Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Sketchbook-Inspired Digression, Part 1: My DIY Planner

My current planner, whose days are
now very numbered.
(This post will at first seem off-topic, but please indulge me, and you’ll soon see how it does, in fact, relate to sketching.)

Unlike so many people who have made the conversion to a digital or cloud medium to plan and organize their time, I still use an old-fashioned paper planner. Without getting into a discussion of the merits of paper vs. digital (the debate rages online if you’re so inclined), I’ll just say that I’ve used a variety of paper formats since I joined the workforce. The format has changed over time as my planning needs have changed. For decades when I had full-time meetings and tasks to manage, I used a two-page or one-page-per-day looseleaf format. During recent years as a part-time freelancer with a more flexible schedule, I’ve used a page-per-week format. The past few years I’ve used the Moleskine weekly notebook (shown at left), which has a handy facing page for to-do lists.

With all the formats I’ve tried or just thumbed through in stores, several things have routinely annoyed me:
A typical weekly planner page squishes Saturday and Sunday
into one space (Moleskine weekly notebook shown).

  1. Invariably, weekly page formats squish Saturday and Sunday together into one space. When I was working full time, my weekends were certainly as busy as the work week, if not more so, and that hasn’t changed. Every day of the week has the same number of hours – why not give all of them the same amount of space?
  2. Likewise, monthly calendar formats often make the last few days of the longer months “share” space because the calendar is designed on a 7-by-5 grid. What if you happen to have busy days on both the 24th and the 31st of the month – but those days get only half a square each?
  3. More and more, monthly calendars begin the week on a Monday. It’s fine if you’re used to this, but if you’re not, and you buy a calendar like that by mistake – havoc! (I’m way too old to make a mental shift like that, especially for something as utilitarian as a calendar.)
  4. A typical monthly calendar grid forces two days
    to share a space.
  5. Moleskine planners include a monthly calendar with a linear European format instead of the grid I prefer. The linear format can be useful for planning certain business-related tasks, but I’ve never liked it for getting a general overview of my month, so I always end up buying an additional gridded monthly calendar.

Stationery and art supply geek that I am, I often cruise the Internet for products and ideas. Seeing the popularity of the highly flexible, ever-customizable Midori Traveler’s Notebook system and its many copycats, I’ve been impressed by the creative solutions people have devised to make their planners suit their needs. Another inspiration for DIY planners has been the popular Bullet Journal. Heather, writer of the blog A Penchant for Paper, showed a DIY planner that combined a modified Bullet Journal with a traditional written journal. Laurie, writer of the blog Plannerisms, uses a modified Bullet system also and sometimes modifies her planner to serve her specific needs. (In fact, she even publishes her own line of planners.)

My DIY weekly planner made from a graph-ruled Moleskine notebook.
With all of these and other blogs as inspiration, I finally decided to stop letting planners tell me how to view my time and made a DIY planner for the second half of 2014. (Initially I was going to wait until 2015, but once I started thinking about this idea, my intolerance for all the ways in which commercial planners annoy me grew until I saw no point in waiting.) I used a graph-paper-ruled Moleskine notebook (at left) in the same practical size as the planner I’d been using (A5, or roughly 5 ½” x 8 ½”). The graph paper ruling eliminated the need to measure the gridlines and spacing – all I had to do was count the spaces. In my accuracy-challenged life, anything to avoid measuring is a benefit! In fact, I only had to count for the first page; the paper is translucent enough that on each successive page, I could use the lines I’d already drawn on the previous page as the guide. (For 2015, I’m going to use a Leuchtturm notebook ruled with an unobtrusive dot grid. I find Leuchtturm paper to be of better quality than Moleskine’s – and it’s fountain-pen friendly.)
My DIY planner's monthly calendar page.

The design is simple, yet it addresses all of the gripes outlined previously:

  • The weekly schedule page (shown above) is on the left – each of the seven days gets the same amount of space – and the blank page on the right is for my to-do list.
  • The monthly calendar (shown at right), with weeks beginning with Sunday, is based on a 7-by-6 grid, so none of the days has to share a space (an extra column on the right page can be used for notes).
  • For extra utility and coolness, I used sticky labels to make tabs on the monthly calendar pages (shown at left) so that they would be easy to refer to.
  • After all that, about half of the notebook’s pages remains blank, so I can use those pages for ideas, short-term goals and notes that I used to keep in other notebooks. (Any process that simplifies is a good thing!)

Next year I'm going to use this Leuchtturm
dot-grid-ruled notebook, which is less
obtrusive than graph-ruled notebooks.
(A lifelong journal writer, I write way more in six months than would fit in the remaining blank pages of my new DIY planner, so I’m still keeping a separate notebook for that. See Sketchbook-Inspired Digression, Part 2: My DIY Journal.)

It might seem crazy to make my own calendar and planner when purchased ones are so ubiquitous. But all it took was a ruler, an online calendar for reference and a little time (less than I imagined) on a rainy afternoon.

What does any of this have to do with sketching?

I’m probably long past the point where you wondered, “. . . now what does any of this have to do with sketching?” The answer is: my “Stefano” sketchbook system.

The "Stefano," my beloved sketchbook system.
A year ago when I was getting ready to attend my first Urban Sketching Symposium and experience my first major travel opportunity since I started sketching, I thought carefully about what I wanted and needed in a travel sketchbook and how store-bought sketchbooks weren’t meeting my needs. The Stefano, modeled after the popular Midori Traveler’s Notebook, was the result, and it met my needs so perfectly that I realized I didn’t want to reserve it just for travel – it became my everyday sketchbook system. It led me to binding my own sketchbooks, not just out of necessity but because I learned how satisfying it is to hand-bind volumes of my own hand-drawn sketches. Ultimately, the Stefano taught me that if something doesn’t quite meet my needs, I don’t have to put up with it, just because it’s what’s available in a store.

Life is full of little things that don’t quite meet my needs. I don’t have the skills to build custom furniture, “jailbreak” my smartphone or install another electrical outlet near my desk. But make my own planner? That I can do. And it now meets my needs precisely.

Many thanks to all the bloggers and others around the interwebs who continue to inspire me with their creative ideas.

See Sketchbook-Inspired Digression, Part 2: My DIY Journal.

Updated 6/14/16: Shown below is a tweak I made to my weekly page spread this year. I gave more space to each day, and instead of writing all the to-do's on the right-hand page, I write them on the appropriate day's space. Items that can be done any time during that week go in the larger space following Sunday. I like the Leuchtturm's pale dot grid much better than the Moleskine's dark grid.


  1. I found your blog on Heather's A Penchant for Paper, and ooo, planners! I've also started using planners, but I print custom pages to suit my needs. I use a binder because I find regular notebooks to be too limiting because you can't refill them and I fear that one section will fill up quickly while another one is slow. Great post!

  2. I did the EXACT same thing with my daily planner, and for all the same reasons. I use 8.5 x 5.75 notebooks in a Filofax Flex planner and I draw about 3 months in advance, and I so look forward to the time when I can spend an hour drawing boxes! One of my big pet peeves with the Moleskine was that all of the months were jammed together at the beginning of the planner. In my system the month is followed by the 4 weekly layouts and then the next month begins. Makes so much more sense to me. And I love the Leuchtturm notebooks - I may use those next year too. Wonderful post; thanks for posting what a lot of us are thinking!

    1. Great minds think alike, inlovewithjournals! ;-)

      - Tina


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