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Saturday, February 27, 2010

Countdown to FAIL

How long does it take for a planner to fail? Well, that depends on the planner, and your needs.

Planner Fail is something I think about a lot, because it happens to me so often. My planner problem is that my life changes frequently. The planner system that worked for me last year/ month/ week might not work for me this year/ month/ week because my circumstances are different now. A planner that works well for me at home might fail when I travel (due to not containing the right international information, or being to big/ heavy). The situation I'm facing right now is an international move later this year. A big transition like that requires a lot of planner power both for the preparation and follow-through.

Some planners fail the first day, because they just aren't what I need. But let me be quick to point out: don't judge a planner at first glance. Something that looks odd or confusing at first could turn out to be your Planner Holy Grail if you take a few minutes to figure out how it could work for you.

Most planners take a little time for the flaws to become apparent. Usually 1-2 weeks is the gestation period for a Planner Fail. It happens the same way every time: I get excited about some system and decide to switch over to it. But after a week or two I have that familiar feeling of floating in space, getting nothing done, and not knowing how I've spent my days. Planner FAIL.

Some planner Fails take longer to emerge, or the user keeps plugging away at a system to try to make it work. (Side note: whenever I say I'm going to try to "make it work," that's the signal it has already failed.) Sometimes the system doesn't fail horribly, but it limps along instead of performing like a well-oiled machine (the way a planner system SHOULD).

Nan's recent post over on Philofaxy about retiring her work A5 Filofax got me thinking some more about planner Fails. Her system didn't work great, but it worked well enough for awhile. But then a change in circumstances--an increased workload--caused the final Epic Fail and the system crashed and burned.

Now that we are a couple of months into the year, you have a pretty good idea of what 2010 will entail and what your planner needs will be. By now your planner system either sinks or swims.

Is your planner sinking or swimming? Is it time for a few tweaks, or maybe a total overhaul?

Friday, February 26, 2010

Exaclair Week Wrap-Up

To wrap up Exaclair week, I have compiled a list of all the Exaclair reviews I have posted on Plannerisms to date, as well as some websites of interest.

I think Exaclair products are great. They are very high quality, have wonderful paper, and I love the colorful cover options. As a company, they really listen to their customers and make product changes to meet customers' needs and wants. Much of that has to do with Karen herself, she does a wonderful job communicating with users of Exaclair products.

Some Exaclair links for you to peruse:

The Exaclair planners website, which has Quo Vadis, Exacompta and Rhodia planners:


If you haven't checked out the Quo Vadis blog yet, you must go have a look:


(While you are there you might have a look at my Feb. 1 guest post on planners while traveling.)

Also if you haven't seen the Exaclair Planners and Notebooks group on Flickr (which I admin) then check it out. There are a lot of great photos of people's planners and notebooks in action:


The 2011 Exaclair planners and notebooks catalogs:


Here is the list of my Exaclair posts. There's been a lot of Exaclair love here on Plannerisms!

bookmark/ elastic strap review

Journal 21 daily planner review

A fun story about my Textagenda

A look at my other Textagenda

My sister's Trinote

My sister's Rhodia notebooks

Monthly 4 review

Visoplan vs. Exaplan decision

Visoplan review

Posts about my Minister weekly planner:

The epic battle of the planners

Let It Begin!

Things I love about it

Suggestions to improve it

The victorious hero!

And these are just the posts where I directly talk about particular Exaclair products! They've had lots of mentions too--click on Exaclair in my sidebar under Labels if you want to see them all.

I hope you've enjoyed Exaclair Week on Plannerisms! If you are an Exaclair user, let's hear from you! What do you use, what do you like?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Sandy's Rhodia Webnotebook and long notepad

Here is another guest post from my sister Sandy, where she reviews her Rhodia webnotebook and long notepad, which were generously sent to her by Karen at Exaclair.

Rhodia webnotebook:

Karen from Exaclair was so kind to send me a Rhodia Web notebook. I was immediately impressed by the little thing, mostly because of the quality of the paper and the unique feel of the cover.

The cover is so cool! It is both soft and hard. It has a firm board backing (so, the inside front cover), like the Moleskine; however, the (outside front and back) cover is very soft and kind of rubbery-feeling. The front cover is embossed with the Rhodia logo. The spine is extremely soft to the touch, reminiscent of a rose petal… seriously. I'd talk about it more, but I'll refrain. Just trust me. SOFT.

The paper is nearly an identical shade to my Moleskine week + notes (that I divorced, as you can read about here). In the sun, the Rhodia webnotebook is slightly darker. The paper is slick, like my TriNote weekly planner, but I couldn't decide if the pages were the same thickness or not. So, I had my co-worker close her eyes and rub a page of the Trinote and then a page of the Rhodia web notebook. She rubbed them each again and said that the Trinote page feels thicker to her, but they’re both equally as slick feeling. I think she’s right, but they’re so similar, it’s hard to tell. Where the Moleskine paper feels thin, flimsy and reminds me of paper I used in elementary school to practice writing my letters and numbers, the Rhodia pages feel solid, sturdy, and slick.

Also, when I write on a page in the Rhodia web notebook, I can write on the backside of that page without any distracting see-through action. That is very important to me. I want each new page to feel blank, even if there's writing on the backside of it.

The book does not lay flat when opened, but I'm using it as a journal and not a planner, so that's not much of an issue to me. Planners must lay flat, but I don't mind that the notebook has a natural tendency to close. The pages are lined with nice lines that have enough space between them that I can write comfortably. I don't feel like I'm squishing my letters, yet I can still fit quite a bit of writing onto each page. I can see how I could fill it up quickly. This book is good for writing random notes, lists, random bursts of venting, reminders, or basic points you want to remember during a speech/conversation/debate. Also, the Rhodia logo is on each page at the bottom corner, but it's not distracting in any way. In fact, it gives the page a little bit of character without being obnoxious.

