Daydreaming on Paper
November/December 2003
The Dayplanner as Diary

I received my first Day-timer as a gift when I was 13 years old. I was in the 7th grade and had no life to speak of. My days were pretty much the same - school, home, and back to school again. That, however, did not stop me from lovingly caressing the smooth planner pages. Though I knew my schedule by heart, I found any excuse to write in it. I slept soundly at night, secure in the knowledge that were I to suddenly suffer from acute memory loss, I would still know to "fix [my] lunch" and "get [my] clothes together for the next day". Better still, if some life or death situation depended upon my knowing whether or not I had actually made my lunch on a certain day, I could calmly turn to the appropriate page and see the bold, black line struck through that task. Therein lay the real magic of the day planner as far as I was concerned - all my life's accomplishments laid out, square after "Executive Green" square. Thus began my love affair with calendars in general and day planners in particular.

Seventeen years later, I have come a long way from the wire-bound, pocket-sized, leather-encased "solution set" that I once adored, although my current schedule and list of things to do is not much more exciting. Once I realized that the day planner provided the perfect forum for both the left and right sides of my brain, all kinds of creative potential was unleashed. My PowerBook, as I like to call it, is now tailor-made by me for me. Every color-coordinated page, tab, and Post-it flag is perfectly suited for my needs and perfectly in sync with my personal aesthetic. This humble, three-ring notebook provides order and organization while also providing space for artistic expression - both written and visual. At the end of each year, I have a multi-dimensional, integrated record of my life for little or no additional effort. You can't beat that with a stick!

This month, I have decided to share a few of the ideas that I have gathered from years of obsessive day planner use. I wanted to do it now so that you would have plenty of time to make your own planner or customize an existing system before the new year rolls around. The first part of this article details exactly how I made my own PowerBook. The second part lists assorted ideas, tips, and techniques that will help you squeeze every drop of usefulness and pleasure out of whatever system you choose to use. I list them in random order in the hope that you will take the time to read each one - you never know which idea will actually inspire you! Whether you are looking for a better way to get organized or a lazy way to keep a journal, there is surely something in this month's article for you.

Caveat: I am an advanced day planner user. My PowerBook is one-inch thick and goes everywhere with me. I am an inherent record keeper, and to say that I am organized (on paper, at least) would be putting it mildly. Why am I telling you this? Because some of my ideas may seem a bit Too Much for some of you. Ignore the ones that sound too exhausting; use whatever you can. Most importantly, have fun!



How I Made My Day Planner

A chance thrift store find inspired me to try my hand at putting together my own day planner. It was a simple, black, half-sized three-ring notebook (the kind that holds 5½- by 8½-inch pages) for 45 cents. I took it home and immediately set to work. First, I entered all recurring appointments, events, holidays, and birthdays into the Calendar feature of Microsoft Outlook. I then printed unlined calendar pages (one-page-per-week format) onto sheets of 24# Astrobrights paper in Planetary Purple. (I took regular sized sheets of paper and cut them in half using a paper trimmer. Outlook provides a variety of calendar formats and all you have to do is choose the date range and format that you want. My printer - a Canon Bubble Jet - allows me to print on small sizes of paper.) Next, I entered the names, addresses, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses (as well as other info such as favorite colors) of all of my friends and family into the Outlook Contact List and printed this as well. I also included addresses and phone numbers of businesses that I frequent, along with their hours of operation. Voilà! The hard part was over. I had the meat and potatoes of my planner; the rest was gravy.

Next, I used Microsoft Word to make customized forms and reference sheets for my planner. Because I like unlined pages, many of the forms were as simple as typing a heading on a page. I made:

  • To Do Pages: I have one master to do list; this spares me the indignity of having to constantly rewrite an undone task.
  • Project Sheets: Hot pink (Astrobrights Fireball Fuscia) forms that keep project details, contact names, materials needed, and deadlines in one place. Once the project is completed, I attach a picture of the end result, where applicable.
  • An Extensive Booklist: It includes the addresses, phone numbers, and hours of all my favorite bookstores and library branches, with quotes about reading/books scattered throughout. I also list card catolog numbers (and the exact location where the book can be found in the library) and ISBN numbers. Hey - I take my reading seriously!
  • A Comprehensive Grocery List: I can just print one out and highlight the stuff I need to buy as I run out of it. Items are grouped in sections and follow the layout of my favorite grocery store.
  • Movies To See/Video Rental/DVDs to Buy list: This is decorated with pictures and images cut out of magazines or printed from the web. Once I view a movie, I cross it off the list and give it a star rating.
  • A "Stuff I Want" List: In an effort to curb impulse shopping, I write down every new thing that I absolutely cannot live without and "think on it". I have only actually purchased a scant handful of the things on this list.
  • A Household Staples List: This is where I go to find out what type of cartridges my printer uses, what size batteries I need for my flashlights, and the name of the allergen-removing vacuum cleaner bags that I use.

In addition to these forms, I also printed fun stuff like the results of various online personality surveys, favorite internet articles, and motivational passages from books. I included blank Astrobrights paper and quadrille paper for handwritten notes, drawings, etc. Also, I'd printed my calendar pages on only one side of the paper so that I could use the back side for journal entries.

Once I finished printing my pages, it was time to assemble my day planner. I went to OfficeMax and bought a one-page three-hole punch (I already had a big, adjustable three-hole punch, but I wanted something that could go directly into the notebook), vinyl pouches for holding stickers, stamps, and other odds & ends, a package of clear hole reinforcements, and a package of colored, self-adhesive dots for color coding. At Hobby Lobby, I found a package of black divider tabs (the kind that you write on with gel pens) in the scrapbook section. They were for regular sized binders, but I trimmed them to the size I needed for my notebook. Using a silver metallic gel pen, I labeled each section: Days, Actions, Names, Media, Brain, and Other and put them in the binder with the appropriate printed pages behind them. Last, but not least, I made a cover page - a simple piece of purple cardstock to which I attached my handmade calling card which has my e-mail address on it. I found a clip-on, ladybug bookmark to use as a Day Locater/Page Separator, and I was ready for business!

All of this merely represents the tip of the iceberg. Once I got started with this project, it quickly became addictive. Read on to discover more tips for customizing your day planner and ideas for using it.

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© 2003 Dawn R. Vinson. All Rights Reserved.