Review: AuthorLife Planner 2018 by Bria Quinlan

Spoiler alert: this is a negative review. This doesn’t mean Bria Quinlin isn’t a wonderful human being (I’m assuming) and a good author (as far as I know: I’ve never read her). I’m just a planner addict who didn’t find anything worth the price in here.

I was super curious about the AuthorLife Planner as I couldn’t find many details about it online except from the author. So in classic displacement activity, in an attempt to avoid actually writing, I took one for the team and bought it. I genuinely hoped it would contain useful material I could use this year in structuring my daily and weekly workflow.

I got the downloadable version through Bria Quinlan’s website for US $11.99 (that is not an affiliate link and I’ve never had any contact with Quinlan). You can buy a printed version on Amazon for US$19.99.

The planner is US letter size, and the file also works fine on A4 paper. The first 40 pages are a goals workbook, and the rest of it is a really basic and unsophisticated planner that didn’t tempt me for a second into trying it to increase my productivity. Let’s look at the planner first.

The Planner

For each month there’s an overview with a Sunday start, room for “Make a Note” on the right, and a shit-ton of white space around the rest of the page.

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You’ll notice the monthly calendar only has five weeks, so months like December 2018 require the extra days to share a square with the week before. I hate this as it doesn’t offer enough space to make useful notes.

Then you get a page for “Captured Ideas” with boxes for Plot Bunnies, Social Media Planning, Advertising, Cross Promo, Newsletter Topics, Seasonal Ideas, and one additional question which changes monthly, like Who is Your Dream Cross-Promo Partner?, or reminders to order your 2019 planner, register for Cons, or prep your taxes.

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What annoys me here is the boxes for your actual entries are so small compared to the rest of the page. It looks very amateurish. This is the case the whole way through. The planner just isn’t designed very well. The margins are huge – arguably good for extraneous notes – but I’d prefer to have less white space at the edges and more room for tracking metrics and the actual stated functions of the planner.

Opposite is a page for Fill Your Well; to list relaxing and rejuvenating activities you will do this month, and a Scribble Pad, so you “Never let your ideas slip through your fingers.”

What follows is one double-page spread for each week of the month. On the right is the weekly planner, and on the left is a task list, and four sections to list your tasks, focus, and goals for Writing/Editing, Marketing/Business, Life, and Joy, plus a Notes section at the bottom.

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The weekly calendar is a Monday start with a full column for each day. Quinlan offers four sections, marked with unobtrusive icons for Time & Planning (clock), Writing/Editing (star), Business/Marketing (triangle) and Joy (heart), so you can slot in the tasks identified in those four boxes. It is therefore particularly annoying that the weekly planner is oriented on its side, so you have to turn the planner around to fill in the working slots. I dislike this. A lot.

At the end of each month there’s a single page for a monthly review under the categories of Financials, Goals, Success & Celebrations, Learning’s & Adjustment [sic], and For Next Month. Opposite is a page for journaling your thoughts.

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Interspersed throughout the year are three Quarterly Reviews (there is no quarterly review for Q4, it goes straight into the yearly review). These offer one page for notes, one page of journaling space under Success & Celebrations, Learnings & Adjustments, and Updates!, and one page for review of how you are progressing.

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At the end of the planner are five pages for a yearly review, including journaling prompts, goal summaries, if you stuck to your Guiding Principles, how your chosen focus items went etc, an overview a financial summary and list of costs, a list of projects & tasks delegated/tossed/”ramped up.” Then there’s a one-page 2019 calendar and a two-page 2019 planning overview,

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That’s the entirety of the planner contents. To be blunt, I expected more in the weekly and monthly pages, like weekly habit trackers, a weekly word count box, a top 3 goals section  – all the stuff in every other productivity journal. And pretty much any other planner is better designed.

The Goals Workbook

While the planner part of this product is highly disappointing, the workbook offers slightly more solid value. Some. It’s 40 pages, but this implies a lot more content than you get, as there are two or three workbook pages for each topic. The goals workbook gives an introduction to the Eisenhower matrix, aka that Urgent vs Important priority quadrant, and defines SMART goals. Going through the worksheets will give you an idea of your current income sources, your top 3-6 overarching themes for your goals, whether they’re urgent or important, and, if you undertake the time tracking exercise (half hour blocks for one week), you’ll have a good idea where your time actually goes.