From the pictures, you can see that there are 3 features that make this notebook similar to the Moleskine format:

1. It has a placeholder ribbon

2. It has an elastic band to keep the book closed

3. It has a back pocket. (Unlike my Moleskine week + notes planner the pocket is black, like the front inside cover of the book.)

This is a great little notebook to keep in my purse or carry around in a bookbag. I love the feel of the cover, and the paper is nice to the touch. It's definitely something I look forward to using and continue to use until I fill it up, which might not take long, since I like writing in it so much.

Rhodia Lined Notepad

Although I am very pleased with my transition from my Moleskine week + notes to my Quo Vadis Trinote, there are times where I just need to make. a. list. And, although there are boxes that provide lists for to-do’s and notes for each day, sometimes it’s just not enough. For example, my grocery list is a mile long, and I don’t want to keep that in my planner. Or, what about an RSVP list for a party? I can’t fit that anywhere.

Well… Karen at Exaclair was very generous in sending me a Rhodia lined notepad. The length and size is perfect for taping or paper-clipping into my Trinote for temporary lists. Also, each page of the notepad has excellent perforation … meaning I don’t rip the page when I’m tearing out a sheet. And, that’s just not like me. Most perforated notebooks end up looking mauled by the time I’ve got the sheet out. These notepad sheets tear out very nicely. The paper rocks. It’s slick but not too slick and doesn’t bleed through at all.

Everything about this notepad makes it to be a convenient accessory to my Trinote.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Quo Vadis Visoplan monthly planner

Way back in November I talked about getting a Visoplan monthly planner to tuck into my weekly planner. I like to use a monthly view calendar for certain things, and my weekly planner didn't have one, so I decided to get one to supplement my week view. I am happy to report it's going swimmingly, and I'd like to tell you all about it.

I went with the Visoplan specifically because there are so many features that I really like. The size is very small, 3 1/2 x 6 5/8 inches, so it can be tucked into the cover of a Textagenda/ Notor or anything larger. I tuck it into the cover of my Minister, which I'll tell you more about later.

I chose the Visoplan over the similar-sized Exaplan because the Viso has more holidays and events pre-printed in the calendar. And, the Visoplan has more space for weekends. Another thing I really like about the Viso is at the top of the monthly page, there are boxes for Priority, Phone, See-Do and Notes. These boxes are where I write reminders for the month like if one of us is due for a dental appointment, if my car insurance needs to be renewed, or any major events happening that month that I want to highlight.

Click on the photo at the top of the post to see a larger view of the December spread. There you can see the boxes at the top, and also all the international holidays listed.

As if the excellent monthly layout weren't enough for this great little calendar, it's also packed with other features.

There is an annual planner for an overview of your entire year: A very useful and detailed World Time Zones map:

Detailed maps of the US (not shown) and Canada (shown below), and a chart of average monthly minimum and maximum temperatures for lots of cities worldwide (great for helping you pack accordingly):There is an overview calendar for next year, and a couple of pages for notes:
The Visoplan uses the luxurious 90g acid-free Clairefontaine paper, and is printed with gray and teal inks which are very pleasant to look at. There is a lot of attention to detail and a high level of aesthetics in this little planner!

At first I tried putting it inside the front cover of my Minister, but it slid around when opening and closing the book. So I realized it would stay put better inside the back cover. I placed it under my address book insert, and taped the back cover of the Visoplan to the edge of the back cover of my address book, so that it stays firmly in place. It's so slim it's hardly noticeable in my Minister:

The Visoplan opens horizontally:
I would prefer if it opened vertically, but it's not a dealbreaker for me. It's worth turning my book because the monthly format is so nice. I know the format would have to be different with a vertically-opening book.

I am really happy with this setup. Of course I would prefer having the monthly calendars already in my Minister, or a Minister-sized monthly insert, but the Visoplan is the next best option.

I bought the Visoplan refill (without the cover) on www.TheDailyPlanner.com for 3 bucks. You can also get the Visoplan with a variety of colors and styles of covers.

The Visoplan monthly planner is a great option for someone who needs a comprehensive pocket-sized monthly calendar to go everywhere with them, or to use (as I did) as an insert in your weekly or daily planner. It's an excellent planner at a great price!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Exaclair 2011 Catalogue!

Exaclair week on Plannerisms continues with a look at their 2011 catalog!! They have a lot of new products coming out that I am excited about including new planner formats, new cover colors and styles, and new notebooks!

Karen at Exaclair sent me the link to the 2011 catalogs, which I've had a lot of fun looking through. Here is the link, which you can click on to open the catalog in a separate window:


There are two catalogs: the top one has the Quo Vadis and Exacompta planners for 2011, and the bottom catalog contains their other products such as Clairefontaine and Rhodia notebooks, J.Herbin inks, Decopatch, and tons of other great stuff. I won't go through them page by page (although that would be fun!) but I will point out new products that I'm especially excited about.

There is one entirely new planner: the desk-sized Note 27 weekly planner. It has the week on the left page (with equal sized spaces for each day, even Saturday AND Sunday, bravo Quo Vadis!) and the right page is lined for notes. This planner is very large: the page size is 8 1/4 x 10 1/2, making each page almost the size of a US standard piece of paper. While that won't be a problem for anyone who will leave this planner on a desk or carry it in a briefcase or bookbag, it's too large to go into a purse/ handbag (unless you carry a really large one).

The Daily Pocket planner has a new format in 2011 that, in my option, is a huge improvement over the format from previous years. I used the Daily Pocket in 2009 and 2001, and loved the portable size (and especially the monthly calendars in the 2009 edition) but felt the daily format was too cluttered at the top of the page. For 2011 the daily format has an elegant, uncluttered look with the day and date at the very top of the page (like the Journal 21 format) and a large space just under that for the day's Priority. Below that the page is lined with times from 8 am to 9 pm, with a few lines after that for extended evening hours or notes. In the bottom right there is a calendar of the month with the current week highlighted. I'm thrilled they have kept the ivory paper that I like so much, and also the monthly calendars that make this planner exceptionally useful. I will definitely be getting a Daily Pocket for 2011!

