Reviews

My Valentine: Lifehacker.com


It was a chance meeting; a case of the right place at the right time. I was sitting at my desk at work, not looking for love, when I meandered my way into its richly informative pages. There was instantaneous chemistry. I was looking for information and it responded to my every whim. I was love-struck from the first day, just two weeks ago.

Imagine my surprise to hear that www.lifehacker.com may be one of the sites that is commonly “taken for granted.” If you are one of the site’s frequent visitors, you may know much of what is coming. Perhaps this SpotLink will rekindle your relationship. If you have never visited or searched the site in depth, the following may be enough to spark a new love affair. (Don’t worry; I’m not the jealous type).

“Computers make us more productive. Yeah, right. Lifehacker recommends the software downloads and web sites that actually save time. Don’t live to geek, geek to live.” ~Quote from Lifehacker.com.

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.

Sara, Wrangler of Links

Greetings fellow DIY Planner junkies! Many of you have encountered me in the hallowed halls of our forums. You may even have noted my abnormal love of links. Doug and Innowen sure noticed and have graciously crowned me "Link Wrangler" (or "Link Liaison, if I may be so bold) for DIYPlanner.com. This "position" has been created to organize relevant links for everyone's use. I'm sure you are aware of how tedious it can be to find "that one site" in a pinch. Hopefully, I will be able to ease some of that frustration.

It is with great pleasure that I present my first "SPOTLINK," or featured website.


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 Digg.com or del.icio.us, 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 DIYPlanner.com 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.)

Review : Wabi Sabi for Writers

I was at one of my favorite book stores which also catered to the new age crowd a week ago. My friend, corie was in town and wanted me to drag her to all the hot-spots in Portland. She's also a book freak and she must have purchased about 10 books on a shoe string budget during her stay here. We wandered in and out of the aisles looking at all the books, and knick-knacks when my eyes ran across Wabi Sabi for Writers, by Richard Powell. I also have on my shelf (and started to read a long time ago, but never finished) his other book, Wabi Sabi Simple. I was amused and amazed that here was a book on a subject that I am growing more and more interested in, encapsulated inside a well written, personal account on writing.

According to Powell, writing lends itself well to the ways of wabi sabi. For it is through exploration, simple natural elements, connecting and sharing with others the passion for writing, and the test of time that turns an item into something wabi sabi. The same can be said about writing. Good writing, has to have certain universal elements, explore some "element of nature" (natural or humankind), and withstand the test of time. Writers also need a reader, for without the act of sharing, the story cannot be complete. The rest of the book, then, uses inner dialog with the haiku poet, Basho; personal tales of experience that help to illustrate how one achieves points while being on the path of wabi sabi; and examples of writing, contemporary and canonical, that he considers wabi sabi to show writers how to apply this to their own works.

Review: Levenger Bomber Jacket International Pocket Briefcase

Levenger Bomber International Pocket BriefcaseIt's fair to say that I've tried a few dozen alternatives over the past year for carrying index cards, from the expensive and slickly-produced to the cheap and home-grown, and everything in between. To tell the truth, I haven't had much luck with many of them. Either it takes too much time to find my "primary" cards (e.g., Combined Actions, monthly calendar), or the writing service is not conducive to note-taking, or the form proves ill-fitting to my carrying options, or the feel of the case is not to my taste (the latter being quite subjective). Of course, anyone familiar with paper-based planning products is quite familiar with Levenger, a company with beautiful and thoughtfully constructed products for even the most discerning among us. It was therefore with some cautious optimism that I embarked on a week-long test-drive of their new Bomber Jacket International Pocket Briefcase.

Review : No Plot? No Problem!

Before any of you can ask me, yes I finished today's NaNoWriMo word count with 2502. Which leaves me with a perfect segue-way into my first review for November is D*I*Y Planner Review Month or DIYPlaRevMo. *ahem* Okay, sorry... I'll try and refrain from the jokes. But it should come as no surprise that the first book I'm reviewing this month is Chris Baty's No Plot? No Problem!. Not only is the book a wonderful companion to this month's NaNoWriMo excursion but it's also a great stand alone writing book.

For those of you who want to try the NaNo experience but have way too much going on in November, I whole heartedly suggest that you get this book. It's jam packed with the same sass, intensity, whimsical prose and gentle prodding that makes participating in this event fun. Baty doesn't really help you write better prose, per se. Instead he focuses on the culture, the things that help you produce writing, give you time and help you turn off your inner editor and write uninhibited prose. Fast and uncensored. His goal, and it works as I can attest to this, is to help you write a full first draft of a novel, in little time. No Plot? No Problem! contains lots of suggestions, pep-talks, exercises and humor to help you get off your butt, silence the inner editor and learn to love counting words.