All of this is good stuff, but because of the deficiencies of the planner, essentially you are paying $12 for this in the e-version, and $20 for the print version. Is it worth $12? Hell, no. There are literally tens of thousands of goal-setting books on Kindle offering this information, and hundreds specifically on author goals and productivity. All offer more than the contents here (and you should believe me on this because I have read a terrifyingly large number of them).

The Appendix

Arguably,  the most useful thing in the whole planner is a one-page workflow Quinlan offers, which extensively lists all the tasks required for a book launch, week by week e.g. weeks 1&2 write the Disaster Draft, week 18, Plan Cover Reveal, week 21 Plan Ads, week 24 Send Out Newsletter.

Conclusion

I don’t rec this planner. $12 isn’t a lot, but the contents are not worth it. To get most use from this as an actual planner you’re going to have to print it out and bind it, and the dimensions of the bound planner are unwieldy, to say the least. I think Quinlan should offer the workbook and the workflow appendix as a standalone for purchase, for a lot less than $12 though.

By the way, see how all those pics up there are of printouts, and not screenshots of the pdf? Apparently, I’m a fucking idiot, as I took the file into my copy shop to be printed and bound for US$20 before I looked at it. What I did read about the planner was so glowing I just assumed it was going to be at least a little useful. I would never have printed it out if I’d looked at it first. This review really is Mistakes I Made So You Don’t Have To.

Review: The bound Japanese Franklin Covey Planner – a rival to the Hobonichi

The Japanese version of the Franklin Covey planner should be better known. It’s a day-per -page planner printed on Tomoe River paper, in A5 Hobonichi Cousin size, so it’s a great alternative to a Hobonichi.

The planner is a Monday start for all weeks and months. It opens with a page for your details, and an overview for 2018 & 2019 on one page.

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All the months are together at the beginning of the planner, then all the daily pages are grouped together after this. There’s a double-page spread for each month, starting with December 2017 (although there are no daily pages for December). There’s room for a Master task list down the right hand side, and plenty of extra room at the bottom of each monthly page spread.

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There are two double-page spreads for 2019 future planning, then the daily pages start. There’s no similar yearly view for 2018 in the planner.

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My favorite feature of the FC is each week begins with a Weekly Compass page. This gives you a place to write all the weekly tasks you need to do, as well as identify your “big rocks” aka key tasks for your roles (if you’re not familiar with the FC method, there’s a basic primer here. A weekly task list is crucial to my own planning, so I find this superior to the Hoboncihi layout.

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Then there’s a day per page which is very similar to the Hobonichi layout, but you have even more space, as there’s no quote at the foot of the page. The top has a daily task list, and the appointment bar runs in half hours from 7am to 11pm. The grid is 4mm, and light enough it’s easy to ignore if you prefer to go freeform.

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The paper is the same excellent quality, fountain pen friendly, as the Hobonichi. The cover is plain white card, with two ribbon bookmarks.

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The back has three blank double-page note spreads. The edges of each page are marked with the month to make it easier to navigate through the planner, but they’re all in one color – burgundy – instead of multiple colors as in the Hobonichi.

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The spine is cool, as you can see the stitched binding.

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The main difference is the Franklin Covey (FC) doesn’t have the weekly view, but for me the weekly page more than makes up for it. However, even without this extra section, because of the weekly page the FC is pretty much the same thickness as the Hobonichi, just a smidgeon thinner.

 

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Hobonichi Cousin on the bottom, Franklin Covey on top.

 

But we’re not done! With the FC planner you also get a separate Organizer Planner Guide and Forms. This is a 95-page booklet that contains a bunch of cool organize-y stuff you can use for wasting time instead of actually being productive.

The first 15 pages explain how to use the Franklin Covey system with the planner. Explains in Japanese, that is.