Two planners that are conspicuously absent from the 2011 catalog are the Horizon 7 and ABP/1, both of which I believe have been discontinued. I know there were plans in the works to discontinue the Horizon 7 due to low sales, so I'm assuming the same happened with the ABP/1.

There is a new style of cover: Smooth covers with rounded corners, a back pocket and an elastic strap (not shown in the photo) come in black, Hawaiian blue, red, lime green and old rose. For 2011, three planner formats will be available with Smooth covers: Business, Daily Pocket, and Minister. I am very excited about these covers because the rounded corners and especially the elastic strap will keep the planners intact when being shoved into bags or pockets. I'm especially excited that the Daily Pocket will be available with the elastic strap, which will keep the small book securely closed. It really needed this in my opinion!

There are also some new colors available for some of their other covers: Club covers have added a very pretty Bamboo green. The Habana covers now come in Raspberry and Anise Green (for the planners and notebooks too). And for the coming year, the limited edition Robert le heros cover selection will be Taupe and Raspberry. There are also several pretty new colors for the Vinyl covers including Fuschia, Apple Green and Sapphire Blue. I read somewhere that more women than men use paper planners, and obviously Exaclair is working hard to appeal to this female customer base.

I'm also pleased to see the Equology planners will be offered again for the academic year (Textagenda and Scholar) and 2011 calendar year (President, Minister, and Sapa X). I am addicted to the velvety-feeling paper in my Equology Minister (and I'm still hoping for Equology notebooks!) so I'm especially glad to see these planners are in the lineup again next year.

The Equology Textagenda and Scholar planners are also available with Basic covers in black, green, red or tan. Basic covers are 100% recycled hardboard, with an elastic strap. Excellent option for very environmentally-conscious people on an academic year schedule.

Also, some planner covers and formats will include a Quo Vadis bookmark/ elastic strap, which is very useful for keeping the planner securely closed.

I won't go through the Exaclair products catalog in detail because there are SO many fantastic products. But there are a couple of new notebooks that I really like:

On page 15 of the catalog, the classic Clairefontaine staple-bound notebooks now come in a Two-Subject version with cutaway tabs for easy reference of each subject in one notebook. The classic Clairefontaines are my all-time favorite notebooks with their colorful covers and thick ultra-smooth paper. So any addition to that lineup is more than welcome!

On pages 18 and 19 of the catalog there are several new versions of the Clairfontaine Basics notebooks, some of which now have elastic strap closures. Those of us who carry our notebooks with us everywhere really appreciate the elastic straps for keeping our books closed and our pages from getting ruffled.

The notebook I am most excited about is, not surprisingly, the Roadbook on page 19. Ancient map print! Elastic closure! Clairefontaine paper! Portable size! I'm sold. I'll take a dozen. I'll definitely be getting some of these to use as travel notebooks as well as go-everywhere everyday notebooks.

So there are some very exciting new products coming soon from Exaclair! As usual, they have really responded to their customers' needs and wants. I'm already writing up my shopping list!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Quo Vadis Monthly 4 Review

Welcome to Exaclair Week on Plannerisms! This week I'll be talking about some very cool Exaclair products. Today I will focus on the Monthly 4 planner. But first, an introduction to Exaclair:

Exaclair Inc. is the exclusive US distributor for the French company Exacompta Clairefontaine which makes Quo Vadis and Exacompta planners as well as Clairefontaine and Rhodia notebooks, J.Herbin fountain pen inks, and a bunch of other high-quality products. The paper they use in their planners and notebooks is famous for being extremely smooth, and the heavier weights are loved by fountain-pen users.

I really like Exaclair products and I have reviewed several of them here on Plannerisms. This week I have some new reviews for you, and will also talk about some of their new products coming out soon!

To kick off the week I want to tell you all about my fantastic Quo Vadis Monthly 4 planner that was very generously sent to me by Karen at Exaclair. Thank you Karen!The Monthly 4 is an 18 month planner (July 2009 through December 2010), which is useful for anyone on an academic schedule or calendar year. The generous page size ( 7 x 9 3/8 inches) gives plenty of room for writing on each monthly spread.

The book is very slim with a flexible cover so it can slip easily into a portfolio, briefcase or bag. The cover is refillable and comes in a variety of colors including blue, red, pink, lilac, brown and more.

I really appreciate that these planners are made in the USA and that the paper is made from sustainable sources using a very environmentally-friendly process.

In this monthly format each week begins on Monday, so that the weekend days are together instead of split on 2 lines. I prefer this format instead of having the weeks begin on Sundays. My weekly planner starts each week on Monday, so I like having my monthly calendar using the same week setup as my weekly planner. And, having my weekend days together allows me to see and schedule my weekend plans easily.

The Monthly 4 is different from every other monthly planner I've ever used: on every month's page there is a dashboard of list boxes at the side of the page, and plenty of room for notes in the large Notes area at the bottom of the page. (You can click on the photos for a larger view)The list boxes are labeled Priority, Phone, Fax-Email, See-Do, Pay-Receive and Notes. (And of course you can re-label these to use them for different purposes if you like). I love having space for notes and reminders on the monthly pages!

There are only two things I would change about this planner:

One is to remove the small Notes box under Pay-Receive, to make the Pay-Receive box larger. I usually have plenty of things to Pay (unfortunately not as many to Receive!) each month so I'd appreciate more space in that box. I don't think anyone will miss the small Notes box because there is plenty of room for notes in the space at the bottom of the pages.

The other is to do away with the black boxes that contain the dates in the daily boxes. I would prefer just having the numbers printed in black instead of inside the contrasting black boxes. I think not having the black boxes for the dates would give a cleaner and more streamlined look to the monthly pages.

