DIY Planner

Bryhanna Greenough gets organized, on paper.

School means pain.

Or at least it can, especially if you have no plan of attack for the readings, papers, or exams it throws at you. Without a plan, your school life can, in what seems like a blink of an eye, get tangled up in a nasty, endless knot of procrastination, terror, and seemingly imminent failure.

One of the worst feelings is when you feel you should be working all the time. You sit at your desk, stare blankly at your books, unable to read or write one more line.

Days pass.

More days pass.


I’m no longer a student, but still, the only way I can find any amount of free time to do whatever pleases, my day-to-day life has to be really organized. If I don’t work smart during the week, the leftover tasks gets bumped into the weekend.

So, how can you get organized?

Meet Douglas Johnston, organized guy.

A Newfoundlander now living in Yellowknife, he leads a busy life as an IT consultant. So the story goes, one day his Palm Pilot—his battery-dependent, crash-prone lifeline to an organized life—broke. Looking around his house for an alternative, he discovered the only day planner he had was ten years old. With the nearest office supply store four hours away, he decided it would be easier and cheaper to draw up a few day-planner-like templates on his computer.

So he whipped up a dozen or so forms to print out. They worked great.

So great, in fact, that when he posted them on his blog, daily visits started climbing from three, to 30, to several thousand in about a week, with visitors clamouring for more templates.

It was the beginning of a simple, elegant idea—the D*I*Y Planner—a series of downloadable templates developed by volunteers which can be used for planning, creativity, note-taking, data-gathering, tracking, and almost anything else you’d use a pen and paper for.

“There’s an intimacy with putting pen to paper that a computer will never be able to reproduce,” Johnston says.

And that intimacy caught on. The community website——is now a hub for all planning “paper-based.”

The D*I*Y Planner isn’t so much an organizational system as a set of tools for organisation. The idea is to mix and match the forms to create a planner that will fit what you need. You can find anything from calendars, task lists, diet logs, to cards useful for developing creative thinking… there’s even a knitting project manager, with sections for keeping track of patterns, yarn and needles along with room for sketches, notes and charting.

With hundreds of templates available, all you have to do is download the ones you want and print them off.

…And did I mention the templates are all free?

To make your own planner, you’ll need access to a computer and printer, a 5.5” x 8.5” planner binder, a paper cutter and a hole punch, then you can “create an endless supply of D*I*Y Planner forms to manage your life and the rest of your university career.

Another possibility is to make a pocket version—also known as the “HipsterPDA”—which uses index cards and a ten-cent butterfly clip to hold it all together.

For a university student, Johnston recommends printing off enough weekly at-a-view calendar sheets for the entire semester, writing in the dates and sticking them at the front of the stack with some to-do lists. Put some contact forms at the back of the pile, and create a tabbed section for each course. Other tabs can contain ideas for essays and projects, extracurricular activities, and an inbox.

The inbox pages act as your spare note paper and “initial information dumping ground.”

Someone I know who uses Johnston’s system has a card for tracking exercise, which he moves through the weekly pages. This helps him remember to make time for running throughout the week.

“Write everything down,” is another piece of advice from Johnston. “You’re sure you’ll remember everything but it will slip out of your head a half-hour later when you’re fighting with the pop machine or running to another class.”

“Write everything down and forget it until you need to address it,” he says. “That way your mind isn’t trying to process too many threads of thought and you can focus on the process at hand.”

“Every Sunday night, review the next two weeks and figure out where you should be spending your time. Set your ‘next actions’—the next task that needs to be done to carry each project forward.”

Johnston also recommends the book Getting Things Done by David Allen.

“Definitely a must-read, if you’re the sort of person who never…erm… gets things done.”

Illustration by Kira Sheppard


Scotiabank Giller Prize Nominees announced

Scotiabank Giller Prize Nominees announced

16 September 2013

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