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There are sections for writing down your roles, values, mission statement, and six Goal Planning Pages. If you’re familiar with the Franklin Covey system it doesn’t matter at all this is in Japanese, you can totally work out what you’re doing.

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This is followed by Monthly Expense Trackers, Budget Worksheets, Yearly Income and Expense Tracking, and an Annual Summary of Expenses.

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Then come three Meeting Planner double-pages, four pages of Contacts, four pages of Client Files, four Information Records, and three Project Planners.

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Finally the booklet rounds off with calendar pages for 2017-2020, and one page each for future planning 2019, 2020, 2021, and 2022, broken down by month.

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The booklet ends with 17 notes pages with dotted lines 4mm apart. If you write large this is a small scale, but again the gray dotted lines are easy to ignore.

Both books together will fit into a Hobonichi cover, as well as all the A5 covers I’ve got.

I bought mine on Rakuten Global Market and it was shipped fast and efficiently. I got a version without any cover, because the gods know I have enough journal covers, but the planner does come with very basic colored covers as well. If you’re interested in trying one make sure you order the bound version, otherwise you’re going to get the regular ringbound planner pages which Franklin Covey also produce for the US market. You also want to make sure you’re buying the daily planner, as there is a weekly one available too. The planner comes in B6 as well as A5. Basically you need to search Rakuten for:

Notebook system notebook Franklin planner 2018 that I bind it and begin in notebook January, 2018, and there is no Franklin planner in A5 organizer cover

The cost is US$29.55 vs US$33.26 for the Hobonichi Cousin. Shipping is still pricey because EMS is expensive, but you save the 500 yen handling fee Hobonichi charge.

Although it’s tempting as a delicious time-waster I won’t be using the Forms booklet; I don’t have meetings or clients to track. But for 2018 I’m going to try the planner as my daily carry notebook for lists and to-dos, in a Hobonichi cover. I’ll be planning my work out and tracking my progress in a different planner my friend Katie gave me, which I will review at some future date. I don’t want to overwhelm y’all with planner reviews: I seriously have enough to post a couple a week for months. I bought a shit-ton of planners to audition as potentials for next year (let’s not discuss how bloody much this cost me) including some I couldn’t get shipped to me in NZ and bought while I was in the US. It’s going to be seriously shaming to share them all with you. But, you know, it’s a cheaper vice than cocaine? Or polo ponies?

Jibun Techo Unboxing

Not mine, but the captivating Meredith Moore from Wonder Fair in Lawrence, Kansas. I’ve watched all her unboxings now and I wish this was my local store. They have an online shop, but they sell bugger all on it, so you can’t order the Jibun Techo from them. I wonder if it’s a distribution agreement thing? Maybe you can order if you phone them up, like you’re living in 1991?

They sell the Hobonichi too. If you’re in the midwest you have to check them out. For bonus points, report in and tell us how the shop was IRL.

Review: The D1 Archer Planner

I vastly prefer a 2-page per day planner. Sadly these are thin on the ground. Although I made my own planner template, I don’t love ring binders, and I’ve always hoped to eventually find a bound 2-page per day planner. I was pretty thrilled, therefore, to find the Archer D1 Planner by The Active System Company, and I gave it a try for the second half of August.

The Archer comes in a set of three, covered in a classic unoffensive navy cardstock, each with a different color on the spine: yellow, red, or green. This is handy when pulling them off the bookshelf in future to find project details you need.

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Each planner measures 6″ x 9″, or 15.3 cm x 22.8 cm. Here it is compared to a Hobonici Cousin. It’s wider, too, coming out to the edge of the month tabs on the Cousin.

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In the planner world this is an awkward size, too big for a standard A5 journal cover. It’s also thin and needs a companion in any cover so it’s not too floppy. Luckily I have a tragically underused travelers’ notebook: a Chic Sparrow A5 Deluxe Mr. Darcy in Buttered Rum. It was delicious to have an excuse to get it back out again.

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Although it did technically fit within the dimensions of the Chic Sparrow cover – just – it looked noticeably awkward and out of place, like Rodney Dangerfeld at college.