The only other suggestion I have is to use two colors of ink similar to how they are used in the Minister (dates and holidays are in teal, the current week on the monthly reference calendar is highlighted in teal, etc.) I think it looks pretty and is visually interesting to have the two colors on the page. But, I do realize this could increase costs which may or may not be acceptable, so it's only a suggestion.

In addition to the monthly calendars, there is an anno-planner for 2010 with the entire year visible across the two-page spread. This is excellent for planning travel, projects, holidays etc. and to get a summary of your entire year at a glance. There is also an anno-planning calendar for 2011 for longer-range planning.
The Monthly 4 has the legendary silky-smooth acid-free 90 g Clairefontaine paper, which is The. Best. for writing. I did a pen test with several pens of different point width and various inks. Below are the pens (and a pencil too just for variety):
As the ink test itself I wrote the names of each pen and the ink color on one of the planner pages (you can click on the image to get a larger view):
Below you can see the back side of the test page. There is absolutely no bleed-through of any of the inks. I thought that the Broadpen would have bled through, because it does with most other paper I use it on, but it didn't at all here. There is some slight show-through of some of the inks, but even with the thickest lines the show-through is not significant enough to affect writing on the opposite page at all.
This planner has detailed maps of every continent showing the countries and lots of cities (and we all know how much I love maps!). There are lists of international telephone dialing codes (both into and out of each country, which is crucial) and an excellent chart of international holidays. I actually use these resource pages, so I appreciate them very much.

In the back of the planner there are 14 (!) pages for notes, and several pages for contact information.

There are TONS of things you could use this planner to plan for:

~You know what would be a great use for this planner, is planning a round-the-world or other international trip. You could use the yearly overview calendar to plan your travels throughout the year. The monthly calendars would offer plenty of space for writing transportation details, reservation information, and phone numbers. You can track your trip on the maps, tracing your route from destination to destination.

In the contacts section you can write in all the places you stay (because maybe you'll be back that way again someday and want to stay there again). In all those notes pages you can stick in ticket stubs, write the name of your favorite restaurants where you ate, note bus schedules, and whatever other details you want to reference later. And at the end it would make a great record of your big trip!

But if you're not planning a multi-national trip anytime soon, this is still an extremely useful planner for seeing your month at a view. Things you could use the monthly calendars to see easily:

~Bills due and Paydays, to help you budget throughout the month

~Exercise, to see when you're being consistent and when you fell off the wagon

~Lesson planning for teachers or homeschoolers

~When I was in school/ university/ grad school I always needed a monthly calendar to see upcoming due dates of exams, projects and papers. (It's everyone's worst nightmare to turn the page and see you have a big project due tomorrow that you forgot about, right?? This solves that.)

**Edited much later to add: I keep thinking of great uses for this monthly planner. Because it's 18 months, you can use this planner for things that go beyond the calendar year. And because there's plenty of room on each monthly page for notes and lists, you can use it to work out what has to be done each month to prepare for a big event.

~This planner would be especially useful for planning a move or a wedding. You could mark the date of the event, then backtrack and note what has to be done each month to prepare. (Wedding example: what has to be done each month to arrange the catering, flowers, invitations, reserving venues, dress selection and fittings etc.).

~It would be great to use during pregnancy to prepare for the baby's arrival. The mom-to-be could mark her due date, then backtrack to note what she has to do each month to prepare (such as arrange for maternity leave, preparations for the baby's room, baby gear to buy etc). Also the monthly format makes it easy to schedule all those prenatal appointments and childbirth classes.

~Over on the Quo Vadis blog, Leah describes how she's using her Monthly 4 as a garden planner.

~I am using my Monthly 4 (extensively!) for planning and tracking my blog posts. I have multiple blogs that I write for, and the large layout of the monthly view helps me keep them all organized. There's plenty of room to write post titles into the daily spaces. Luckily the strong paper holds up to lots of erasing, because I change my mind and re-arrange posts all the time! I have notes, reminders and topics to cover that month written into the notes boxes. In the notes pages in the back of the book I have lists of reviews to do, ideas for posts, and future plans.

There are endless uses for this planner!

The Monthly 4 has a great monthly format with lots of space for notes, excellent reference pages, and a large page size in a slim, portable book. So if you are looking for a monthly planner that will keep you organized, I recommend you check this one out!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Interview with Paul Alford of Plan-It Planners!

Paul Alford, CEO of The Student Media Group and creator of the Plan-It planners, very kindly spent some time to answer my questions about SMG, Plan-It, and how it all began.

The Plan-It planners are very interesting to me because they have two target groups: the users (university students who get the planners for free at their bookstore) and the customers (the businesses that advertise in the planners). SMG has to cater to both of these groups very well by offering a product that the students will actually use. Because even the best advertisements are useless if they will never be seen by their target audience! I'm fascinated.

Here is the Q & A. Thanks Paul!

Q: I really enjoyed reviewing the Plan-It planners you generously sent me (thank you!), they are awesome! Seriously, I wish I'd had a university planner this great when I was in college. And, I still can't get over the fact that they are free. Is that right? These are given out for free at the university bookstores?

A: Yes! Students can get one of the Plan-Its for free if they make a purchase at one of our college bookstore partners. SMG only partners with one bookstore company in each local University area. Currently, we create planners for over 60 different Colleges and Universities.

Q: You also sent me two Plan-It planners that do not have university information in them. Are these planners available for purchase somewhere? If so, where, and how much do they generally cost?

A: Our "fashion planners" (please let me know if you can suggest a better "name") are currently only available on Ebay, seller planitplanners (follow link here).

We are working to increase distribution through our college bookstore network. Many of our customers have even suggested them to their local bookstores and other retailers. It has really been fantastic! We will be offering August to August versions (for the college demographic) and the regular January to January editions this year.

