In this chapter you'll find informational articles explaining the contents of this site, the planner forms and their purpose.

[*zzzz* Gotta jazz this up a little, before I fall asleep again.]