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My current plotting notebook is a large Moleskine pro. You can see how much bigger the Archer planner is.

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I liked a lot of the features of the Archer.

Most obviously, the Archer offers you – ta dah! – two pages per day.

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Look at the size, look at the size! I have two pages to write on and I wants them both!

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It’s important to note that my planner must have been pre redesign; the pic on Amazon is of an updated 2-page layout, which I do like better. The tiny dot grid was no loss, and I much prefer the long notes section on the right.

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The planner is undated. For me this was good, because I got it half way through the month and could launch into it without feeling I was wasting pages. It can’t be denied it is a hassle setting the damn thing up initially, though. I needed PaperMate handy when I forget the 23rd existed. This isn’t a feature that would put me off using a planner though. The planner I’m reviewing next month is also undated and so far I love it.

A big pro is the pages are numbered. I like this way of being able to note what pages have important project details, or to refer back for figures etc.

My version offered the ability to rate a larger number of personal variables than I care to track, alhtough YMMV.

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The new version adds Energy and Optimism instead of Activity and Sleep, and adds a section to record more useful metrics.

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I would have used the metrics-tracking section, but rate your friends? Daily? Yeah, that won’t go horribly at any point. Rate my hair?? My clothes? I would crumble under this constant self-evaluation.

The inside cover has a useful Project list and quick reference section, for numbers you’ll be calling a lot, or info you need frequently that month.

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The planner opens with note pages and places to record the cities, events, shops, and restaurants you visit, books you read, TV shows/movies you watch, music you listen to, sports/games played/watched, recommendations received, milestones reached, and people met.

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At the back there’s another double page of note paper in lines and dot grid.

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Because the planner is so slim there’s no ribbon bookmark, but each top right corner is marked to cut when the day is done, so you can easily find the current page.

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Cons:

Using so much room to record weather AM and PM is pointless to me, and I would much rather have a Daily Top 3, so that’s what I repurposed it for, even though it annoyed me to cram 3 items into 2 spaces.

The paper quality is only OK. Even ballpoint ghosts, and forget it for fountain pens: it bleeds right through.

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The month view is a list.

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This does not work for me at all because I’m a visual thinker, and I need to see the month laid out in weeks. It wasn’t a big deal to print out a blank monthly layout, fill it in for August, and glue it into the front of the book. I ended up using the two monthly calendar pages for my August Master Task List, and it worked well for that.

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There is a monthly review in the back, although it’s basic.

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But there’s no monthly planning pages/goal setting space. I printed out my August Momentum Planner and stuck that next to the month view, and I did the same with each weekly plan, although it was awkward having to jam each weekly plan into the middle of a 2-page daily spread. It bugs me I have to do this. With all that metric-tracking space the planner gives the impression of being for someone with a lot to juggle and keep track off. Forward planning and setting priorities is a big part of that.

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Here’s the worst con for me. Because I started mid-August I intended to use the planner through September as well. I was pretty shocked when I realized one planner would only work for me from Monday 14 August to Saturday 2 September: when I realized, in fact, there are only 20 days per planner.

Twenty days?? Seriously? This is a huge pain in the ass. That monthly Master list? I’d have to rewrite it. The monthly calendar, print out again. That useful project code list and quick reference list? Copy over. Each planner is thin, so I could definitely just staple two, or even all three, volumes together, but going forward, paying US$21.95 plus shipping for only 60 days – 2 months – of planning! No way. And it wouldn’t even cover a whole 2 months. I’d have to photocopy a layout for one day and stick the extra pages in to cover one 30-day month and one 31-day month.

I would gladly swap all those notes/recommendation pages for enough daily pages to finish out a full 31 days, but I’d also add monthly and weekly planning pages. This would bulk out the planner, but not by much, and would make it 300% more practical. One month per volume would even offer some definite advantages.

But would it be enough of an improvement that I’d overlook the price? Archer says you need four packs to cover a year, which costs $88, plus shipping, so probably not. But because of the 20 days thing, as it stands now, to cover a full year you’d actually have to buy six packs, for US$131.70, and you’d still have to photocopy five extra days worth of pages.