This entire line was started for 2010 when one of the office interns (Erica who manages the @planitplanners twitter profile) suggested that we make some "really cute" planners with fashion tips. Our design team used many of her ideas to create this new planner line. You can also check out our Ebay feedback (username: planitplanners) to see what our new customers think. Any suggestions you can offer for this new planner line would be greatly appreciated!

Q (actually a comment): What a fantastic idea to put the Yellow Pages in the back of the planners! As the Student Media Group website says, the planner goes everywhere with the student so they always have that info on them when they need it. It's great.

A: We will be adjusting the Yellow pages this year to reflect each school's traditional colors. For example, the Planner pages for students at Clemson University will be orange and for students at the University of North Carolina they will be powder blue.

The planners do go everywhere with the students so it is a great way to help them navigate the local business community. Many local and national advertisers want to know how to target this elusive 18-24 demographic. I often say this: How do you get in touch with all of these new consumers? Solution: You need to get into their daily lives. You need to get into their schedule. You need to get into their Plan-It planner!

Also, students are always flipping through the planners in class. (When of course they should be paying attention!) Did you see the Suduko puzzles?!

Q: How long have you been working for Student Media Group?

A: 5 years, but I have had a passion for planners for a long time!

Q: How did you get into the planners business?

A: My former business partner and I worked for a company that printed University Telephone Directories for 12 years. Our company sold advertising that was featured in the yellow pages in the back of the University Directories. Eventually, students started telling us that they no longer used the phone books! As phone land lines started to disappear, no one wanted to have their cell phone number published in the directory.

I guess the company had become so big that we lost touch with what was actually happening in these local college markets. The student salespeople didn't believe in what they were selling and we started to feel as if we were being dishonest with our customers. It was impossible for us to sell University Directory advertising if we knew none of the students used or had even heard of the directory. That's when we quit our jobs and decided that we needed to provide the students and the advertisers with a new resource that students are actually still using on a daily basis.

I went to visit a local school's Student Union building to research what medium could be more that just "advertising clutter." I noticed that not many students picked up a student newspaper, they rarely stopped to look at flyers or the plasma TV advertising and of course no University Directories! One thing many of the students carried and used was a Daily planner!

All we did was take the advertising from an outdated medium and transfer it into the back of something that they already used! Also, many students pay $8-$12 for a planner each school year. We now partner with a local bookstore in each market and when a student makes any purchase they receive the Plan-It for FREE!

When we speak to local advertisers, we explain that in order to reach these students you need to get into their lives...you need to get into their schedule...you need to get into their PLAN-IT! At this point, I find it hard to believe that there is a company that still produces University Directories...it's really not fair to the local merchants.

(Laurie here--I think this is a fantastic story, and I'm glad to hear that there are still people in the world who go out to where their product users are, see what they actually use, and find a solution that fits their needs to better serve their customers!)

Q: How long has The Student Media Group been producing the Plan-It planners?

A: 5 Years. I founded the Company with one of my good friends, Phil Shafer. Since last November, Phil has been running his own planner company that specializes in the Baby Boomer market. SMG handles all of the design work and printing so I guess in a way we are still working together. It has been a fun "ride" as we have grown to over 60 College/University markets and have now developed a new Fashion planner line. We are very grateful and fortunate to have experienced so much growth. I know it is largely because of all of my great co-workers at The Student Media Group!

Q: Tell me about the design of the planners: who designs them, and how have the formats and designs changed over the years?

A: We have an awesome design team but the real ideas come from our student interns and our local business partners. As an Entrepreneur, I know it can be easy to fall in love with your own designs or ideas. But at the end of the day, we need to listen and serve our customers and end-users. Without them it doesn't matter if we have good ideas! They have suggested all of the developments including:

1) Rounding the corners. Our University of Georgia bookstore partner, Charles Fuller, gets credit for that change!

2) Our student interns have suggested placing the current month's calendar on the weekly planning pages, reducing the size of the Saturday and Sunday writing spaces, and integrating the "Monthly look ahead" Calenders before each month's weekly pages. We have over 15 interns from the University of Delaware in our offices throughout the year, so we are constantly picking their brains!

3) Sudoku puzzles were suggested by both the students and our local bookstore partners. Crossword puzzles and Sudokus are featured in many student newspapers so we figured if it works for them, it would work even better for us! Many of our bookstore partners place the puzzle answers on their website to drive additional traffic to their online book buying sections.

We have many more ideas that we are going to include in the 2010-2011 editions. Our goal of continuous improvement and implementing student/customer feedback will never stop!

(Laurie here again--this is awesome. And how great to ask the interns--they are the target user group of these planners so it makes good sense to listen to their wants and needs and adapt those in the planners!)

Q: Tell us about your internship program! From your website it looks like the interns get a lot of great marketing experience. Tell us the types of things the interns learn during their internship.

A: The Student Media Group Summer Internship is a 12 week program that offers "real world" experience that will help students secure a job upon graduation in this tough economy. There will always be a sales position for those individuals that can work hard and contribute to a company's revenue stream.

During the summer, the advertising sales interns assist local merchants with the design and development of their advertisements that will be featured in Plan-It Planner's local business section. If a business in a college town is trying to target the local University community, who better to help them than a current college student!?

SMG interns are responsible for prospecting and developing a local market research plan, meeting with clients to sell advertising in the Plan-It planners, and ensuring that each local business receives a copy of the planner after they arrive at the bookstore. The dedicated SMG Student Department Managers and hardworking Advertising Sales Interns are the backbone of The Student Media Group.

Q: What do you look for in a potential intern?

A: Extrordinary work ethic and a "Good Heart!"

Q: What else would you like to tell us about Plan-It planners and/ or The Student Media Group?

A: Two years ago, I joined the Entrepreneurs' Organization (www.eonetwork.org). I have learned from other successful business owners that any Great Company is built upon strong core values. I had to find a better way to communicate the SMG principles to my co-workers and customers.

