About three weeks ago I decided to give my Sharp Zaurus a well-earned rest and try going back to a paper-based approach to project planning and time management. Well, I say “going back” but in all honesty I’ve never tried the paper-based approach, it’s simply that I have never managed to find exactly what I want in a PDA to-do list/calendar, and there is always that low-level worry of data loss and breakage.

I’d been interested in the Hipster PDA/DIY Paper Planner approach for a while, and decided to give it a go, since the total investment (see below) was less than £20, so if it all went horribly wrong then I hadn’t lost much! So, from Waterstones I purchased a Moleskine Pocket Memo Folder, from my local generic stationers I purchased some 3x5 inch blank index cards, from my local art store I brought a really nice propelling pencil and fine-nibbed biro, and then I downloaded the HipsterPDA DIY Planner template.

Initital impressions:

The Moleskine had too many pockets for the number of cards I wanted initially. To get around this, I cut some of the card dividers out (sorry Moleskine). There is no loss of integrity with this approach because the dividers are separate card inserts, stuck at the sides but not at the bottom. This left me with three large pockets, each of which held a reasonable-sized stack of paper/card (see next point).

Index cards seemed too thick for what I wanted, so I ended up using them for the items that needed to be robust and long-lasting, such as the calendar and important contact details. The rest I printed out on A4 paper, and spent a happy hour or so cutting the individual cards out with a craft knife. Initially I printed way more cards than I needed, and didn’t print on both sides, but when I get around to reprinting I will use both sides (and only print the sections I want).

After a few weeks:

I think I like it!

I find it easier to write ideas down freely on paper rather than on a PDA, even using a sketchpad programme, so am tending to write down far more “speculative”ideas than I would with my zaurus.

There are some great day-planner templates, of the type recommended in Time Management for System Administrators. I’m trying to get into the habit (after reading that book) of arriving at work a few minutes early and planning my day before I even check my email. The only thing I allow myself to do first is change the data backup tape in case I forget later on. The day-planner is a great tool for combing a daily todo list and time planner (hence the name, I guess) and it really works for me. On one side is a list for tasks and spaces to assign priorities (and a nice tick box to check when it’s completed, which is always a bonus) and on the other is the work day laid out in hours, so it’s a small job to map out roughly how the day should pan out.

Other useful templates are the project planner, agenda, notes (obviously), shopping list and weekly time-tracker. This in particular translates very well at the end of the week to my work time-sheet. I haven’t really used any of the others, and consequently when I refill my Moleskine I probably won’t include them.

Is it the be-all and end-all?

Not sure. I find the 3x5 cards slightly too small (and the bigger ones too big), although this may be mitigated by printing on both sides of the page and only including the templates that I really need. I also like having my todo list and calendar integrated, and that’s more of an effort to do on paper than digitally, or online.

Is it the end for my zaurus?

Absolutely not! This frees up my zaurus for other things, like experimenting with other operating systems or software (and filling it up with ebooks and mp3s). It also saves me from the worry of having to ensure everything is backed up, particularly if I am playing around with other packages.

In conclusion, I’m still trying to find the best approach for time/project management and todo lists but this does give me some flexibility and peace of mind that my previous pda-based approach did not. We’ll see…