It pisses me off that so many page-per day planners ruin things by having a shared page for Saturday and Sunday, but to only include enough pages for four sets of five days per week? That’s not even enough in one volume for the weekdays of August, which would require 23 days. This is perplexing when a two-page per day layout seems designed for people with Shit To Do. So is this for people who don’t have things to do every day, but when they do, their days are very busy. Who is that? Who is the target market for this planner?

A full year of Franklin Covey dated 2-pages per day 2018 inserts is $32.95. You can buy that and a basic pleather binder for $82.90, leaving you enough left over for a Pilot Metropolitan fountain pen and a 2018 Hobonichi Techo from Jet Pens. Seriously. How would that even be a debate?

So yeah, when I realized the limitation of the number of pages vs price, I abandoned this sucker after only two weeks – which was only 6 days before I would have run out of pages anyway. The Archer is never going to work for me long term. On the other hand, maybe this will suit you. I have two volumes of the three-volume set left. If you want to give them a try drop me a line – or comment – and I’ll send them to you. Or if you want to splash out on a set for yourself, they’re distributed through Amazon.

 

 

I’ve been using my MacBook charger wrong

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Holy shit, you guys.

I was packing up my laptop today, coiling my power cable to fit into my cable bag, and the man next to me leant over and said, “Would you like to know a better way to do that?”

I had no idea what he was talking about, but I slowly nodded (on alert in case this was some kind of scam). He took my power cable from me, untangled its already-mobius-esque length, and did this.

Mind. Fucking. Blown. I had no idea those flaps folded out!

Makeup planner

Nine years after conception, I just found out this is a thing. Make up artist and Home Shopping Networker Trish McEvoy produces seasonal “makeup planners”: ringbinder cases for cosmetics.

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They come in seasonal colors like Kalahari Sky, Gold, Azure, Magenta Croc, White Sand, or Classic Black Quilted.

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Although the filled planners are pricey – USD $185 to $350 – for the amount of product you get I don’t actually think they’re too bad. And I admire the heck out of McEvoy for implementing the idea. I can see a big crossover market between the planner community and makeup buyers.

There’s something about the organization that comes with planners that makes part of me deeply content. I also get a huge sense of peace associated with completion and preparedness that comes with buying complete sets of things. (This may stem from an Erma Bombeck piece about a coordinated travel wardrobe I read when I was seven.)

I see these and just want to own one and play with it, to be like Eeyore taking things out and putting them back in again. Although I’m not a Trish McEvoy kind of person, in another lifetime I think I’d love to be.

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Dave Seah’s Emergent Task Planner (with free downloads)

Designer Dave Seah has a kick-ass range of free downloadable time management templates. They’re called the Emergent Task Planner range, and I love these suckers.

There’s space for your top 3 tasks and 6 additional tasks, each with four hours worth of 15-min time trackers so you can record how long you actually spend on the work. The left holds an open time scale in 15 minute increments. At the bottom is scratch paper space, or room to write new tasks as they, well, emerge.

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This graphic is from Seah’s website and you should totally go there immediately and download the planners for free and try them out, and, if you like them, pay him $12 for the dated 2017 version. Seah also has a whole range of free productivity downloads you can find here (including a concrete goals tracker and a NaNoWriMo word count tracker)

You can also buy ready-to-go printed versions on Amazon. There’s an undated 3-month spiral-bound notebook, an A5 spiral-bound version, and an unbound version you can punch for your own Franklin Monarch etc. I’m annoyed at myself for not needing the 3-month bound book because I want one.

But I did buy a couple of packs of the Stickypad ETP.

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These 4″ x 6″ sticky notes fit into an A6 notebook, or on a larger planner page. The stickies  – and the A5 version – don’t include the time tracking boxes and I wish they did, although I can easily add in boxes by hand for the purpose.

Even when you don’t need a tightly scheduled planner, there are always those days where tasks, appointments, and meetings collide, and you end up with a jammed day. These planner sheets are perfect for that. You can print one off just when you need one, or add a single sticky to your regular everyday carry notebook.