So this year, our Executive management team announced that Valentine's Day was going to be our Official Company Holiday! Each year, we will show our co-workers how much we appreciate them and ALL of the employees will let our local business partners know that we really appreciate their business.

The Operations team sent Valentine's Day cards and candy to many of our customers to let them know how much we "heart" them! Also included in those packages was our SMG Valentine's Day Card that explained our core values through the acronym H.E.A.R.T.
In addition, SMG selected Give Kids the World (www.gktw.org) as our primary 2010 Charity partner (It is a fantastic organization!). Next Valentine's day, we have committed to traveling down to Orlando on a SMG Volunteer retreat!

(Laurie here again--AWESOME)

These are the Student Media Group's core values:

Hear - Listen to our customers/partners
Enthusiasm - It energizes everyone around you!
Attitude - will determine your Altitude (and is often times more important than your aptitude)
Relax - AND...Have fun!!!
Teamwork - Tenacity - Strong belief in yourself and our products

After an amazing 5 years, we are looking forward to the launch of some new planner lines in 2011. I am excited to hear your reader's feedback and suggestions for future enhancements. Thanks again for your time and for posting this on your blog! It has been fun to meet someone that LOVES planners as much as we do here at The Student Media Group! Have a great day!

Thanks again to Paul! I've really enjoyed learning about SMG, the Plan-It planners, your charity work and your commitment to service!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Plan-It student planners

Here are 4 Plan-It planners very generously sent to me by Paul Alford, CEO of the Student Media Group.

The Student Media Group makes student planners for more than 60 universities across the US. SMG advertises local businesses, such as restaurants and services, in the planners. This has the double benefit of creating an excellent resource for students of what is available in town, and also allows the planners to be given out to students for free with purchase at their university bookstore.

The planners themselves are excellent. Purely from a planner point of view, the formats and layouts are great. And, the university planners are packed with local information which makes them even more useful.

Most exciting to me is that in the back of the planners, there is a Yellow Pages section with tons of information on local businesses! Having this reference right in your planner is so handy, because you can have it with you everywhere you go for access whenever you need it. More on the Yellow Pages later.

Let me walk you through the university planners. In the photo below, on the left is the planner for this school year at East Carolina University in Greenville. On the cover there is a picture of their pirate mascot and two great websites listed: www.ecupirates.com which is the university's official athletic site, and www.piratewear.com which, wow, has every possible kind of logo items you could ever dream of. On the right is this school year's planner for Florida State University, Tallahassee. There's a really nice photo on the cover.
Inside each planner there's a list of the university's athletic schedule, which is great for seeing when the games will be (and for planning your ticket purchases!):
Each planner has the academic schedules listed which is really nice to be able to see when exams are, when's homecoming, when there will be no classes, etc. Also in each planner there is a list of frequently called numbers at the university.
I'm guessing that some universities probably have more information in the planners than others. I would really like to see a page of useful websites for the university that includes information on campus housing policies and dining halls, the health center, academic resources, advising, special programs for studying abroad, the campus life center, etc. That way students can have easy access to that information.

Something else I would really like to see in all the university planners is a map of campus, because that is definitely something you need when you are walking around, especially at the larger schools. Even after 4 years at my university, I still needed to refer to a map sometimes to find some buildings.

A very useful feature in any academic planner: your class schedule. At the end of the semester you can also record your final grades on the page to have as a reference. It's amazing how quickly I forgot which semester I took which classes, and what grade I got in each!
The planners themselves are outstanding. Take a look at this monthly page because it has a lot of really excellent features. Click on the photo to enlarge and really get a good look.
First of all, I am adamant that every weekly planner should have monthly planning pages, so it's great to see this feature in these planners. The layout is excellent, with squares large enough to write in and a Notes column at the side for those reminders of what is coming up that month, totals, or whatever else. Each monthly page also has the calendar for last month (top left corner) and next month (bottom right corner) for reference.

Sports events, holidays/ no classes, important university dates like registration or drop/add are noted right on the dates they happen. This is extremely useful information that students otherwise might not know about right away.

These monthly calendars are placed at the beginning of each month throughout the weekly planning pages. And to help you find each month, there are black squares running down the edge of the page with the month abbreviation. I haven't described it very well, but look at the photo below to see what I mean:This is another feature that I wish every planner in the world had! It really helps when you're flipping through the planner to find a particular month. The tabs easily direct you to each month's planning pages.

Below is the weekly layout. This is an excellent format, with plenty of room each day to write assignments and plans. Each weekly page has the current month's calendar for reference (yet another feature I wish every planner had!). The daily spaces have information like sports events, registration etc. It even tells you when to change your clocks for Daylight Savings Time, and gives you a heads-up on sales at the university bookstore!
The planners themselves are an excellent size: 5 1/2 inches wide by 8 1/4 inches tall. I think this is an ideal size for a weekly planner, because it gives you plenty of room to write and yet is still very portable to fit into your backpack or tote.

The spiral bound book lays flat on its own, which is very important for any planner so that you can hold the phone with one hand and write at the same time. The book also folds back on itself easily for those times when you need it to take up less space, like on a crowded desktop.

I didn't take a picture of it, but in the middle of the planner at the beginning of the spring semester there is a plastic divider. This is a great reference point to divide the first semester from the second semester, and also helps strengthen the book.

I also didn't take a photo of the Sudoku puzzles in the back of the planner, for those times when you're commuting to campus on the bus or bored in class (not that you would EVER not pay attention in class. Of course! I'm just sayin'.).

Below is a page from the Yellow Pages section! This feature makes the planner stand out from every other university planner I've ever seen:
In the back of each of the university planners there are several pages with numbers for restaurants and take-out (some with menus!), apartments near campus, salons, doctors, dentists, car services, lawyers, and more. This is especially useful since most people have cell phones today. Wherever you are, you can just look up the number, call, and you're on your way!

There are also several money-saving coupons in the back of the planner, which is great. Because as we all know, any money you can save while you're in college means more beer. I mean books! Yes! Books are expensive. Ehem.

The university planners have rounded corners, sturdy double-wire binding, and thick laminated covers so they are likely to survive an entire school year of being shoved into bags, banged around, and having coffee spilled on them.

I really like how the university planners get the students right into the culture of their school. Just reading through the planners I feel included in the university culture. I think this is especially important for Freshman and incoming transfer students. And it's a great way to let students know dates of important campus events.

I have used planners similar to this when I was in undergrad and grad school, and I have also seen other university planners, and the Plan-It planners really stand out from the crowd. The whole vibe of the planners is very friendly and helpful. I have seen some university planners that treat the students like they are in jr. high rather than adults out on their own. The Plan-It planners definitely don't do that. They are fun and informative.

Here is something really cool: you can flip through the entire East Carolina planner online at the following website:


A pop-up window will ask you for:

Username: eastcarolina

Password: pirates10

You can look through the entire book online!

Next, here are the Fashion Planners:
These planners are for the 2010 calendar year (January-December). They have pretty covers and are spiral-bound with squared corners.

The inside front cover has an annual calendar for this year (another feature every planner should have), and a page for your personal information:
These planners have the same excellent monthly and weekly formats as the university planners. On each monthly layout there are fashion tips and interesting fashion facts (click photo to enlarge):
Each monthly layout has all those features I love including the Notes column, last and next months' calendars, holidays and notable dates.

They also have the same excellent weekly format as the university planners, with this month's calendar for reference and plenty of space to write each day. Also there is a pretty swirly pattern on the pages which is nice to look at. And, there are the monthly tabs running down the side of the page. I love that feature!
In the back of the planner there are a couple of pages for contacts and notes. Inside the back cover there is an annual calendar for next year (another feature every planner should have!!) and an easy-reference page for frequently called numbers.
It's an excellent planner with outstanding features and formats, and a pretty design. The Fashion Planners are available on eBay, seller planitplanners.

Paul asked me for suggestions on anything to change about the planners, but to be honest I'm having a hard time coming up with anything! Above I suggested more university-specific information for the school planners. But as far as suggestions for the planner layouts themselves, I think they are excellent. I've made a big deal out of the features in these planners that are hard to find in many planners and that I think are very important:

Annual reference calendars for this year and next year

Month on two pages calendars with plenty of space to write, last month and next month calendars, and Notes space

Weekly layout with plenty of space to write, and this month's calendar for reference

Book lays flat on its own

Beyond the features, there's just something about these planners that I really like. They have a happy, positive vibe to them. Some planners stress me out. Some are too freaking serious. Some are silly or frivolous.

But these planners are highly functional while being fun and friendly at the same time. Especially the university planners are like having a good friend on campus who can tell you all the important stuff, show you around to all the fun stuff, and give you the inside scoop on life on campus.

Student Media Group has an internship program that I will give more details about in my next post, but in the meantime you can check it out at:


Also in my next post: an interview with Paul Alford, CEO of the Student Media Group!

You can find more information about the planners and the company at www.StudentMediaGroup.com.

Student Media Group is also on twitter: twitter.com/PlanItPlanners

and you can also follow Paul Alford on twitter: twitter.com/PaulAlford

You can also find them on Facebook (follow this link) or by searching on Facebook for Student Media Group.

After reading this enormously long post, seeing the photos, and looking through the East Carolina planner online, can anyone else come up with any suggestions for Paul about the planners? He really welcomes feedback and is always looking for ways to improve his products. So if you have an opinion, please post it in the comments! Thanks!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Rickshaw Bagworks Zero Bag and Round Trip Shipper

As promised, here is my awesome Mini Zero bag from Rickshaw bagworks!Yes yes, I know, it's not a planner. But:

1) My disclaimer above: this blog is MOSTLY about planners.

2) Actually I have a planner-related tie-in at the bottom of the post. So read on.
This Mini is from the Valley Forge collection. Scroll down the bags and this pattern is the last one: it's called Global Matrix Mint Jelly. 3 guesses why I like it so much!

The interior color is called Iris, and I think it's just about the most gorgeous color of purple I've ever seen.
The Zero bags come in the following sizes: Mini (this one, small purse size), Small (large purse/ small messenger size), Medium (a pretty big bag), and Large (ginormous). You can get more accurate measurements on their website.

To get a better idea of how much each size Zero bag can hold, be sure to check out Rickshaw's Zero Bag Measurement System photo set on Flickr with examples of how much each bag can hold.

As with all Rickshaw products they are custom-made with the fabric and color of your choice. They have super-durable waterproof fabric for you hardcore bag users, beautiful wool tweed, and cordura in a wide selection of solid colors. The Minis have a selection of patterns. You choose your fabric for the exterior, interior and trim in whatever combination you desire. Go nuts.

The reason these bags are called Zero is because they are produced using zero wasted materials. They use every bit of fabric down to the little trimming scraps, literally, in the bag. They have an excellent video showing how the Zero bags are made. I think the Zero bags are great. I want several in every size and numerous fabrics.

Here's something else. The pouch below is called a Round Trip Shipper.

What the heck does that mean, you ask? Well, it's actually a very cool way to reduce waste. Rickshaw mails their smaller products to people in these instead of disposable mailing envelopes. The idea is, you mail it back to them (using the prepaid postage sticker) and they use it over and over. Rickshaw has a Flickr photostream explaining all about the Round Trip Shippers.

I warned them ahead of time that if they sent me a RTS I would keep it because it's just such a cool zip pouch. (If you do want to keep your RTS let them know and they'll charge you a small fee for it.) And, lucky me, they sent me one that's purple on the back and gold on the front. Rock on.

Here! I told you there's a planner tie-in! My Mini Zero is not large enough to hold my Moleskine folio (actually, it would fit but then nothing else would) so I carry my folio in the RTS to keep the rain off its fuzzy purple delightfulness:

Ta daaaaa!

So there's some more Rickshaw love for you.

Here is a family photo of my Rickshaw Mini Zero bag, Moleskine folio, and Round Trip Shipper:
I bought these on:

Friday, February 12, 2010

Interview with Charlie Gilkey

Here is my interview with Charlie Gilkey, author of the Productive Flourishing website, time management guru, and creator of the awesome planners I featured earlier this week!

Charlie, first of all thanks very much for taking the time to answer these questions, I know Plannerisms readers will be very interested in what you have to say!

First let’s start at the beginning:

Q: When did you first start thinking about productivity issues and how people can manage their time? Was it based on your own needs, or on what you observed around you?

A: Before I just dive right in, I wanted to say thanks for the interview. I'm honored to be "here."

I first started thinking about productivity issues because of how complicated my life was. I was simultaneously working towards completing my Ph.D. (in Philosophy) while being an officer in the Army National Guard, and I was trying to be a husband worth having and finishing the basement in our house. Not only that, I'm naturally polymathic, so there were always things to do.

So, I did what any polymath does: I started reading and learning about productivity systems. I learned a lot that gave me a good foundation in the field, but the material didn't quite get the issues of being a productive creative person. It wasn't just me either - there were a lot of other creative folks who were just as stuck as I was.

Q: I noticed on your website that you are a former GTD user, but “fell off the horse” repeatedly with that system. Did your GTD experience inspire you to create your planners, or was there some other tipping point that caused you to hit the drawing board with your own planner designs?

A: In a roundabout way, yes. What I noticed is that there was a big disconnect between the "runway level" actions that GTD really helps with and the higher vision stuff - in some sense, you can say I'm combining Covey's ideas with Allen's.

The other huge catalyst for me was Dave Seah's planners. He's my design hero, and I always loved his work, but they still didn't quite fit me. So I started making ones that did. It turns out that they fit other people pretty well, too. (He's still the far superior designer, though.)

Q: I know that you do a lot of experimentation with the planner designs, and that some of the planners available to the public have changed designs at least once. How many incarnations have the planners been through so far?

A: Wow, that's hard to say. I'm constantly tweaking spacing, lead text, and elements, so whether that's an incarnation is another matter. That said, the Action Planners have been the ones that have gone through the most revisions - they're where I started, and they evolved as my understanding did.

Later planners were easier since I had a template and I knew what needed to be on the page. For instance, the Freelancer Workweek came out as a draft and people liked it well enough, so I left it alone, except for the aforementioned tweaks.

Q: What things do you take into consideration before changing a planner’s design?

A: I'll use the planners myself for a bit, and my own use cases are pretty instructive. So if I notice an element feels cramped, I'll try to air it out.

A curious designer can break more than he fixes, so I've learned to let things be and see what people want. The biggest driver of change, then, is feedback from users. People are far more likely to send me emails with constructive feedback, and this feedback drives a lot of the tweaks.

Q: You do a great job of listening to your customers and working with them to figure out what they need. In general how many people need to make a particular suggestion before you implement a change in planner design?

A: Thank you for saying so. ;p

If three people all write me and tell me basically the same thing, that lets me know that it's not just an individual issue. The other thing I'll keep in mind is feedback across time - some users are particularly good at reminding me that they asked for something a few months ago, and if they still want it after that long, it's not a "like to have" request.

Q: Who is your main customer base for the planners? What types of people are they and what kind of work do they do?

A: This is hard to say, really, since the planners have been a hit across many types of professions. Broadly speaking, they're great for creative people who need to make their ideas actionable, but they're also great for listers who lose track of the big picture. The planners really are all about integrating the Big Ideas and small actions.

On that note, the Freelancer Workweek is a bit misnamed. At the time, I was thinking about it from the perspective of a freelancer - I've had enough freelancers as clients that I know (and feel) a lot of their challenges and strengths. However, a lot of creative entrepreneurs like them because they're not so time-oriented, but instead help projects at a more global level.

The planners for bloggers are pretty tailored, too. I designed them to solve similar problems when it comes to the global and detailed views and how we get hung up. I don't use them that often, but when I do, they always help.

Q: Are there any surprising types of people who use your planners or people in lines of work that you didn’t expect would use your system?

A: Not that I've heard of, really. The reality is that, given that I'm a small online shop, most of the people who come across them are online denizens in a lot of ways.

Q: Have you heard of people using your planners in surprising ways that you hadn’t thought of?

A: This is similar to the question above. Some, like the blog planners, are fairly tailored, but even then, people have let me know that they used it to plan out newsletter topics. I didn't think of that use case, but it's very similar to post writing, so it didn't really surprise me.

The others are fairly general in how they can be used, so people will write back and say "I'm using them to help me finish my home projects," and I'll immediately see how they can be used that way.

Q: I think many people struggle and search to find the system that will work best for them in their situation. With so many planner options available, do you have any general advice or tips for someone who is searching for the planner system that will work best for them?

A: Here's the deal: there is no perfect planner system. I can't design it for you, and, really, you can't design it for yourself because your needs change all the time. The idea that one-size-fits all when it comes to meaningful action is just a myth.

That said, there are better planners, and what makes them better is if they help you work the way you work. I encourage people to ignore elements on my designs that don't fit them or to repurpose them in a way that supports their momentum. Modifying things this way is a good thing: it shows that you're aware of what you need and what's not working for you, and that you're trying to implement a new solution.

So experimentation is key. As is understanding that some days you won't need the same support that you'll need on other days.

One last thing: the question is not whether you did everything on your list today. It's whether you did what needed to be done in what time and capacity you had available.

Thanks again to Charlie for taking the time to do this interview!!